ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — What motivates our decisions about the foods we eat? Flavor, cost, availability, health and habit are just a few factors that affect our daily choices.
Eating fresh, seasonal foods can help guide our selections, and this time of year, leafy greens available at your local growers’ market are some of the best options around. Minimal prep time also makes them a great choice.
“Leafy greens” is a broad term for plant leaves that are eaten as a vegetable, and they contain many nutrients. This is the time to make lusty salad bowls, vibrant green smoothies, and much more!
Greens that are uber-fresh taste full of life and energy. When you buy them directly from farmers down the road, you will taste the difference immediately.
Leafy greens have a variety of tastes and textures, and some taste better eaten raw while other you may prefer cooked. Spinach and lettuce are sweet and tender, while kale and Swiss chard are a bit tougher; mustard greens and wild quelites have a slightly bitter flavor, while baby choy and tatsoi have a delicate flavor.
Try mixing your greens for great flavor combinations. Supple, peppery, tender greens may become your new reason for getting to the growers’ market each week.
Cost: Prices are best during any fruit or vegetable’s peak season – that is when the supply is greatest. June is prime season for greens in most parts of the state.
If the price per pound seems off-putting, don’t forget how little loose greens weigh. One pound may be more than you need, and farmers will be happy to show you what a quarter or half-pound looks like in a bag.
And, when it comes to value, local greens outlast those shipped from miles away. If you haven’t gobbled them up immediately, local greens can last 10-14 days in your refrigerator.
Availability: Most greens enjoy growing in slightly cooler temperatures, so you will find a greater variety of leafy greens in early summer and then again in fall.
New Mexico’s microclimates and greenhouses also impact local food production, so you may find delicious greens well into summer. If your grower lives in the
East Mountains or at higher elevations in northern New Mexico, for example, you’ll know why they may still have bountiful greens in July.
Health: Leafy greens are one of the best foods that you can consume to benefit your health. Increasing the varieties that you eat is important because the type and amount of nutrients vary within each leafy green.
The four top nutrient groups provided by leafy greens are: nutrients and minerals, fiber, phytonutrients and chlorophyll. They do everything from preventing inflammatory diseases and osteoporosis, to reducing the risk of heart disease, to lowering cholesterol and reducing the risks of certain kinds of cancer. And if that’s not enough, they can also help control your appetite and keep your gut bacteria healthy, plus much more.
Habit: Making greens a part of your regular eating routine all comes down to finding your favorite recipes. Think about these ways to add leafy greens to your diet:
• Smoothies: Add leafy greens like kale, spinach or beet greens to your smoothies.
• Sandwiches or wraps: Using green leafy vegetables in the place of bread in sandwiches or wraps is the way to go if you want to be low on carbs. Add sliced cucumber, carrot or radish for crunch.
• Egg scrambles: Add leafy greens to omelets or egg scrambles. The greens will add nice texture and the strong protein taste from the egg will keep their flavor moderate.
I’ve included two recipes to get you started. The kale smoothie is my personal favorite. I make large batches (using a full bunch of kale, two apples, full cucumber, etc.) and have 3-5 servings ready to go in the refrigerator. (It lasts close to a week.)
Have fun adapting it to what you have on hand and what you like. Some ideas: Use spinach instead of kale. Add a kiwi. Add yogurt instead of the avocado. Add peas or lettuce. Add cinnamon. Add protein powder. And, for a sweeter, kid-friendly version, use limeade as the liquid.
My second recipe, Boxcar Farm Wild Greens Soup, can use any wild or garden greens you want – lambs quarter, dandelion, kale, chard, turnip greens, dock, early plantain, wild mallow. Be more careful with strong-flavored greens like arugula or sorrel, but those will work, too. You can also add any fresh herbs (wild or not) such as wild monarda, oregano, thyme.
Whatever you do to incorporate more greens into your daily meals, your body will thank you. And when you purchase them from local farmers, your taste buds will, too!
Denise Miller is executive director of the New Mexico Farmers’ Marketing Association. Visit FarmersMarketsNM.org and DoubleUp.NM.org.
HOUSE FAVORITE GREEN SMOOTHIE
Big handful(s) of kale (any variety)
1 green apple (with or without skin)
½ cucumber (de-seeded)
½ avocado (if desired)
1 inch of fresh ginger, grated (less for a milder taste)
Local honey (1 tablespoon)
1-2 cups water (or green tea)
3-4 ice cubes
Wash kale and de-stem. I find curly kale the easiest to de-stem.
Cut the apple. I usually leave the skin on for extra fiber, but you can peel if you like.
Slice the cucumber in half the long way and scrape out seeds with a spoon.
Prepare green tea if you want extra antioxidants and caffeine.
Cut avocado and scoop out. The more you use, the creamier your smoothie.
Add honey, grated ginger, lime, liquid and ice. Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
– Recipe by Denise Miller
BOXCAR FARM WILD GREENS SOUP
½ pound spinach
1 cup each of 3 kinds of other greens (dandelion greens, nettles greens, quelites or other wild green)
½ cup chives or green onions
½ cup cilantro (or parsley)
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 potatoes, either Yukon type or Desiree
2-3 cloves garlic
1 good sized onion
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2-3 teaspoons Chimayó red chile
Soup broth or water
Wash and chop greens and chop the potatoes.
Combine all the greens (including herbs and green onions) in a soup pot with salt, butter and enough water to cover and simmer for about 35-40 minutes.
Chop the onion and cook over low heat in a skillet with some olive oil until brown and caramelized. This can take up to 20-30 minutes. When the onions are about done, crush garlic into the pan and sizzle just long enough to start cooking the garlic.
Add the onion pan to the pot of greens, add about 3 to 4 cups of broth or water, and cook another few minutes to meld the flavors.
Puree the mix, either with a hand (immersion) blender or a regular blender.
Return the soup to the stove to heat a bit more and add spices – we like the Chimayó red chile and sometimes a bit of coconut aminos, but you could add cooking wine, lemon juice or any other flavoring you like.
– Boxcar Farm is a regular at the Santa Fe Farmers Market