Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Leafy Greens Cookbook

The Leafy Greens Cookbook
Publisher: Ulysses Press (2013)

Everyone knows that dark leafy greens are a nutritious, low-calorie option that should be included more often than not in our diets. However, their positives – vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and varieties – are often overshadowed by their “negatives”. In this day of over-sweetened, over-oiled, over-salted meals, our palates are trained to perceive the taste of a beautiful leaf of rainbow chard, a head of kale or a pancake-like collard as too bitter to eat. As a result, many home cooks no longer know how to cook them well, or cook them at all. Chefs that put the greens on their menus are divided between the “raw vegan” camp and those who adhere to the Southern style of cooking, adding copious quantities of pork meat and fat before stewing for hours. There is a happy medium in all of this, though, and it’s one that Kathryn Anible strives for in The Leafy Greens Cookbook.

Leafy Greens has 100 recipes ranging from smoothies to salads, soups and suppers. Some are relatively tame and “conventional”, like the Arugula Salad with Strawberry Balsamic Vinaigrette (p. 8) and the currently haute Kale Chips (p. 50) – both excellent introductions to the world of culinary greenery. More adventurous palates are catered to as well, with offerings like Sautéed Radicchio and Endive with Quinoa and Capers (p. 52) and Arugula Hummus (p. 34). Those who are well accustomed to the taste and (somewhat strange) composition of green juices and smoothies will find no shortage of inspiration, with 14 concoctions such as Super Greens Juice (p. 93) – made with spinach, kale, parsley and cucumber amongst other things – and a Spinach, Peanut Butter and Banana Smoothie (p. 96). I was let down slightly by the fact that there was no use of the greens in sweet applications, as they can work quite well and many parents (and picky adults) would find these a good way to “sneak in” some extra nutrition. Each recipe is accompanied by a brief introduction, and while there are no photos (a sad oversight) the recipe titles are eye-catching and descriptive enough to warrant a look. Unfortunately, the photos on the cover are not of actual recipes in Leafy Greens, but rather shutterstock purchases – something I discovered when scouring for the kale-pine nut- and cranberry dish on the back (called Sautéed Kale by Andi Berger).

For anyone brand new to eating more than iceberg lettuce salads, Leafy Greens comes complete with a detailed introduction and glossary covering the types of edible leaves as well as a few paragraphs on their health benefits as a whole. I particularly liked the practical details of the vegetables’ appearances (handy when shopping!) as well as the note that “[w]hile not every green will become a favourite, they are all worth trying” (p. 5). This is good advice for any new ingredient and definitely worth remembering in the kitchen!

My favourite thing about this book is that the recipes are so varied that it’s impossible to say you hate all forms of all greens. I still detest any green in smoothies, but give me a plate of Spinach and Ricotta Stuffed Shells (p. 65) or a side of Roasted Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Parmesan (p. 42) and it is gone in a flash. Likewise, my mother would never serve up a bowlful of Black Bean, Corn and Kale Salad (p.17) for lunch, but I finally convinced her that the green was delicious in African Peanut Stew (p. 29). The stew recipe is not for those sensitive to heat, however, since even after accidentally quadrupling the peanut butter and using a milder chili than the habanero called for, my curry was just barely edible. I can’t imagine what it would be like as written, but I doubt there would be a discernible flavour after all that powerful flame. The Saag Paneer (p. 69) was far more palatable – spicy but flavourfully so – even though it looked less than appetizing on the plate. It was also a dish easily made lighter by using skim milk for the cheese in the recipe or purchasing pressed non-fat cottage cheese and skipping the cheese-making altogether.

African Peanut Stew
African Peanut Stew (p. 29)

Needless to say, there is something for everyone to be found in The Leafy Greens Cookbook. Whatever your preference, the book makes it easy – and tasty – to add the nutrient-dense produce to your table in forms from the predictable to the outlandish, and Kathryn Anible’s recipes will turn many preconceived notions of bitter leaves on their heads. It just goes to show you that it can be easy being green!

Available on Amazon

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