When is a meal not a meal? When it’s missing greens of course! If you thought otherwise, I’d like to know your name and how you got in. Kidding… even if you thought meat I’d still let you read my blog. Everyone is invited to this party. Greens for all! Greens in everything! Greens forever! Greens in every shape and form and colour! Fifty shades of green!
I think I used to eat between 1-2 serves of greens each day. Bear in mind that while broccoli, cucumber and zucchini are all green and good for you, when I say ‘greens’, I’m referring to green leafy things (other than iceberg lettuce, which is a waste of time in my opinion). I read the Green Smoothie Revolution a year or two ago, and it truly opened my eyes to greens. Since developing a green smoothie habit, I don’t usually feel satisfied by a meal unless it involves a large proportion of greens.
In regards to the book, admittedly I wasn’t a fan of the writing style, and I did find it a little too simplistic in it’s claims to have found the “perfect” human diet. I tend to be wary of any claim that an ingredient, nutrient or cooking method is the cure or the cause of all health problems. But if you read books that do make those claims and take them with a commonsense level of scepticism, there is usually some sound advice to be found. A case of ‘a good idea taken too far’ perhaps – just try to take the good idea.
The most important thing I gained from the book was a love of greens. Depending on the state of my blender, I’ve been drinking green smoothies regularly ever since. After a few green smoothies, you’ll start to crave greens more. You might even start finding that random pieces of shrubbery look appetising – I did (but don’t go foraging unless you know what you’re doing, some plants can make you sick). Your body gets hooked on the goodness pretty quickly.
As far as I know, despite the multitude of conflicting nutritional opinions out there, they all agree on one thing – greens are good for you, and we generally don’t eat enough of them. You pretty much can’t consume too much green leafy goodness. Even extreme low-carb, high-protein diets like Atkins or Dukan include greens after the first phase of craziness. Believe it or not, when measured nutrient-per-calorie, greens are high in protein. What has more protein, broccoli or steak? If you answered steak, you’d be wrong. Check out this table, which is taken from Dr Fuhrman’s research, published in Eat to Live.
The only reservation when it comes to eating copious amounts of greens, is that leaves contain small amounts of alkaloids, which are an evolutionary weapon to deter animals from eating the entire plant and killing it. If you eat too much of one type of plant, those alkaloids can make you sick (see here for more information). So rotate your greens. Sounds daunting? It doesn’t need to be, which is why I’m sharing two very versatile recipes with you today.
A good strategy is instead of buying the greens that you’re familiar with, just purchase a variety of whatever looks good. Most of them work interchangeably in recipes anyway. I usually buy at least one bunch of romaine (cos) or oak-leaf lettuce, one bunch of English spinach, one bunch of a long-stemmed Asian green (Chinese broccoli, choy sum, etc), and something else like pak choy, kale, cabbage, silverbeet or baby spinach. During the week I’ll make salads alternating between pak choy, kale, cabbage, baby spinach and lettuce. In my breakfast smoothies I put about 1/3 bunch of either English spinach, Asian greens, kale or silverbeet, switching each day. And then dinner includes whatever we feel like or whatever we’ve ended up with excess of.
When I tell someone about green smoothies, the question I’m most commonly asked is “what’s the recipe?”. That’s a bit like asking what the recipe is for soup or salad. How long is a piece of string? There isn’t a recipe, there’s just a template. It goes along the lines of 1/2 cup of water, 1 sweet/dense fruit (banana, mango, rockmelon), 1 less sweet/lighter fruit (orange, kiwifruit, berries), 1/3 bunch of green leaves or about 2 big handfuls. Optional addins include: soy/almond milk in place of water, ground flaxseeds, chia seeds, tofu (makes it creamy and adds extra protein – great for post workout breakfasts), tahini or nut butter, herbs such as mint or coriander, dates or sultanas to increase the sweetness, vanilla or cinnamon, coconut. Whatever. The list goes on. But to get you started I’m sharing my most basic go-to recipe for a green smoothie. Customise as you will.
Basic Green Smoothie (serves 1 as a meal)
If this is your first green smoothie, use half the amount of greens. You’ll hardly be able to taste them but your palate will start getting used to it. In no time at all you’ll find you’re wanting to add more, until eventually you’ll end up with vivid Shrek-coloured drinks like this one!
I find that blending the fruit base first works best. My poor blender just can’t cope with the greens and all at once, and from what I’ve read even those lucky enough to have a Vitamix do the same thing. Chunky bits of green aren’t exactly appetising.
- 1/2 – 1 cup water (I use just half a cup because I like to eat mine with a spoon. If you’re into drinking your breakfast, use a full cup)
- 1 frozen banana (if not frozen, add a handful of ice-cubes as well), chopped roughly
- 1 orange, peeled and quartered
- 2 large handfuls of English spinach (half a bunch)
- Optional add-ins, choose any one or more of the following: 1 tbsp ground flaxseed, chia seeds, nut or seed butter, a squeeze of lime juice, 75g tofu or a scoop of protein powder, fresh coconut, mint, coriander, basil etc. These last few weeks I’ve been adding just flax and tofu, it keeps me full all morning.
- Blend water with fruit and any add-ins until smooth.
- Add spinach, a few leaves at a time, until blended completely and the smoothie is bright and green.
Now we have the salad. It’s my latest creation, which came about all because I spotted this beautiful bunch of greens at Redfern Fruit Market, picked it up and found, to my surprise, that there were golden beetroots attached. Beet greens are delicious in their own right, and an excellent addition to smoothies, but I’d never tried golden beetroots. I roasted them covered in miso and mirin, along with a handful of pepitas. Then tossed them together with some barley, tomatoes and romaine lettuce. To finish, a simple dressing starring fresh rosemary from my garden – the one plant that has managed to survive my extreme gardening incompetence. I brought the salad along to a picnic, and it was a hit! I’ve been asked for the recipe, so I thought I’d better recreate it and record measurements this time.
Golden Beet’n Barley Salad (serves 4 as a main or 8 as a side)
I used brown rice when I re-made it for the photo because I was out of barley. Definitely still delicious, but barley is something a bit extra special. I also added some chopped asparagus, which worked well.
- 1 tbsp miso paste
- 1 tbsp mirin
- 3-4 golden beetroots, scrubbed and chopped into 1cm cubes
- 1/4 cup pepitas, roasted (see Notes below)
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- Zest of one lemon
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
- Cracked pepper and salt
- 1 cup cooked barley (see Notes below)
- 3-4 ripe tomatoes, quartered and sliced
- 15 leaves of lettuce – romaine/cos or oak-leaf – chopped or torn roughly
- Preheat oven to 200C and line a tray with baking paper.
- Combine miso and mirin until smooth, toss it through the beets with your hands until they’re well coated.
- Lay the beets out in a single layer and roast for 10-15 minutes, depending on how crunchy you want them. I roasted mine for 11 minutes and they had quite a bit of bite left to them.
- Whisk oil, lemon zest, juice and rosemary together and season with plenty of pepper and salt.
- Toss dressing with beets, pepitas, barley, tomatoes and lettuce. Serve.
- To roast pepitas (or any nut or seed), spread out on an oven tray and roast for 10 minutes or so at a medium heat. No need for any oil or other additions. I burnt my pepitas when I made this salad because I mixed them in with the beets. 11 minutes at 200C was too much for them! Usually I’d set the oven to 180C and place on the middle oven shelf for no longer than 10 minutes. As soon as you can smell them, take them out.
- To cook barley or brown rice, place 1 cup of barley/rice into a saucepan with 3 cups of water. Cover and bring to the boil. Reduce heat as far as you can, cover (or leave a little gap if it insists on bubbling over) and leave for 25-30 minutes for brown rice, 35-40 minutes for barley. Add more water if needed at any point. Taste some to make sure it’s cooked through, but still a little chewy. When done, turn off the heat and drain any excess water. I don’t find it needs stirring at any point. Any leftovers will keep in the fridge for up to a week, or in the freezer for much longer.
p.s. Did you notice, my camera is back! I’m so happy!