Sneaking in the Good Stuff!


Oak Leaf lettuce is a still sweet in my garden

I am growing lots of greens in my garden, for the first time. I probably grew them before, but the weeds got thick and I didn’t recognize what I had. Now that I am doing Square Foot Gardening, I know just what I planted in each square, and I’m able to recognize it and harvest it!

So . . . I’ve got spinach and swiss chard and kale and beet greens and parsley and lettuce and dill and basil and cilantro! And now that I have these fresh nutritious greens, I am trying to figure out what to do with them, and get my family to eat them. Of course, confronted with a bunch of fresh greens, not everybody is going to shout “hooray!” Here’s how I am sneaking them into my family’s diet:

If you pull off the leaves of swiss chard, spinach, beet greens and kale when the leaves are small and tender, you can slip them right into the salad with traditional lettuce and tomatoes, and no one is the wiser. They are “spicier” tasty but with a good salad dressing, the kids will eat them right up.

Larger swiss chard leaves can be added to lettuce at the ratio of 1 part swiss chard and 1 part lettuce. It tastes fine and is so much healthier than lettuce! Just remove the rib from the swiss chard, and chop it and add to the salad too. Chop the rib and use in Chinese stir-fry. I bought a package of Swiss Chard seeds called “Bright Lights” and in this variety, the normally white rib that runs the length of the leaf grows in pink, red, and orange! Fun! Use in salad, taco topping, sandwiches, etc. Shredded swiss chard can be added to soups, spaghetti sauce, and casseroles. The leaves can also replace spinach in lasagna and other dishes.

Kale is amazing! It is low-calorie, fabulously high in vitamins and minerals, and full of cancer-preventing compounds that promote lung, eye and immune boosting health. Kale feels so healthy that I did a little research and found that eating kale three or more times a week was shown to cut the risk of prostate cancer by 35% as found in a study of over 1,200 men conducted by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington. Kale was the most common vegetable eaten by the population of Europe right up into the Middle Ages. It was a stable ingredient in the soup pot. Kale is bursting with vitamins and minerals, plus fiber. Yet the only place kale appears in the American diet is tucked under the steak at restaurants to make a pretty bed to lay the meat on. It is seldom eaten. Funny how we leave the most nutritious thing on the plate!

You can plant kale all spring and summer long, and it just gets sweeter when the frost comes. And it survives all winter long, gets sweeter in freezing weather, and can be even be harvested frozen! Choose Russian Kale (flat leaf) rather than Curly Kale for the home garden. Easier to wash and no hiding places in the ruffles for bugs. Kale is a coarser leaf, so it can be more challenging to make tasty, but I have the sensation that there would be no need for multi-vitamin pills if we could just get kale in our diet on a several times a week basis!

Kale can be shredded, removing the large stiff veins. Add this to stir fry or casseroles when you saute the onions. Tonight for dinner I put a few kale leaves into the blender with the whole tomatoes when making spaghetti sauce, and pulverized so that it was not recognizable and felt I was adding fabulous nutrition to the food without anyone noticing. A little shredded young kale leaf on top of the pizza is good too! The longer kale sits in your fridge, the more bitter-tasting it will become, so pick and use it right away.

The lettuce that wins the prize for staying sweet the longest in my very hot summer climate is Oak Leaf. It is a light green leaf lettuce that is shaped like an oak leaf, and while all the other varieties have long since grown bitter, bolted and gone to seed, oak leaf is still providing a daily salad at my house (mixed with chard and other greens) and it is August already! That is an amazingly long-lasting lettuce! I never harvest a whole head of lettuce or spinach or anything. I plant close together and pull off the outer leaves, and use them as soon as they are big enough. So nothing ever really grows to maturity, as it is being harvested nearly every day.

Lettuce won’t germinate in the heat, so once spring is past you have to start the seeds indoors and then transplant them. You’ll have lettuce all summer long if you just keep at starting seeds, transplanting and harvesting just the outer leaves.

I’m feeling like superman, well, nutritionally-speaking! All these organic greens in the diet is making everything work better in my body, and I trust it is making my kids healthier. Emily just went to the dentist and had no cavities. I’d like to think it is because we’re just brimming over with vitamin-rich nutrition!

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