Eat Food, but which leaves, and how?
May 22, 2008 9:44 AM   Subscribe

According to Michael Pollan's Eat Food article in the New York Times, we're supposed to eat more plants, esp leaves. So where are the leaf recipes? Does this come down to nothing more than spinach and lettuce salads or is there a interesting cuisine out there somewhere? Are there any cookbooks with leafy foods as their focus?
posted by bbranden1 to Food & Drink (31 answers total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
Of course there are thousands of recipes that feature spinach, arugula, chard, kale, etc. BUT some theories now is that cooking them too much zaps them of their nutrition (although Pollan argues against nutritionism). I don't really like no-cook cookbooks, but here is Raw by Charlie Trotter.
posted by mattbucher at 9:50 AM on May 22, 2008

I'm not sure where you're located, but if you're close to a good Asian - namely, Chinese - grocery, their main focus with vegetables is leafy greens. You will see so many varieties you'd hardly be able to keep them straight (heck, I grew up with the stuff and I still have trouble identifying them). Go with whatever looks good.

As for cooking them, a quick stir-fry with some oil and garlic in a wok is all you really need. It's as simple as that.
posted by chan.caro at 9:53 AM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Go east. So-called Chinese greens (not necessarily Chinese, of course) are usually prepared as sauteed w/garlic. Link on cooking greens. Indian cuisine makes sauces out of purred spinach or watercress (saag paneer being the most well-known.) And don't forget the cabbages of the world.
posted by desuetude at 9:56 AM on May 22, 2008

Look into Indian food for some pretty awesome spinach curries, the king of which is Saag. Just made some with tofu last night, actually.

It's a pretty easy recipe: heat a couple of tablespoons of butter in a dutch oven or heavy pot and add about a tablespoon each minced garlic and ginger. As the garlic starts to turn color add a couple tablespoons of curry powder -- I get mine from a local Indian grocery -- and mix. A minute later, add about two pounds roughly chopped spinach. When the spinach wilts, add a cup of yogurt and a cup of milk and simmer the curry for about ten minutes.

Chicken, tofu, and paneer are common proteins you can mix in, and the dish is especially good over some nice brown rice.

You can make all sorts of interesting variations using coconut milk, or just broth, or thai curry paste instead of the curry powder, and the same technique works with pretty much any leafy green.

OK, so my grandma probably wouldn't recognize it -- sorry, Michael -- but there's a few billion people in India whose ancestors would.
posted by jacobian at 9:59 AM on May 22, 2008 [9 favorites]

This answers only a small subset of your question, but technically a lot of herbs are leaves, the nutritional info of which I started researching when I got excited about pestos--and you don't just have to use basil, though basil's full of vitamins. Cilantro, arugula, spinach... all would make a tasty pesto.

This wikipedia list is fun to start at, but really the more common leaf list might be more helpful.
posted by artifarce at 10:04 AM on May 22, 2008

Bok Choy is one of my favorites.
I think Brussle Sprouts count too.
Whole Foods always has a pretty interesting selection of leafy things.
You can always grill or bake them with a little olive oil, salt and pepper.
And, I don't know about you, but I'll put just about anything in an omelet.
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:05 AM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Two good encyclopedic resources: Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, and Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. These are not leafy-specific books but have lots of good ideas and tips on preparing vegetables of all sorts.

I have the chard pie from the Bittman book in the oven right now.
posted by catlet at 10:08 AM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

And here's a couple of sites that were idea and recipe-packed: Pesto Perfect and Book of Yum's.
posted by artifarce at 10:10 AM on May 22, 2008

A lot of east Asian food has leafy greens involved. I go to a Thai place and get a chicken noodle garlic soup with huge amounts of bok choy, sprouts, and dark greens put in it right before serving so they aren't *that* cooked. It's delicious. I also make the same thing at home using boxed chicken broth, flat rice noodles, chili flakes, garlic, and bok choy.
posted by fructose at 10:13 AM on May 22, 2008

More robust greens like kale, mustard greens, collard greens, etc... are often prepared in soups or stews/braises. Here's a fairly standard collard greens recipe and here's a white bean and kale soup recipe.
posted by mhum at 10:15 AM on May 22, 2008

Seconding the Chinese sauteed vegetables. My parents always made: kale, Chinese broccoli, spinach, bok choy, Chinese cabbage (a larger, paler version of bok choy), cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and chives.

There's also bean sprouts, either the soybean ones or the green bean ones. They're not leafy, but still good vegetables.

I'm also a fan of pea shoots, especially the ones with big leaves.
posted by jasminerain at 10:16 AM on May 22, 2008

Parsley, cilantro, mint, basil - make your own pestos. Top your bok choy and chards with even more leafy greens. Then make smoothies. Green smoothies. They will help knock even more vitamins, minerals and antioxidants into your system. And they taste good too.
posted by watercarrier at 10:17 AM on May 22, 2008

Today at my grocery store they had turnips from a local farm. I took the beautiful, bright green, leafy tops off, sliced them into strips and simmered them in homemade chicken stock with ginger, onion, tofu, soba noodles and a dash of soy and fish sauce. It was a tasty lunch that, over an hour later, I'm still full from. You could do that with any green I have lying around. I think the key is having a pantry full of things that taste good to you; from there, you can just add anything that's fresh.
posted by lagreen at 10:18 AM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Umm, with any green you have lying around, that is. You don't need to come to my house to get greens.
posted by lagreen at 10:19 AM on May 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


You can sprout anything lentil or grain and have little shoots with leaves and eat that. It's delicious, fresh and very easy to do.

Here's some info
posted by watercarrier at 10:23 AM on May 22, 2008

Does this come down to nothing more than spinach and lettuce salads or is there a interesting cuisine out there somewhere?

Pollan specifically argues that you should eat many different things:

Try to add new species, not just new foods, to your diet. The greater the diversity of species you eat, the more likely you are to cover all your nutritional bases.

Besides the many different salad greens, there are many Asian leafy plants, many leaves that you can cook (spinach, chard, etc. as well as the many types of cabbage), herbs, green onions and leeks, and so on. Wikipedia has a list of common leaf vegetables.

It might be a good strategy, if you want to maximize he variety of leaves you consume, to pick a new leafy vegetable every week and then search for recipes.
posted by ssg at 10:29 AM on May 22, 2008

Fiddleheads must count and they are deeeeelicious.
posted by lampoil at 10:33 AM on May 22, 2008

Greens are a major element in Southern/African-American/soul-food cooking.

There are about a million recipes for collard, turnip, mustard, etc. greens, and not all of them involve a big hunk of porkfat.
posted by box at 10:34 AM on May 22, 2008

You can mix moderate amounts of spinach into all kinds of recipes without really even tasting it.
posted by chrisamiller at 10:39 AM on May 22, 2008

Escarole is good. Wash it in a pot of water like spinach (it's sandy) & don't dry it. Saute some whole / just smashed garlic in olive oil in a large pot, add the wet escarole, cover and the water on the leaves will steam it. Needs to be stirred a few times. Add some salt and pepper, or red pepper flakes in the oil if that's your thing.

That's a great side dish, but for more of a meal, add some white beans when the escarole is done and serve over pieces of toasted bread, topped off w/ some extra virgin olive oil. The bean / escarole juice-goodness soaks into the bread, and you eat it with a knife and fork. Tasty and cheap.
posted by JulianDay at 10:39 AM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

More robust greens like kale, mustard greens, collard greens, etc... are often prepared in soups or stews/braises.

And should be, speaking as someone who once thought it would be a good idea to use raw mustard greens as a salad base. Lesson learned: mustard is HOT.
posted by kittyprecious at 10:47 AM on May 22, 2008

seconding fiddleheads. I had no idea. I had some recently, it was insane. Tasted like meat. Really good meat.

I'm getting really into herb salad mix, straight up, with a little olive oil and (very important) Japanese Rice Wine vinegar. Mirukan, I believe. So so good. A little salt and pepper.
posted by sully75 at 11:05 AM on May 22, 2008

Oh there are many, I eat 'leaves' at least 5 nights a week. Last night was collards. Callaloo is an excellent dishl. Some reliable suggestions are given by Mollie Katzen,Deborah Madison, and perhaps to a lesser, though still valuable, extent, Jackie Clay among others.
posted by dawson at 11:17 AM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Saurkraut! It's not just for cabbage. We have been making tremendous fermented concoctions out of kale, turnip and beet greens, and mizuna.
posted by gum at 3:06 PM on May 22, 2008

Cabbage, kale, spinach, collard greens, mustard greens... any greens really, cook well and are very flexible in recipes. You can substitute them in main dishes for other vegetables like broccoli. I've put them in quiches, soups, salads. They also make fine side dishes cooked or raw. A personal favorite of mine is a quick slaw made of thinly sliced cabbage and carrots with slat, pepper and a vinaigrette.
posted by lekvar at 5:41 PM on May 22, 2008

Broccolini goes very well in stir fries and pasta dishes.
posted by invisible ink at 7:16 PM on May 22, 2008

If you really feel like grazing, you can eat the leaves of viola/violets and the common weed lambsquarters. Both can be eaten raw and taste nice in a salad.

The leaves of Cosmos are also edible. They're a bit spicy but nice. You might start with them as a garnish in a salad to see if you like them. Malays eat them raw as a side dish, dipped in chili paste. It's called Ulam Raja in Malay.

The leaves of Mulberry trees are also edible, but on the bitter side.

If you are in a tropical or subtropical area, there are plenty more I could recommend, like turmeric leaves, which can be shredded and cooked with or used as a garnish. Cassava leaves, papaya leaves, Morinda leaves (the source of the tahitian noni juice craze), and so on. What part of the world are you in?
posted by BinGregory at 7:58 PM on May 22, 2008

Forgot to mention that cassava, papaya and morinda leaves should all be cooked before eating. They are quite tough and bitter raw.

Also, dawson rocks for mentioning callaloo. My dad used to make callaloo with cornbread a lot when I was growing up. Puts hair on your chest, it does.
posted by BinGregory at 8:10 PM on May 22, 2008

Chickweed is delicious and nutritionally packed, and is likely growing in your yard. Also dandelion greens, as well as the violet leaves and flowers mentioned above. I put all of these in salads, in pesto, and I mix them into couscous.
posted by Riverine at 8:57 PM on May 22, 2008

a somewhat related nytimes article says to eat a variety of veggies cooked a variety of ways (including raw) for best results.
posted by rux at 1:13 AM on May 23, 2008

Look for a secondhand copy of Paula Wolfert's Mediterranean Grains and Greens.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:03 AM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

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