If you have been buying organic produce for a long time, you’ll know that salad – or mesclun mix – wasn’t sold commercially in this country until the late 1980s. Even then, it wasn’t due to customer demand that it got started here in the US – it came from a desire to bring different flavors and textures to the American palette. Organic pioneers like Alice Waters and Warren Webber of Star Route farms played an essential role in bringing this organic staple to our dinner tables, and Earthbound – which has been producing salad for 25 years – helped to launch an entire industry.
Yes, I said a staple of American produce purchases; after all, packaged salads are the #1 selling organic produce item in the country. It’s easy to understand why: it’s convenient, tasty, and there are so many options to choose from. Mixed salad greens, baby arugula, herb mix, romaine salad, kits with dressing…the list goes on and on.
This brings us to a study led by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists, which found that the package you choose in your produce department may have an effect on the amount of nutrients you will get from your salad. Think about it – do you just grab the front package from the display? Or do you reach behind and try to get the one with the longest date? Either way, you’ll find the study done at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Crop Quality and Fruit Insects Research Unit in Weslaco, Texas to be of interest.
For the study, the researchers stored spinach at 39 degrees (the temperature it is stored at most stores) in market-type, light-transmissible polymer tubs with snap-tight lids. Then they exposed spinach leaves to light similar to the 24-hour artificial fluorescent light received by spinach in packages located at the front of the salad case.
At the same time they gave another batch of spinach leaves the dark treatment, so to speak. In this part of the study they put the leaves in double brown paper grocery bags. Guess what they found? Spinach leaves exposed to the continuous light had a significant increase in levels of carotenoids and vitamins C, E, K, and folate. So while you may get a little more shelf life reaching to the back, the healthier choice may be right there in the light!
There was once a time when I struggled to get enough greens in my diet. I gave myself pep talks about how great greens were for my health in order to alleviate the resistance felt at eating ‘hearty foliage’, or so they seemed to me at the time. Then, after attending culinary school at The Natural Gourmet Institute for Health & Culinary Arts, my relationship changed from one of concerted effort to absolute effortlessness, and it’s all in how they’re prepared.
Greens are high in fiber, and when raw and untreated (culinarily speaking), can be exhausting to chew, and for many, difficult to enjoy. There are many techniques you can use, though, to balance texture and increase enjoyment. Here are some of my favorites:
Collard greens have broad and resilient leaves that make them excellent stand-ins for tortillas. I remove the tough stem, saving it for juicing later, and then overlap the sides of the leaf to close the seam where the stem was removed. Layer on some mustard, mayonnaise, pesto, or spread of choice, top with sliced vegetables, herbs, cheese, tempeh, or protein of choice, and wrap tightly by folding in the sides and rolling from bottom to top. Skewer with a toothpick to hold together, and serve with dipping sauce for a fast meal high in vital nutrients.
Kale might be the most popular green of the moment. Seen in salads, soups, and sides, this green boasts a beautiful blend of sweet and mildly bitter flavors. The easiest ways to prepare it involves removing the stem (save for juicing!), rolling tightly like a cigar, and slicing as thinly as possible to create little green ribbons, or “chiffonade” as the knife cut is called. Toss with olive oil and tamari, or massage by hand with a pinch of sea salt. The salt or tamari softens the fiberous parts of the plant making it more tender in texture, much like the ribbons it resembles. It’s delicious on its own or mixed with wild rice, sliced kumquats, avocado, and red onion – or any of your favorite grains, fruits, and vegetables. Let your creativity and taste buds guide you into building an entire repertoire of kale salads. Your body will thank you.
Chard is an exceptionally tender green with almost no bitterness, making it a perfect introductory green to those new to dark leafy vegetables. Even the stems are more tender than other hearty greens, so when I cook chard, I finely dice the stems and sauté them with onion to get the most out of my vegetable and put density into my dish. I like to chiffonade the chard much like I do kale, and then add it to my sautéed onion and chard stems with a mix of warming spices like chili powder, cinnamon, and allspice. A generous pinch of salt will help break down the leaves, and then finish off your wilted chard with toasted pumpkin seeds for a crunchy contrast. Whatever manages to not be eaten immediately is delicious with breakfast the following morning. If you’re looking for spices to expand your sautéed chard masterpieces, Ursula Ayrout, aka Jane Spice, shared some excellent suggestions on The Spice of Life show.
No more excuses to not experience the wonder of greens! Enjoy a healthy dose of calcium, B vitamins, C vitamins, antioxidants, minerals, and much more by getting a daily dose of dark leafy greens.
In the children’s story Goldilocks, the titular character looked around the bears’ house for the perfect bed to nap in. One was too soft, one was too hard – and one was juuuust
right. Buying citrus can often be like Goldilocks’ experience when it comes to
flavor. Some are too sweet (yes, my friends, I do believe fruit can be too sweet -
especially when that is all you taste and the true flavor is hidden by the sugar),
some are too tart…but in the case of Minneola tangelos at the end of February,
they can be just right! The waning weeks of February and the beginning weeks of March are when Minneolas have the perfect blend of sweet and tart, and with this being such a great citrus year due to the low rainfall you can expect to find great tasting fruit wherever you go.
The Minneola gets its sweet-tart flavor from its parents, as it is a cross between a
Duncan grapefruit and a Dancy tangerine. So how do you pick the best fruit? As
always, look for fruit with the following qualities:
• Firm and heavy for its size. Pick up a few and you should be able to tell
• Isn’t too soft, or have soft spots.
• Has bright, shiny, slightly pebbly skin. If it is wrinkled or shriveled it has
started to age and may be dry inside.
• Has a scent that smells fresh and fragrant with no hint of fermentation.
Minneolas do well in your fruit bowl, as they can keep at room temperature for
three or four days if they are kept out of the warmest part of the house. Like most
citrus they prefer between 45° and 48° F so after a few days it’s best to move
them into the refrigerator. If you need them to last longer, they can keep for up to two weeks if you store them in the refrigerator when you get them home.
Minneola’s make a really nice juice – so much so that juice makers are now including
some Minneola juice in their OJ. If you’d like to make some juice at home here are a few quick tips that may helpful.
- It will take 2 to 4 medium Minneola Tangelos to make 1 cup of juice.
- If you are using zest in a recipe, 1 medium Minneola Tangelo will provide about 4
teaspoons of zest.
- Lastly, to get the most vitamins from your Minneola juice, make your juice as
close to the time you’ll be drinking it as possible. And for the best flavor do not store freshly
squeezed Minneola juice for more than 48 hours.
There are always so many choices for carrots when you go shopping at the store: loose, baby, 1-5 pound bags – and they are all good for you and quite flavorful! However, my favorites during this time of year are the bunched carrots, as they just seem to be a little bit sweeter and a touch more tender.
When you buy your bunched carrots, look for carrots with no cracks or damage and bright green tops that look fresh and perky. Choose the ones with the brightest color as the brighter the color, the sweeter the carrot – and of course a darker orange means more beta-carotene for you.
When you get them home, cut off the greens before storing them in the fridge as leaving them on robs the carrots of moisture and essential vitamins. You can store your carrots in the refrigerator in a plastic bag or a sealed container, and they’ll keep for 7 to 10 days.
Make sure you keep them away from fruits such as apples and pears, as the ethylene gas those fruits release can make your carrots bitter. If you’ve keep your carrots around a bit you may notice a dry white coating or bloom on them; it’s not mold – it’s a sign of dehydration. You can take care of that by soaking your carrots in ice water for about 10 minutes. The white will disappear and they will regain their bright orange color.
A few more tips: first, always wash and scrub carrots before using, because they’re harvested directly from the soil. Peeling is a matter of choice; depending on your preference and the size of the roots you buy. Larger carrots can sometimes be bitter and if there is any bitterness it will be in the peel – so give ‘em a bite before you break out the peeler!
When I was a produce manager, customers would often ask me: what’s the best bunch of greens to eat to get the most calcium? When I first heard this, I would recommend greens like arugula or collards – then I realized that some folks may not like these greens due to their strong flavor during certain times of the year. So then I started asking them what greens they did like, and tailored my recommendations around that. After all, it doesn’t matter how much calcium or antioxidants a particular green has if you won’t eat it, right?
Well, whether you are a fan of fresh bunched greens or not, now is the time to eat them. Why? Because even though they grow year-round, in the winter they are especially good because the cold makes them sweeter. With the mild but cool weather we have had around most of the country this winter, greens are abundant, tasty, and reasonably priced.
When choosing fresh greens like kale or chard look for fresh green, red, or purple leaves. In the spring the rule of thumb would be to choose bunches with smaller leaves, as they would be more tender than greens grown in warmer months. In the winter, however, you can have smaller leaves and bunches and still use leaves that are a little less tender since it takes them longer to grow in the colder nights.
There is a bonus to this besides the sweeter flavor: in many tests, organic greens have shown to be higher in antioxidants because winter plants have to work harder to grow, which makes them stressed. Stress in a plant creates more antioxidants, and more antioxidants can make you healthier!
If you are not sure how much to buy, figure that you get about two cups cooked for every pound (or 6 cups) of raw kale.
When you are at the store look for greens that are kept in a chilled display case or on ice. While this is the most common way to buy them, sometimes during big promotions a store may pile them off the chilled display for quick sales. Greens left off refrigeration will wilt faster and will not hold up as long when you get them home. Kale in particular will become bitter if left in a warm place for a long period of time.
When you get them home, place unwashed organic greens in a plastic bag in the refrigerator and they will keep for up to a week in the crisper drawer. If you prefer milder greens you should plan on eating them sooner than later as the taste becomes stronger the longer they are stored.
If you find a good deal on greens and want to stock up, you can freeze them and use them in recipes later on. Just wash your greens and dry them well. Yes – even organic greens should be washed as it may have dirt or grit stuck to the leaves and may have been handled by many people. The easiest way is to fill your sink, dip your unbanded bunch into the water and swirl around letting the grit settle to the bottom. Once should be enough but with particularly sandy greens like spinach you may want to do it again.
Pat them dry with a paper towel then chop by hand into small pieces or mince in a food processor.
Place chopped greens in a bag or container and freeze. Minced, frozen greens can be used similar to raw since they thaw very quickly.
Greens are so healthy for you and really quite versatile: they can be steamed and added to a can of soup, laid in a tortilla with hummus and cheese for a healthy quesadilla, or wilted on top of pasta. Healthy, hearty and full of flavor – what’s not to like?
Enjoy the bounty.
Listed as one of Mother Nature’s highly regarded “superfoods,” so named because of their ability to protect against a range of diseases, blueberries are gems among fruits. Here’s a short list of reasons to amp your intake of blueberries:
· They are an amazing source of anthocyanins, a dietary antioxidant
· They are a low-glycemic fruit which makes them great for balancing blood sugar
· They contain ellagic acid, a phytonutrient found to slow the growth of certain tumors
· Um – did I mention they were delicious?
Blueberries are good for more than just baking into pies and pancakes. Think outside of the breakfast box and try the below recipe for Bulgur Salad with Almonds and Blueberries for savory spin on this superfood.
Bulgur Salad with Almonds and Blueberries
Serves 6 to 8
1 cup bulgur
1 ¾ cup water
4 scallions, thinly sliced
4 celery sticks, thinly sliced
½ cup fresh parsley, minced
½ cup red onion, small diced
½ cup toasted slivered almonds
2 cups fresh blueberries or ½ cup dried blueberries
¼ cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon shoyu
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon ground dried thyme
½ cup olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. Bring 1 ¾ cup water to boil in a small sauté pan. Season the water with salt. Add the bulgur to the boiling water. Cover, bring back up to a boil for 1 minute, then turn off the keep and, keeping the lid on, steam the bulgur for 45 minutes.
2. While the bulgur is steaming, combine the scallions, celery, parsley, onion, almonds, and dried blueberries in a bowl. Set aside.
3. In another small mixing bowl or measuring cup, stir together the lemon juice, shoyu, balsamic vinegar, and thyme. Slowly whisk in the olive oil to emulsify the vinaigrette. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
4. When the bulgur is cooked, add it to the bowl of vegetables. Pour the vinaigrette over the salad a little at a time, stirring and tasting until desired flavor is reached. Enjoy at room temperature or cold.
If you look at the latest statistics on the growth of local food, you’ll see that we’ve come quite a ways in a very short time. Here are just a few:
• Direct-to-consumer marketing amounted to $1.2 billion in 2007, compared with $551 million in 1997.
• The number of farmers markets rose to 5,274 in 2009, up from 2,756 in 1998 and 1,755 in 1994.
• The number of farm to school programs, which use local farms for school meals programs, increased to 2,095 in 2009, up from 400 in 2004 and 2 in 1996-97.
And yet, with all of this growth in local food you may find these USDA statistics about imported food consumptions even more surprising:
• The food we eat that is imported from other countries has grown 11.3 percent in the past two decades. Equaling almost 16.8 percent today.
• Since 1975 we’ve more than doubled the amount of imported fruit we eat to where it makes up about half of our total consumption.
Now, it could be that there is just more available to us, as we have become a global society – or it could be that as more people immigrate to our country they are bringing new flavors from home with them, which allows all of us to expand our palettes.
Our palettes are changing as well. Consider that we eat about 4 pounds less apples per year than we than we did 3 decades ago, and our consumption of mangoes, kiwi, avocadoes, and papaya has gone up. If this means we are eating more fruits and vegetables, it’s good. But we still must be mindful of what we choose! After all, we did have low levels of carbendazim (a fungicide that isn’t approved in the U.S.) discovered in some orange juice from Brazil (a major supplier for the U.S.) sold here this past month. This is another great reason to choose organic.
So where does this leave us? With lots of great food choices! Especially when you consider that according to Organic Monitor, global organic sales reached $50.9 billion in 2008 – double the $25 billion recorded in 2003. So you can support local, expand your plate and tastes, and support your beliefs as well. I guess if you want, you can have your fruit and eat it too!
Raw or roasted, red bell peppers are sweet and delicious. They make an excellent transport mechanism for dips, so I always include them on my crudités platter. And if you can get them local and in season, their flavor is superior.
Drawing on a tip from my dear friend and colleague Kathy Cummins, Instructor for the Santa Cruz Bauman College Natural Chef Training Program, I now pick up a dozen or more red bell peppers from the Farmers’ Market at the end of their season, take them home and roast them all before slicing and freezing them to use throughout the year. This helps keep my costs and carbon footprint low while allowing me, and more importantly, my friends and family, to enjoy the peak flavor as well as the health benefits of locally grown peppers.
Red bell peppers are rich in beta-carotene, lycopene, and lutein, three carotenoids that are great antioxidants and which have been shown to promote eye health and protect against mascular degeneration. Beta-carotene can also be converted into Vitamin A by the body, making red bell peppers an excellent choice for vegetarians and vegans.
Check out the following recipes for yummy ways to enjoy red bell peppers at home:
· Creamy Artichoke Dip with Red Bell Pepper Crudités
· Mediterranean Stuffed Bell Peppers with Goat Feta, Quinoa & Herbs
· Panzanella Salad
· Vineyard Salad
I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who doesn’t love avocados. And what’s not to love? They’re rich, creamy, and oh-so-good for you.
Arguably the most beloved way to enjoy avocadoes is in guacamole. There are as many recipes for guacamole as there are people who enjoy them – part of the fun of Super Bowl Sundy, Cinco de Mayo, and just about any dinner party with an appetizer table to satiate guests while the hostess hurries to put the finishing touches on her main course.
From Caramelized Onion Guacamole to the old stand-by mashed avocado mixed with jarred salsa, guacamole can be as easy or as complicated as you’d like it to be.
In the summertime, I like to make mine like this:
2 ripe avocados
½ cup raw sweet corn kernels
1 small garlic clove, minced
Handful fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
Juice of 1 lime (more to taste)
Mash the avocado and stir in the remaining ingredients. Chill, serve, and remember to share.
Quick health tip: studies show that avocado can increase the body’s absorption of carotenoids like beta-carotene and lycopene. Consider enjoying your guacamole with carrot sticks as well as tortilla chips to maximize the health benefits of avocado.
How do you serve your guacamole?
Whether your goal is to cleanse your body of stored toxins or replenish it with vital nutrients, juicing offers a quick delivery of the best Mother Nature has to offer.
When you juice fruits and vegetables, you separate the fiber from the vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. Because fiber slows digestion, juicing will allow your body to absorb those nutrients rapidly, hydrating your system and providing instant energy.
Many people choose to do a juice cleanse in the Spring and Summer. Warm weather is an excellent time to detox.
Stay tuned for our upcoming show on Detox. Just like your daily diet, the best cleanse and detox regimen will be different for each individual. We’ll look at a variety of ways to approach healthy cleansing and share some of our favorite recipes to keep you feeling nourished and satiated throughout the process.
In the meantime, check out some of my favorite cleansing, detox, and juicing authors, cookbooks, and websites: