Leafy greens like kale and spinach are undeniably good for you: They’re packed with calcium, iron, magnesium, and, yes, even protein. One cup of kale, for example, has only 33 calories but 206 percent of your daily vitamin A, 134 percent of your daily vitamin C, and 684 percent of your daily vitamin K, as well as calcium, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, and selenium. It even has 2 grams of protein, which Self’s nutrition data center ranks on a complete amino acid scale of 92/100. There’s a reason it’s been labeled a “superfood,” and you should be eating more.
Now only if it actually tasted good.
The holiday season upon us, and with New Year’s resolutions looming, we should all want 2014 to be the year we start eating better and living more healthfully. When it comes to packing your diet full of new superfoods, though, starting on the wrong foot — or forkful — can be like trying to run an entire marathon on your first day of training. By taking baby steps toward a goal of raw kale salads and shredded Brussels sprouts, you might even start really liking your greens.
This article isn’t about the healthiest ways to eat more greens — you’ll get there one day. We just want to get you on the leafy greens train. Once you realize they can taste good cooked with bacon or cheese, we’ll move you up to those kale salads.
Broccoli has received a lot of negative attention in the past few years with Obamacare and the vilified “broccoli mandate.” It seems like Americans have banded together in their overwhelming hatred of broccoli. Like other greens, broccoli has a slight bitterness to it that makes it nearly unpalatable to most children. Most of us know broccoli as that steamed, tree-like vegetable that gets pushed around dinner plates and made into forests or raw florets used as a shovel for ranch dressing. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Broccoli can be delicious. Or, at least, taste better than we currently know it to taste. Seriously, this is possibly the only way anyone should ever eat broccoli. The secret?
Roast it. Do it. Throw broccoli in the oven at 425 degrees Fahrenheit, tossed in a little olive oil and a sprinkle of salt until some of the florets turn a bit bronze. When it comes out, you could zest a lemon over it or sprinkle some Parmesan cheese on top. You could casually throw some red pepper flakes on the broccoli before it hits the hot air of your oven for a little kick as it cooks. Or you could just stand there, oven mitt still on one hand, the other shoveling hot, slightly sweet, delicious (you heard me) broccoli into your mouth. Give it a go. Trust in the method. Remember, fairies die when you don’t believe in broccoli.
Try this recipe from The Amateur Gourmet.
Spinach can be hard to love. Popeye did, sure, but really, no one gulps canned spinach. That’s gross. Fresh spinach, though, is actually really tasty — you just have to know how to fall for it. It’s a slower kind of love. There’s more to spinach than the ever-present spinach and artichoke dip, though if you want a recipe for that, check out this lighter version from Eating Well.
If you’re going to get into spinach, try baby spinach. It’s softer and it has a lighter flavor than big adult spinach. It is more delicate, though, so if you feel like stewing or braising your spinach, go for the big guys. Feeling really adventurous? Try a baby spinach salad. Throw in some dried fruit, toasted nuts, and goat cheese, and you’ll forget all about it. Not a salad person yet? Try Eating Well’s recipe for spinach and sun-dried tomato stuffed pizza.
Chard can take some getting used to. Sure, it sometimes has astonishingly beautiful rainbow stalks and big, broad leaves that can cook down into silky green ribbons, but it can also taste a little earthy. The good news is that if you like red beets, chard is the green for you. If you’re not borscht inclined, though, you’ll need a little bit of help to grow your love for this green.
The thing to keep in mind with broad-leaf greens like chard, kale, and collards is that the leafy part will cook much quicker than the stem. The best way to account for this is to cook them separately, by de-ribbing the leaf. Fold it in half lengthwise (along the rib) and run your knife right down alongside it. Most people don’t bother to cook the stems, but you could use them in a stir-fry, or you could even bread and fry them. Use your the chard stem sticks to scoop up some of that creamy spinach dip!
Now, onto the harder part: the green bits. For this, start yourself off with greens in a bath of butter-infused cream, sandwiched between sweet potatoes, and blanketed with some cheese. That sounds more palatable, right? Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen thought so, too, and wrote up this recipe for her swiss chard and sweet potato gratin.
Kale is so in right now. OK, kale has been in for the past two or three years, and you might be the only one who hasn’t jumped on the kale-wagon yet. Luckily, us kale-crunchers have done all the testing for you, so you’re coming to the game knowing exactly what to do. There are two main types of kale: curly kale (the one with the ruffled edges) and lacinato, or tuscan kale. This is flatter kale, and because of the texture of its leaves, it has also earned the nickname dino kale. How can you not want to eat something named after a dinosaur?
The difference between the two in a culinary sense is primarily flavor and texture. Dino kale is great to eat raw, with a toothsome texture and a slighter deeper green taste. If you’re ready to make the jump to a kale salad, go for the dino kale.
The curly kale tends to be a little grassier and tougher to chew, making it less desirable for kale salads but perfect for our starter recipe: kale chips! Seriously, make these at home. Don’t buy bagged kale chips. Yuck. Wash and dry your roughly chopped kale — dino or curly — and toss with a little olive oil. Arrange the pieces on a baking sheet, sprinkle with salt, and bake until crisp. Try Luisa’s recipe from The Wednesday Chef.
Brussels sprouts might have almost as bad a reputation as broccoli, and with the possibility of grossly overcooked sprouts, it’s understandable. The secret is to not let them get mushy. They’re super cute mini-cabbages, which means that you have to like them on principle.
Smaller, locally grown, and fall-harvested Brussels sprouts will be sweeter and more delicious. If they turn from bright green to a dull olive green, you may have overcooked them. Whatever you do, don’t boil them! These mini-cabbages are begging to be washed, sliced in half through the stem end, and seared on one side in a little bacon grease. They get crispy on the pan side and have just enough bite left to not remind you of past scarring experiences. Cook your bacon pieces, then remove them to cook the sprouts and some garlic in the grease. Add the bacon back in to serve. For detailed instructions, take a look at this recipe from Cooking Light.
Feeling a little more like lighter fare? Instead of bacon, sear the sprouts in a little olive oil and skip the garlic. When they’re almost done, zest an orange over the sprouts and pat yourself on the back for mixing your fruits and veggies and serving up some gourmet Brussels sprouts.
Collards are much more popular in the South than they are in the North, and that’s probably because we don’t use enough pig. Seriously. There are other ways to eat collards, but none of them are as easy to eat as collards stewed with ham hocks or bacon fat. Collards are basically cabbages that wanted to show themselves to the world — they were tired of being packed in and bunched up in a ball.
The texture of a collard green can be very similar to cabbage, which makes sense, since they’re related. These guys can stand up to some heavy cooking — they’re pretty sturdy. For this recipe, I’m afraid we’re going to have to turn to none other than Paula Deen. When you see her recipe for “house seasoning,” though, I’m going to suggest that for the sake of your blood pressure, you cut back on the salt.
We’re going to talk about cabbage because it has been drowned in mayonnaise for cole slaw, fermented for sauerkraut, and boiled to within an inch of its life for corned beef and cabbage for too long — enough is enough!
That’s not to say that we should stop making corned beef, cabbage, or coleslaw altogether, but there’s more to cabbage than this. Done right, cabbage is silky and sweet. It gives way to the more bitter greens and, as the ultimate storage vegetable, will keep all winter in your fridge, waiting for you to work up the courage to take it out.
Cabbage makes a great base for a warm salad: You can sear it with bacon and potatoes, roast it with a walnut rosemary dressing, or grill and then smother in a spicy lime dressing. If you’re still not sure, you could make this gnocchi and red cabbage gratin from Serious Eats. And if you really insist on making a slaw, you should at least try a brighter slaw, like this peanut, carrot, and cabbage slaw from The Kitchn.
There are more intense greens — like broccoli rabe, bok choi, tat soi, mustard greens, turnip greens, stinging nettles, and beet greens (actually, those are just plain delicious) — but cabbage will always be there to give you another boost of confidence. When you think all is lost and you’ll never make it to raw kale salads, come back to cabbage. It’ll still be in the back of your refrigerator.
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