A New Start with Winter Greens

When January hits, there is often a push for making changes – usually, to our diets. Gyms offer monthly deals, and the salad bars are suddenly more crowded. Many of us are torn between cravings for the rich comfort foods that accompanied the holidays and a desire to incorporate more fresh local produce into our meals. In Central Texas, where we enjoy our year-round food growing capabilities, it is easier to make this transition. We savored cold-weather root vegetables throughout the holidays, mind you, but greens are the stars of the remaining growing season in January. These leafy, nutritious plants are a welcome break from heavy foods and can help us add a local, seasonal element to our meals.

Three types of greens that thrive in our region during the cooler months are Asian greens, lettuce, and spinach. Greens are an excellent source of vitamins A, K, & E, iron, potassium, calcium, folate, and fiber – important for keeping our immune systems strong during the remainder of winter. Try growing several different varieties of these healthy greens to add both color and texture in your garden (and on your plate!).

Planting time for these hardy winter greens begins as early as mid- to late September and continues until a few weeks before the last Central Texas freeze, typically in early March. The majority of greens prefer fertile, well-drained soil, and some may even tolerate shade, although full sun (six to eight hours) is always preferable. Broadcast seeds over a garden bed, or plant seeds a quarter of an inch deep and one to two inches apart. Once seeds germinate, thin plants to allow proper spacing for plant growth according to each type.

When you harvest greens, cut the leaves from the base of the plant, allowing the plant to keep producing leaves. Choose smaller leaves that are more tender and sweet. It is possible to keep sowing seeds for these greens in succession throughout the winter in order to keep harvesting until mid-March, before the temperatures rise and plants start to “bolt,” when they transition from being mostly leaves to producing flowers with seeds.

As you tend your greens, remember a few other key maintenance tasks for your winter garden. Mulch heavily and water well, saturating the soil before a freeze to protect your plants so that you can enjoy fresh, healthy produce from your garden and stay on track to make changes towards a healthy lifestyle.

One of the advantages of growing your own greens, is that they are bountiful and you’ll have them to add to many dishes. This recipe for Sweet Potato Wraps is a great way to incorporate your freshly harvested greens.

Sweet Potato Wraps

4 whole wheat tortillas

2 large sweet potatoes

4 oz. queso fresco or feta cheese

6 cups mixed salad greens (spinach, arugula, lettuce)

1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1 Tbsp. lemon juice

½ cup raisins or dried cranberries

Cut each sweet potato in half, lengthwise. Place in microwave (covered) and cook until tender, 7-10 minutes.

Let potatoes cool.

Combine balsamic vinegar, lemon juice and olive oil in a large bowl. Whisk until well combined. Add greens, raisins (or cranberries) and cheese. Mix together.

Assemble wraps by scooping several tablespoons of cooked sweet potato out of their skins and spreading onto each tortilla. Add ¼ of the salad mix to each tortilla and roll wrap together.

Makes four wraps