“Mom, is this a stick in my soup?”
I admit that we eat some weird food around here, but I really wasn’t serving a soup quite that rustic (on purpose). I’d used some of my homemade greens powder made from dehydrated kale and spinach, but I had neglected to remove the stems before dehydrating it. Dehydrated kale stems are a lot like sticks.
I got busted on a little corner cutting, but I’ll let you learn from my mistake.
This story was originally posted in 2013 but I updated it with some new techniques – enjoy!
As the weather turns from frigid to simply frosty, we here in Michigan tend to shed our coats and open our car windows with great fanfare as soon as the temperature gauge hits 42F on a sunny day.
If you live in warmer climes, you’re sure to think us batty, but believe me: anything other than snow on the ground plus a few sunny rays makes us immediately think of spring.
The daffodils and crocuses agree, as evidenced by the hardy shoots already poking through the garden mulch, hopeful that they won’t get buried in one last springtime snowstorm. The planning for that optimistic greenery had to begin in the chilly days of fall when bulbs are planted, just as planning for summer vegetables usually takes place in January, as seed catalogs cover coffee tables and CSA forms are due.
Last year was our first experience in a CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture program, where a customer pays a lump sum up front and gets a share of vegetables each week throughout the harvest season. CSAs are notorious for one thing, and it’s that which I’m thinking of as spring’s footsteps are heard approaching at the door of winter: Greens.
The first produce available in many climates and the last to disappear from Farmer’s markets, greens like kale, Swiss chard, collard greens, and spinach are notorious for being plentiful in CSAs no matter where in the country you reside.
If eating local and in season is good for you, God must have intended us to eat quite a few greens since they are so easy to grow in so many places. Their list of health benefits is long and varied, so I’m happy to include greens as often as I can and have even found myself buying a random bunch of Swiss chard or kale at the grocery this winter, inspired by last summer’s abundance.
Health Benefits of Leafy Greens
- High in protein – go figure! The highest vegetable protein around! One cup spinach = 12% DV protein.
- Super duper high Vitamin A
- High Vitamin K – second only to cauliflower
- Great source of folate/folic acid, particularly important for pregnant or nursing women
- Over 25% DV of iron, potassium, Vitamin C and manganese
- Decent source of fiber
- Carotenoids and flavonoids responsible for many health benefits
- Protects against heart disease (for multiple reasons!); makes muscles (especially the heart) stronger
- Regulates blood pressure
- Important for development of unborn babies
- Protects against age-related memory loss
- Eye health: prevents cataracts, macular degeneration (age-related blindness)
- Anti-inflammatory (how many issues can this trait treat? Arthritis is just one…)
- Strong bones/anti-osteoporosis
- Good for skin health (eczema, acne, psoriasis) and even preventing skin cancer from the sun (have you seen my info on sun protection and skin cancer?)
- Natural diuretic and laxative (fights constipation)
- Reduce frequency of migraine attacks
For more on the eye and heart health/diabetes benefits of spinach in particular, as well as how to prepare it (the cooked or raw debate) and what happens to spinach after a week from the field, check out my old post on the health benefits of spinach.
As a cruciferous vegetable, kale actually is in a different family than spinach, even though they’re both “leafy greens” and both very good for you. Here’s kale’s one-two punch against disease:
- Detoxifies (increase the liver’s ability to neutralize potentially toxic substances)
- Reduces free radical damage
- Can prevent cancers, especially bladder and prostate
- Good for heart health
- Prevents eye degeneration
- Promotes healthy skin and immune system
- Super high Vitamin K and A (think eyes!)
- Great Vitamin C source
- Almost 10% DV of calcium in one cup
- Protects against ovarian cancer
Kale is actually better for you cooked than raw. Cutting 5-10 minutes before cooking optimizes cancer-fighting agents, and lightly steaming is best. Choose organic whenever possible because of pesticide contamination (it’s on the dirty dozen) and since organic kale has more phytonutrients (the good stuff), also because nitrites concentrate in the green leaves. source: my post on cruciferous veggies, which includes more on why and how to cook it.
Abundance: Preserving the Harvest
Strawberry fruit rolls, our favorite way to preserve the wealth of strawberries we get for two weeks in June…
No matter how adept you get at using up your greens, sometimes you just can’t eat them all in a week. I learned to throw greens into just about everything, and I even ended up putting a checkbox for “CSA Greens?” on every recipe in Better Than a Box, but there were still weeks with “too much of a good thing.”
If you grow your own, you’ll hit a point at the end of the season when you have a heap of leaves that could nourish you through the winter. You can blanch and freeze them no problem, but whether your freezer is getting full or you just want an even quicker solution, I highly recommend trying dehydrating.
Particularly for the purposes of preparedness and having some foods that don’t need to be kept cold, dehydrating is a great skill to learn.
To learn more about how to dehydrate things that might be a little trickier than these greens, for preparedness reasons, gardening, or just eating healthy, check out the Traditional Cooking School eCourse with over 20 weeks of video instruction. Did you know you can dehydrate broth? I didn’t…but Wardee taught me how!
How to Dehydrate Greens
I was inspired by Jenny’s post about super green veggie powder to use my dehydrator for greens at the end of the season, but I didn’t want to go to all the trouble of her recipe, which includes onions, peppers, etc. I’m sure it’s great for soup and eggs, but I really like including greens in smoothies as well, and onions aren’t a great fit for bananas and yogurt.
My philosophy for trying anything in the kitchen is to shoot for the easiest method, the lowest common denominator, FIRST, and then if that doesn’t work, add steps from there.
In this case, simple is wonderful.
This is all I had to do:
- Wash greens thoroughly.
- Pat dry with a tea towel or clean dish towel. You can roll up a bunch and gently shake/compress to get the most water off, but don’t do anything fancy.
- Note: I didn’t do this, but you should take the ribs out. See below for details.
- Spread in a (mostly) single layer on dehydrator trays. (photo above)
- Set dehydrator to 135F (although honestly, anything from 95-150F should work just fine!) for about 2-3 hours.
- Unlike fruits, which may get too tough (but still edible) if you over dehydrate, it’s pretty hard to mess up greens. They’re going to be crispy or crispy, no matter what. This batch was in for about 3 hours, and half the dehydrator was filled with something else:
6. Store the dried out greens in any sort of airtight container at room temperature. Mine are just in a plastic zippered bag, and I also crushed some right in the bag with my hands to make handy dandy “greens flakes” that I can sprinkle into scrambled eggs, soups, or casseroles.
I keep this repurposed Parmesan cheese container next to the stove with the salt and pepper so I remember to use them.
They’re much less noticeable than slightly slimy, cooked fresh greens, and my kids end up consuming more. Score for mom!
The only thing I would change is to take a few more minutes while preparing the greens.
Learn from my mistake. Take the ribs out, especially with Swiss chard. You don’t want to tip your kids off that there’s sticks in their soup (or eggs).
If you do get some “sticks,” they totally disappear in smoothies.
All in all, dehydrating greens is an awesome way to preserve the harvest, have non-perishables on hand for an emergency, eat more greens throughout the winter, and save time and money by buying in season and in bulk.
Should You Cook the Greens First?
As I said, I’m all about doing the simplest method first. However. I read a lot about how we’re supposed to lightly steam our greens to reduce anti-nutrients like oxalates that may encourage kidney stones (not fun!!!).
So if you have an extra three minutes, here’s how to most efficiently add that step:
1. Put a little water in a large pot and get it boiling.
2. Fill your steamer basket as full as possible with washed greens (in the photos, I was using a bag of pre-washed power greens from Costco – I figure it’s more efficient to buy 4 bags and dehydrate some than go to Costco more often, where I always spend too much!).
3. Set a timer for 2:30 (2 minutes, 30 seconds).
4. Lift the greens out with a slotted spoon or a couple forks and toss them onto a clean towel to sort of dry.
5. Refill the steamer basket and start the timer over.
6. Pat the greens dry lightly and transfer to dehydrator trays.
This batch was 1.5 Costco bags, filled 4 trays loosely, and were almost done after 2 hours except for some thicker globs. They would have been done I’m sure after 3 hours but I forgot them all day. 😉
Homemade Green Powder
Seems like adding supplements to smoothies is all the rage lately – and while it’s not THAT expensive to buy dehydrated green powder from somewhere like (be sure to use my coupon KS10 for 10% off if you do!), it’s definitely a money-saver to make your own.
All 4 dehydrator trays, about 2 pounds total of greens (1.5 Coscto-sized bags) fit into this 3-cup jar when they were fully dry:
I dumped the whole jar into my Blendtec (although any blender will do fine as long as your standards aren’t “completely pulverized into fine powder) and ran it until I liked the look of the powder. If you don’t have at least a jar, you may need a smaller apparatus though as the Blendtec almost struggled to get them all because it compresses down so much!
In fact this is all I had left after pulverizing, maybe a half cup:
I have to remind myself that even though the kids can’t taste it and can barely see it, even in eggs, they’re getting a LOT of concentrated nourishment in just a little spoonful of this stuff!
You’ll notice mine isn’t quite “powder” but more like flakes of dried herbs for cooking, which I was totally ok with. It’s barely evident in eggs and totally disappears in smoothies.
No Dehydrator? Try the Oven!
My mom has tried just about everything I do in my dehydrator in her oven on a low temp, and she has had grand success.
In fact, the very popular kale chips are basically dehydrating the greens, and that happens even at a fairly high temp, usually 350F.
I admit that although I probably should have tried it just for you, I haven’t, but here’s what I would do:
- Prep greens the same way but arrange on two large cookie sheets.
- Bake in the oven at 200 (or even less) for 20 minutes, then check.
- Check every 5-10 minutes thereafter until you know how long it takes in your oven at the temp you choose (all ovens are pretty different).
- When crispy like a dried herb (think of the parsley in your cupboard), they’re done.
- When they’re close, watch very closely, every 5 minutes or less, because that burnt tinge that happens when greens are in just a smidge too long really has an off flavor that will mess up your smoothies, soups and eggs. Big time. That’s why, even though you could accomplish this at 350F, I would opt for the lower temp because you have a larger margin of “oops” if you aren’t watching as closely as you ought. Life can be distracting sometimes, eh?
To make sure the greens are crispy enough, put them in a bag. If there’s any condensation inside the bag, they need more time.
More on Dehydrators
If you think you might be interested in buying a dehydrator, you can find them at:
I have to say, I really love my 9-tray. Now that I use it so regularly, I can’t imagine being pinned down by only 5 trays! I love doing huge batches of crispy nuts, green bean chips (below), fruit rolls, and dried fruit in the summer, plus quadruple batches of my soaked and grain-free granolas from Healthy Snacks to Go.
- What I do with my Excalibur dehydrator
- How to make sprouted flour
- Comparison review of Excalibur with a Nesco American Harvest dehydrator (you can still do an awful lot with a $40 machine…)
More Greens Recipes
- Creamy Halibut with Caramelized Onions on a bed of wilted spinach
- Sausage Bean and Kale Soup
- Sausage Spinach Pasta Toss
- Green Smoothies
- Tuscan Bean Soup
- Guest post: 5 Delicious Ways to Use up CSA Greens
- Cheesy Spinach Bake (kid-friendly!)
- Blueberry Spinach Smoothie
- Potato Latkes with Spinach
Disclosure: There are affiliate links in this post from which I will earn some commission if you make a purchase. I am also a partner with GNOWFGLINS and receive a kickback for promoting, but I’m a guest teacher with them, too… See my full disclosure statement here.