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Got the Winter Blues? Try Some Winter Greens | Dec. 16, 2011

Wondering how you can add some color to our life and diet during the winter months?  Try some winter greens.  Not only are they packed with nutrients to perk up your body, they’ll also perk up your dinner table.  Winter greens are green leafy vegetables that are seasonally available during the winter months and include Swiss chard, kale and collard, mustard and turnip greens.


Swiss chard is mild and sweet with a slight bitterness and has large dark green leaves with red veins and thick, white stems (some have red or rainbow stems).  Kale has blue-green or yellow-green leaves, depending on variety, with curly edges and flat centers and is typically cooked before eating.  Collard greens have leaves that are loaf-shaped and flat.  Mustard greens have a pungent peppery flavor and are large green, curly-edged leaves with long narrow stems.  Turnip greens are flat, green, slightly fuzzy leaves with long, narrow greens stems.


Dark leafy greens are high in water, low in carbohydrate and calories, and have only small amounts of protein and little or no fat.  Calorie for calorie (and dollar for dollar), winter greens are a very concentrated source of nutrients.  They are rich in several vitamins and minerals, most notably iron, riboflavin, folate, potassium, magnesium, calcium and vitamins A, C and K.


Winter greens provide a variety of phytonutrients (“phyto” means plant) such as beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin that help protect our cells from damage.  Winter greens get their yellow-green colors from the plant pigments lutein and zeaxanthin (carotenoids), which act as antioxidants and offer many health benefits ranging from reducing inflammat6ion to enhancing the immune system and promoting eye health by reducing the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.


To preserve their quality, it is best to store winter greens under refrigeration in high humidity conditions away from ethylene-producing fruits and vegetables such as apples and tomatoes that can cause premature spoilage.  Wash winter greens before eating by submerging the leaves in cool water then lift to drain; repeat with fresh water two to three times.


Winter greens often have a bitter taste when eaten raw; cooking them can take the edge off.  After washing and drying, devein and remove the stems.  Roll up several leaves as tightly as possible.  Cut the leaves in thin slices (chiffonade technique) and sauté in a small amount of olive oil and fresh minced garlic until slightly wilted but vibrantly green.  Alternative cooking methods include steaming or boiling in lightly salted water.  Winter greens are hardy, so they will also hold up well when incorporated into traditional winter dishes like soups, stews and casseroles.


For a fun treat, try delicious and nutritious kale chips.  To make, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  With a knife or kitchen shears, remove the leafy greens from the stalk and tear or cut the leaves into bite-sized pieces, roughly three inches by three inches.  Wash and thoroughly dry kale with salad spinner or using paper towels.  Put kale pieces in a one-gallon sealable plastic bag.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.  Seal the bag and shake to evenly coat each piece.  Spread on baking sheet; bake for 10 to 15 minutes until the edges are brown but are not burned.