Expand Your Leafy Green Choices

Do you ever tire of iceberg lettuce?  If you do, growing your own leafy greens might be the answer. Leafy greens include lettuce, arugula, Swiss chard, kale and spinach.

Even better, these dark leafy greens are much more nutritious than iceberg lettuce, too.

Growing your own leafy greens can be economical and fun. Plus many varieties are available for planting.

Certain leafy greens, such as kale and Swiss chard, need lots of space to grow, but others can be grown in small spaces or even containers.

For more information on leafy green varieties, fun facts and recipes, check out the North Dakota State University publication “From Garden to Table: Leafy Greens!” at www.ag.ndsu.edu/publications/food-nutrition/from-garden-to-table-leafy-greens/h1754.pdf.

You can harvest individual leaves or the whole plant. Harvesting the “baby” leaves will allow you to enjoy multiple pickings during the season. Baby leaves also will be the most tender.

Clean leafy greens in cool running water. For hard-to-remove soil, place leaves in a cool water bath to soak for a few minutes to loosen the soil. Rinse with cool water and use paper towels or a salad spinner to remove excess moisture.

Dark green leafy vegetables provide a variety of nutrients and fiber. For example, 1 cup of raw spinach has 7 calories, 0 grams (g) fat, 1 g protein, 1 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber and 24 milligrams sodium.

Green leafy vegetables are rich in vitamins A (from the carotenoid natural pigments), C and K, and the B vitamin folate. Leafy greens also contain calcium and iron.

Leafy greens have many uses. For example, arugula is sprinkled on top of fresh pizza in Italy. Spinach often is used in salads and cooked dishes. Kale, historically used as a garnish, is increasingly used as a main entree or baked into chips.

Leaf lettuce is one of the specialty crops that can be grown in North Dakota. Visit the North Dakota State University Extension Service’s Field to Fork website at www.ag.ndsu.edu/fieldtofork for more information about growing and using a variety of specialty crops, including leaf lettuce.

Here’s a simple leafy green recipe to put to the test.

Old-fashioned Green Leafy Salad
1/2 c. light cream
1 tsp. granulated sugar
1/4 c. vinegar
1/4 tsp. salt
8 c. mixed salad greens
2 Tbsp. chopped scallions or green onions (optional)

Whisk together the first four items in a small bowl. Rinse lettuce under cold water and remove excess moisture. Add chopped scallions if desired. Right before serving, toss the lettuce with the dressing.

Makes eight servings. Each serving has about 45 calories, 3 grams (g) fat, 1 g protein, 4 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber and 85 milligrams sodium.

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Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a professor and food and nutrition specialist with the North Dakota State University Extension Service in Fargo, ND.