The Health Corner: Leafy Greens

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You’ve probably been told more times than you care to remember to eat your greens. You don’t know why, but you know they’re good for you.

That mountain of greens your parents made you eat at dinner had to have a reason behind it besides the dessert that came after you finished it.

If you still feel nauseas anytime you think back to being teary eyed as you forced down that last bite of spinach or final spoonful of lettuce, it’s time to get over it. It turns out that there was method to mom’s madness after all.

According to nutritionist and University of Illinois Professor Carol Schlitt, the health benefits of leafy greens range from weight management to mental sharpness.

They have antioxidants that help the body naturally detoxify itself and exponentially decrease the risk of cancer.

Schlitt estimates that our ancestors ate up to six pounds of leaves per day. Can you imagine eating even one pound daily? Studies say that most of us cannot.

The USDA recommends at least three cups of dark green vegetables per week. This may not seem like much, but the USDA says few Americans ever come close to reaching this minimal requirement of daily nutrition.

When uncooked, some leafy greens have a bitter taste, which could be the reason behind Americans’ unwillingness to eat enough leafy greens. We should rethink that unwillingness.

Calorie for calorie, leafy greens and leafy vegetables have the most concentrated source of nutrition of any food.

They are a rich source of potassium, calcium, iron, and magnesium. They have a flurry of vitamins including B, C, E and K, which all support the immune system.

If you’re still stuck on the lack luster taste as an excuse for not adding leaf greens to your diet, Managing Editor LuLu McAllister’s leafy green recipes can help you meet your green goal in a tasty way so that you won’t have to force down that last bite but me asking for more instead. The tissues of tears and temper tantrums are a thing of the past.

Her first recipe centers on spinach, which contains choline and inositol that prevent the hardening and thickening of arteries. It strengthens muscles and bones because of its calcium richness, and is especially beneficial to diabetics because it helps to stabilize blood sugar.

Spinach’s secret weapon is lutein, which makes it one of the best foods in the world at preventing cataracts.

According to the FDA, spinach also prevents age related macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of preventable blindness in the elderly.

LuLu’s recipe calls for one bunch of spinach, 2 eggs, 12 strips of bacon, pepper, 2 medium shallots, flour, and whole milk to make Popovers.

A second recipe calls for arugula. Arugula, along with other cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts, contain anticancer compounds called glucosinolates, which are stimulators of natural detoxifying enzymes found in our bodies.

Arugula is unique in that there are different types of this versatile leafy green.

Micro arugula has tiny leaves that resemble sprouts and can be used as an herb.

Baby arugula is the best choice for salads because of its 2-3 inch leaves, and regular arugula is typically wilted and eaten in warm salads.

Wild arugula is similar to regular arugula with the lone difference being a sharper flavor. LuLu’s recipe calls for two cups of regular arugula divided into 1-cup portion for this light dinner for one.

Sesame Shiso Slaw

Serves 4 to 6 (or more if used as a topping or bed)

Ingredients:

½ a head of iceberg lettuce

1 Cup of shiso leaves

3 medium carrots

1 Tablespoon fresh chives, chopped

2 teaspoons of agave nectar

2 Tablespoons of sesame oil

2 Tablespoons of hot chili oil

½ Cup of peanut oil

¼ Cup of Yuzu rice vinegar

2 Tablespoons of Soy Sauce

Salt and pepper

About 1/8 Cup of black sesame seeds

Method:

1. Slice the iceberg lettuce into thin strips. Coarsely chop the strips into smaller pieces.
2. Chiffonade the shiso leaves and throw into the bowl with the iceberg lettuce.
3. Cut the carrots as thinly as possible into strips, lengthwise. Cut these strips on the diagonal to form elongated diamonds.
4. Sprinkle chopped chives and black sesame seeds over the lettuce, shiso and carrots. Toss lightly until blended.
5. Whisk the liquid ingredients together (starting with the vinegar, nectar, and soy sauce and adding the oils after) to form the dressing, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.
6. Pour half of the dressing over chopped ingredients and toss, lightly, until the ingredients are coated. Add more if necessary. Remaining dressing will keep covered in the fridge for up to two weeks.

 

Serve as a light side dish or bed for a grilled fish. This slaw also makes a good topping for a sausage.

Arugula, Two Ways

Serves 1

Ingredients:

2 Cups of arugula leaves and flowers, divided into two 1-Cup portions

½ a juicy lemon (to squeeze)

3 Tablespoons of olive oil

½ of a ripe avocado

1 handful of sweet yellow or red cherry tomatoes, cut into halves

A few thin slices of a good hard goat cheese (I used “drunken” goat cheese to a satisfying result)

One slice of bread (thinly sliced baguette or ciabatta, for example, or just a slice of whole wheat toast works)

Salt and Pepper

Method:

1. Wash and dry all of the arugula. Set half aside.
2. Preheat a sauté pan over medium heat. Add 1 Tablespoon of olive oil and half of the arugula and sauté until just wilted. Remove arugula to a paper towel or paper bag (to sop up excess oil).
3. Toast bread in toaster oven on light setting until it begins to firm slightly (make sure it doesn’t get too dark in this step because it will continue to cook with other ingredients in next steps).
4. Remove the toast from toaster oven and cover surface with the slices of goat cheese. Toast until cheese begins to melt. Remove toast again and place halved cherry tomatoes, cut side up, and wilted arugula on top of the cheese. Return to toaster until cheese begins to bubble and remove finally from the toaster oven. Let cool until safe to handle.
5. While the open-face sandwich is cooling, arrange the salad. Cut the avocado into slices or large cubes and toss with remaining arugula. Place on half of a plate.
6. Splash with remaining olive oil and a good squeeze of lemon. Add a crack of pepper and salt to taste.
7. Place open-face sandwich next to the salad on the plate and pepper to taste.

This is really a dinner for one, which is why I suggest using a small toaster oven for the open-face sandwich. On the other hand, the measurements are very easy to adjust and if someone were to make this meal for a larger group of people, a regular oven set to the broil feature would also work. Also, one might consider chive blossoms as an interesting alternative to the cherry tomatoes. The tomatoes take the sandwich in a sweeter direction, meanwhile the chive blossoms would impart a light onion flavor and offer different texture.
Popovers with Bacon, Spinach and Shallots

Serves 6

Ingredients:

2 eggs, room temperature

1 Cup of whole milk, room temperature

1 Cup of all-purpose flour, sifted

¼ teaspoon of salt

1 bunch of spinach; washed, picked over and dried

2 medium shallots, sliced

About 12 strips of good bacon

Pepper (salt generally not needed because the bacon is salty)

Method:

1. Render bacon on a skillet or in a frying pan, taking care not to crowd the pan. Remove crisped bacon strips to a paper bag folded in half to absorb the excess oil. Spoon or pour off excess pan drippings into a heat-stable ramekin or container for later use. When all of bacon is crisped, set aside.
2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. When up to temperature, place a popover or cupcake pan with at least six large cups in the oven to warm up.
3. After about 5 minutes, remove pan from oven and place a spoonful of bacon grease in the bottom of each cup to melt. While melting, stir the dry ingredients – the flour and salt – together; whisk the eggs into the room temperature milk.
4. Whisk the wet and dry ingredients together until there are no more lumps. The batter should be the consistency of slightly whipped heavy cream. If you find that it is too thick, try adding a Tablespoon of water.
5. Fill each cup up about half to a quarter full and place in oven for 15 minutes. Popovers should puff up during this time.
6. After 15 minutes, switch the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Leave the popovers in for 25 minutes more (check them at 20 minutes, though, just to be safe).
7. While waiting for the popovers to crisp up, prepare the filling. When cool enough to handle, chop bacon into smaller pieces and set aside. In a big sauté pan, coat shallot slices with bacon grease over medium-high heat and cook until just turning golden. Add all of the spinach to the pan and wilt until the volume is reduced by half. Continue to sauté the spinach with the shallots for about two more minutes and then add a Cup of bacon to the pan for minute more. Remove the pan from the heat to prevent overcooking.
8. After 25 minutes, at which point the popovers should look golden brown, remove them from the oven and poke a hole in the top of each.
9. Once cool, remove the popovers from their tins by running a butter knife around the edge.
10. Cut off the top of each cooled popover to reveal its hollow interior. Fill this with the reheated filling and serve.

Sometimes my mom would make us bacon and eggs on Saturday and then use the leftover bacon drippings to make these popovers on Sunday. She just served them plain with butter and jam on the side. Over the years, I’ve gotten more creative with them because their hollow interiors are perfect for various fillings: berries and whipped cream; poached egg with smoked salmon and hollandaise (for a decadent take on an already decadent classic); goat cheese, half of a ripe fig and a drizzle of honey – you get the idea. This spinach, bacon and shallot filling is hearty and satisfying.

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