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Monday, February 28, 2011

Rainbow Greens

Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.
(Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food.

When I was a child, I ate as a child, tormented by the greens on my plate.  Perhaps because the greens were never actually green.  They were steamed or boiled to death in variant shades of beige and khaki - far beyond recognition of their true color, flavor and natural goodness.  
How was I to know that asparagus, “the Queen of Vegetables” (as my mother proclaimed) was anything but a vile, limp, grey and fibrous stalk I could barely chew? Who’d imagine that broccoli had a snap, a pleasant crunch when braised to a lovely shade of bright green? Who knew from the mush of a brussel sprout that the true vegetable had a bite, and that it was, in fact, a delicious mini-cabbage?  Spinach?  Something of a slime of bitter dark and mysterious green with lemon. Who’d suspect it could be the gentle bed of a lovely salad?
Fortunately, cooking well is the best revenge for the assaults at the table of childhood.   
Rarely a night goes by when I don’t make a salad.  And I don’t just toss ingredients together.  I compose them.  To me,  a proper salad is a celebration of flavor, color and texture.   A combo of sweet,  salty, and crunch.  To make a salad, I often take out a saute pan, heat, and toss in a handful of snow peas or green beans, not so much to cook them, but to release the flavors in olive oil and garlic.    
So much for the general gist.  This week’s Kitchen Challenge on Open Salon calls for dark, leafy winter greens.  The rainbow chard at the market called to me.  
Confession: I’ve never cooked chard before.  
Discovery: chard is like spinach with big beautiful leaves and a hint of beet flavor running through in its veins.  Flash-cooked, it makes a sensational winter salad. Try it on a bed of spinach, as follows.
   
Flash-Cooked Chard with Roasted Beets 
on a Bed of Baby Lettuce with Berries, 
Pears and Pistachio Nuts
Ingredients:
Bunch of rainbow chard (or Swiss Chard)
3 or 4 cups baby spinach
6 or 7 leaves of radicchio
2 roasted beets, sliced
1 red anjou pear, sliced
1/2 cup blackberries
2 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons pistachio nuts
salt, pepper and balsamic vinegar to taste
To prepare chard
  1. Soak in pot of cold salt water to remove grit from leaves
  2. Separate the stem and leaves of the greens. Chop the stems into 1/2 inch pieces. To shred greens, stack leaves, then roll them like a cigar, and cut into thin strips.
  3. Heat olive oil and garlic i skillet, toss in stems until they begin to brown, toss in leaves stir until the leaves begin to wilt.  
  4. Turn off heat and season with salt, pepper and lemon juice
To compose salad:
  1. Toss radicchio and spinach leaves together, and top with prepared chard
  2. Add slices of beets, pear, berries, nuts.
  3. Drizzled olive oil and balsamic vinegar

Health benefits of Swiss chard*
Swiss chard like spinach is a powerhouse veg, 
  • A source of many phytonutrients that have health promotional and disease prevention properties.
  • A low-cal choice, recommended for cholesterol control and weight reduction.
  • An excellent source of anti-oxidant vitamin-C to quench free radicals.  Lab studies suggest that foods rich in vitamin C help maintain normal connective tissue, prevent iron deficiency, and also helps boost immunity.  
  • An excellent source of vitamin-K, good for bone health.  Adequate vitamin K in the diet also helps limit neuronal damage in the brain - a factor in the treatment of  Alzheimer's disease.
  • A rich source of omega-3 fatty acids; vitamin-A and flavonoids - anti-oxidants like ß carotene, alpha carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin.
  • Also rich in B-complex group of vitamins such as folates, niacin, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), thiamin and pantothenic acid that are essential for optimum cellular metabolic functions.
  • A source of minerals like copper, calcium, sodium, potassium, iron, manganese and phosphorus. Potassium in an important component of cell and body fluids. 
Safety profile
  • Because of its high vitamin K content, those taking anti-coagulants such as warfarin are encouraged to avoid dark leafy greens since they can increase the vitamin K concentration in the blood which is what the drugs are often attempting to lower. 
Photos:  V. Henoch 

Happy, healthy greens to you ... and thanks for chomping by. 

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