Part Two Part One
By: Jean Johnson for Uterus1
In the first half of “Good Food, Good Medicine,” we talked about how young women in their childbearing years are at risk for iron deficiency anemia. We also pointed out that this condition affects one in five premenopausal women in this age group. Further, we described the signs and symptoms of this condition, underscoring that the low energy typical of anemia robs women of their vitality.
We also made the case that although there are many ways to increase iron and associated nutrients – including vitamin C and folate – in your diet, dark green vegetables are a sure ticket to ride. Toward this end, we introduced Garrett Berdan, chef and registered dietitian in Portland, Oregon. Berdan said he’d be delighted to take us through selecting and preparing some of these dark green powerhouse veggies.
|This list of iron content in selected vegan foods is adapted from The Vegetarian Resource Group, a nonprofit focused on providing reliable information about vegetarian and vegan diets. Working these foods into your diet is a first step to battling iron deficiency anemia.|
Spinach, 1 cup cooked, 6.4 mg
Swiss chard, 1 cup cooked, 4.0 mg
Kale, 1 cup cooked, 1.2 mg
Broccoli, 1 cup cooked, 1.2 mg
Romaine, 2 cups raw, 1.2 mg
Ticket to Ride a la Chef Garrett Berdan, RD: Getting Iron-Rich Meals on the Table
“When dealing with any kind of food that is healthful, the idea is to be inspired so you’ll want to eat it,” said Berdan. Even watching Berdan slice and dice is inspirational. The look of sheer joy in his seagreen eyes makes it clear that he loves good food.
He picks up a bouquet of lettuces and explains that top-quality produce is the place to start. Luckily we don’t have far to go here in Portland, where trend-setting groceries connect local organic growers to urban consumers.
You don’t need to live in the country of the goddesses to make it happen, Berdan explains. Consumer support agriculture (CSA) throughout the nation is increasingly linking seasonal produce fresh from local farms to lovers of good fare. There are also farmer’s markets and natural food stores, today’s equivalent of the food co-ops started during the Sixties.
We asked Berdan to start with dark green lettuces even though they don’t rate quite as high on the iron scorecard as the stronger dark green veggies. We want, however, to have something for everyone here.
You could term the dark lettuces gateway foods. A way for those who don’t like broccoli, or who’ve not explored the world of kales and chards and beyond, to begin to think green.
“The darker lettuces,” said Berdan. “are more colorful, so more fun to look at. And because of the deeper color, salad greens like romaine and dark green and red leaf lettuces actually lend more flavor to what you are making. The real nutrient-dense powerhouses are broccoli, spinach, and the dark greens, but the lettuces are still very healthful foods. ”
The Delicate Lettuces and Composed Salads
“The delicate lettuces are wonderful paired with things like tomatoes or slices of avocado to give a creaminess to the salad. You can even combine the softer lettuces with things like baby spinach to give the meal a kick and nutrition boost,” Berdan observed. “It’s a good way to ease into some of the hardier greens.
“I always think that just a simple vinaigrette with extra virgin olive oil and good balsamic or sherry vinegar with shallots and Dijon mustard is nice,” he said. “Once you have that, you can either leave it there or make the greens into a composed salad.
“A composed salad is when you combine different types of foods to make a small meal or first course. A piece of poached salmon or other grilled or broiled meat like chicken or flank steak thinly sliced work well. With a composed salad the idea is you are combining different flavors and cooking methods. For example, you could add some crunch with apples or toasted pumpkin seeds called pepitas. Toasted walnuts work great as well.”
The salad greens were all properly washed and chilled, waiting in a rolled up tea towel in the crisper. We chose an array of tidbits, from some tart Rubinette apples to some sweet Norwegian gjetost (a carmelized goat cheese that knocks your socks off) to hazelnuts since we wanted to support the growers in the Pacific Northwest. We also had a sweet onion on hand so put some shavings of that in as well.
The dressing was a snap, just like Berdan promised. We were eating in 15 minutes. Our kind of fast food – and good-medicine food too.
The Hardy Greens
“I love these vegetables because they are so dark and full of flavor and nutritious at the same time. They are difficult for some folks to consume,” said Berdan, “but I’ve found a simple sauté pleases even those who thought they didn’t like things like kale and Swiss chard.
“The classic method is to lightly sauté chopped garlic in some extra virgin olive oil and add a pinch of red pepper flakes. Once they’ve just heated through, throw in washed and chopped kale or chard. Cook just until wilted and season with kosher salt.”
Berdan said that if the kale is mature he leaves the tougher ribs out and uses only the leafy part. But those that are bringing younger kale right in from their winter gardens should find the stems tender enough to include. As for chard, he uses those stems since they don’t get tough like kale, and they add a nice texture to the dish.
Try a Spinach Frittata
“I think spinach is wonderful whether it’s fresh or frozen, especially since today the quick frozen spinach where they freeze the leaves individually is available. It’s great not to deal with that rock hard block any more. Instead you can take what you need out of the bag just like frozen peas and corn.
“Frittatas are so easy. More people need to do them,” Berdan said, reaching for the eggs. “It’s the best way to get vegetables into your breakfast. And since we’re supposed to be eating five servings of vegetables a day, if you didn’t include any at breakfast, then you have two at lunch and three at dinner to go.
“So what I really love to do is slice a whole onion thin in a little extra virgin olive oil and start to caramelize it in a pan that you can use stove top as well as in the oven. You use medium heat, and if the onions start to get too dark too quickly you can add a little water. But the idea is to cook them slowly without a lid so they soften and caramelize at the same time. It takes about 10 minutes.
“Once the onions are caramelized I season them with kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper. Also I like to put a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar in at the end and let that cook off. That way you get a little sweet, syrupy accent with the onions.
“Then I would add either fresh or frozen baby spinach. Chop it and cook it just to wilt it or heat it through. A whole bag of frozen spinach or a whole bunch of fresh would work for a half dozen eggs, so you’d have enough for three or four people,” Berdan said. “Just scramble up the eggs and pour them evenly over the spinach and onions. Leave on the stove top for three minutes and stir it around to cook the eggs from the bottom. Then run it under the broiler to finish the top.”
In Berdan’s kitchen, a dish isn’t really finished until that last touch is in place. “Yes, options here might be some fresh grated parmesan cheese or really some nice gruyere. Even a feta tastes great just to heighten the flavor,” he said. “It doesn’t take a lot. Just a little bit grated with a microplane or a few crumbles does the trick.”
Good Old Stalwart Broccoli
We included broccoli on our list of iron-rich foods since it’s so ubiquitous and well-known. Many of us just steam our broccoli or put it into a stir fry, so we were interested to hear what Berdan would offer in the way of cooking tips.
“Broccoli,” said Berdan warming to his subject. “Of course it’s great, and I think the easiest way to cook it is to steam. It’s so easy and fast. It steams in five minutes. All you have to do is clean and trim into nice pieces.
“Of course, I usually have a peanut sauce on hand and toss the broccoli with that. It just melts into the spears and gives them a Thai influence.”
He surveys his cupboard while NPR’s Car Talk gives way to Prairie Home Companion in the background. “My peanut sauce is usually different every time. It just depends on what I have on hand.
“If I have peanut butter and a can of coconut milk and some hoisin sauce, I can mix something together very easily in saucepan on the stove.
“I’ll just heat up the coconut milk until it’s hot but not boiling – until a little steam is coming off the top. Then I put a few spoonfuls of peanut butter in and let that heat through. If it’s the consistency I’m looking for, then I just add a spoonful of hoisin sauce. It’s as simple as that.
“If it’s a little too thick, I thin it out with some water,” Berdan went on. “And of course I taste while I work. I like my peanut sauce to have a little kick, so I might add a small amount of red curry paste.”
We asked Berdan to elaborate on tasting. “Tasting food as you’re cooking can really give you direction on where to go next. On the peanut sauce, for example, once you add the hoisin sauce you can expect it to give some saltiness or umami.”
Umami is “considered the fifth taste. It’s a fairly new term in the past couple of years that has given us something new to describe a taste profile,” he explained. “There’s sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. And now there’s umami as well, the flavor that’s deep in a meaty way. The taste we get from shitake mushrooms, cooked tomatoes, and any cooked meat. What you’re actually tasting is glutamic acid or what can be artificially manufactured as MSG.
“You might want to add some more spice such as red curry paste, or maybe cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes. Or if the sauce feels too heavy on the pallet or too rich you can add the juice of a half of lime. A little bit of acid can really brighten a sauce.
We’re sold and feel brighter already. We also think we’re more likely to enjoy our broccoli, and hope you agree – especially those that are trying to address iron deficiency anemia.
Clearly Garrett Berdan thinks we’re on the right path. “Once you have a very tasty sauce you can feel confident that you’re going to eat what you’re dressing it with – you’re going to want to eat your broccoli.”