Wellness Wednesday: It’s not easy eating greens….
Or: how I stay a skinny bitch.
I guess because of my tendency to bake some people think I must have some sort of super-genes that help me keep weight off but sadly that’s far from the case. I’m a mutt of Eastern/Northern European (with a little Scotland Yard tossed in for good measure) and my body is designed to hold on to fat any chance it gets. “Her hips are large and load bearing like a Baltic woman.” In high school I spent my time devoted to computer games, school, Dungeons and Dragons, fighting chronic bronchitis and eating all the foods. I didn’t do any physical activity and I weighed somewhere between 30-40 pounds more than I do now. So what changed?
First I stopped eating junk food at my Friday night D&D sessions. I stopped scarfing down my meals like I was in a prison cafeteria and I started getting physical. My weight balanced out to a healthier place throughout college and I was still able to eat things I loved. Then I got into yoga, became really obsessed with eating only foods that are sustainable and local and got addicted to running for therapy. That combined with the fact that I eat mostly vegetables when I’m not baking, has dramatically changed my body type. “Your hips are narrow. Like a Baltic woman from a slightly more arid region.” Sadly I don’t have time to work out with the frequency of Hugh Jackman so I can’t eat cake every day—and when I do, I make it at home with ingredients that are from local farms, organic sustainable…. Remember if you just switch to grass-fed only beef you can lose weight. What I do eat every day are my vegetables; specifically dark greens of the cruciferous variety aka broccoli, brussel sprouts, kale…. For some reason I don’t feel like I’ve met my veggie quota if I don’t get in one of these bitter, nutrient powerhouses. Of course you don’t do yourself any favors eating them drowned in a high fat, high sugar storebought ranch dressing. A well-constructed salad can harness the flavors of the greens and doesn’t have to be a sauced up mess to do it.
One of my most recent favorites: Mustard Greens. Mustard Greens are a bitter lettuce with a peppery bite to them…kind of like a mix between Kale and Arugula. They are quite often a bit cheaper at my grocery store so I’ve started playing with constructing mustard green salads. Why should you eat a bitter, peppery leaf? OH well let me tell you. Mustard Greens (and all of the Brassicaceae family really) are rich in some cancer fighting properties that are also responsible for the pungent and bitterness of the plant. These are flavor precursors called glucosinolates—which also happen to contain sulfur and nitrogen and that’s why overcooked cabbage has that rotten egg smell. Mustard Greens are a little bit more unique in that they have a second bunch of flavor compounds, isothiocyanates, which show some amazing cancer fighting potential. I mean really amazing. To put it simply: cancer happens when your cells basically don’t get the right signals to stop dividing so instead of cells dying like they are supposed to, they instead replicate and create a tumor. One commonly mutated protein found in cancer cells which causes this cellular overgrowth is theorized to bind with isothiocynates. The isothiocynates lock up the protein, trigger cell death and prevent cancer. It’s a little more complicated than that but you get the idea. Lab tests have shown a lot of promise in fighting Leukemia, Melanoma…some of the nastier, more aggressive stuff.
Unfortunately these amazing compounds also are responsible for kids growing up refusing to eat their veggies. The trick is knowing how to manipulate the greens so you can minimize the bad flavors but get all the health benefits. The best cooking method really is steaming because you lose the fewest nutrients and strengthen the fibers in the plant and as we all know, fiber is good for your heart. If you do plan on cooking them, slice and then let them sit for about 5-10 minutes before hitting the pan. Why? When you slice your veggies you are breaking open some cells and releasing enzymes that in combination with your flavor precursors release sulfur which may protect your vegetables from heat and minimize nutrient loss.
Enzymes released from cutting and letting the vegetables sit will also reduce the bitterness though increase the pungency. With Mustard Greens this means you’ll get more kick from the spice and a less bitter bite. Add in some acidity, like lemon juice, and you really amp up this enzymatic activity… but if you are trying to find a mellower flavor, skip the acidic salad dressings. Oh and if you still are in the “acquiring” phase of learning to embrace the green leafy vegetables, don’t combine them with raw onion. Raw sliced onion will react to enzymes released from the raw sliced greens and pick up the pungent flavors even more so. No instead, to make a mustard green salad more kid friendly, skip the onions. Northern California gets a weird late summer every year so I still have peaches a-plenty and thought that a nice salad of mustard greens and grilled peaches, with some blue cheese, sounded like just the way to go. The best part is that grilling produces some nasty compounds (heterocyclic amines) which are another cancer trap and that’s why we’re told not to eat so many grilled foods. Well guess what leafy green vegetable helps combat those compounds? Mwahahahahahahahahaha
Grilled Peach Mustard Green Salad
An Olivia Weeknight Dinner
- 1 bunch of mustard greens, sliced
- 2 whole peaches, sliced into ½ inch thick slices
- 1 tsp sugar + 1 Tbsp water
- 1 cup kidney beans
- 1 cup roasted corn
- ½ cup sunflower seeds
- 1 jalapeño, seeded and minced
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 4 ounces strong flavored, soft blue cheese
- ¼ cup fat free yogurt
- 1 Tbsp orange juice
- Salt and pepper to taste
Make the dressing: whisk together the buttermilk, orange juice, jalapeño, blue cheese, orange juice and yogurt. The orange juice adds a little sweetness but with less acidity than lemon juice. Let the dressing sit for 30 minutes to bring the flavors together. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.
Brush your peach slices lightly with the sugar water mixture. This is optional but I just think it helps add a little bit more crunch to the peach when it grills. Caramelizing action! Grill for about a minute or two on each side. This can also be done under a broiler.
Roast 1-2 whole ears of corn and remove the kernels (can be done ahead of time. I do this a lot and keep them in my fridge for salads because I love sweet corn in the summer)
Toss the greens with the peaches, corn and kidney beans. This is a meat-free salad but you’ll get a full set of proteins from the beans, corn and seeds.
Drizzle over as much salad dressing as desired and garnish on top with the sunflower seeds.