We are truly fortunate to have fantastic braising greens available to us here at Stearns. When I say “greens” I am referring to the family of big leafy, dark green vegetables which include Swiss chard, collards, and kale–what I like to call “The Big Three.”

Swiss chard is a tall leafy green vegetable with thick, crunchy stalks that come in white, red or yellow with wide fan-like green leaves. Chard belongs to the same family as beets and spinach. Both the leaves and stalks of Swiss chard are edible, though the stems vary in texture, and some say the white stalks are the most tender. The beautiful leaves of kale provide an earthy flavor and more nutritional value for fewer calories than almost any other food around.

Kale is a leafy green vegetable that belongs to the Brassica family, a group of vegetables including cabbage, collards and brussel sprouts that have gained recent widespread attention due to their health promoting, sulfur-containing phytonutrients. It is easy to grow and can grow in colder temperatures, when a light frost in early winter will enhance the flavor of the sweet kale leaves.

Collard greens, long a staple of the Southern United States, have a very mild, almost smoky flavor. Like kale, collards are one of the non-head forming members of the Brassica family that includes broccoli and cauliflower. The dark blue-green leaves that are smooth in texture and relatively broad distinguish them from the frilly edged leaves of kale.

All of these greens are delicious and can be eaten raw or steamed, sauteed in olive oil, braised or baked in a gratin. They can be added to salads, are wonderful in soups and pasta dishes, and make a fantastic side dish on their own. Some flavors that work well with greens include garlic, onion, smoked meats like sausage, bacon and pancetta, eggs, anchovies, lemon juice, butter and olive oil.

So what’s the Big Deal with The Big Three? All of them contain very few calories (less than 50 per cup) and are an extremely rich source of vitamins and minerals. The long list of these includes iron, calcium, potassium and magnesium, along with vitamins K, C, E, and many of the B vitamins. Add to that the variety of phytonutrients including beta-carotene and zeaxanthin, which protect our cells and our eyes from age-related problems. Greens are, calorie for calorie, probably the most concentrated source of nutrition of any food. Now, that is a Great Deal, so listen to your mother and the USDA and eat your greens. You’ll be a lot healthier for it!