Greens are an incredibly healthy food — they’re all very low in calories, but are still very nutrient dense. We have many varieties of greens that are grown locally and some are the earliest things to be available from local gardens. They are easy to grow and don’t require a lot of room. Greens can even be grown in small planters on a balcony or doorstep, or even inside in the winter months.
Generally speaking, the darker the greens, the more nutrient dense they are. While it is best to choose the darkest greens, it’s also important to get variety as different greens have different nutrients. Two of the earliest available greens are kale and spinach. Spinach contains large quantities of vitamins K, A and folate. But it is also a fantastic source of iron, calcium, vitamin C and many other nutrients.
Here in the valley, many different kinds of greens are grown throughout the growing season and are sold at the Creston Valley Farmers’ Market. This includes salad greens, like romaine and red or green leaf lettuces, or greens that are better suited to being cooked like Swiss chard and beet greens (although baby chard and beet greens are nice to eat raw, as well) and some greens that can be eaten cooked or raw, such as kale and spinach.
Fresh greens do not keep for very long but if treated properly they can last up to a week or slightly longer, depending on the type of green. They should be washed and dried, any brown or wilted leaves removed, and the rest stored in the fridge. Greens can be stored in a sealed plastic bag, or in an airtight container with paper or cloth towels to absorb the extra moisture. If greens become limp, they can be soaked in cold water to revive them.
Greens can be hard for anyone who isn’t use to them to add into their diet, but especially for kids. If you’re just starting to add greens as a regular part of your diet, make sure to get the freshest greens, as older greens may have more of a bitter taste to them (I find this especially with kale). Greens like spinach can easily be chopped and mixed into pasta dishes (especially ones like lasagna, but we even add it to macaroni and cheese), soups and even mashed potatoes. Don’t overcook the greens; they should just cook long enough to soften and wilt, as they’ll have a stronger flavor when completely cooked. Spinach and other greens can very easily be added to sandwiches, as well.
Our favorite way — including my kids’ favorite way — to enjoy greens is in green smoothies. The color might scare you and they may sound gross, but please don’t let that stop you from trying one — we guarantee you won’t taste the green! You may even want to experiment with adding more or different types of greens. We usually use spinach in our smoothies, as it blends very well as long as tough stems are removed first.
If you’re just trying a green smoothie for the first time, just add one handful of spinach and work up to adding more. You can also experiment with any kind of lettuce, kale (be especially sure to remove all tough stems and blend very well) and even a little Swiss chard or other lettuces, but we find that spinach is by far the least noticeable so you may want to start with it. Be aware that the color of your smoothie depends on the type of fruit you use — if you use a darker fruit it might turn out brown or even very close to black, but trust us, it will still taste like a delicious fruit smoothie! This is our favorite formula for making green smoothies, but get creative! There are lots of different ways to enjoy a green smoothie.
Basic Green Smoothie
1 large banana, frozen and cut up into 1-inch pieces for easier blending
1 C fresh or frozen fruit or berries (we use all kinds of local fruits including cherries, peaches, raspberries, strawberries and plums, but others like pineapple are delicious, too)
1-2 handfuls fresh spinach, tough stems removed
1-2 C milk (dairy or non-dairy) depending on the thickness desired
up to 1 tbsp local honey or another sweetener, if desired
For extra staying power, consider adding one or more of:
1 tbsp peanut or other nut butter
1/4-1/2 C cooked or soaked oatmeal
1 scoop your favorite protein powder
1-2 tbsp very finely ground flax seed
Blend all in your blender for at least two minutes, making sure that no green pieces remain and that the smoothie is completely blended and smooth. If your blender is very underpowered, consider blending the greens with a little bit of milk first, until no large pieces remain, then add the remaining ingredients and blend until completely smooth.
The first Creston Valley Farmer’s Market of the year is on May 5 behind the Creston Valley Chamber of Commerce from 8 a.m.-noon. The other weekends, the market will be at its regular place at Millennium Park from 8 a.m.-noon (except the Saturday of the Creston Valley Blossom Festival, when the market will be from noon-4 p.m.).