Domini Kemp: Eat your greens

This barely cooked, nutrient rich soup is the perfectantidote to the excesses of the party season

So, what do you do if you want to harvest the maximum amount of nutrients from your greens but you can’t bear the idea of eating them cold? Domini Kemp’s Green Soup and Almond Crackers. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

So, what do you do if you want to harvest the maximum amount of nutrients from your greens but you can’t bear the idea of eating them cold? Domini Kemp’s Green Soup and Almond Crackers. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

E at my greens? Sure, I can do that. But apart from salad leaves and a select few others – the regal asparagus perhaps – the idea of eating cold greens holds scant appeal, especially at this time of year. Hibernation food it is not.

And yet, most greens are far more nutrient-dense when raw or just very slightly cooked. Which means, not hot. Along with the water they’re cooked in, most of the life-giving compounds in green veg will just disappear if too much heat is applied.

The vagaries of some veg don’t make things easy either. Take spinach, for example, the star of my first recipe. Spinach is a fantastically nutritious leafy green – packed with protein, calcium and B vitamins. Iron is the least of its attributes, really, whatever Popeye has to say about it.

But spinach is contrary too, yielding most nutrients when raw, but certain others when cooked – steamed or sauted. Tomatoes are the same. The powerful antioxidant lycopene, which gives them their vibrant colour, will only give itself up when heat is applied to the tomatoes. Boost the fat levels in your tomato sauce, too, and the rate of lycopene absorption rises significantly, so you get more anti-inflammatory bang for your buck.

So, what do you do if you want to harvest the maximum amount of nutrients from your greens but you can’t bear the idea of eating them cold?

Well, gentle steaming or sauteeing keeps more nutrients intact. Another personal favourite, if opting for leaves, is to use a warm dressing; this works particularly well with spinach because its robust leaves won’t wilt immediately. Or you can add warm ingredients – grilled halloumi and peppers, say; crispy fried pancetta or bacon; lightly toasted nuts and seeds; oven-roasted tomatoes; or even a poached egg.

In my first recipe this week, spinach takes centre stage in a soup that gets gently coaxed over heat until it is just warm. Co-starring with this nutritional powerhouse are other stars of the green firmament: celery, fennel and courgette. This is not a soup for the faint-hearted, but it’s super nutritious and very flavoursome, and I can’t imagine any cold or flu virus ever daring to come near me if I ate this regularly enough. It’s also a welcome antidote to December excesses. A big batch of this will keep your bowl full at lunch for a few days.

The second recipe is for some low-carb crackers made with ground almonds, seeds and herbs, and bound together with egg.

The rolling out part can be a bit tricky, but the results are worth it. Good to have around when you want to snack on something that isn’t dry roasted, that you want to eat by the handful.

dkemp@irishtimes.com

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