Vegan 101: Five Easy Ways to Eat More Leafy Greens

by JL Fields on May 31, 2011

A funny thing happened when I started this Vegan 101 series.  I started “meeting” wonderful people, perfect contributors to the series!

Recently Nava Atlas emailed me. Yes, me!  She read Ginny Messina’s Vegan 101 post and wanted permission to re-post it on her site.  Are you kidding? Of course! I want to spread the word on how to plan healthy, vegan diets!

Through our email conversation I learned that Nava is working on a new cookbook on leafy greens; never one to miss an opportunity when it presents itself I immediately invited her to write a post on leafy greens for this series.  You all know I’m cuckoo for the kale, so it was just a matter of time…


Everyone’s mad for greens these days! How else to explain the “Kale University” T-shirts worn by the college crowd, and the passion of dedicated fans for their daily green smoothies? Once you get into the leafy greens habit, it’s hard to stop. And why would you? Greens are acknowledged as the most nutrient-rich group of veggies, with a multitude of benefits.

The hardier greens, like kale, chard, and collards, are superb sources of highly absorbable calcium, a perk that’s especially valuable to vegans. They’re one of the best sources of Vitamin K, essential to bone health, and are abundant in vitamins A, B (especially folic acid) and C. Greens also provide a wealth of antioxidants and chlorophyll, are protective against cancers, and are anti-inflammatory.

All of these are great reasons to eat more greens, aside from the fact that they’re delicious, versatile, and add interest to all manner of preparations. Here are a handful of ways to enjoy them every day: 

  1. Use greens in smoothies and juices. Some greens are better for this purpose than others. Spinach tastes so mild in smoothies and juices that your taste buds barely know it’s there. Kale and collards are a bit more assertive but add a very mild green flavor to smoothies and juices. For either juices or smoothies, a big handful or two of spinach or one or two good-size kale or collard leaves per servings is about right. Greens blend well with bananas, apples, berries, and pears. You’ll need a high-speed blender (like Vita-Mix or BlendTec) to break kale and collards down smoothly; a regular blender is sufficient for spinach. For specific recipes, search “green smoothies” and you’ll find a wealth of ideas.
  2. Use “massaged” raw kale in salads. Strip rinsed kale leaves from their stems (in my opinion, ordinary curly kale is best for this purpose) and chop them into bite-size pieces. Make sure the kale isn’t too wet before starting; use a salad spinner if you’d like. Place the cut kale into a serving bowl. Rub a little olive oil into your palm, then massage the kale for 45 seconds to a minute. It will soften up and turn bright green. To this, you can add all manner of other veggies and fruits, and dress any way you’d like. A simple formula that I’ve been enjoying for years: add dried cranberries, toasted or raw cashew pieces, vegan mayonnaise, and a little lemon juice. It’s downright addictive. Massaged kale goes well with avocado, apples, pears, napa or red cabbage, carrots, pumpkin seeds, walnuts…what you combine it with is limited only to what happens to be in your fridge. It can be dressed in ordinary vinaigrette, sesame-ginger dressing, tahini dressing, and the aforementioned vegan mayo.
  3. Add hardy greens to stir-fries. The best greens to use for this purpose are lacinato (or “dinosaur,” a flat-leaf variety) kale, collards, or chard. Strip the leaves from the stems (you can slice the stems from the kale and chard very thinly and use them again. Stack a few leaves atop one another and roll up snugly from a narrow end. Slice very thinly. This will make long, thin ribbons; cut them once or twice across to shorten. Add these toward the end of your veggie stir-fries, as they cook pretty quickly this way. These blend well with all manner of veggies that you’d usually use in stir-fries—broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, celery, bok choy (itself a leafy green), asparagus, green beans, etc. Greens flavored with soy sauce, tamari, or Bragg’s liquid aminos, plus ginger, are super-tasty.
  4. Use plenty of leafy spring greens in salads. Granted, this isn’t a revolutionary idea, but look beyond lettuce to create invigorating warm-season salads. Use lots of peppery watercress (a nutritional superstar), baby bok choy, tender dandelion greens, tatsoi, and mizuna (the latter two are Japanese greens that have become increasingly available at farm markets and CSAs). Combine with baby green and sprouts, plus your favorite salad veggies and fruits, for cleansing (and clean-tasting) salads.
  5. Learn to love the bitter greens. Add variety to your greens repetoire by getting to know escarole, broccoli rabe, and mustard greens. These greens mellow out considerably with gentle braising or when incorporated into soups and stews. The basics: Heat a little olive oil in a large steep-sided skillet or stir-fry pan; sauté as much chopped garlic and/or shallots as you’d like. Add washed and chopped greens, stir quickly to coat with the oil, then add about 1/4 cup water or vegetable stock. Cover and cook until tender and wilted down, about 5 minutes. Traditional additions to this kind of braise are raisins and toasted pine nuts, plus salt and pepper and if you’d like, a little apple cider vinegar.

Visit VegKitchen for lots of recipes for:

Nava Atlas is the author of many veg and vegan cookbooks, including the forthcoming Vegan Holiday Kitchen (October 2011) and a yet-untitled book on leafy greens (Spring 2012), both photographed by Susan Voisin of FatFree Vegan Kitchen.


I love my green smoothies; I adore massaged kale; I fail at bitter greens. Thanks, Nava, for nudging me to give bitter greens another chance.  Your methods sound delicious!

What is your favorite way to prepare or eat greens?


  • Anonymous

    I could eat kale salad everyday for the rest of my life. Thank you for sharing another fantastic Vegan 101 post. 

    • I’m with you! Nothing better than raw kale! I need to work on my bitter greens, though!

  • Saag aloo is my absolute favourite; the Indian way: spinach and potatoes in a curry sauce! I ate it the first time in my favourite Indian restaurant (which is now closed :() and it was like heaven… Unfortunately I can’t make it as good as they did, tried various recipes, but nothing comes close.
    I’m hoping for a better relationship between me and greens, because usually I add a lot of sauce or something else, because I don’t like the plain taste. Specially not cabbage, I can’t get it down my throat :s
    Lovely guest post!

    • Sara, do you like garlic? I’m telling you, nothing better than a simple, quick steam/stir-fry of a hearty green with olive oil and TONS of garlic. YUM!

  • I love all kinds of greens and these are fabulous suggestions! I am so, so excited to see Nava’s book come out–never too many ways to enjoy greens! 😀 

    • You know I’ll be online to get my hands on that book!

  • Prior to 5 months ago, I thought kale was just something that decoratively lined restaurant salad bars. I know better now! I add kale to my green juices, stir fry the flowered tops, add it to salads, and don’t forget the cheezy kale chips. I use to love spinach in smoothies, but it started giving my stomach grief. I’ve since replaced the spinach with chlorella. And, can’t forget about the green beans – stir fried with olive oil and lemon, and topped with a sprinkle of nutritional yeast and black sesame seeds.

  • Lia

    I lurv greeens!  I like putting them into soups, at the end, just to cook them a bit, or giant salads of course.  I like this post, and I also have some advice for bitter greens: boiled, cooled, lemon juice, garlic, tahini, especially for dandelion greens!

    • That sounds like a great way to enjoy the bitter greens!

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  • I’m eating a massaged kale salad right now! 🙂 Thanks for the post and for cluing me in to Nava’s new book – it sounds fantastic!

  • Thanks for the great post, I also like kale salad but sometimes I just cook my greens with a little bit of bragg’s liquid amino’s, garlic and water. Most of them are pretty good that way!

    • Me too! Just a super quick saute/steam so they still have that raw texture. YUM!

  • Great post, thanks! I go through so much kale, but need to try more massaged kale salads.

    • Yeah, I drink a lot of my kale. I need to dehydrate kale chips more often.

  • I need a “Kale University” t-shirt! This is a fantastic post with great suggestions. We should all be eating green leafy greens every single day, they are super healthy. I especially love the suggestion about putting vinegar on the bitter greens because it’s a trick that really does decrease the bitterness. Happy eating everyone!

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