Sunday, April 12, 2009

I Like My Greens Well-Done...

This is an obvious place to start for a nutrition student blogging about food and nutrition because greens are one of the most underappreciated nutritional powerhouse foods (along with beans). But I don’t mind being obvious in this case because I love greens and I want the world to love them too.

Greens are easy to love. They’re visually striking, with tapered stems like spines holding the curly leaves in a slight backbend that I imagine evolved to let them take advantage of the sunlight. They’re extremely healthy, containing abundant amounts of folate, vitamin K and calcium, not to mention the plentiful phytochemicals (read: beneficial plant compounds) hinted at by their deep color. And the flavor can be spectacular -- earthy and sweet, with a bitter edge.

But in my experience, people tend to undercook greens. Granted, from a nutritional point of view undercooking vegetables is better. The logic behind this is that the less they are cooked, the more they retain of their vitality and the better they are for you. More enzymes are deactivated with increased heating, and some vitamin activity may be lost. So as someone on their way to a career in nutrition, I should be recommending that greens be cooked less, not more.

Yet for me the pleasure of eating greens can be blunted by the texture – chewy, sometimes stringy – and the excess bitterness that is retained when greens are only slightly cooked, a flavor my husband appropriately calls “green.” I have nothing against the taste of green, but I prefer that raw flavor in a salad. Also, as a nutritionist who will no doubt be recommending greens to her patients, I have to think that these might be qualities that would put off a newbie to the world of greens.

Last night my husband cooked up some polenta and sausage, and served them with stewed red chard. He sautéed some sliced onions and garlic for a good 10-15 minutes first, then added the greens and a little chicken broth, covered the pan until the greens wilted, stirred it all together, and let it stew for another 10-15 minutes. Chard can hold up well to this amount of cooking, retaining the distinct color in its red stems and deep green leaves, holding its shape and enough chewiness that it was perfect in a bite with the polenta, and gaining sweetness from the long cooking. If it were kale, he would have cooked them for another 5-10 minutes.

Nutritionally, it could be argued that breaking down the cell walls with longer cooking actually releases more of the nutrients in the greens, and they may be more easily digested, since cooking does some of the work for you. So for all the above reasons, I urge you to try overcooking your greens. And in my next post, I’ll satisfy my inner nutritionist by talking about ways to eat greens that are NOT overcooked.


  1. Now that we have our comment things fixed-- I thought this was an interesting post-- I am usually of the under-cooking school of thought on greens (taught by Cynthia Lair I think). I will have to try your over cooking method! The only time mine ever get over cooked is in soup. Do you find they get brown?

  2. Oh, and I forgot to mention-- I love your description of the greens bending back toward the sun!

  3. That polenta and sausage looks pretty amazing, thanks for sharing! I also tend to undercook my greens, but I'm open to trying your method.