If iceberg lettuce is a mainstay of your diet, you need to know: The greens are greener on the other side of the produce department! Sally Ketchum takes a stroll down the greens aisle.
Oh, dieting with iceberg lettuce! Take one head of crisp and beautifully cupped iceberg lettuce. Cut it into wedges neat enough to pass geometry class. Then, to add necessary flavor, dress the wedges with bountiful spoonfuls (and myriad calories!) of creamy Ranch Dressing, Thousand Island, Sour Cream Dressing, Cream Cheese and Ginger Dressing, or whipped cream dressings like Horseradish Cream, and worse.
The list goes on, and the calorie count goes higher, too. What is one to do?
The answer? Discover greens of other cultures, those that are loved because they are tasty and healthy.
Dieters should like them because they are also low in calories. Most foreign greens are eaten without rich dressings; and they are versatile in preparation, tasty as additions to recipes, and/or served as side dishes, whether alone or combined with other greens.
Asian greens entered our kitchens when we found the virtues of Asian and Pacific Rim foods, especially Chinese and Japanese dishes. Asian green vegetables, leafy, stemmed or sprouted, not only leave icebergs in the pale realm of blah, but also they provide many vitamins and minerals needed by dieters.
Consider the following varieties of Asian greens:
Mizuna (siu cai): A finely cut slender leafed crisp Japanese salad green. Mizuna has a mild, pleasant flavor and can be eaten raw in salads or added to stir fries and soups. It is easy to grow in a kitchen garden.
Pai Tsai-Fun Jen: A tasty green that forms flattish, open whirls of round leaves that are great in salads. The white stems are delicious steamed or chopped in stir fries.
NOTE: Many greens are mistakenly called Chinese Cabbage, but most of those misnamed are excellent diet foods and are usually cousins of Chinese Cabbage.
Napa cabbage (Chinese Cabbage, also called Wong Bok and Peking cabbage): The leaves are thin, crisp, delicate and mild. Napa cabbage is very rich in vitamin A, folic acid and potassium.
Bok Choy (This subspecies of Chinese Cabbage is also called pak choi, Chinese white cabbage and white mustard cabbage): Bok Choy is a versatile leafy vegetable. It looks something like celery, but it has a crunchy texture, a mildly tangy taste. The white stems are wide and long full leaves that have a slight peppery taste. Bok Choy can be eaten raw, steamed or in stir fries. One cup of raw Bok Choy is only 20 calories.
Italians love regional greens and balance their diets of pastas. Sophia Loren is known to say, "Everything you see, I owe to spaghetti!" but she also eats a variety of greens with her pasta.
The following Italian greens are now popular in America:
Broccoli Raab (Rapini or Broccoli Di Rapa): Raab is actually a broccoli that forms no heads. It has a more pungent taste than the familiar broccoli. Because of its piquancy, it is a good addition to bland foods. It is not served raw, but is delicious lightly steamed or sautéed and can be served alone as the vegetable portion of a meal. Cooked raab is 19 calories a cup. Cooked fresh broccoli, stems and florets, are 45 calories a cup.
Radiccio: Radiccio red chicory has been a staple in Italian kitchens since the Middle Ages. It's available year-round in American produce departments and can be grown in kitchen gardens for a fall harvest and also over-wintering in milder climates. Radiccio's flavor has been called unique; it's delicate, but slightly sharp or bitter. The white-ribbed plants have leaves in all shades of Burgundies and reds. The leaves are firm, but tender cooked. They are often grilled, sautéed or even baked, besides being added to salads.
Basil: Although basil is an herb, Italian cuisine can't be mentioned without it. Basil goes in most of their dishes-always with tomatoes, and that is marvelous low-calorie combination for dieters. There are many, many types of basil, Genovese for pesto (The taste hints of licorice and cloves.), lemon, lime basils, cinnamon and other flavors. Lettuce-leafed and mammoth have large leaves that make a delightful wrap around low-cal fillings.
Continental greens: Several greens are widely used all over Europe. Chard (Swiss Chard) is the most popular among them.
Chard has been a European staple for centuries, especially in France. Raw, it is only 7 calories a cup-a good reason to add young chard leaves into salads. The nomenclature of Chard and Swiss chard is the stuff of folklore, and the origin of the names is clouded.
Lovers of chard eat both the leaves and stems; the latter often steamed and served like asparagus. Nutritionists recommend the chards, like Ruby and Charlotte, along with the dark green varieties. Reds are beautiful cooked; although the leaves turn green the stems remain red.
Today, generally, Swiss Chard means the leaves are meant for the table; Chard means the stems are suitable. For all culinary purposes, both are edible and both are delicious.
Sally Ketchum, a Michigan food journalist, is a long time friend of Mr. Bad Food, and has even cooked for him.