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For most people, the only leafy green that comes to mind on Saint Patrick’s Day—other than a shamrock—is cabbage. But as long as we’re celebrating spring and all things green, it’s a perfect time to explore a group of nature’s most profoundly healthy foods.

All vegetables are good for you, of course, but leafy greens top the chart when it comes to nutrition and health benefits. They’re good sources of vitamin K—a nutrient important for bone health—and of the B vitamin folate. (Folate derives its name from the term “foliage,” in fact.) They also provide plenty of beta-carotene, the vitamin A precursor.

Different greens have unique benefits, though, and it’s good to eat a variety of these foods. Leafy members of the cruciferous family of vegetables—turnip greens, collards, and kale—provide compounds that are being studied for their cancer-fighting potential. They’re also excellent sources of calcium.

Spinach, chard, and beet greens don’t provide calcium, but they are among the best sources of potassium, a mineral important for both bone and cardiovascular health. Because these greens are more delicate, they cook up quickly, and also have a mild flavor when consumed in the raw state.

Most people know how to cook and use spinach and Swiss chard, but many are less familiar with collards, kale, and turnip greens. Because of their strong flavor and sometimes tough leaves, the cruciferous greens can benefit from a little more cooking than is usually recommended for vegetables. While leaves from younger plants do fine with a quick sauté, many cooks recommend simmering kale and collards for 15 minutes or so to make them tender.

Try this recipe for cruciferous greens with cayenne pepper. (And enjoy them with a glass of green beer!)

Spicy Greens

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound fresh greens, washed and torn into pieces
  • 2 cups vegetable broth or stock¾ cup diced onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper or to taste
  • Salt and black pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. Bring the stock to a boil and add the greens. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until tender.
  2. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and sauté the onions and garlic until onions are transparent.
  3. Add the ginger and cayenne and cook over medium heat, stirring, for another minute.
  4. Add the collards and stir until all ingredients are well mixed. Season with salt and pepper.

Image Source: Liz West/Flickr

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