The World's Healthiest Foods

Cooking Healthy with Winter Greens

Q. I would like to eat more greens, but I don't know how to cook them or make them taste good. Do you have any suggestions?

A. Greens are my favorite vegetable to cook and eat, especially the winter greens like kale and collard greens. Their hardiness works so well in those great winter dishes that slowly cook root vegetables and meat. Winter greens also hold up well in soups, and because winter is their natural growing season, they are especially compatible with the body's needs in cold weather months. Not only are they a delicious source of numerous vitamins and minerals in our winter meals, they have a warming effect on the body.

My favorite way of preparing greens is to toss lightly cooked greens with just a bit of fresh lemon juice, garlic and extra virgin olive oil, which is the traditional Mediterranean style. This really brings out the natural flavor of the greens. Winter greens also benefit from being prepared with Asian or Mediterranean flavoring, and they are very quick and easy to prepare.

Q. How do I cook them?

A. I have found that for most greens, not just kale and collards, but also spinach, beet greens and Swiss chard, it is best to eat them lightly cooked. Preparation and cooking methods vary depending upon the green.

It's best to cut all the greens widthwise into half-inch slices before cooking. Kale and collards, which are cruciferous greens, should be allowed to sit for 5-10 minutes after slicing before they are cooked, after which they should be quickly steamed in lightly salted water for no more than 5 minutes.

Slicing crucifers activates an enzyme called myrosinase, which converts highly beneficial phytonutrients in these plants into their active forms; heat inactivates myrosinase. When steaming your greens, use lightly salted water and steam for just a few minutes. A little salt in the steam helps greens retain their bright green color. Minimizing cooking time prevents greens from oxidizing, losing their flavor and turning brown. Press out any excess liquid with a fork, so it does not dilute the flavor of your dressing.

Healthy steaming is the best method for cooking kale and collards, but because spinach, Swiss chard and beet greens contain oxalic acid, they should be boiled for just 3 minutes. Healthy boiling will bring out their sweet mild flavor while leaching away some of their undesirable acids. When cooking spinach, Swiss chard and beet greens, it is best to add them to lightly salted water that is already boiling. Using a mesh strainer, remove spinach promptly after cooking 1 minute and remove Swiss chard and beet greens after 3 minutes before they start to oxidize and turn brown. A little salt in the water helps them retain their bright green color. Press out the excess liquid with a fork to prevent it from diluting the flavor of your dressing.

For exact cooking time and instructions for each green refer to our preparation cooking tips under Good Tasting Healthy Recipes. We have a list of cooking videos with exact instructions of cooking each green.

For more substantial and innovative ways to add these winter greens to your diet try our recipes such as: