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Greens beyond lettuce

Kale, arugula and other leafy greens are adding color to menus.

You know you’ve hit the big time when there’s a commercial about you during the Super Bowl. Such is the case with kale. In magazines, on restaurant menus and in non-commercial foodservice operations, kale and other leafy greens are upping the nutrition factor of many dishes, especially soups, salads and sandwiches.

Kale

At Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, Tenn., the dining services department has moved beyond serving the traditional collard and mustard greens. Kale is the star of several dishes, including a lentil, kale, sweet potato and sausage stew.

“It’s really good,” says Executive Chef Bill Claypool. “A lot of the seasoning is taken out of the preparation of the sausage. It gives the stew a lot of that caraway and chili spice. That, plus the kale and sweet potatoes play off each other very well.” The department also offers an Indian-style kale and chickpea salad, which is flavored with a curry that contains cumin, red peppers, coriander and garam masala.

John Williams, executive chef at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics, in Madison, thinks kale is a great ingredient because of its nutrition factor.

“We’ve been using it a lot lately because it’s hearty and holds up well in the winter,” Williams says. “We’re using it in salads with acidic dressings so the kale breaks down a little bit. The salad almost has to sit for a little bit to let that acid attack the greens and make it a little more palatable.”

One example is the department’s grape and kale salad, which has a citrus poppy seed dressing. Williams likes this salad because the citrus and sugar balance the acidity, which works well with the kale. Kale also finds its way into a spicy vegan quinoa and kale soup that includes chickpeas, carrot, onion, celery, black quinoa and lemon juice.

“There’s zero nutrient value in lettuce,” Williams adds. “Your stomach is a machine. Lettuce breaks down very easily in your digestive tract. Kale and other greens like arugula and spinach take a little work to digest, which creates more energy for your body.”

Arugula

The peppery bite of arugula is ideal for salads and sandwiches, says Susan Chee, retail food service manager for Northwest Community Hospital, in Arlington Heights, Ill.

“We serve a chicken flatbread that uses arugula,” Chee says. “The flatbread features Monterey Jack cheese, diced chicken, arugula and has a drizzle of ranch dressing on top. We also ran a sandwich special that uses arugula [atop] seasoned chicken on a ciabatta roll with pesto, tomatoes and a basil spread. Arugula is one of those greens that everyone is buzzing about right now. We can take a same old sandwich and add arugula to it and people get excited about it.”

Williams also likes to use arugula in salads and sandwiches. This spring he plans to introduce an avocado, scallop, grape and arugula salad, which will also use the citrus poppy seed dressing.

“We’ve also been replacing lettuce on sandwiches with arugula,” Williams adds. “We’ve got a new sandwich coming in where we take fresh mozzarella, roasted red bell pepper, roasted portobello mushroom and top it with arugula. There’s also a little balsamic vinaigrette in there to add some moisture.”

Arugula can even be used to make pesto, as in Vanderbilt’s broccoli and tortellini salad with arugula pesto. The dish features pesto made with garlic, baby arugula, pecorino cheese, extra-virgin olive oil, toasted pine nuts, freshly grated lemon zest and salt. The broccoli is then blanched and tossed with cooked cheese tortellini.

Other varieties

Claypool uses a few other less common varieties of greens to switch things up. One recent popular vegan dish featured bulgur wheat and mustard greens.

“It’s a really nutrient-dense dish,” Claypool says. “We take bulgur wheat and walnuts and sauté [them] with shallots, garlic and the mustard greens. Toward the end we hit it with some pitted, chopped up dates and a little white wine vinegar. We also have done a Swiss chard and feta cheese tart. We basically made creamed chard, cooled it off and added some feta and an egg mixture. We put that mixture in 5-inch savory tart shells. It makes like a little quiche.”

The department also does a similar dish called Swiss chard gratin. The team cooks down Swiss chard with some cheese and an egg mixture and then pours that into a pan and bakes the whole thing.

“It gets all brown and luscious on top and then we cut it into little wedges,” Claypool says. “We also use a savoy cabbage in an Asian-inspired salad. It’s got peppers, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts and an Asian-soy-based vinaigrette. Savoy cabbage is a lot easier to eat raw than regular cabbage. It’s got a different leaf structure to it.”

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