Superfoods are special foods that contain a higher-than-average amount of nutritional elements and/or natural pigments that can help ward off cancer and other illnesses. They sure beat medicine and supplements.

Take leafy greens, for example, like spinach and Swiss chard, hubeza (mallow) leaves, and the range of leaves you find when you purchase a box of “baby leaves” at the supermarket or greengrocers.

Green leaves contain a super amount of vitamins and minerals, and excel in vitamin K (which means they are not a good choice for those on blood thinning medication). New to the market are fresh organic kale and mustard leaves (available at present only at Nitzat Haduvdevan health food stores and from the grower at www.salatorgani.co.il), especially rich in the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which are also present in the eyes. Add these leaves to your regular diet, and they can help reduce the risk of macular degeneration and cataracts.

Low in calories, with almost zero fat, leaves like kale, spinach and Swiss chard also have phytonutrient compounds like glucosinolates and kaempferol that studies have shown may help prevent ovarian, breast, bladder, colon and other cancers.

The second superfood is berries. Whether fresh, frozen or dried, blueberries and raspberries excel in antioxidant blue-red pigments, called anthocyanidins, which help neutralize free radical damage to the collagen matrix of cells and tissues. Such damage can eventually lead to cataracts, glaucoma, varicose veins, hemorrhoids, heart disease and cancer. Cranberries are considered helpful for the prevention of urinary tract infections, and gogi berries, which are available in health food stores, contain 11 essential minerals, 22 trace minerals, 18 amino acids and five carotenoids essential for the production of vitamin A.

ITALIAN SPINACHTOMATOES AND CHICKPEAS

This delicious, simple dish can be made with a variety of leaves, like Swiss chard, or fresh hubeza, mustard leaves or kale – if you can get them. This is the short season for “Turkish spinach,” a long-leafed variety with a milder flavor than our regular one. You can find it in the shuk, at some green grocers and at Nitzat Haduvdevan.

Serve it as a vegetarian main dish over polenta, rice or bulgur for complementary protein, or as a side dish. It tastes good cold, and is even better (though not bright green) the next day.

Makes 4-6 servings

3⁄4 cup chickpeas

1⁄4 cup extra virgin olive oil

5 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced on the diagonal

6 canned plum tomatoes, drained, seeded and diced

5 sage leaves, chopped

1 kg. spinach or mixed leaves

11⁄4 tsp. salt

Black pepper to taste

Soak the chickpeas overnight, drain and cover with 21⁄2 cups water. Bring to a boil and cook covered over low heat till tender. Alternatively, boil chickpeas for 5 minutes, soak 1-2 hours and cook till tender. Do not drain.

Rinse the leaves, remove stems, and separate the leaves from the ribs (if using Swiss chard). Cut the leaves into thick strips, and slice the ribs thinly. You should have about 5 cups.

In a very large frying pan or wide pot, heat the olive oil and sauté the garlic and sage over medium-high heat for about 30 seconds, stirring often (do not brown garlic). Add the tomato and cook another minute.

Add the leaves a large bunch at a time, stirring constantly, to allow room for them all. Cook just until the leaves wilt.

Add the chickpeas and any cooking liquid, salt and pepper, and a half cup of water, and cook for 20 minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the leaves are tender and the liquids at the bottom of the pan have thickened. Sprinkle a few drops of olive oil on top if desired.

EASY MIXED BERRY STREUSEL

Great for Tu Bishvat. For a real show-stopper, cut into eights as outlined below, and serve warm topped with real maple, maple-agave, or agave syrup.

3⁄4 cup white flour

3⁄4 cup whole-wheat flour

1⁄2 cup demerara sugar

2 tsp. baking powder

1⁄2 tsp. salt

1 egg

1⁄2 cup milk

2 Tbsp. melted butter

3⁄4 cup mixed dried berries, like 1⁄4 cup of each: blue berries,cranberries and gogi berries

Topping:

2 Tbsp. cold butter

2 Tbsp. demerara sugar

4 Tbsp. white and whole-wheat flour

1⁄2 tsp. cinnamon

1⁄4 cup chopped pecans

In a large bowl sift flours, baking powder and salt. Stir in the sugar.

In a small bowl, whisk egg, milk and cooled butter. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the liquids. Use a wooden spoon to blend till smooth. Fold in the berries.

Dampen the bottom of a 20x20-cm. baking pan and line with a square of parchment paper. Use a spatula to transfer the dough to the pan, and spread it evenly to the corners with dampened fingers.

In a small bowl, cut the cold butter into small chunks and mix it with the sugar, 4 tablespoons flour, cinnamon and pecans, using your fingers to create coarse crumbs. Sprinkle the crumbs evenly over the top and bake for 25 minutes, until the cake is browned and the crumbs are golden, and a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean. Let cool at least 15 minutes on a rack before cutting. Make two diagonal lines to form an “X”, and cut vertical and horizontal lines to make 8 pieces. Each piece may also be cut into two triangles to make 16 pieces. Best served warm.   

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