Gorgeously Green and Delicious

From peppery to sweet, curly to smooth, greens are good and good for you.

“They are one of the healthiest foods we can consume,” says Erin Morse, chief clinical dietitian, UCLA Medical Center. “They are low in calories, nutrient dense, and there’s so much variety.”

Lovely green leaves can be so much more than a mere side dish: They can play a starring role in your meal. Think soups, stir fry, and of course, salads. Some of the most nutritious greens include spinach, kale, romaine, watercress and arugula. They are rich in a combination of vitamins, including A, C, several B vitamins, along with potassium and fiber. And they have an abundance of calcium, too.

Fill Your Bowl

Greens are low in calories, so you can fill a bowl—and come back for seconds. The USDA recommends two cups of vegetables per day for women 51 and older, and two and 21/2 cups for men 51 and older. But, a cup of greens and a cup of vegetables aren’t the same. It’s takes about two cups of greens to make the nutritional equivalent of one cup of vegetables.

There are some greens there aren’t as nutritious, though. Iceberg lettuce, for example, is the least nutrient dense salad green. It isn’t that you shouldn’t eat it, rather add other greens to boost the baseline nutritional value of your salad.

Different and Delicious

Salad bars and farmers markets can be a great way to discover and try new greens. Create a beautiful multi-layer salad in a bowl. Build it like you would a lasagna. Think color, texture, and flavors: A base of baby spinach, a row of chopped red bell pepper, a layer of blue-green baby kale, topped with yellow corn, and finished off with chopped tatsoi (a.k.a. spinach mustard), which has a tangy flavor.

Be mindful of prepared dressings, as they can contain a wallop of sugar and calories. A salad built of flavorful greens really doesn’t need much in the way of dressing. Make any salad come to life with a little seasoning, such as salt and pepper; some acid, such as squeeze of lemon, lime, bitter orange or a tablespoon of vinegar (e.g., balsamic, red wine, rice); and an oil of your preference. Carefully chosen, oils can pack a lot of flavor in small amounts. A drizzle of toasted sesame oil goes a long way, for example, as can certain olive and nut oils like hazelnut and walnut. Corn, safflower, and canola (rapeseed) oil are virtually tasteless, and might be an appropriate choice to make an acidic choice stand out. Experiment by mixing up different combinations in a small bowl.

Cooking It Up

Greens are also versatile in cooking. Watercress can be the star of your soup. There are dozens of recipes online. Most feature a few simple ingredients to allow the slightly bitter flavor of watercress to shine through. Many greens can be used in the Greek dish known as Horta, made by boiling/sautéing bitter greens (dandelion is traditional) and seasoning with lemon, oil olive, and salt and pepper.

“It is very simple and tastes really good,” says Morse. “Create a meal by adding protein like fish. Vegans can have it with lentil stew or tofu. Try making it with rainbow chard, a hearty green with veins of different bright colors. Those colors provide added nutritional benefits.”

Spicing It Up

If you find yourself with more greens than you can eat, Morse suggests making some pesto. While the traditional is made from basil, pine nuts, garlic, Parmigiano-Reggiano and olive oil, any green can be used to make this flavorful green sauce, including arugula, kale, spinach or a mix of several. You can follow the traditional recipe and just swap out the green. Or you can try walnuts or hemp seed and different oils. Use your culinary creation on pasta, fish, chicken, or as a veggie dip. See Morse’s Arugula Walnut Pesto recipe for inspiration.



  • 4 cups of packed arugula leaves, stems removed
  • ½ cup of shelled walnuts
  • 1⁄3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove
  • Salt and cracked black pepper to taste
  • ½ lemon, squeezed


Combine all of the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor or high-powered blender and process until smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula if necessary. Add 1 tablespoon of water to loosen up the mixture as needed while blending.

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