Part I Nava Atlas, Wild About Greens
Nava Atlas is the author and illustrator of many books on vegetarian cooking, most recently Vegan Holiday Kitchen, Vegan Express, Vegan Soups and Hearty Stews for All Seasons, The Vegetarian Family Cookbook, and The Vegetarian 5-Ingredient Gourmet. In addition to cookbooks, Nava also produces visual books on family themes, humor, and women’s issues, including The Literary Ladies’ Guide to the Writing Life (2011), exploring first-person narratives on the writing lives of twelve classic women authors, and commenting on the universal relevance of their experiences to all women who love to write. Secret Recipes for the Modern Wife (2009) is a satiric look at contemporary marriage and motherhood through the lens of a faux 1950s cookbook.
Nava Atlas was interviewed on IT’S ALL ABOUT FOOD once before on 12/14/2011. Listen to that interview here.
Caryn Hartglass: Hello everybody! I am Caryn Hartglass and you are listening to It’s All About Food and it is all about food here on August 8, 2012. A little bit about me, I am the founder of Responsible Eating and Living a 501c3 not for profit organization and any time you want to ask me a question I am here for you. Send me an email at email@example.com. All of our meals should be real and you know, I think most people aren’t really eating real anymore. Do you know where your food comes from? Do you know what’s in your food? Well, that’s what we talk about here. We talk about food. I wanted to mention before I bring on my first guest that I am moving. Oh the idea of moving, putting everything in boxes, packing up, and lifting and bending your knees to make sure you don’t hurt yourself, well none of that is going to happen because I am just moving in the schedule on Progressive Radio Network so instead of Wednesdays at 3pm, starting in September, It’s All About Food will be heard on Tuesdays at 4pm so whatever you need to remember that, I’ll remind you a few more times but I hope you stay with me and join me next month on Tuesdays and of course there is always that archive where you can listen to the show at any time. I love the internet.
Alright. Let’s move on to my favorite subject. Now my favorite subject of course is foods but when I get really specific, it’s green foods so today is really going to be fun because I am going to be talking with the author of the new cookbook, Wild About Greens and that is Nava Atlas. She is the author and illustrator of many well-known vegetarian and vegan cookbooks including Vegan Holiday Kitchen; we talked about that last year on the show, Vegan Express, Vegan Soups and Hearty Stews for all Seasons, Vegetarian Family Cookbook and The Vegetarian 5 Ingredient Gourmet. Her first book was Vegetariana, now considered a classic in its field. Nava is also a visual artist, specializing in limited edition artist books and text driven objects and installations. Her work has been shown nationally in museums, galleries, and alternative art spaces and is part of many museum and University collections. Learn more about Nava at www.vegkitchen.com and www.navaatlasart.com. She has two grown sons and lives in the Hudson Valley region with her husband and that’s where she is right now talking to me on It’s All About Food. Welcome, Nava!
Nava Atlas: Hi Caryn. Imagine, I wrote a book on your very favorite subject!
Caryn Hartglass: My very favorite subject! Greens! And it’s a good one so thanks for writing it. I’ve enjoyed thumbing through it and I eat greens all the time so I have an opportunity to try out most of these recipes in the book. So, let’s talk about greens. Why a book about greens? You don’t have to tell me that but tell everybody else.
Nava Atlas: This really started with something really close to home, literally. My husband grew chard three years ago and at that time, it was before rabbits and groundhogs discovered where our garden was and I called it the Swiss Chard Explosion of 2009. He kept brining it in and brining it in and to a certain point, literally, I wanted to lock the door and say “I haven’t’ even used the chard you brought in two days ago!” I was thinking, “You know? There must be more to greens than sautéing them with garlic and olive oil, as wonderful as that is.” I didn’t know much about freezing them. I didn’t know about other creative ways to use all this chard. I started to look for ideas and of course there are a lot of really disparate and sometimes strange ideas on the internet and I started to look for books. I realized there wasn’t a comprehensive book about greens published since 1996. That’s a lot in publishing terms so there really wasn’t a book out there that incorporated kale chips and green smoothies and other creative ways to use greens, dehydrating them, and there are many other things to with them besides just the classic olive oil sauté. So I thought, “Well, why not me?” It seemed like a really good idea at the time and it was. I learned a lot myself.
Caryn Hartglass: You know, we’ll never really know what humans were eating thousands of years ago, back in the hunter gatherer days and before that, the forager days, but I think we were chomping mostly on greens and maybe some berries and we have come so far from that. We like to think that we are so civilized and that we have progressed very far, but many people today have horrible diets and they are plagued with so many illnesses and what we really need to do is get back to greens because they are packed with just about everything you need. I don’t know if you’ve listened recently to Dr. Michael Greger’s DVD. He puts one out every year.
Nava Atlas: I didn’t see that one yet.
Caryn Hartglass: He lists all of the top reasons for death for the year. It’s a fun video. One of the things that he said that I just keep repeating because I loved it was “Is there anything kale can’t do?”
Nava Atlas: That’s a great saying. I was going to say, another reason why I ended up thinking that this would be a good book to write was not only because of our garden, but I visit a number of community supported agriculture farms and I see how overwhelmed the members are by greens and all of the farms grow tons of greens because they are really easy to grow. It’s a crop that isn’t often bothered by pests, unless of course, it’s our garden. I often hear people say “Well what am I going to do with all of this?” and I heard people say even more quietly, “I feel so bad but half of this is going to end up in the compost” and I thought “Wow! That’s just really sad. We all need more ideas for greens.” There are so many interesting ways to use them and I hope that we get to talk about those.
Caryn Hartglass: I certainly love kale and I eat it just about every day but as you mention in your book, there are a lot of other greens out there. The variety is phenomenal and although most of them can be prepared in the same way, they are all rather unique with different textures and flavors. Some are spicier than others, some are bitter. Let’s just go down the green list and mention a few of these. The ones that people don’t use very often and I’m going to start with one because I try to use every green that I possibly can. When I get my beets and when they have beet greens, I’ll use the beet greens or the turnips with the greens but I have to confess, I’ve never had radish greens.
Nava Atlas: Probably the reason that you haven’t is because they are really perishable. By the time they get to the store, the greens have pretty much wilted so this is really one for someone who belongs to CSA or who gets their radishes really fresh from the farm market. Of all the greens, I’d say possibly those and dandelion were the ones that I used least because they were least available. I like to get radish greens. Dandelion greens, I would say, if anyone has asked me which was my least favorite, I’d say it was the dandelion. It’s really hard to shake that bitterness. I like the little bit of bitterness in the mustard greens but that’s their characteristic for the dandelion greens is their bitter quality and it’s really hard to work around that. You have to love bitter greens in order to appreciate it.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, I love them, but it was a process and so many people are not used to eating these foods and so some of the ones that some of us might consider milder, a lot of people think are too bitter. For myself, I kind of jumped into the whole green scene when I came down with advanced Ovarian cancer and one of the things that I was doing was juicing and I wanted to do everything that I could to protect me so I wasn’t even sugar. I wasn’t even eating the sweet fruits because I knew cancer fed on sugar and I just crammed greens. So I swallowed that bitter tonic and I learned to love it, really love it. We can change our taste buds and learn to love all kinds of different things. I’m not saying one is better than the other, though some of them are. Our taste buds and our bodies are so adaptable.
Nava Atlas: You know, yours is not the first time I’ve heard that greens have literally saved their life. That’s amazing. That really is amazing to me. That’s a real leap of faith and is really wonderful that that happened for you.
Caryn Hartglass: And then the dandelions…I’m thinking back to in the early 1990’s I lived in the South of France and I went to visit a friend of mine and she was having some people over for dinner. We went out and literally picked dandelion leaves in the fields. She brought them in and made this giant salad and it was really bitter. It was just dandelion greens and it was just bitter. I think today I would enjoy that salad a lot more. There are things that you can do. You can eat greens raw and you list so many different ways that you can prepare greens. When you cook them, that takes some of the bitterness away.
Nava Atlas: Oh definitely. Mustard greens mellow almost completely when you cook them. Sometimes people like them raw in salad and you can contrast it with apples or dried fruit, things that are kind of are counterpoints to a little bit of bitterness. I really learned to love mustard greens and there is this very famous dish from Indian cuisine where you combine them with spinach which is really a very mild green so the two of them together have this really nice synergy both visually and then the way they taste.
Caryn Hartglass: And that dish is called Saag?
Nava Atlas: Yes. That’s right. I’m glad you remembered.
Caryn Hartglass: I love that dish. And you have a great recipe for it in the book and one of the things that I like is Indian food can be really great. There is a lot of great spices and seasonings but for me most of the time in restaurants, the food, for my tastes, tend to be too oily and most of the time, too salty. It’s great to find recipes where you can make that food with that power pack, but without too much oil and salt.
Nava Atlas: Well I agree and especially with Asian food or Chinese food. I really love bok choy. It’s just a simple dish of stir fried bok choy sometimes with a little tofu stirred in and I Braggs Liquid Aminos. It’s just a little less pungent than soy sauce, a lot less salty, and it just brings the flavor out in food instead of overwhelming it.
Caryn Hartglass: So we want to eat greens because they are loaded with nutrients and so many of them, too many to even get into that we probably haven’t even identified most of them, they have so many great immune system boosting properties. They are also detoxifying, cleansing they are what humans are designed to eat primarily and people aren’t eating them.
Nava Atlas: We will change that, right???
Caryn Hartglass: We’re changing that! Yes! Yes! Yes! Not only is it important to me to eliminate animal foods from the diet, which is, I’m underlining that here, is so critical today in this world for so many reasons but I think “Why shouldn’t we be focused on eating the best diet that we can that is going to make us feel great, look great, live long and prosper and be gentle on the environment and taste great?” We can have it all.
Nava Atlas: Absolutely. I’m going to respond to a couple of things that you said, first of all about the nutrients because I learned something really interesting from you when I was on your show late last year which is that some of these valuable vitamins that are in greens are actually fat soluble. So I worry a little bit about people who really won’t use any sort of fat or oil. I could be wrong of course but I just think that a little bit of coconut or olive oil, and I’m saying a little bit, it just brings out their flavor and it helps you absorb all of the vitamins that are in them, or the ones that are fat soluble, like K. K is a vitamin that you don’t find in a lot of things other than greens. So we want to absorb as much of that as we can when we’re eating that.
Caryn Hartglass: Vitamin K is really interesting because my understanding is that doctors are required to give women who are delivering babies a shot of vitamin K just before they deliver and if we were eating properly, we wouldn’t need that.
Nava Atlas: I don’t remember that? Is that a new thing?
Caryn Hartglass: I don’t know. I’ve just heard of it.
Nava Atlas: I don’t remember getting any shots but then again, I was in so much pain I probably wouldn’t have been paying any attention to that. But then the calcium also…I was on the Dr. Don show and he explained really beautifully why the calcium in greens is so much more absorbable than the calcium that is in dairy products. I can’t really quote it but it’s supposed to be true. That’s really important for we who are on plant based diets.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s important for everyone and bones are not made just of calcium and the body needs a lot more to build bones and those components come in dark, leafy vegetables. Like magnesium, those things don’t come in milk. We’re meant to eat greens. I did want to mention this thing about fat. I will be talking to Alan Goldhamer in the next part of this show and he is going to be talking about a salt free, sugar free, oil free diet but I think fat is definitely important. I personally choose to use very little oil if any at all, but when I’m eating greens, I get fat and the fat comes either from avocado or whole coconut or raw nuts and seeds. There are lots of ways to get fat from whole food sources but it is important.
Nava Atlas: This is true, yes. I’m still keeping my one tablespoon of olive oil a day, but that’s about it.
Caryn Hartglass: And that’s fine! There is one green dish that I kind of go nuts over. I used to have it in an Asian restaurant, Buddha Bodai, in my neighborhood. They come out with this big pile of greens and I would always choose watercress. You could choose a variety and I could never figure out what the flavor was. It was just the simplest thing. It was just a little ginger tossed with the greens and I’m nuts over it. The simplest things get me nutty! I wanted to mention too, you talk about putting greens in lots of dishes, finding ways to add greens to things. For example, if you’re eating a starchy food like rice or potatoes, you come up with great ways to add in more greens.
Nava Atlas: Yes. I call that “greening up your carbs.” Why have plain brown rice when you can chop anything into it, some spinach or kale, or whatever you have on hand? It’s just so much more interesting just from a culinary perspective and you’re right. You can put greens in your wild rice. I like making hash browns on weekends; a combination of tofu and potatoes and now I always put in either some strands of collard greens or some kale plus some scallions. I just think that it looks better, it tastes better, and there is so much more nutrition in it. It’s amazing how much, you can take a whole bunch of kale and it wilts down to, I wouldn’t say almost nothing, like spinach does, but it compacts down so much when you wilt it a little so you’re getting a lot more of it that way.
Caryn Hartglass: I think that’s a good way to help people introduce themselves to greens, especially when they’ve had bad experiences with greens and don’t think they are going to like it if they mix it in with other foods like that. I’ll never forget one of my favorite things as a kid was mashed potatoes mixed with spinach.
Nava Atlas: Oh that’s so good!
Caryn Hartglass: It is so good. I think it was canned spinach at the time, but I still like greens mixed with potatoes. It really is good. I think greens are the perfect food. There is nothing that kale can’t do, but there are some people that kind of give out negative information. “Oh you have to be careful!” “You can’t eat too much of this or too much of that” and I just wanted to touch on some of those in case people hear some of those things, I want them not to worry. Have you heard any of those “beware ofs”?
Nava Atlas: I have read about it and I decided not to put it in the book because it is controversial. I really couldn’t get a consistent answer and I think we’re talking about the oxalates.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s one of them.
Nava Atlas: I think that the rule of thumb is that unless you have some kind of condition, like a thyroid condition, you really shouldn’t worry. I don’t know that any of us is overeating greens. I think sometimes cooking lightly really reduces that, so that’s why I like to have a combination of raw greens and juiced greens, or greens in a smoothie or very lightly braised greens. If you’re having them in a variety of different ways, then you’re absorbing them also in a variety of different ways. I don’t’ know if there’s anyone out there that actually eats five pounds of raw spinach every day. There are those people, but….
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah that’s a really great point. The point is not to worry and certainly to have variety. I’ve heard recommendations that you can have the more high oxalate greens maybe once or twice a week-that’s the spinach and the chards, and have the other items like kale and collards that aren’t as high a little more often. Then there was this thing about how kale and iodine can impact your thyroid. Some people think that if you have too much kale you’re going to have hyperthyroidism. I want to kind of dispel that notion. Everything that I have read says that unless you’re eating, like you said, five pounds or lots and lots of this food, too much of any food is really not good. Too much water is not good. You could drown!
Nava Atlas: That’s why it is really nice when you start learning about greens. You really do want to learn about the other greens and the way that I set the book up is rather than green by green, I did it sort of by style of food. For example, there are the green basics, and then there are the greens in soups and stews, and then there are greens with other veggies and pastas and you learn how interchangeable they are. If you like kale in a classic Italian dish, you might like it next time with escarole. I try to point out how adaptable the greens are and how interchangeable they are. So try other ones. It’s wonderful if you’re in love with kale, but then you’re limiting yourself. Try the other ones. They are all so amazing.
Caryn Hartglass: They are all good. I love mustard greens.
Nava Atlas: I do too! That was one of my favorites. That and collard greens. I’ve never really used collard greens much before. Again, because the old books said to take the leaves and boil them for 20 minutes, which makes them so unappealing. They become that drab, olive color and the texture isn’t very interesting and they’ve lost all of their flavor.
Caryn Hartglass: And then mix them up with a lot of lard, right? That’s what they old way was.
Nava Atlas: Well, you know, the new way to cook collard greens, actually to me, makes them one of the most easy greens to deal with. You take the stem out and you stack the leaf halves, maybe 6 or 8 leaf halves and you can picture it – those really beautiful, large, fan shaped leaves. And you take it from the skinny end and roll it up, almost like a cigar, and you cut this into narrow ribbons and then you can cut across one way, so the ribbons become a little shorter. And then, basically, you stir-fry them for 3 minutes and they are bright green. They are completely done and you can mix them with just about anything. I like to mix them with other noodle-y things like pasta or spaghetti squash or shirataki noodles which are made out of tofu. It’s all really good and it’s really a fast food.
Caryn Hartglass: It all is really good and I could probably talk about greens for many, many, many hours, but we just have a few more minutes and I wanted to mention some of the media coverage that your book has been getting. I like to use an expression. Don’t read your press, weigh it. Some press may not be exactly what you want to hear but the interesting thing is that the vegan diet is certainly getting a lot of press. More people are either becoming vegan or eating a lot more vegan food and all of that is great. Yet, there are all these naysayers out there that try to put the kibosh on vegan food and yet it’s getting harder and harder.
Nava Atlas: I’m not sure which specific piece of media. Are you talking about the so called fair and balanced one?
Caryn Hartglass: Oh no. I haven’t read that one. I just read the “What’s the beef about eating vegan” on www.FoxNews.com.
Nava Atlas: Oh yes! Yes! That’s the one I’m referring to. I don’t know if it meant to be a little sensationalistic. I think that’s their style. I know my colleague was very unhappy, Julianna Heaver, as she was misquoted so she really wasn’t happy with the piece. I wasn’t misquoted.
Caryn Hartglass: I loved your quote.
Nava Atlas: People say “Why go Vegan?” All you do is substitute for meat and cheese and that’s totally not true. There are meat and cheese substitutes and some of them are better than others. I say sometimes people are just nostalgic for what they grew up with so they have a tofu hot dog once in a while. I don’t see any crime in that although it’s not the best food in the world. It plays to our emotions and our memories.
Caryn Hartglass: There are many vegan or near vegan dishes that people make all over the world and have been for many, many centuries, but the quote that they gave in the article was “There is an integrity to vegan cooking that doesn’t require substitutes.” I love that.
Nava Atlas: This is true. When you look at Asian cuisine, Indian, Middle Eastern, there are so many already vegan dishes and they use so much of the legumes, and grains in such interesting different ways. We think of hummus and tahini, and we talked about the sag dish in Indian cuisine, and they use so many lentils, and also chick peas and rice. There are many foods that we drop on that aren’t a substitute for something else. They are just what they are and personally, my diet is really based on vegetables. That’s really just my favorite food group because it is so endlessly interesting.
Caryn Hartglass: I want to mention one more thing and that is if people are interested in weight loss, greens are really the secret and specifically, if you want super-fast, easy weight loss, I believe you make big kale salads or collard green salads. Eating these green foods raw have so much fiber, they take so long to eat, and you can eat a pound of greens, raw, a day, and not be hungry for anything else.
Nava Atlas: They fill you up because of all that fiber and they do take a while to digest and not in an unpleasant way. I’ve gotten to the point where once in a blue moon, I’ll have a bagel and I’ll feel horrible for hours. If I have a kale salad for lunch, I’ll feel full but not horrible. There really is such a difference.
Caryn Hartglass: It is magic and there’s nothing that kale can’t do. Can I say that a few more times?
Nava Atlas: We’ll make a t-shirt.
Caryn Hartglass: Nava it was great talking to you and I love your book, “Wild about greens.” I’m wild about it. Thanks for joining me on It’s All About Food and check out www.vegkitchen.com That’s your website, right?
Nava Atlas: Yes. Thank you so much, Caryn.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay! All the best. I’m Caryn Hartglass. You’re listening to It’s All About Food. Check out my website www.responsibleeatingandliving.com. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and stay with me because I’m going to be bringing on Alan Goldhamer and we’re talking about the True North Kitchen. We’ll be back.
Transcribed by Erin Clark, 6/13/2013