By Brent Frei 2015-02-25 01:54:20
What’s leafy and green and enjoying top-vegetable status in U.S. foodservice right now? A category that offers terrific year-round variety to meet the dark-green vegetables requirement in school meal programs. WHILE KALE MIGHT BE THE DARLING OF THE LEAFY-GREENS WORLD TODAY, three-quarters of a century ago that lofty distinction was held by a rock star that remains the best-selling lettuce in the United States today: iceberg. Originally developed in the 1940s as a crisphead variety that flourished in the cooler climates of the northern United States, iceberg lettuce shipped well, thanks to advances in field packing, maintaining its integrity longer than other lettuces while being transported far and yon. Iceberg quickly dominated the lettuce landscape. Cool and crisp in salads and sandwiches, with a mild, watery flavor, it continues to stand out as an American favorite—at least at home. But among the four vegetable subgroups required by the USDA for school meal programs, iceberg joins the long list of “other vegetables,” with no more status than celery and wax beans, thanks to its low nutrient value. A shorter list (but one still chock full of options) of more nutrient-dense dark-green vegetables emphasizes such leafy greens varieties as bok choy, mustard greens and spinach. The dark-green vegetable requirement presents an opportunity for school nutrition menu planners to introduce their customers to nutritious leafy greens that might not be served at home or where families dine out. Plus, keen interest in less-mainstream lettuce varieties is being spurred by a salad mania sweeping the nation today. (Check out this month’s Bonus Web Content for a by-the-numbers look at the popularity of greens today; see page 58 for the link.) Heads of the Class Among all leafy greens, the dark-green varieties of both head and leaf lettuces, in particular, are very good sources of essential vitamins A and C and, depending on the variety, good sources of such important nutrients as riboflavin, vitamins B6 and K, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and copper. Some, like collards and spinach, are excellent sources of iron. All greens are highly perishable and, with few exceptions, should be stored in sealed plastic bags in the walk-in or cooler. Again depending on the variety, the shelf life to ensure freshness, color and flavor can be as short as a day or two for delicate endive and mâche to up to a week for sturdier radicchio. Unless your greens are guaranteed “thoroughly prewashed” by the farm or packer, they should be rinsed in running water prior to using. (But never soak greens.) Take care with gritty greens, such as spinach, which might require long, repeated rinsings, and with fragile lettuces, such as Bibb and Boston, which can tear easily when rinsed too aggressively. Pat lettuces dry with paper towels or use a salad spinner to wick away moisture after rinsing. Following are attributes of 10 of the most popular lettuces in foodservice and homes today. Characteristics of another seven varieties (including bok choy, Swiss chard and endive) can be found online in this month’s Bonus Web Content. Arugula. Arugula is a bitterish, aromatic salad green with a peppery mustard flavor. Very popular in Mediterranean cuisine, arugula’s assertive flavor is appealing to an ever-greater number of American palates. Arugula grows on stems, not in a head. Resembling radish leaves, it is sold in small bunches with the roots attached. The leaves should be bright green and fresh looking. Arugula is very perishable and should be tightly wrapped in a plastic bag. Its leaves hold a tremendous amount of grit, so it must be washed thoroughly just before using. Arugula makes a lively addition to salads, soups and sautéed vegetable dishes. Butterhead. One of two varieties of head lettuce (the other is crisphead), the butterhead family is best known by its Boston and Bibb lettuces. Both Boston and Bibb are sometimes simply referred to as “butterhead” or “butter” lettuce, and even “Boston” and “Bibb” are often used interchangeably to describe both varieties. In general, butterhead lettuces have small, round, loosely formed heads with soft, buttery-textured leaves ranging from pale green on the outer leaves to pale yellow-green on the inner leaves. The flavor is sweet and succulent. Because the leaves are so tender, they require gentle washing and handling. Collards/Collard Greens. Long a staple in the southern United States, collards is a variety of cabbage that doesn’t form a head, but grows instead in a loose rosette at the top of a tall stem. It’s often confused with its close relative, kale, and in fact tastes like a cross between cabbage and kale. Look for crisp, green leaves with no evidence of yellowing, wilting or insect damage. The Southern style of cooking the greens is to boil them with a chunk of bacon or salt pork, but collards can be prepared in any style suitable for spinach and cabbage. Green Leaf, Oak Leaf, Red Leaf. Known collectively as “leaf lettuces,” green, oak and red leaf varieties branch from a single stalk in a loose bunch rather than forming a tight head. The leaves are crisper and more full-flavored than those of head-lettuce varieties. Depending on the variety, leaf lettuce can range in color from medium to dark green; red-leaf lettuce has red-tipped leaves. In general, leaf lettuce is more perishable than head lettuce. Choose bunches with crisp, evenly colored leaves with no signs of wilting or yellowing. As with all greens, leaf lettuce should be washed and either drained completely or blotted with paper towels to remove any excess moisture before being refrigerated in a plastic bag for up to three days. Iceberg. Despite having little flavor and almost no nutritional value, iceberg remains the most popular lettuce in the United States. Iceberg is the best-known variety of crisphead lettuce. Crisphead lettuces are wilt-resistant and come in large, round, tightly packed heads of pale-green leaves. Choose heads that are heavy for their size, with no signs of browning at the edges. Kale. This cruciferous vegetable and member of the cabbage family has been cultivated for more than 2,000 years. Kale has a mild, cabbage-like flavor and comes in many varieties and colors. Most kale is easily identified by its frilly leaves arranged in a loose bouquet formation. The color of the leaves of the varieties most commonly available in the United States is deep green, variously tinged with shades of blue or purple. Kale’s at its best during winter months, although it’s available year-round in most parts of the country. Choose richly colored, relatively small bunches of kale, avoiding any with limp or yellowing leaves. After three days of storage in the coldest part of the walk-in or cooler, the flavor of kale becomes quite strong and the leaves will be limp. Because the center stalk is tough, it should be removed before the kale is prepared or served. Kale may be prepared in any way considered suitable for spinach, and small amounts are appropriate for salads. Mustard Greens. The peppery leaves of the cruciferous mustard plant are a popular soul-food ingredient, ranking second only to collards. The leaves are a rich, dark green and have a pungent mustard flavor. Although they can be found year-round in some locations, fresh mustard greens are most abundant from December through April. Look for crisp, young leaves with a rich green color, and reject those with yellow, flabby or pitted leaves or thick, fibrous stems. Mustard greens can be steamed, sautéed or simmered. They are usually served as a side dish, often flavored with onion, garlic, ham, salt pork or bacon. Radicchio. This red-leafed Italian chicory is most often used as a salad green. The maroon, round radicchio di Chioggia variety, about the size of a grapefruit, is the most recognizable type in the world, and is often called, simply, radicchio. Radicchio di Verona has burgundy-red leaves with white ribs and grows in a small, loose head, similar to butterhead lettuce. Radicchio di Treviso is the elongated form resembling a large red Belgian endive. Its leaves are narrow and pointed and form tighter, more tapered heads. It also has white ribs, but can range in color from pink to dark red. Well known for its ability to stand up to heat, Treviso is commonly used in cooked dishes and even can be barbecued. Other radicchio varieties have variegated or speckled leaves in shades of pink, red and green. All radicchios have delicate, but firm, leaves with a slightly bitter flavor. Choose heads that have crisp, full-colored leaves with no signs of browning. Romaine. Its elongated head has dark-green outer leaves that lighten to pale celadon in the center. The leaves are crisp and slightly bitter, and the crunchy midrib is particularly succulent. Romaine adds crunch and flavor to mixed-green salads, and it’s the lettuce of choice for Caesar salad. (See this month’s Bonus Web Content for a brief history of the Caesar salad.) Spinach. It’s a natural powerhouse source of iron, as well as vitamins A and C, but because spinach contains oxalic acid (which inhibits the body’s ability to absorb both calcium and iron), its nutritional value is somewhat diminished. This same oxalic acid gives spinach its slightly bitter taste. Depending on the variety, spinach’s dark-green leaves might be curled or smooth. Fresh spinach is available year-round. Choose leaves that are crisp, dark green and pleasantly fragrant, avoiding those that are limp, damaged or discolored. Usually very gritty, spinach must be thoroughly rinsed. It may be used raw in salads or cooked and served as a vegetable or part of a dish. Getting Kids to Eat Greens How can you get your school-age customers excited about exploring these and other leafy greens, particularly those darkergreen lettuces packed with nutrients? Here are just a few ideas. • Buddy up with fun and flavor. Prepare a basic salad featuring one unfamiliar leafy green that you want your customers to try, along with two to three ingredients they know and like, such as shredded cheese, raisins, shredded carrot, bacon bits, Goldfish crackers or ranch dressing. You can apply this same strategy to wrap sandwiches made with large lettuce leaves (romaine, butterhead, etc.) instead of tortillas or other flatbread, and offer a sweet/spicy or sweet/tangy dipping sauce on the side. Whether trying a new lettuce in a salad or wrap, always keep a couple standard ingredients or flavors in there that kids crave. • Make your salad mix jealous. If you have a salad bar, don’t limit your lettuce to one single variety. Keep the standby(s), but incorporate a “guest lettuce program” as a way to introduce a “new” leafy dark-green variety one day each week, such as arugula, frisée, mizuna or an even a less-common, but locally grown, variety. This will enhance student customers’ appreciation of different lettuces and their various colors, shapes, textures and flavors. • Action! Lettuce, take one. A twist to the standard salad bar is a salad action station, where leafy greens are the stars. If you have the personnel, assign someone to a station to facilitate the prep of custom salads. Ask student customers to pick a dark leafy green, other ingredients and a dressing, and (depending on the container) toss or shake it to transform a few fresh foods into a customized salad that tastes even better thanks to its “eatertainment” value. (Check out the Shaker Salad recipe in this month’s Bonus Web Content extras.) • Hand students a spade. If your school has a garden or the space to start one, enlist students in planting, tending and harvesting different greens. The lettuce they help grow themselves will be that much more enticing to their taste buds. Plus, they’ll adopt a deeper respect for where food comes from, which can help to reduce tray waste. From iceberg to kale to….? What will be the next favorite lettuce that will make all the others green with envy? By introducing youngsters to a wide variety of options in your school meal recipes and menus, you have the power to influence the hot trends of tomorrow. Use it wisely and use it well. Brent Frei is a freelance writer based in Schaumburg, Ill. Photography by Jiunlimited.com. Kitchen Wisdom says . . . Try This! GREEN EGGS AND HAM YIELD: 100 7.3-oz. servings PER SERVING: 310 cal., 12 g fat, 205 mg chol., 630 mg sod. 29 g carb., 4 g fiber, 22 g pro. 3358 IU vit. A, 258 mg calcium INGREDIENTS Eggs, whole, pasteurized, frozen—11 lbs., 4 ozs. Chopped spinach, frozen—9 lbs. Turkey ham, diced, lower-sodium—9 lbs., 7 ozs. Cheddar cheese, shredded, reduced-fat, reduced-sodium —3 lbs., 2 ozs. Garlic and herb seasoning, salt-free—3 Tbsps. Salt—2 tsps. Black ground pepper—2 tsps. Tortilla wraps, whole grain-rich*—100 Pan-release spray—1 oz. DIRECTIONS 1. Defrost all frozen items in the cooler. 2. Pull four full shallow steamtable pans and place at workstation. Spray each lightly with pan spray. 3. Empty the thawed eggs into a large mixing bowl and whisk well. Whisk in the garlic and herb seasoning, salt and pepper. 4. Open the thawed spinach and drain well. Add to the eggs and whisk well to fully incorporate the spinach with the eggs. 5. Sprinkle the diced ham into the bottoms of the steamtable pans, using 2 lbs., 5 3⁄4 ozs. per pan. 6. Pour the spinach-egg mixture over top of the ham, dividing evenly among the four pans. Top with the shredded cheese, using 12.5 ozs. per pan. 7. Cover the eggs and place them in a preheated 325ÅãF convection or combi oven. Bake for 10 minutes and then whisk the egg-ham-cheese mixture. Bake for an additional five minutes or until an internal temperature of 155ÅãF is reached. 8. To assemble, use #1-serving size boats. Place one tortilla wrap in each boat. Place a 1⁄2 cup of the green eggs-andham mixture on top using a #8 disher. Wrap in a foil sheet and place in the warmer. Critical Control Point: Hold above 135ºF. Recipe and photo: American Egg Board, www.aeb.org *Notes: Use a tortilla wrap size that will provide a 2-oz. eq. grain. According to the recipe source, each serving provides 3.5-oz. eq. meat/meat alternate, 2-oz. eq. grain, 1⁄8 cup dark-green vegetables. KITCHEN WISDOM SAYS . . . • The pan spray was not enough to keep the eggs from sticking to the pan and made it very difficult to clean. Laying down parchment before placing the ingredients in the pans would make for an easier clean up, as well as helping to provide steam to cook the eggs versus baking them. Otherwise, the dish was tasty. • We used egg whites instead of whole eggs, because we had those on hand and needed to move them out. It worked fine as a substitute for the liquid eggs. • Next time we would probably cook the spinach in advance. We drained it, but it was still very runny. CHEESY KALE BAKE YIELD: 50 1-cup servings INGREDIENTS Onions—4 lbs. Canola oil—1⁄4 cup Kale—6 lbs. Water—3 gals., 3 qts. Kosher salt—4.5 Tbsps., divided Penne pasta, whole-wheat—3 lbs., 4 ozs. Olive oil—1⁄4 cup Cheddar cheese, shredded reduced-fat—2 lbs. Breadcrumbs, soft, whole-wheat—1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated—1 cup Pan-release spray—as needed DIRECTIONS 1. Trim and peel onions. Cut into a medium dice. 2. Heat canola oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 45 minutes. (Do not skip this step, as the almost-melted onions are key to this recipe.) 3. Meanwhile, wash the kale under cold running water. Drain it in a colander, but do not dry. Remove and discard the thick stems. Cut the leaves into 1/2-in. pieces. 4. Bring the water and 3 Tbsps. salt to a boil in a second large pot. Cook the pasta until it’s just tender, about 8 minutes. Do not overcook. Drain and rinse the noodles with cool water. Return the pasta to the pot and toss it with olive oil. 5. Working in batches, add the chopped kale to the hot oil and onion mixture in the pot. Stir and toss each batch of kale until it wilts and shrinks, before adding more. Stir in 11/2 Tbsps. of salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring and tossing, until all of the kale is wilted and tender, but still a bright-green color, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and let it cool. 6. Preheat a convection oven to 350ÅãF or a conventional oven to 375ÅãF. Coat two 2-in. full steamtable pans with cooking spray. 7. Add the pasta to the kale mixture and toss to combine. Add the Cheddar cheese and continue to toss until the mixture is well combined. Divide between the prepared pans, spreading evenly. 8. In a separate small bowl, add breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle each pan evenly with half of the mixture. 9. Bake until it’s brown and the internal temperature reaches 140ÅãF, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve immediately, portioning 1 cup servings. Recipe: Vermont Feed New School Cuisine, www.vtfeed.org. Notes: According to the recipe source, 1 cup provides 0.5 oz. eq. meat/meat alternate; 1 oz. eq. whole grain-rich grain and 1⁄4 cup dark-green vegetables. KITCHEN WISDOM SAYS . . . • Taking the time to cool the kale-andonion mixture is not necessary. When you use it still warm, it helps cut down the cooking time in the oven and ensures the top is not overcooked. • We tasted it shortly after it came out of the oven and it was on the dry side. To combat this, I would increase the amount of liquid that is used to cook the kale. This way, when it’s added to the pasta and baked, it would allow for additional moisture. You also could leave out the breadcrumbs, which would reduce your carb/starch calories and would help prevent it from sucking out the moisture. • I would add additional protein to the dish to make it a more complete one-pot dish. It was delicious, and the kids loved it! We tested it with 5th-8th graders. • The Cheesy Kale Bake received good overall student acceptance. We modified the recipe to include only 2 lbs. of onions. Our students are not as accepting of a lot of onion. SWEET POTATO AND BLACK BEAN STEW YIELD: 25 servings (1 cup/8 fl. oz.) PER SERVING: 222 cal., 10.35 g pro., 43 g carb., 4.4 g fat, 0 mg chol, 578 mg sod., 12.25 g fiber, 8,846 mg vit. A, 25.75 mg vit. C. INGREDIENTS New Mexican chili peppers, whole, dried—3 Onions, diced—1 lb., 9 ozs. Vegetable oil—1⁄2 cup Ground cumin—11⁄2 Tbsps. Sweet potatoes, peeled, cubed—3 lbs. Black beans, low-sodium, canned— 12 lbs., 2 ozs. Orange juice—3 cups Low-sodium chicken stock—1 qt. Red wine vinegar—1⁄4 cup Salt—1 tsp. Ground black pepper—1 tsp. Swiss chard, no stems, chopped*—1 lb. DIRECTIONS 1. Drain and rinse the black beans. Set aside. Dice the onions. 2. Sauté the chili peppers and onions in oil for two to three minutes in a large stockpot. 3. Add the cumin and sauté for two more minutes. 4. Add the sweet potatoes, the black beans, the orange juice and the chicken stock. Bring the mixture to a boil. 5. Cover and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender. 6. Remove and discard the chilies. Add the vinegar, salt, pepper and Swiss chard to the potato and beans mixture. Cover. Critical Control Point: Heat to 140ÅãF or higher for at least 15 seconds. Hold for hot service at 135°F or higher. 7. Portion with an 8 fl. oz. ladle (1 cup). Notes: The fresh Swiss chard can be substituted with 12 ozs. frozen Swiss chard. According to the recipe source, each serving provides 3 oz. equivalent legume as meat alternate, 1⁄4 cup red/ orange vegetable and 1/4 cup other vegetable OR 3⁄4 cup legume as vegetable, 1/4 cup red/orange vegetable and 1⁄4 cup other vegetable. Legume can be counted as either a meat alternate or as a vegetable, but not as both simultaneously. BONUS WEB CONTENT To learn more about leafy greens— including the Caesar salad, characteristics of seven lessconventional varieties and top trends in this category, plus additional recipes— check out this month’s exclusive online extras at www.schoolnutrition.org/snmagazinebonuscontent. Recipes obtained from outside sources and published in School Nutrition have not been tested by the magazine or SNA in a school foodservice setting, except for certain “Kitchen Wisdom” selections, which are evaluated by a volunteer pool of operators. When available, nutrient analyses are provided by the recipe source. Required ingredients, preparation steps and nutrient content make some recipes more appropriate for catering applications or adult meals. Readers are encouraged to test recipes and calculate their own nutrition analyses and meal patterns before adding a recipe to school menus. In addition, SN recognizes that individual schools use varying documentation methods and preparation steps to comply with HACCP principles; we encourage you to add your own HACCP steps to these recipes.
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