There was a time when the only greens I ate were lettuce and even then, only iceberg and romaine. Later, I came to like spinach. To me, everything else looked like it was spewed out of a lawn mower. Boy, did that change. Today I eat all kinds of leafy greens; in fact, they happen to be my favorite veggies. Good for me because leafy greens are packed with vitamins A, B, C, E and K, minerals like magnesium, iron and calcium, and a bunch of flavonoids and phytochemicals. Greens benefit our health in so many ways including strengthening our immune system, cancer prevention, lowering cholesterol, and improved blood circulation. Find out about the 5 Health Ailments That Can be Treated by Eating More Greens.
Of course, you’re only going to eat more greens if they taste good. If you Hate Raw Leafy Greens? Here’s How to Learn to Love Them! Take a look at my 10 Creative (and Delicious) Ways to Flavor Raw Leafy Greens and my Tips for Cooking Greens So They Taste Delicious. If you need recipes, check out these 35 Delicious Ways to Eat More Greens but if you’re still not convinced or you think it will be a challenge to get the rest of the family to eat piles of greens, here are 6 Ways to Sneak Greens into Your Meals.
There are so many types of leafy greens that it can get really confusing which is which and what to do with them. In this ultimate guide to leafy greens, you’ll get a few facts about how 21 types look and taste and of course, links to recipes so you can try and enjoy these greens even more.
How to Prep and Store 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, carrot, radish, 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.
Choosing Your 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 Basil Salad With Sweet Corn, Red Beans, Lemon and Spices and Arugula Fennel Salad with Creamy Lemon Dressing. Arugula can also be cooked by adding it to soups or wilted into pasta like this Rotini with Fresh Arugula and Tomato Sauce and Pumpkin, Arugula and Vegan ‘Goat Cheese’ Gnocchi. It also makes a great pizza topping as in this Whole Wheat Pizza with Caramelized Figs, Onions and Arugula.
2. Beet Greens
The next time you buy beets, don’t throw away the greens. Beet greens can be eaten raw or cooked. See Beet and Carrot Greens: How to Use Them Instead of Tossing Them. 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 Sesame Roasted Beets and Greens, Sauteed Beet Red Greens and Beet Greens with Garlic and Toasted Almonds to see how good they are.
3. Bok Choy
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 Spicy Bok Choy With Beet Infused Quinoa and Lentils, Seared Asian Tofu With Chinese Eggplant and Baby Bok Choy, Asian Ginger Tofu and Carrot Rice With Bok Choy, Blackened Bok Choy, Stir-Fried Crunchy Bengali Bok Choy and this Chinatown Sweet and Sour Bok Choy.
4. Broccoli Rabe
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 Garlicky Sauteed Broccoli Rabe, Sauteed Broccoli Rabe with Red Chili Flakes and Broccoli Rabe Potato Pizza With Carrot Miso Sauce and Hazelnuts.
5. Butterhead Lettuce
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 like these Lentil Taco Lettuce Wraps. Use Butterhead to make salads like this Butter Lettuce Wedges With Sunflower Seed Dressing, Pears and Tempeh Bacon.
6. Cabbage: Green, Savoy, Red, Napa
Cabbage is a staple of cooking all over the world. To learn all about this veggie, see 10 Ways to Cook with Cabbage and Global Ways to Cook with Cabbage. Smooth-leafed firm-headed green cabbages are the most common type and are used for salads and slaws like this Asian Slaw Salad with Miso Ginger Dressing. 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 Tandoori Cauliflower Wraps and Polish Golabki (Stuffed Cabbage). 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 Apples and Beer and Red Cabbage and Jicama Spring Rolls With Peanut Dipping Sauce. 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 and then put it on these Simple Korean Kimchi BBQ Burgers.
7. Carrot Greens
When you buy carrots, ask them to leave the greens on. Carrot greens can be used in so many ways – smoothies, pesto, broths, stir-fries. See Beet and Carrot Greens: How to Use Them Instead of Tossing Them and Cooking with Vegetables From Root to Stem for lots of ideas and recipes. Use every single part of the carrot to make these Carrot Tacos.
8. Chard: Swiss and Rainbow
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. See 5 Delish Ways to Eat Swiss Chard and then try this No-Noodle Butternut Squash and Swiss Chard Lasagna, Frittata With Swiss Chard and Red Pepper, Swiss Chard Quiche with Wild Mushrooms, Gluten-Free Lemon Swiss Chard Pasta 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. Learn How to Make Raw Veggie-Stuffed Collard Wraps and use them to make Hummus Collard Wraps and Super Simple Collard Burritos. When cooked, they are often paired with other greens like kale, mustard and spinach. Collards are a staple of Southern cuisine. Check out 5 Flavorful Ways to Cook Collard Greens and make this BBQ Tempeh With Collard Green Hash and Horseradish Cole Slaw and Spicy Collards and White Beans.
10. Dandelion 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. They are even known as one of the “best detox greens” so add them to your morning smoothie. See A Dandy, Dandelion Green Smoothie and a Plethora of Nutrients for all the info. 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 and this Creamy Vegan Dandelion Greens Dressing.
11. Endive: Belgian, Curly (Frisee), Broad-Leafed (Escarole), and Red Belgian (Radicchio)
Endive is a tangy, crunchy vegetable but not all endives are the same. Learn more in Heard of Endive? Here’s How to Make This Green Delicious! Belgian endive is a small, cylindrical head of lettuce with pale yellow leaves and curly edges. It can be eaten raw or cooked. The leaves are crunchy and slightly bitter though the flavor mellows a bit when it is cooked and even gets a little sweet. Try it in this Braised Belgian Endive. Curly endive, also known as frisee and chicory, has tightly bunched, frizzy leaves and a bitter taste. It is mostly eaten as a salad green as part of a mix such as mesclun.
Broad-leafed endive, familiarly known as escarole, is delicious raw or cooked. Escarole 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. It is used both raw and cooked. Try it in this White Bean and Escarole Soup. Red Belgian endive is known as radicchio. Belgian endive can be eaten raw in salads or cooked. It has a bitter, spicy taste which mellows as it cooks. It can be eaten raw but it is often grilled or roasted as in this Warm Lentil and Brussels Sprout Salad With Roasted Radicchio Wedges.
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 as in these Tempeh and Kale Steamed Gyoza, stir-fried as in this Shiitake Tempeh and Kale Stir-Fry, put into smoothies like this Strawberry Kale Smoothie and baked as chips like these Lemony Kale Chips. Indulge in this Chickpea Kale Salad Bathed in Sesame Orange Dressing, Kimchi Kale Salad, Kidney Bean and Kale BBQ Burger, and Kale Avocado Wraps with Miso-Dipped Tempeh. Want more recipes? Check out 20 Ways to Enjoy Kale – The King of Greens for recipes and ideas.
13. Kohlrabi Greens
Kohlrabi is an under-appreciated crisp vegetable related to cabbage. While the bulb can be eaten raw or cooked as in these Baked Kohlrabi Fries, the greens need to be cooked. Use them as you would any other hearty, dark green. Make this Kohlrabi Spaghetti alla Foriana and toss the greens in to wilt at the last minute.
14. Mustard Greens
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.
15. Radish Greens
Photo by Rhea Parsons
When you buy radishes, don’t throw away the greens. Radish greens are slightly bitter and taste great cooked or raw. They don’t stay fresh for long so separate them from the radishes as soon as you bring them home. Eat them within a day or they will wilt. Use them to make my Radish Leaf Pesto which makes a delicious pasta sauce.
16. 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 and Lettuce Decide: Which is Best?
17. Romaine 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 like this Eccentric Vegan Caesar Salad. It’s also great for wraps like these Spicy Romaine Summer Rolls with Peanut Sauce and Harissa Tahini Romaine Wraps and Salad.
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 Baked Spinach and Herb Frittata, Potato and Spinach Cheddar Fritters with Horseradish Dipping Sauce, Chickpea Spinach Stew with Lentils and Quinoa, Spinach Artichoke Lasagna Rollups 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.
20. Turnip Greens
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 and these Turnips with Caramelized Onions and Toasted Lentils.
Watercress has small, oval-shaped leaves with a peppery smell. The flavor is also peppery and is similar to horseradish and wasabi. Nutrient-dense 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.
Now that you have all these information at your fingertips, try a few kinds of leafy greens that are new to you this week. Once you experience all the different ways that greens can be delicious, no one will ever have to remind you to eat your greens again.
Lead image source: Chickpea Kale Salad Bathed in Sesame Orange Dressing