Nutrition Corner: Learning how to cook and enjoy leafy greens

Nutrition Corner Mary R. Ehret


    A few weeks ago, I wrote on the importance of knowing your salad greens. Today I would like to give pointers on how to enjoy cooked leafy greens, which does include some salad greens like spinach and kale.

    Some leafy greens can be cooked as well as eaten raw. They include spinach, kale, collard and beet greens. In Northeast Pennsylvania, spinach is more well-known than other leafy greens like kale, collard and beet greens. Fresh or frozen, chopped spinach can be easily added to mixed dishes like lasagna, omelets and soups. Kale, collard and beet greens may be a bit more unfamiliar to some.

    First, this is the food of which we traditionally don’t eat enough. The dietary guidelines encourage us to eat 2 1/2 cups of vegetables a day because of their nutritional value and low-calorie nature. The guidelines go on to recommend eating 1 1/2 to 2 cups of leafy greens, raw or cooked over a week’s period of time. Currently, Americans are eating vegetables only just a little more than once a day. How many times do you or your family eat vegetables a day?

    Also, it’s important to note the nutritional value of all these greens. They are great sources of Vitamins A, K and C, as well as folate, iron, fiber and magnesium. Leafy greens are also great sources of lutein, the phytochemical that has shown to support healthy vision. Leafy greens are also low in calories. They are a great nutrition bargain!

    If leafy greens are unfamiliar to you, they can have a bitter flavor. It’s their natural protection against predators. But when blended with other ingredients, the bitter flavor can soften.

    Leafy greens can be purchased prewashed. If you purchase prewash, do not wash again. It’s important not to contaminate leafy greens by exposing them to anything that has been in the sink.

    If you purchase leafy greens from a farmers market, they need to be rinsed. Store in a refrigerator and rinse just before use. Store any rinsed leafy greens in a plastic bag with a paper towel to collect any moisture. Remember to keep greens separate from fruits in the refrigerator. Ethylene gas from fruits can cause the leafy greens to spoil quickly.

    Finding ways to be successful at introducing new vegetables can be trying at times. Research from Penn State has shown much success if you form a tasting team at home and agree that if two people like it, make it again. Therefore, if you have a family of four and two do not like the new vegetable dish but two do, serve it again.

    For more information, check out the Totally Veggies website at Here you can preview our new resource guide that gives more information on introducing new vegetables.

    Meanwhile, here is a recipe that I just tried that received rave reviews. Feel free to substitute other grains for orzo such as quinoa, barley or small, whole grain pasta.

    Sautéed Kale with Orzo

    4 cups of kale, stemmed and chopped (to desired fineness)

    2 cups uncooked orzo pasta

    1 teaspoon ground turmeric

    2 Tablespoons olive oil

    4 cloves garlic, chopped

    Juice of 1 large lemon (4 to 6 Tablespoons juice)

    1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

    1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

    Pepper to taste

    Wash the kale, remove the stems, and chop the leaves into bite-size pieces. Place in a bowl until ready to cook.

    Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Sprinkle the turmeric over the boiling water (use lightly, as it may produce a slightly bitter aftertaste) and stir in the orzo. Bring back to a boil and cook uncovered for 11 to 12 minutes until pasta is cooked al dente, or firm to the bite. Drain and put cooked pasta into a mixing bowl and set aside.

    Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook the sliced garlic in the hot olive oil for a few seconds. Stir the kale into the garlic, mix well, and cover with lid. Cook for 10 minutes. Remove the cover and continue cooking and stirring until the kale is as tender as desired, roughly 10 minutes more.

    Stir the kale mixture into the orzo along with the lemon juice, nutmeg, and Parmesan cheese, and season with pepper.

    Nutrition Corner Mary R. Ehret Corner Mary R. Ehret

    Mary Ehret is the Penn State Extension Nutrition Links Supervisor in Luzerne, Lackawanna, Monroe, Carbon, Sullivan and Bradford counties. Reach her at 570-825-1701 or at

    Mary Ehret is the Penn State Extension Nutrition Links Supervisor in Luzerne, Lackawanna, Monroe, Carbon, Sullivan and Bradford counties. Reach her at 570-825-1701 or at

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