We’re in that in-between time seasonally where the hearty root vegetables of late fall and winter eventually give way to the leafy greens of the new spring. While we’re still a few weeks from spring’s official start, an eager crowd gathered for a seminar last Saturday that was part of the Rooting D.C. 2011 Conference. Roughly 50 people sat in the cafeteria of Takoma’s Calvin Coolidge Senior High School to learn some of the finer points of cooking leafy greens from Juliette Tahar, the founder of Healthy Living, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping people incorporate healthy cooking into their daily lives.

As the smell of oil and garlic filled the cafeteria from her cooking demonstrations, Tahar stressed the importance of fresh vegetables in our diets: “Fresh foods don’t lie to you. Go for the fresh foods, locally grown, in season.”

“It’s very popular now—everyone’s talking about eating seasonally,” Tahar added. “The idea is that when you eat vegetables in season, it’s not that they have more nutrients—it’s that they have more vitality.”

Tahar said that as winter turns to spring, green leafy vegetables will become more available and local shoppers can benefit more from the nutrition that comes from locally grown food.

“I don’t know about you, but greens are my friends,” Tahar said. “Anything that grows above the ground will help you with the upper part of your body, especially the lungs.”

They’re healthy, for sure, but many vegetables have positive effects that you might not be aware of. “Leaves that are flat are very good if you have a cough that is dry,” she said. “However, all the greens that are serrated—kale, turnip greens—are better for wet coughs.”

Tahar also passed on cooking tips: “Do not use salt at the beginning of the cooking,” she said, saying that can increase bitterness.

Avoid adding anything to artificially sweeten vegetables. “The vegetables should soak in their own juice, their own flavors, and they’ll be very sweet,” she said. “You won’t have to add brown sugar or anything like that.”

Tahar also mentioned cooks should be careful when cutting leafy greens to “go with the natural flow of the plant.” Essentially, remove the inner stalk first and then cut with the grain of the leaf to avoid slicing across the plant’s veins.

Still, Tahar said the most important thing is to just start cooking. When questioned by the crowd about cooking techniques and favorite recipes, she told the audience to be flexible and not get caught up in the details. “You can do whatever you want…that’s what’s fun about cooking.”

Photo of Juliette Tahar by William F. Zeman