Go Green: 6 Ways Eating More Greens Will Make the World a Better Place

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Editor's Note:

We asked Jenn Louis and Kathleen Squires, authors of the cookbook The Book of Greens, to share with us all the reasons greens are such a good idea. Here’s what they said.

You don’t need to be a vegetarian to enjoy all the flavor and benefit of greens. Greens should be an essential part of every meal – and by greens I mean leafy greens, leaves on plants (such as tomato leaves), and herbs. They are a superfood because they are so nutritious, are inexpensive to grow, and come in many varieties with a broad diversity of flavors and textures. Of course, they are superdelicious, too. Here are a few more reasons to think beyond the salad bowl and begin cooking with your greens.

You Will Help the Local Economy
Americans now live in the land of farmers’ markets, and really good ones at that. You can find many varieties of greens at them. Supporting your local farmers helps the local economy and helping the local economy helps yourself: Eating local greens means they have not traveled far, are in season, and are eaten exactly when they were intended to be eaten, while their nutritional value is at its best.

You Will Reduce Waste
As a rule, don’t overlook anything green on a root, fruit, or vegetable – these greens are not garbage. Tomato leaves can be used to make a wonderful pasta; carrot greens can be transformed into a tasty pesto or salsa verde; and radish greens can add depth to a sweet smoothie. Look for tasty, nutritious greens crowning the tops of beets, sprouting from the stalks of broccoli and cauliflower, and cradling sweet potatoes, for example.

You Can Learn About Other Cultures
You can learn a lot from a culture through the greens they eat and how they are prepared. When I looked closer at non-North American diets, I realized just how richly and eclectically these cuisines used greens. In Oaxaca, Mexico, for example, a guide explained to me that people with limited resources would often balance their nutrition by foraging for greens. When I visited Vietnam, I was delighted by the number of different varieties of greens in the markets, many of which I had never seen. While Westerners typically use greens in salads or side dishes, many cultures, especially Eastern cultures, integrate greens in so many other ways. Think soups, rice dishes, flatbreads, egg dishes, legume dishes, and more.

They Make You a Better Shopper
Freshness becomes a priority when you decide to cook and eat more greens. When selecting greens, don’t be afraid to taste a leaf, especially at a farmers’ market. Is the flavor right? Is the texture as it should be (crisp, firm, succulent, or soft, depending on variety)? Tasting food is the only way to really get to know quality and to be able to compare what is good, mediocre, and not! Seek out farmers’ markets for greens that will last much longer and stay fresher longer.

They Make You a Better Cook
When I was learning how to cook, I would shop weekly and buy something I had never cooked or eaten before. You should do this, too. Go to Asian markets and marvel at the varieties that are familiar and unfamiliar. Talk to the farmers at farmers’ markets and ask questions. At the grocery store, find ingredients that will complement your greens: an oil you have never used, beans, anchovies, sea salt, cured meats. Challenge yourself; that is how chefs become better at their jobs. Don’t walk past some greens that look different, buy them! Greens can be robust, tender, delicate, or sturdy, allowing for many methods of preparation, from steaming to braising to grilling to roasting to deep fried to stir fried, to name just a few. How many other food groups take so well to so many different methods?

They Add Balance to Your Life
Adding greens to your diet is an easy way to sneak something healthy and vitamin-packed into your meals. Greens are also full of fiber, and fiber helps keep us full and satisfied. Eat greens raw and cooked, eat them in season, and think about incorporating them into every meal of the day. Eat them alone or combined with other foods, such as meats, grains, eggs, dairy, starches, fish, and more. You can even use them in sweets and cocktails. And no matter what you make, keep in mind my main mantra: The fresher, the better.