Are you a green smoothie-er? Have you tried them but didn’t like them? There are some tricks to make green smoothies (a) smooth! (b) taste good (c) extra nutritious, and we are going to cover all those today.
I started making green smoothies about 6 or 7 years ago, as I was writing eat, drink & be vegan. I remember it well. I went to a local raw foods class with my sister, and we sample a green smoothie that night. At first I was hesitant. “Drinking” greens seemed so odd! But, once I tasted it, I realized I could do this! They taste pretty good – and I’ve made them taste even better over the years as I’ve understood how to combine components.
Why bother with green smoothies? Why not just eat salads or saute greens?
1- Convenient. When hustling through the day – maybe commuting, eating lunch out of the house, running with the kids or to meetings – a green smoothie is a guaranteed quick and easy way to get the plant-powered goodness of green leafies in your diet! While I make them in the mornings, they can be made any time of day – for a light lunch, afternoon snack, or evening treat. Yes, they can be a treat. Promise.
2- Nutritious. In short, you can get plenty of fiber, antioxidants, phytonutrients, and abundant minerals and vitamins in a hydrating green smoothie, with ingredients that are also alkalizing for the body. Many of us may not eat a lot of raw kale or collards – or dandelion greens or parsley. Or, maybe not in the amounts that we put in a green smoothie. Before drinking green smoothies, I ate leafy greens, but not much kale or collards. Plus, every day I add a good amount of fresh parsley in my green smoothie. You now know that parsley is an nutrient-packed green, right? Add some to your smoothie, and it’s bright and energizing! Trust me, I add it every day and hubby has no clue he’s drinking parsley. Or dandelion greens. One day I’ll tell him.
3- Kiddos. My girls aren’t green smoothie drinkers, but I think that’s because I make them in the morning, and they have heartier breakfasts before school like oatmeal or waffles with almond butter. Our eldest likes them, and when she is training for hockey, she drinks them knowing they are giving her extra nutritional perks and helping boost her immunity. Our younger girls have a “greens” connection with them, and so while they will eat lettuce and asparagus, and green beans and zukes, they do have that mental block about drinking the greens. But, I hear from parents all the time that make green smoothies for their kiddos. So, give them a try, your wee ones just may become lean-keen-green-drinking-machines!
4- Digestible. For some people, having a liquid meal can be easier on their digestion. Just try not to drink your smoothie too fast. Take sips and allow it to meet the saliva in your mouth and swallow – rather than chug. I don’t think many of us actually chug smoothies, but when they taste very good we can drink them a little quickly!
5 – Allergen and Dietary Specific-Friendly. For those of you that are gluten-free or soy-free, plant-strong, oil-free, or nut-free, green smoothies are a beautiful way to incorporate many healthful ingredients with flexibility to YOUR dietary needs and preferences.
So, let’s get our green on! Here are some tips to get you drinking your greens:
Choose your greens. First, get to know your greens. If you are intimidated by dark leafy greens, that post will help you immensely. My favorite leafies to use are kale and collard greens, with a hit of parsley! They are robust, store well in the fridge for a few days, and are very nutritious with more absorbable calcium and iron than greens such as spinach and Swiss chard. But, spinach and Swiss chard still offer many nutritional benefits, so don’t rule them out. And, if the swiss chard is gloriously fresh from the market at your store and on special, while the collards look homely – the choice is simple. Also, milder tasting greens like spinach and chard – or even romaine – are great “starter” greens for making smoothies. If you are new to the green smoothie business, start with something like spinach or romaine, and work your way into stronger-flavored greens such as kale. Try blending spinach with kale; once you get the knack of fruit-to-greens proportions, this will also help you determine how much sweet fruit (e.g., banana, mango, and pineapple) to combine with the greens for the best flavor. Recently I’ve been using dandelion greens in my smoothies. I never thought I would. I grew up seeing them as weeds that my parents would curse for covering our lawn. So, they didn’t appeal to me. But, I tried them recently in my smoothies and now they are in regular rotation! They don’t store as well as kale/collards, so if you buy them, use them within a day or two. You can also experiment with other greens (ex: beet greens) and lettuces (ex: escarole, red leaf lettuce), though I wouldn’t recommend spicy greens such as arugula or mustard greens in a smoothie— they are just too strong and peppery. Save those for your sautés and salads!
Wash and stem greens. Some greens can hold more grit, so fully submerge the greens in a sinkful of water, then rinse and shake off the excess water. Be sure to dry your extra greens before refrigerating. Use a salad spinner or shake to dry well. Once they are mostly dry, I store in the fridge by loosely wrapping in a dish towel, and placing inside a large resealable plastic bag (leave unzipped). I find the greens keep well for a couple of days, don’t get soggy and rot, and stay nicely crisp. With such greens as collards, chard, and kale, you’ll want to separate the leaves from the thick stems. Holding the leaf in one hand, run your fingers of your other hand down the length of the stalk to strip the stalk (separating the leafy portion from the tough stem). The more tender parts of the stem (at the tops) will usually tear away with the leaves, and this is okay—they are tender enough.
Fruits – Which to Use, Proportions, and Frozen
- Frozen bananas and mangoes: Adding these sweet fruits will (1) balance the bitterness and grassiness of the greens an (2) create a creamy consistency. Bananas are an obvious choice because most of us have them on hand. Greenish bananas, stay on the counter—you’re not welcome to this smoothie party! Let your bananas overripen, and then peel, slice, and store them (in large resealable bags or in other airtight containers) in your freezer. If you aren’t overly fond of bananas, try frozen mangoes or peaches! My friend Melissa West had to modify her diet and eliminate bananas. We talked about how to make smoothies without them, and frozen mangoes were my first suggestion. Check out Melissa’s video where she talks about bananas and migraines, and also gives great tips for a breakfast protein smoothie. Mangoes are very sweet, and also lend a subtly creamy texture. I keep bananas in my freezer, and regularly buy bags of frozen mangoes. Either or both combine well with other fruits—and those not frozen—for a delicious smoothie. Frozen pineapple also works very well, but it is VERY sweet, so use less, or add in combination with more veggies. If using bananas or mangoes that are fresh and not frozen, you may want to add ice cubes in place of water for your blending, to chill your drink, as using all room-temperature fruits will give you a warmish smoothie (not the greatest).
- Seasonal Fruits: Also include seasonal fruits for your smoothies. In the winter, along with my frozen bananas/mangoes, I add either apples, oranges, pink grapefruit, or pears. In the spring and summer, you can use melons, peaches and nectarines, grapes and berries (red and purple berries will change the color of your smoothie, more on that soon). All these fruits will help counter any harsher notes in the greens.
- Lemons/Limes: Citrus are very alkalizing for the body, and lately I’ve enjoyed adding some sourness to my smoothies with the addition of one small lemon. Simply peel and add (including any seeds). You may particularly enjoy lemons/limes if, in general, you don’t like a lot of sweet foods.
- Berry Interesting: Fresh or frozen strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries are, of course, delicious in a green smoothie—and very nutritious. Even when not in season, most of have a frozen stash. The only thing you need to know about using red or purple berries is that the color of the smoothie changes. No longer will it be a vibrant inviting green color; rather, a more swampy brownish color. But if you can ignore the color aesthetic, by all means, include some berries! On the other hand, if you want to mask the green color (for children OR adults!), then blue or purple berries such as blueberries, blackberries, or açai pulp work magic.
- Avocado: Green suprise! Technically avocado is a fruit, though not often thought of as a fruit because it isn’t juicy or particularly sweet. While it won’t lend much sweetness to your smoothie, it will add a luscious creaminess to your smoothie (as well as nutritional benefits), so try adding half an avocado to your mixture and see how you like it.
Even though my focus is on getting the leafy greens into your smoothies, let’s not forget that there are other veggies worthy of joining the smoothie club. And green smoothie veterans might appreciate lessening the fruit proportions to favor more vegetables. I posted this chart on facebook recently, showing how cucumber is in the melon family.
I often add cucumber to our smoothies, it adds a light melon flavor without added sweetness. Also try adding carrot with mangoes/oranges/peaches! Start with smallish measures (perhaps 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 cup), as some vegetables impart strong and bitter flavor tones. Cucumber is rather mild, with a melonlike flavor, so you might try adding more. I have even added a small amount of beet to a berry-green smoothie. Yes I did.
Smoothies are the perfect place to get in nutritious bits and bobs that you might otherwise find tricky to include in your diet. Try:
- Hemp, flax, or chia seeds
- Nuts (or nut butters, such as like almond)
- Goji berries, cocoa nibs
- Blackstrap Molasses (will turn your smoothie dark, but good hit of iron, plus calcium)
- Spirulina (confession: I have a hard time with spirulina, but I know others quite like it (and can eat it off a spoon – really?!). It is an extremely nutritious food source, so go for it if you can!)
- Ginger – fresh ginger is a great immunity booster!
- Nutrient-Dense Powders. I hesitate to call them ‘protein powders‘, because it conveys the message that we need to add protein to our smoothies. Still, many of these powders are very nutrient-rich, not just in protein but also fatty acids and vitamins and minerals. My favorite is the Vega Energizing Smoothie powders. Note: I tried the Vega powders years back and the flavors just didn’t work for me. But, these shake ‘n go smoothie infusions taste TERRIFIC! I especially love the Tropical Twist and the Vanilla Almondilla. If you like making creamy smoothies, the chocolate is amazing too. I typically add 1- 1 1/2 scoops to our smoothie batch, which makes 2 smoothies. Melissa also talks about the Sun Warrior protein powders. I haven’t tried those yet (have you?). Side note: Melissa also has some juicing videos if you are keen to learn more about juicing.
You have all the elements, now you need to make your green drink deliciously smooth. Trust me when I tell you that you need to blend the heck out of your smoothie! A high-powered blender like a Blendtec makes this an easy job. But, before I had my rambo blender, I used a standard blender and also an immersion blender. They just required a little more time – and also the frozen fruit needed to be cut in smaller pieces prior to freezing. With a Blendtec, you can pretty much throw whole frozen bananas and big ol’ chunks of frozen mango in there – in can take it. Point is, you want to make it smooth, not still grainy or chunky or with bits of leaves floating about.
So, you truly need to blend it until beautifully smooth! It can be thick, as you can always thin with water, but definitely smooth. Ergo smooth-ie. Blend until the greens are so pulverized that they are no longer visible, other than infusing your smoothie with a beautiful green color. If using a high-powered blender such as a Blendtec, simply run the whole juice cycle, and if needed, pulse again afterward if any chunks of frozen fruit remain. Kale leaves can take longer to fully blend than spinach or chard (especially depending on your blender). I find that frozen fruits, such as banana and mango, also help the blender cut through the greens. Add 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 cup of water to get everything moving (you can often use less with a high-powered blender). Add more later to thin, if desired; the amount of water needed varies depending on the proportion of thick fruits, such as bananas, and the amount of very juicy fruit, such as melon or orange. Start with less, then add more if you need to. Better to have a thick smoothie that can be thinned rather than a watery smoothie.
After blending, dip in a spoon to taste before serving up. If you need more fruit to balance the sweetness – or water to thin, add it now. You can also opt for coconut water to replace part or all of the water, or even non-dairy milk (though I don’t care for milk in green smoothies, but it can make them creamier). Once you’ve made a dozen or so green smoothies, you probably won’t need to taste-test, as you’ll have a sense of proportions needed.
I have a couple of greens smoothie recipes in my cookbooks, including this “Apple-A-Day Smoothie” (recipe here).
But, once you start making smoothies you’ll realize that you don’t need to measure ingredients. At first it’s helpful to understand proportions, but soon you’ll be a green smoothie pro and blend with creative abandon! Until you’re there, here are a few more examples of smoothie combinations. But, know that this list is by no means exhaustive. There are so many combinations, you just need to experiment to find your favorites. I’m including kale and collards here as the base green, just because they are the ones I use most and they offer the most absorbable calcium and iron. Certainly chard or spinach can be substituted for kale and collards. I’ve also started with 1 to 1 1⁄2 cups of greens, but by all means increase the ratio of greens to 2 cups or more as you become accustomed to the flavor. These suggestions should yield two pretty large smoothies, but measurements are quite approximate, so modify as you need.
Orange Juicius: 1 to 1 1⁄2 cups of collard greens leaves, about 1 1⁄2 cups of frozen banana chunks, one apple (core removed, skins intact), one orange (peeled), 1 to 2 tablespoons of hemp seeds, plus enough water to get it moving and thin out, if you like.
Tropical Twist: 1 to 1 1⁄2 cups of kale leaves, about 1 cup of frozen banana chunks, 1⁄2 to 1 cup of frozen mango chunks, 1⁄2 cup of fresh pineapple (cubed), 1⁄2 cup of cucumber chunks (optional), 1 to 2 tablespoons of Vega Tropical Tango, 1-2 tbsp hemp seeds, plus enough water to get it moving and thin out, if you like.
Immunity Zinger: 1 to 1 1⁄2 cups of kale leaves, 1 to 1 1⁄4 cups of frozen bananas chunks, one large or two small apples (core removed, skins intact), 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 cup of frozen mango chunks, about 1⁄2 tablespoon of peeled ginger, 1⁄2 peeled lemon, plus enough water to get it all moving.
Berry Blaster: 1 to 1 1⁄2 cups collard greens leaves, about 1 1⁄2 cups of frozen banana chunks, about 1 cup of fresh or frozen strawberries, one apple, 1 to 2 tablespoons of Vega Vanilla Almondilla, 2 tablespoons of goji berries, plus enough water to get it moving and thin out, if you like.
Purple People Feeder: 1 to 1 1⁄2 cups of collard greens leaves, about 1 1⁄2 cups of frozen banana chunks, about 1⁄2 cup of fresh or frozen blueberries or blackberries, 1⁄2 cup of purple or red grapes or one red apple or pear, 1 tablespoon of chia seeds, plus enough water to get it moving and thin out, if you like.
Smooth Talker: 1 to 11⁄2 cups of kale leaves, 1 to 1 1⁄2 cups of frozen banana chunks, about 1⁄2 cup of honeydew melon (cubed), 1⁄2 cup of cucumber, one orange or 1⁄2 cup of fresh pineapple (cubed), 1⁄2 avocado, plus enough water to get it moving and thin out, if you like.
Orange Blaster: 1 to 1 1⁄2 cups of kale leaves; 1 cup of peach, nectarine, or mango chunks; two oranges (peeled); 1⁄3 cup of chopped carrot; 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 cup of frozen banana; 1⁄2 cup of vanilla nondairy yogurt (optional); plus enough water to get it moving and thin out, if you like.
If you have Let Them Eat Vegan, you can find some of this smoothie information starting on page 26. I’ve edited/added/updated some things for this post, but if you have LTEV, you can quickly flip to reference when ready to blend!