Power Greens 101

Colder months bring the healthiest of the leafy greens. Find out the different varieties and why you should include power greens in every meal...

December 16, 2013

Delicious and healthy greens are available throughout the year, but colder weather is typically when the adventurous dark leafy green bounty is at its peak. There’s so much to choose from: Swiss chard, kale and collards thrive in winter, as do beet, turnip and mustard greens.

Why is this particular season great for these power greens? Well, some types of greens simply thrive with cooler weather. The Brassica family encompasses a variety of cruciferous vegetables, including kale, collards, arugula and bok choy. Their growth is nurtured by the cold, and the more frosts they enjoy, the sweeter their leaves.

There are plenty of health benefits to be derived from these power greens. Cruciferous vegetables, in particular, release compounds when chopped or chewed that researchers believe activate detoxifying enzymes in the liver. In turn, these enzymes may neutralize free radicals, thereby reducing the risk of breast, ovarian, colon and other cancers.

Remember not to overcook your greens. Quick-cooking techniques preserve the texture, color and flavor of greens - not to mention the nutritional quality. Here’s a quick glossary describing some of SupermarketGuru’s favorites:

Beet Greens have smooth, thin leaves and an earthy flavor.

Collard Greens have large, thick, dark green leaves, each branching from a thick central stem. Their flavor is mild, but the tough texture calls for longer cooking times.

Dandelion Greens have a pleasantly bitter flavor. The larger and older the leaves, the stronger and tougher they will be. Dandelion cultivated specifically for eating grows longer leaves and is more tender than its wild cousin. 

Escarole is a slightly bitter member of the chicory family with broad, ruffled leaves. It can be eaten cooked or raw. It’s particularly good in soups and stews.

Kale is a member of the cabbage family. Firm with tightly crinkled leaves on long stems, kale is dark green in color, with an earthy flavor similar to cabbage; it holds its texture well in cooking. Kale’s vitamin content is exceptional. Just one cup of raw kale contains 15 percent of the recommended daily value of calcium and vitamin B6, 40 percent of the magnesium, 180 percent of the vitamin A, 200 percent of the vitamin C and a whopping 1020 percent of the vitamin K.

Mustard Greens come in different varieties that range in size, shape and sharpness. Large-leafed mustards tend to be sweeter than those loosely formed into heads, which have a pungent bite. Small, curled mustards have the hottest, spiciest flavor.

Swiss Chard is also known simply as chard. This green has large, crinkled leaves on fleshy, ribbed stems. There are two varieties: one with red stems and another with pearly white stems. Red chard, also marketed as rhubarb or ruby chard, has a slightly earthier flavor, while chard with white stems tends to be sweeter.

Turnip Greens are rarely eaten raw. They boast rich flavor when slowly braised and are often mixed with collard and mustard greens. 

Have you tried all the greens on the list? If not, go out and try a new one this week. 

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