Spring forward with spring greens

  • photos.commixed greens

    photos.commixed greens

  • photos.comlarge bowl of fresh greens

    photos.comlarge bowl of fresh greens

  • Mark Black/mblack@dailyherald.com  Daily Herald Staff reporter and Food Editor Deb Pankey  2010 photo

    Mark Black/mblack@dailyherald.com Daily Herald Staff reporter and Food Editor Deb Pankey 2010 photo

By Deborah Pankey
Daily Herald Food Editor
Updated 3/29/2011 2:41 PM

As spring gets under way (last week's snow aside), we get into our annual spring cleaning rituals. We pull clothes of questionable style and fit from closets, sweep debris from the garage, evaluate jars of half-used condiments in the fridge.

This year, let's add our bodies to the list of spring cleaning tasks.


I'm not talking about a hot shower or herbal wrap at the spa (though that would be nice!). I'm talking about tuning up our bodies nutritionally.

And if you're going to do that, you're going to need some green. Green as in kale, watercress, collard greens, spinach, chard and other leafy produce.

"We talk about eating a rainbow of colors, but the most healthful color is green," says Terry Walters, author of the James Beard-nominated "Clean Start," a guide and recipe resource for incorporating whole, minimally processed food into your diet.

"This is the time of year for greens," Walters says. "Over the winter we've eaten more complex carbohydrates; this is a way to cleanse our bodies as we go into warmer weather.

"Greens can be bitter and bitter is cleansing and also very strengthening," she adds. "Greens support almost every system in your body -- immune and nervous systems, liver and thyroid function."

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According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, darker members of the greens family (that means not iceberg lettuce) pack a mean punch when it comes to fighting cancer. Evidence shows that consuming non-starchy vegetables, like dark-colored leafy greens, may protect against cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus and stomach while providing fiber, phytochemicals and antioxidants.

Beta carotene is a particularly powerful antioxidant found in dark leafy greens, according to the cancer group. As a rule of thumb, the greater the intensity of the color of a vegetable, the more beta-carotene it contains.

"Greens also bring in chlorophyll from the sun, sun that we've been craving (over winter)," Walters says

Nature has that great way of knowing what we need, and so these leafy edibles are some of the first plants to emerge from the thawed ground.

At Heritage Prairie Farm near Geneva, chef Jeremy Lycan watches young greens sprout in the hot houses at the small organic farm. He says he's eager to leave winter's hard squashes and root vegetables behind and begin building menus with kale, collard greens and micro lettuces. The menu for his April 16 farm dinner includes honey-roasted carrots over quickly braised greens and lightly dressed sweet pea tendrils.


Because these darker greens can be on the bitter end of the taste spectrum, Walters suggests easing them into your menus.

"Add greens to something you already know," she suggests. Saute kale and mix it into your lasagna or pasta sauce, sprinkle chard onto pizza, add chopped collard greens to soup (even if it comes out of a can), toss watercress or escarole with your favorite salad ingredients.

"Especially in the spring, most of these greens are tender," she says. "If you add just a bit of some darker greens to your regular salad you're getting some of the benefits."

The first time I made her Raw Kale Confetti Salad I used one bunch of kale, instead of two, and made up the difference with romaine, my family's preferred lettuce. We emptied the bowl.

Here are some other ways to work these nutritional powerhouses into your diet.