Dark leafy greens can be one of the scariest yet most important things when moving toward a healthier, more plant based way of eating. Leafy greens are vitamin powerhouses and are now on the list of superfoods. They contain, but are certainly not limited to: magnesium, vitamin K, iron, calcium, potassium, vitamin C, vitamin E, many B vitamins, beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin (protects the cells from damage and eyes from macular degeneration), and small amounts of Omega-3 fats. For more information on the benefits of leafy greens, check out "Green Superfoods".
Unfortunately, I was scarred as a child when it came to eating dark greens. Canned spinach. You know, Popeye style. Had it once and decided never again. Twenty years later, I've begun giving them another shot. This time around, I'm doing it right. It's all about the preparation and the pairing.
The following are my personal steps toward eating dark leafy greens:
Step 1: Allow more variety of greens in salads.
Step 2: Add spinach to pasta dishes (lasagna, gnocchi, etc.).
Step 3: Add greens such as chard and kale to soups and stews. They add a new layer of flavor and a fabulous texture as long as you DON'T OVERCOOK THEM.
Step 4: Eating them more on their own. BIG STEP! I'm still tip-toeing into this one.
It should be noted that you will generally get more nutrients from vegetables when they are eaten raw. HOWEVER, many say, this is not the case for dark, leafy greens. Cooking them helps break down the tough fibers to ease the load on your digestion and make the nutrients more bio-available. But, be sure not to overcook them. That just kind of kills everything.
Now back to the food. This kale gratin is just wonderful. Even though it stands alone in its veggie-ness, I would say anyone at step number one would float away eating this. It is just wonderful! AND this recipe calls for two whole bunches of kale. When would you ever be willing to eat that much kale like ever?!? I could easily eat half the dish of this myself. I also made a buttery bechamel sauce to make this dish rich and decadent. The croutons on top bring all the textures of this dish into perfect balance.
Inspired by Tamar Adler's An Everlasting Meal
5 tbsp butter
4 tbsp whole wheat flour
2 cups milk
1-2 tsp salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 large onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
2 bunches kale, chopped (stems and all!)
salt and pepper
2-4 slices of whole wheat or sprouted bread, chopped
1. Preheat oven to 400 degress.
2. In a medium saucepan, heat the butter over medium-low heat until melted. Add the flour and stir until smooth. Over medium heat, cook until the mixture turns a light, golden sandy color, about 6 to 7 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, heat the milk in a separate pan until just about to boil. Add the hot milk to the butter mixture 1 cup at a time, whisking continuously until very smooth. Bring to a boil. Cook 10 minutes, stirring constantly, then remove from heat. Season with salt and nutmeg, and set aside until ready to use.
4. In a large pan, over medium-high heat, saute onion and garlic until just soft. Season with a big pinch of salt and pepper.
5. Put all the kale in the pan and cook until just wilted. Add the bechamel sauce and toss to combine.
6. Lightly butter or oil a medium size baking dish. Pour all the ingredients into the dish. Top with the chopped bread pieces. Drizzle some olive oil over the bread to help with the crunch factor.
7. Bake 15-20 minutes until the gratin is bubbling and the bread is nice and browned.