Having a big salad is one of my favorite go-to lunch recipes for a lot of my clients. They will usually load up their salad with protein (usually leftover from dinner the night before) and a bunch of veggies they have in the fridge. The one aspect of the salad that doesn’t change too much is the greens in their salad.
Today I am here to inspire some new greens that can grace your plate. When it comes to leafy greens, most of us rely on the basics like romaine, leaf lettuce and spinach week after week – and while all of these provide health benefits, there is a huge selection of leafy greens in the produce aisle that you could potentially be missing!
Why Eat Greens
First let’s talk about why we should even eat greens. We’ve all heard that it’s important to eat those green vegetables and we have to say, that age-old recommendation has merit! Leafy green vegetables are a total nutrition powerhouse providing plant-based calcium, iron and magnesium, plus vitamins A, C and K (vitamin K is necessary for blood clotting and bone health).
What if you don’t like the greens.
Explore different varieties and cooking methods.
If you don’t like the taste of one variety, chances are you can find an alternative. It might also be a matter of preparation method, so don’t hesitate to do some experimenting with trying one green 3 or 5 different ways. Maybe you don’t like it raw but you like better cooked. Maybe you like it cooked but only if it’s sautéed with onion or garlic.
The cooking method that will bring out the sweetness in greens is roasting. If you are completely unsure about greens then try roasting the leaves until crispy. Kale and spinach can be good greens to roast, just make sure to watch them closely so they don’t burn.
The method that will probably be the easiest to hide the flavor completely is blending them into smoothies. Start with half a handful of a green and throw that into the blender along with your other smoothie ingredients. It will seamlessly blend into without adding a strong flavor.
Here are some of our favorites along with simple ways you can try incorporating them into your regular rotation:
Swapping arugula for romaine is a great way to spice up a salad (literally!). This leafy green has a peppery bite and delicate texture. It pairs perfectly with a light citrus vinaigrette and some shaved parmesan cheese (aka – the ultimate no hassle dinner side salad). Arugula is a cruciferous vegetable, like its cousins broccoli and cauliflower, and therefore has added disease-preventative effects and helpful for detox.
You might already be familiar with traditional “curly” kale that has become a grocery store staple in recent years. Lacinato or “dino” kale is the one that has a long flat leaves with a bumpy texture and newer to the scene. Add it to your favorite soup or stew near the end of cooking time for a pop of bright green color and an extra element of texture. Cooking kale mellows its bitter flavor, so a quick sauté in some olive oil with a bit of lemon juice is a delicious way to enjoy this nutrient powerhouse.
This leafy green typically has a gorgeous bright pink or yellow stem. Due to the large size of the leaves, chard makes a nice swap for tortillas (a great low-carbohydrate option!). Use the leaves to wrap hummus and vegetables. You can also sauté the delicate leaves, as they cook up quickly. The stems are full of nutrition so chop them and sauté first with some onion and garlic for an amazing side dish and you can add in some chickpeas for a plant-focused meal.
Watercress is a cruciferous vegetable with long stems and small, circular leaves. It makes a great sandwich topper in place of traditional leaf lettuce for a fun presentation. The bright, peppery taste does well with just a bit of vinegar and olive oil. You can also drop into soups just before serving for a burst of flavor. One of our favorite salads includes watercress, cucumbers, and radishes – fresh and delicious!
Bok Choy is a type of Chinese cabbage with a bright white stem surrounded by dark green leaves. It’s most commonly used in Asian cuisines including stir-fries and soups like ramen, but feel free to add it to salads and slaws. I love this simple recipe for sheet pan bok choy – simply place quartered bok choy on parchment-lined sheet pan and toss with freshly grated ginger and sesame oil. Roast at 350° F until softened and serve with fresh lime wedges.
Amanda is a pizza loving registered dietitian nutritionist specializing in mindfulness and gut health. She quickly realized that gut health goes beyond the gut; it is also about honoring our gut feelings. She is the creator of The Mindful Gut™ which uses science and strategy to help people improve their gut health.