You probably know that eating cooked dark leafy greens is one of the best ways to lower your risk for Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD). But what do you do with a 91 year old mom who turns up her nose at cooked dark green veggies?
My solution? Mix them with pasta!
Since pasta is the one thing my 105 lb. Sicilian mother adores and will eat every single day . . . why should I tell her that this pasta is really, really good for her?
But, before I progress to this easy recipe, you might be asking . . . what the heck is AMD?
Age-Related Macular Degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss among our aging population. To paraphrase from the National Eye Institute website, the macula is made up of millions of light-sensing cells at the back of the retina. The retina senses light and turns light into electrical signals. It sends those electrical signals to the optic nerve, thus giving us the images we see. While a healthy macula provides sharp central vision, a damaged macular causes a person’s central vision to become blurry, distorted, or eventually dark as it progresses from the dry stage to the wet stage.
It’s been heart-breaking to watch my otherwise healthy, feisty mom completely lose her central vision over the last twelve years as she quickly progressed into late stage AMD. Ida had all of the risk factors – she smoked for 64 years (from age 21-85), didn’t like to exercise, had high blood pressure, and hated fish and dark green leafy vegetables.
While she’ll eat raw lettuce and spinach in her salads and will tolerate cooked spinach and swiss chard, she absolutely detests cooked kale, collards, mustard greens, beet greens, and turnip greens. That’s a problem, because cooked dark leafy greens are high in lutein and have anti-angiogenic properties that can slow the formation of new blood vessels in her macula.
By mixing finely chopped lacinato kale (also known as Tuscan kale, Italian kale, or the more kid-friendly sounding, Dinosaur kale) with baby spinach, quickly blanching, and then sautéing the blanched greens in extra virgin olive oil with plenty of garlic and hot pepper flakes, I created a pasta that packed a lot of flavor and fooled my mom into eating something that was very good for her!
Although this dish doesn’t use one of my plant based proteins, it is a fooler in other ways. Since white flour pasta has a high glycemic index (which is also bad for people with AMD), I substituted whole grain pasta that will provide more protein and has a lower glycemic index.
Here are two good whole grain pastas to try:
- A two-ounce serving (dry) of Barilla Protein Plus Spaghetti has 10 grams of protein and is made with a legume flour blend of lentils, chickpeas, barley, oats, flaxseed, and spelt. Alas, because it also contains egg whites, this pasta isn’t suitable for vegans.
- So, for vegans, I recommend DeLallo Organic Whole Wheat Spaghetti #4. Although the DeLallo spaghetti has only 6 grams of protein in a two-ounce serving, there’s not an egg white in sight!
Either choice will have a heartier, more satisfying flavor than plain white spaghetti that I think you will enjoy if you give it a chance.
Since having a mom with AMD puts me at a higher risk of developing this debilitating condition, I’m going to keep finding creative ways to build cooked leafy greens into the healthy meals I cook for me and my loved ones.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
- 1 lb. organic lacinato kale
- 1 lb. organic baby spinach
- 2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 6 plump garlic cloves, peeled and slightly crushed with a chef's knife
- Hot red pepper flakes
- Freshly ground black pepper and sea salt
- 1 lb. whole grain spaghetti
- Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (optional)
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, while you thoroughly wash the kale and spinach.
- Strip the kale leaves from the stems, and chop the kale and spinach.
- Using a steamer insert, cook the kale and spinach in the boiling salted water for about two minutes. Remove the steamer insert from the pasta pot, and put it in a colander in the sink. Cool the cooked kale and spinach down with a few cups of ice cubes to keep it bright green.
- Do not throw away the water that you cooked the kale and spinach it. It will be a dark, rich green, and that is what you are going to use to cook your pasta. Keep the pot of water at a low boil, because the next steps won't take long.
- Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and sauté the garlic over medium heat for about 3-4 minutes. Add the hot red pepper flakes, salt and pepper, and keep mashing them with the back of a wooden spoon so that the garlic begins to break up.
- Add the drained and cooled kale and spinach to the olive oil and garlic mixture, and turn down the heat. You'll keep cooking the kale and spinach while you make the pasta.
- Bring the dark green water in the pasta pot back up to a rolling boil, and add the whole grain spaghetti. Cook it about a minute or two less than it says on the package directions for al dente. Reserve about a cup of the dark green pasta water, and then drain the spaghetti in a colander.
- Add the cooked spaghetti to the large skillet with the sautéed garlic, kale, and spinach, and continue cooking over medium heat about 2 more minutes, as you add some of the dark green pasta water. The pasta will absorb the water, and the sauce will thicken and lightly coat the pasta.
- Add more red pepper flakes and black pepper, and serve in warm pasta bowls with the optional grated Parmesan.