You’re walking down the pristine aisles of your grocery store’s produce section. On your left, piles of glowing, vine-ripened tomatoes; and on your right, sunny pyramids of perfect lemons. In front of you, a floor-to-ceiling wall of dark, leafy greens, recently misted, staring at you in all their nutritious, antioxidant, phytonutrient-filled, almost-identical, totally-intimidating glory.
As you stare in horror, the wall begins to loom over you, growing into a frightening jungle of dark leafiness. You scream, then start to run—you wake up. Whew, it was all just a dream.
Or was it?
The vitamin-rich world of dark leafy greens can be intimidating, no joke. Where do you begin in picking out what to eat, or when? Or how about how to prepare it all?
Some greens taste best sauteed, some taste best in salads, some are related to quinoa. They all look pretty similar (ever noticed how rainbow chard looks a lot like rhubarb?), and what the heck are mustard greens?
Never fear, leafy neophyte. This guide will illuminate the produce section until you’re picking through chard varieties like a pro.
Today’s “It” green, if you will, kale is related to cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cabbage. The curly, slightly bitter leaf has been studied extensively in relation to cancer because of its antioxidants (specifically cartenoids and flavonoids), anti-inflammatory nutrients, and anti-cancer nutrient. It’s especially high in vitamin K, vitamin A, and vitamin C.
The key to enjoying raw kale in salads is to massage it. Yes: massage. Remove the tough central stem of each leaf, and cut the leafy section into bite-sized pieces. Then, massage with olive oil and lemon juice (or whatever dressing you like), using your clean hands to really work the dressing into the kale. You should feel it softening slightly as you squeeze. Let the salad sit for ten minutes before serving.
Not a salad fan? Kale practically disappears into green smoothies and green juices, and you’ll be shocked at how much kale you can consume when you’re sipping it from a cup. Blend with frozen bananas and almond milk, or juice with cucumber, celery, parsley, and lots of lemon.
Lightly steaming kale is the best way to eat it if you’re worried about your cholesterol—the fiber in steamed kale can more easily bind with bile acids in your digestive track, thus flushing them out of your system and lowering your cholesterol.
If you like spicy food, you’ll love arugula. That’s because this leafy green, also known as rocket or roquette, has quite the bite. Like most leafy greens, it’s a powerhouse source of vitamin K, vitamin C, and vitamin A. Its peppery taste is a delicious addition to Italian foods like pasta and pizza—just make sure you add the arugula at the very end, so that it doesn’t wilt too much.
In salads, arugula pairs particularly well with lemony dressings. You can also make a Caprese-inspired salad by tossing arugula with basil, mozarella, and ripe tomatoes.
If you think a salad can’t be luxurious, you haven’t tried butter lettuce. As creamy and smooth as its name implies, butter lettuce (common varieties: Boston and Bib) comes in a loose head of tender leaves that are easily torn and pair well with delicious summer veggies like corn, tomatoes, and avocado. The flavor is sweeter than romaine lettuce, and it’s a good source of vitamin K, vitamin A, and folate.
Up next time: spinach, Swiss chard, and mustard greens.
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