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Saint Patrick's Day Greens

Whether or not your ancestry includes any Irish genes, it can be fun to get into the spirit of St. Patrick's Day, if only to toast the luck o' the Irish with a mug of cold beer.

Some, of course, go the whole route with dyed green food, from beer to bagels, but you don't need to resort to dyes to find delicious, healthy green foods.

The most common greens are spinach, collard, kale and chard, and all of them are low in calories and fat as well as rich in fiber and vitamins A and C. These greens also contain phytochemicals that help fight cancer and other serious health problems.

Long a staple of southern cooking, collard, also known as collard greens and collards (in the plural), is a variety of cabbage that grows in a loose rosette at the top of a tall stem. Often confused with kale, it tastes like a cross between cabbage and kale. Look for crisp green leaves with no evidence of wilting or yellowing. In addition to vitamins A and C, collard contains calcium and iron.

Kale comes in many varieties and colors. It is easily identified by its frilly leaves arranged in a loose bouquet formation. The most common variety is a deep green variously tinged with shades of blue or purple.

Because the center stalk is tough, it should be removed before the kale is used. Store in the refrigerator for no longer than three days, as its flavor tends to become too strong after that. Kale is a good source of folic acid.

Chard, also referred to as Swiss chard, has crinkly green leaves and silvery, celery-like stalks. Choose it for its tender greens, which can be prepared like spinach, and crisp stalks which can be served like asparagus. Chard is a good source of iron.

The fresher the greens, the better the flavor, so don't keep them in the refrigerator for longer than 3 days. Because greens tend to be full of grit, rinse them thoroughly before cooking. Avoid using aluminum pans, as the chemical reaction gives off an unpleasant taste.

Remember that greens shrink dramatically when cooked: A pound of fresh greens will result in about 4 small servings.

A wide variety of leafy greens, much different from their American cousins, are an integral part of most Asian meals. As a change of pace from the familiar greens you usually cook with, try some non-Western options, such as bok choy, which has a mild, subtle taste, lots of crunch and is easily found in large supermarkets.

The following dish makes use of both types of leafy greens.

Steamed Greens with Ginger and Water Chestnuts

Makes 4 servings.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups mixed leafy greens, e.g. bok choy (Chinese cabbage or Chinese chard), spinach, Swiss chard leaves, collards or kale, stems removed
  • 1 tsp. peeled, finely-minced fresh ginger
  • 1 tsp. finely-minced fresh garlic
  • 1/2 Tbsp. sesame seed oil, or as needed
  • 1/2 cup diced canned water chestnuts (rinsed and drained)
  • Salt and freshly-ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Steam each type of greens separately, until tender, adding each cooked green to a large plate. (Each type takes a different length of time to cook, some as little as 30 seconds.) Sprinkle ginger and garlic over the entire batch of greens, then evenly drizzle a small amount of oil on top.
  2. Meanwhile, heat a small amount of the oil in a small pan over medium heat until hot. Add water chestnuts and sauté 30 seconds. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a plate covered with paper towels to remove excess oil. Scatter water chestnuts on top of greens.
  3. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Nutritional Information Per Serving:

30 calories
2 g. total fat
less than 1 g. saturated fat
3 g. carbohydrate
1 g. protein
1 g. dietary fiber
19 mg. sodium

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