Years ago, if you had asked me to name all the different greens I could eat, I would have been stumped after lettuce and spinach. Today I can name a few more types and every day, it seems like I learn about another type I wasn’t familiar with. There are so many types of greens that it can get confusing which is which and what to do with them. That’s why I created this essential guide to greens with a few facts about how each one looks and tastes. Of course, there are recipe ideas and links to help you enjoy these greens even more.
1. How to Prep Greens
Greens can be very sandy and gritty, especially when you get them fresh at the farmer’s market or in your CSA box, so they need to be washed well. Don’t wash the greens unless you are going to use them in a day or two, as they will start to wilt. If you do wash them in advance, place them in a storage bag with a clean towel or paper towel to absorb the moisture and keep them refrigerated. Store them in the crisper drawer of the fridge, away from the fruit. Fruits give off ethylene gas which can hasten spoilage. The easiest way to wash greens is to fill the sink with cool water and give the greens a bath. Separate the leaves and agitate the water a bit with your fingers to loosen the dirt. Shake the leaves dry of excess water and then dry them in a salad spinner or by laying them between two clean towels. Greens can last up to a week in the fridge but they may wilt. You can perk them back up by putting in a bowl of ice for 10 minutes or so.
If the greens you are using have thick stems or stalks, you need to remove them. This is true for kale and collard greens. Other greens such as chard and spinach have edible stems though you can certainly remove those as well. Beet and turnip greens need to be separated from their roots before storing. The easiest way to remove the stems from large leaves is by “stripping.” Hold the base of the stem in one hand and run your index and middle finger of the other hand along the stem, from base to tip, stripping the leaves off as you go. The leaves can then be chopped.
2. The Greens
Arugula, also known as rocket, is a Mediterranean green. It has long, slender, sword-shaped leaves with notches and a vibrant, green color. The taste is peppery and spicy so it is best paired with other, milder greens in a salad. Try it in this Arugula Fennel Salad with Creamy Lemon Dressing. Arugula can also be cooked by adding it to soups or wilted into pasta. It also makes a great pizza topping as in this Whole Wheat Pizza with Caramelized Figs, Onions and Arugula.
The next time you buy beets, don’t throw away the greens. Beet greens can be eaten raw or cooked. However, you have to use them within a day or two because they don’t last long. They have a mild taste and you can use them as you would any other dark, leafy green. Try these Beet Greens with Garlic and Toasted Almonds to see how good they are.
Bok Choy, also known as Chinese white cabbage, pak choy and white mustard cabbage, is indeed a type of cabbage. Bok choy is tender, mild and sweet. It is available in mature and baby versions. Mature bok choy has large stems which can be separated from the leaves and prepared first since they take longer to cook. Baby bok choy can be cooked whole. It can also be eaten raw in salads. Enjoy bok choy in this Stir-Fried Crunchy Bengali Bok Choy and this Chinatown Sweet and Sour Bok Choy.
Also known as rapini, broccoli rabe looks similar to broccoli, but without the big head. Broccoli rabe is known for its earthy, nutty, bitter taste and is a staple of Italian and Mediterranean cuisine. The bitterness lessens as it is cooked. Try it in this Sauteed Broccoli Rabe with Red Chili Flakes.
Butterhead lettuces include Boston and Bibb lettuce. They have soft, rounded leaves and a sweet, delicate flavor. Their rounded shape makes them perfect for lettuce cups and wraps. Use Butterhead to make these Grilled Artichoke and Quinoa Lettuce Wraps.
Cabbage: Savoy, Red, Napa
Cabbage is a staple of cooking all over the world. This multi-layered veggie is a nutritional powerhouse, providing us with manganese, magnesium, vitamin B6, vitamin A, potassium, riboflavin, thiamin and folate. Smooth-leafed firm-headed green cabbages are the most common type. Savoy cabbage, also known as curly cabbage, has ruffled, lacy, deeply ridged leaves which are loosely layered and more tender. Use Savoy cabbage to make these Savoy Rolls. Red cabbage is a pretty purple color. It has a heartier texture. It tastes great raw and when cooked down as in this Braised Red Cabbage with Beets. Napa cabbage, also called Chinese cabbage, has long, light green leaves and looks a bit like romaine lettuce. It has a mild, peppery flavor and is often used in stir-fries. It is also used to make kimchi. Learn how to make your own Homemade Kimchi.
Chard has large, thick, dark leaves and stalks that can be white (in Swiss chard) or colored (in Rainbow chard). The leaves taste similar to spinach but much stronger and with a rougher texture. The stalks are edible with a mellow flavor and the yellow, purple, red and orange stems are a colorful addition to any dish. The stalks need to be cooked first since they take longer than the leaves though chard can also be eaten raw. Chard is often used in soups, stir-fries and stews. Try this Swiss Chard Quiche with Wild Mushrooms or this Cremini Mushroom, Rainbow Chard and Shallot Soup.
Collards are a member of the cabbage family and closely related to kale. They have wide, flat, green leaves and thick stalks which should be removed. Collards have a slightly bitter taste though they can be eaten raw. They are often paired with other greens like kale, mustard and spinach. Collards are a staple of Southern cuisine. Learn How to Make Raw Veggie-Stuffed Collard Wraps and check out 5 Flavorful Ways to Cook Collard Greens.
You know those little yellow flowers in the yard that you loved as a child but your parents knew were weeds? Well, those dandelions have leaves that are not only edible, but also healthy and delicious. The leaves are peppery, similar to arugula, and can be eaten raw, blanched or cooked. Enjoy this beautiful Spring Salad with Edible Flowers and Dandelion Greens.
Belgian endive is not the same as endive, but is related. Belgian endive is a small, cylindrical head of lettuce with pale yellow leaves and curly edges. Red Belgian endive is known as radicchio. Belgian endive can be eaten raw in salads or cooked.
Escarole, also known as broad-leafed endive, looks like romaine and is part of the chicory family. It has large dark green leaves and a firm texture. The taste is mild and slightly bittersweet. Escarole is highly nutritious with fiber, folate and Vitamins A, C and K. It is used both raw and cooked. Try it in this White Bean and Escarole Soup.
Frisee is related to escarole with the same bitter taste and is sometimes called curly endive. However, it looks very different with its frilly, delicate leaves. It is usually seen in salads as part of a mix such as mesclun. Read 7 Steps for Making Refreshing Summer Salads for ideas on how to use frisee.
Iceberg lettuce is a type of crisphead lettuce that is well-known to everyone. Iceberg comes in compact heads with crunchy leaves. It has an extremely mild flavor. Iceberg is usually served as wedges, chopped in salads or as a topping on sandwiches. Read 10 Ways to Make Amazing Salad Dressings and then serve it on a wedge of iceberg.
Kale is one of the most popular greens, in part because it is packed with vitamins and minerals. It is a type of cabbage with dark green leaves. It comes in curly form and as Lacinato, Tuscan or dinosaur kale which is long and smooth. Kale can be slightly bitter when raw but makes for delicious salads. Highly versatile, kale can be steamed, stir-fried, put into smoothies and baked as chips. Indulge in this Kale Salad with Apricots and Almonds and then check out 20 Ways to Enjoy Kale – The King of Greens for recipes and ideas.
Kohlrabi is a crisp vegetable related to cabbage. While the bulb can be eaten raw or cooked, the greens need to be cooked. Use them as you would any other hearty, dark green.
Mustard greens are a staple of Southern cuisine. They have frilled curly edges and are a bright green color. The taste is quite peppery and they are usually cooked with other greens such as kale and collards.
Radicchio, or Red Belgian Endive, is also related to frisée and escarole. It has a bitter, spicy taste which mellows as it is cooked. It is often grilled or roasted though it can also be eaten raw in salads.
Red Leaf Lettuce
Red leaf lettuce can range in color from rust to maroon. It can also have smooth or ruffled edges. Red leaf lettuce is tender with a mellow, grassy flavor. It is most often eaten raw in salads. Read why leaf lettuce is a Healthy Alternative to Iceberg Lettuce.
Romaine lettuce is well-known with crunchy, thick ribs and long, slender leaves. It has a crunchy texture and a mild flavor. Romaine can be grilled but is probably best known for its use in Caesar salad. Try this Eccentric Caesar Salad and this Vegan Caesar Salad Pizza
Sorrel has delicate leaves with a tart, acidic taste. It looks like spinach and arugula with elongated, sword-like leaves. Sorrel may be difficult to find in supermarkets and is usually seen at farmers’ markets during summer months. Since sorrel has a sour taste, it is best when paired with creamy dressings. Try it with this Creamy Lemon Herb Dressing.
Spinach is a delicate green that can be eaten raw and cooked. Baby spinach tends to be milder and less bitter than mature spinach. Spinach is a versatile green, able to work well in almost any recipe. When you buy spinach, buy a lot because it cooks down significantly. Enjoy this Sauteed Spinach in Tomato Fennel Sauce and then read 10 Flavorful Ways to Cook Spinach for more recipe ideas. For even more suggestions with an international spin, read 10 Creative Ideas to Stir-Fry and Saute Spinach.
When you buy turnips, be sure to get them with the greens still attached. The leaves have a hearty texture and a strong, bitter flavor which mellows when cooked. Turnip greens are a staple of Southern cooking and are often mixed with other greens. Try them in this Tempeh and Turnip Green Soup.
Watercress has small, oval-shaped leaves with a peppery smell. The flavor is also peppery and is similar to horseradish and wasabi. Watercress is best paired with mild, creamy ingredients that will balance the bitterness. It can be used in soups, pasta, salads and on burgers and sandwiches. Enjoy watercress in this Smoky Chickpea and Watercress Salad with Mango and Avocado.
This is merely a short introduction to some of the many greens that are available for us to enjoy. For more tips and ideas on how to prepare and cook greens, read Tips for Cooking Greens So They Taste Real Delicious. Then get to the market and try some greens that are new to you and see how amazing they are.
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Lead image source: Smoky Chickpea and Watercress Salad with Mango and Avocado