Nutrition science tells us we should eat more vegetables. But that can be difficult in the spring, when there seem to be few in-season choices.
That’s why spring is a great time of year to eat greens. For me, greens are those hardy, cold-weather plants that are growing quickly in my garden now. I like them all: spinach, kale, Swiss chard, collard greens, beet greens, turnip greens, and mustard greens. Some folks would include dandelion greens, miner’s lettuce, sorrel, and others on their list. Of course, you can also find greens at your local farmers market or grocery store.
Cooking greens can be challenging because you want your greens tender but not overcooked. Spinach is tender and cooks quickly, but others like kale and collards can be tougher.
One technique I recommend with these sturdier vitamin-packed greens is “bruising.” Remove the hefty stems and chop them into bite-size pieces. Then, squeeze the greens together with your hands or lightly pound them until they turn a bit darker green. They’ll be more tender when cooked and they’ll release more of the nutrients they’re known for.
Grits and Greens
This dish is a comforting entree or warming side dish perfect after a walk in the rain. You can make this simple recipe in minutes using the frozen spinach (always good to have on hand) option.
1 cup uncooked grits or polenta
3 cups of liquid (water, chicken broth)
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon butter or oil
1 bunch kale, spinach, Swiss chard, collards, or other greens (or 1 box or bag frozen spinach)
1 cup grated cheddar or any other cheese (optional)
Wash greens. Remove large ribs and chop into bite-size pieces. If using kale or collards, bruise by squeezing or lightly pounding until they turn a darker green. In medium pot, bring liquid and butter or oil to a boil. If using polenta, follow package directions. If using grits, slowly add grits to boiling liquid while stirring. Cover, reduce heat to low, and then cook about 2–3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add chopped greens and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring 2–4 minutes, until as thick as you prefer, and greens are bright green and somewhat tender. Stir in grated cheese if desired and serve.
Refrigerate any leftovers. When ready to use, cut into half-inch thick slices and fry for about 4–5 minutes on each side until browned. Great with eggs for breakfast.
Serves 4 as entree, 6 as side dish.
Nutritional information (per serving using water, includes cheese)
(4 servings) Calories: 312, Carbohydrates: 37 grams, Protein: 12 grams, Sodium: 263 milligrams
(6 servings) Calories: 208, Carbohydrates: 25 grams, Protein: 8 grams, Sodium: 175 milligrams
Quick Greens and Pesto Lasagna
This lasagna will make several meals. Consider layering into two smaller casseroles and freezing one for later. If you don’t have homemade low-sodium sauce, read nutrition labels carefully and choose the lowest sodium sauce you can find.
3 cups Ricotta cheese
½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1½ cups grated Fontina, Mozzarella, or other soft cheese. (Set aside ½ cup for topping)
1 large bunch fresh spinach, kale, Swiss chard, collards, or other greens or 2 boxes or bags frozen thawed spinach.)
6 ounces homemade pesto or 1 small jar of prepared pesto
1 package no-boil lasagna noodles, or 1 package regular lasagna noodles
3–4 cups homemade pasta sauce or low-sodium canned pasta sauce.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Set aside half cup of grated soft cheese for topping. Start large pan of water boiling. If using greens with tough stems, remove and bruise. Meanwhile, mix cheeses and egg in a large bowl. When water comes to a boil, add spinach or other greens. Boil 2–3 minutes, until bright green. Immediately remove from boiling water and drain. If you are using regular lasagna noodles, add them to the boiling water now and cook about 5 minutes and drain. If using no-boil noodles, skip this step.
Coat a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with oil or butter. Add 1 cup pasta sauce, and then a layer of noodles. Next, add cheese mixture and then spinach. Dot spinach layer with pesto. Continue layering and top with remaining sauce. Cover with foil and cook 30 minutes. Uncover and sprinkle with remaining cheese, bake about 15 minutes more, until top is browned. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.
Serves 9, keeps well for 3–4 days.
Nutritional information (per serving)
Calories: 536, Carbohydrates: 48 grams, Protein: 25 grams, Sodium: 511 milligrams
Contributor Katy G. Wilkens recently retired as registered dietitian and department head at Northwest Kidney Centers. The National Kidney Foundation Council on Renal Nutrition has honored her with its highest awards for excellence in education and for significant contributions in renal nutrition. She has also been awarded the Medal of Excellence in kidney nutrition from the American Association of Kidney Patients.
Eating Well, Living Well classes
Studies show that working with a registered dietitian can delay kidney failure and postpone dialysis for longer than two years. FREE nutrition classes taught by Katy’s former team of registered dietitians are available at convenient times and locations around Puget Sound.
Eating Well, Living Well classes teach people how to eat healthier to slow the progress of kidney disease and postpone dialysis. Learn more at www.nwkidney.org/classes.