It’s Vegan Mofo 2018, and this week’s theme is … INSPIRATION!
In my last post, I introduced myself and shared some things about myself … including that I don’t like salads. Green smoothies have been a very effective way to get around that for me. It’s much easier to drink two cups of leafy greens in a cold, green, fruity smoothie than eat two cups of leafy greens in a salad, wondering if all the chewing will ever end. (And yes, two cups of raw leafy greens is considered one serving.)
Today, I love and crave my green smoothies. This spring and summer, I even created a number of green smoothies “inspired” by family members – which I will be sharing.
But I had a lot of green smoothie fails in the beginning. Is it just me, or do a lot of green smoothie recipes seem needlessly complicated? Goji berries, maca, spirulina, protein powders, chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp hearts, unsweetened cacao nibs … often all at once in the same smoothie! I personally found most of these ingredients did NOT enhance the taste of the smoothies. I was not looking for health supplements; I just wanted an easy way to eat green leafies!
So I stopped following Pinterest recipes and started randomly throwing fruits, veggies, and greens into the blender, hoping for the best.
Sometimes this worked. Sometimes it didn’t.
Problem was, when it worked, I was never quite sure exactly what I did to make it work.
And when it didn’t work, it was hard to determine what went wrong.
Also, I missed regular fruit smoothies – especially in the summertime, when produce is almost otherworldly delicious. Juicy berries, sweet fragrant melons, succulent peaches and plums. Fruit enhances the taste of greens – but greens sort of hide the taste of fruit, know what I mean? And, hey, isn’t there something special and fun about drinking a pink drink … or a purple drink … or a day-glo orange drink, instead of always something green? And often kind of a muddy green?
The solution, for me, was to make TWO smoothies each day. One fruit smoothie and one smoothie with greens. I’d drink the green one in the am, and the fruit one for dessert or a snack later on.
It would be insane to make two totally different smoothie recipes every morning – and, while I’m kinda crazy, I’m not yet that far gone. It was then I had my epiphany.
Focus on the fruit smoothie first. Any fruit smoothie you love can be turned into a green smoothie you will, if not love, at least enjoy.
Sometimes, all you have to do to convert a favorite fruit smoothie recipe is to add leafy greens and more liquid. Sometimes, you need to do more.
Here are ten questions to ask that will improve your green smoothies!
(1) Is your smoothie too thick?
You’ll almost always need to add more liquid, usually 1/2 – 1 cup. Also, green smoothies tend to thicken up if you can’t drink them right away – so, if you’re making one for breakfast the night before, add just a little more liquid than you think you’ll need.
(2) Is your smoothie sweet enough?
Sometimes, the addition of greens can add a bitter taste.
All the trendsters and their mamas will encourage you to use medjool dates. (Previously, we were encouraged to use agave nectar, then Stevia, and the next trend seems like it will be pure maple syrup.)
Often all you need to do is increase the amount of the sweet fruits you are already using – bananas, melons, peaches, pineapple. Maybe another half a banana or 1/4 cup of pineapple!
Or, if you’re making a berry-based smoothie with plant milk, use sweetened “milk” instead of unsweetened “milk.”
If your smoothie was also too thick, you could also add a small splash of orange or apple juice. Simple, eh?
(3) Could a little salt help?
Seriously. Sometimes salt doesn’t make food salty but instead, brings out the sweetness. In the South, we salt our melons – canteloupes and watermelons. In India, lemonade and limeade (nimbu paani) is treated to kala namak (black salt). Keep in mind we are talking only about the merest sprinkle here – not heavy shakes or spoonfuls.
(4) Are you ONLY using kale?
Kale has long been the darling of the plant-based community.
Part of this stems from Chick-fil-A’s infamous lawsuit in 2011 against Bo Muller-Moore, a small town Vermont guy selling “Eat More Kale” T-shirts to help a farmer friend. Chick-fil-A argued the slogan was confusingly similar to its own slogan, “Eat Mor Chikin” and “is likely to cause confusion of the public.” (Because, yes, people are always confusing chicken with kale.) Not surprisingly, vegans supported Bo Muller-Moore in droves. Bo Muller-Moore won the lawsuit in 2014 and, ironically, in January 2016 Chick-fil-A started serving kale in its “superfood side” salad. (And yes, the salad is vegan – one of the few things this fast food chain has managed to get right.)
Kale is also seen as more nutritious than other greens, almost medicinal. But there are other powerhouse greens out there, like collards and Swiss chard.
Swiss Chard is the mildest of the three, with the least amount of calories, and the highest amount of iron.
Collards are my personal favorite of the three. I grew up loving slow-simmered collards, and they don’t disappoint me in green smoothies, either. Collards have more of a pronounced taste than chard, but (to me, at least) are much milder and less bitter than kale. Of the three, collards have the highest amount of calcium.
And did you know, kale has TWICE the calories of collards or chard?
So why don’t we hear more about collards … or chard … or watercress … or Chinese cabbage … or some of these other green nutritional powerhouses? Turns out there’s a not very pretty reason – check out this National Geographic article if you’ve time to go down a rabbit hole. And then surf around some more. If you don’t have the inclination (unlike me, my nickname should be “Alice”), I’ll briefly sum things up for you … It’s about class, race, and culture (and a good P.R. firm and celebrities).
Watercress is indisputably the #1 healthiest green you can consume – yet, Americans tend to see it as twee, pretentious, upper class, all about the British and the monarchy and dainty cucumber sandwiches.
Collards are often considered to be a “poor person Southern thing” by Northerners, or an “African American thing” by many whites.
And Chinese cabbage? Well, that’s something you use in Chinese food. Or eat if you are of Chinese ancestry. (eye roll)
Oh, and most other greens don’t have the same PR. The American Kale Association hired Oberon Sinclair, a New York PR maven, to make kale trendy – or maybe she invented the AKA herself! It’s hard to sort facts from innuendo in some of these online articles.
And then there’s all kale’s celebrity fans and endorsements. Gwyneth Paltrow cooked kale leaves on Ellen Degeneres’ talk show. Beyonce “smacked it in the air” wearing a Kale sweatshirt and very little else in her 7/11 video. And celebrities from Jennifer Anniston to Nick Jonas confided in interviews they were fans of the curly green stuff. So Kale is Kool.
But if you don’t like kale, you don’t have to eat it. Plenty of other nutritious, less-trendy greens out there. Experiment with different greens and find your favorites! Even if you love kale, you might want to save it for your bolder green smoothies, and try a milder green like spinach or Swiss chard for a delicate peach smoothie.
(5) Are you prepping your greens right?
If you are using big, adult greens (like kale or collards), you need to cut out the thick, tough stem running down the middle of the leaf. Every Southern cook knows a lot of bitterness is contained within that stalk.
(6) Are you using only adult greens?
If you can possibly afford to do so, check out the pre-washed salad greens selection. Baby kale, baby spinach, and “mixed spring greens” are all VERY mild (and may even be more nutritious than their adult counterparts!) I love Harris Teeter’s organic “half baby spinach/half spring greens mixture” as well as Organic Girl Super Spinach! (baby spinach, baby bok choy, and baby kale) and Organic Girl Super Greens! (baby red and green swiss chard, baby tat soi, baby arugula and baby spinach.)
(7) Have you considered adding herbs?
Mint or basil often enhance a fruit smoothie, but add leafy greens to the mix and things can really start to pop! And while I’m not sure I’d use cilantro or parsley in a fruit smoothie, they are welcome additions to green ones!
(8) Have you considered a squeeze of lemon or lime?
This sometimes works miracles on greens; citrus adds a certain brightness and lightness. Also, the acidity helps break the greens down a bit more in the blender.
(9) Are you adding in too many (or even one) nutritional supplements or so called superfoods?
I already talked about these (and how frustrated I got with them). Yes, I am sure they are all super-healthy and beneficial, especially if you have specific health conditions or fitness goals. But if your goal is, like me, to just get your daily greens, don’t worry about these for now! A smoothie with a serving of greens and two servings of fruit is already super-healthy!
You can always try nutritional supplements and superfoods later, after you’ve gotten comfortable and found a few green smoothie recipes you like. That way, you’ll know instantly your smoothie is bitter because you added maca powder, not because of the greens you chose. Honestly, a “scoop of protein powder” or a tablespoon of spirulina may improve the nutritional value of a smoothie, but it never improved the taste.
(10) Is your green smoothie cold enough?
I prefer my green smoothies to be very cold. So I always freeze my bananas. If I’m using fresh fruit (berries, peaches, etc.) I’ll wash and prep the night before, then put in the freezer overnight.
I buy personal-size melons (the perfect amount for two smoothies), and chill them in the fridge before using. Melons have such a high water content they almost freeze in my fridge, and there’s usually more space for them there than in the freezer.
Tip: Get in the habit of prepping and freezing fresh fruit on a regular basis – maybe on Sundays for the upcoming week, or once a week when you clean out your fridge? This can cut down on a lot of food waste!