Fresh Greens – Description and Selection


Greens are one of the most nutrient dense foods available, meaning they have very high nutrients and very few calories.  Most greens can be eaten raw, although some are very tough and may require cooking to aid in both chewing and digestion.  The greens included in this section are those most readily found in the local grocery store.

Salad greens:  Salad greens are not to be cooked, but only eaten raw.  Wash and chop these greens ahead of time and store in the refrigerator for easy use.  A salad spinner is a great tool to thoroughly wash, dry and store your salad greens.

  • Arugula –  Arugula is dark green, almost peppery flavor.  It is often expensive so combine with it with other greens.
  • Bibb Lettuce or Butterhead – This is crinkly, soft, not limp, and has a wonderful sweet, buttery taste.
  • Boston Lettuce – Boston lettuce is very tender.  It has light green leaves and wilts quickly once dressed.
  • Iceberg – Iceberg is a very crispy green.  It is often maligned but provides a great texture on sandwiches or combined with other greens.
  • Leaf Lettuce – Red and Green – Green leaf lettuce is characterized by dark green leaves while red leaf lettuce is tipped with dark red.  It is soft yet crisp with a delicate, almost sweet flavor.
  • Romaine – Romaine is the most common salad green.  It has long, dark and light green leaves.  Romaine is wonderfully crisp with a full bodied taste.
  • Spring Mix – Spring mix is a mixture of a wide variety of baby greens and is typically prewashed before it is bagged.  Its taste can depend greatly on what is in the mix and how fresh the mix is.
  • Watercress – Watercress has spriggy, little leaves with a very peppery flavor. It is great by itself or mixed with other greens.

Cooking Greens:  Cooking greens can also be eaten raw, but are most often cooked to decrease their toughness.

  • Beet greens – Beet greens are used like you would use spinach.  They are very tender, mild and sweet green.  Look for dark green leaves with rich red stems.  Do not buy if the leaves are wilted, spotted with yellow or have dark green slimy patches.  Try them sautéed with onion, tomatoes, a tiny bit of sugar and apple cider vinegar
  • Belgian Endive – Endive is crisp, compact heads that are creamy white with the leaf tops just barely green.  Endive is from a forced second growth of chickory root.  Almost all Endive in the US is imported from Belgium.  It has a slightly bitter taste and can be eaten raw in salads or stuffed and braised.
  • Broccoli Raab or Rabe or Rapini – Rapini is a cross between the cabbage and turnip.  It has a pleasantly bitter taste.  Broccoli raab has thin, branching stems with narrow, dark green leaves and tiny bunches of flowerets.  Avoid any bunches with limp stems, faded yellow leaves or open yellow flowers.  Try raab wilted with garlic, white wine and vegan parmesan cheese and sometimes for a special treat – a very small amount of feta cheese sprinkled on top.
  • Chard, Swiss – Swiss chard is a member of the beet family but has no bulbous root.  Chard is normally found in two varieties with either bright green or red leaves.  Look for crisp stalks and no wilted leaves or yellowing leaves.  Swiss chard is very mild and can be used like spinach.  Chard leaves and stems are often separated, cooked and combined afterwards for eating.  Try these wilted with apple cider vinegar, onions and tomatoes for a “sweeter” green.  Other times, try these wilted with peppers, onions, mushrooms and beef flavoring.  Chard can also easily be added to vegetable soup for a more nutritious meal.
  • Collards – Collards are a member of the cruciferous family of vegetables and are abundant in the southern part of the US.  It used to be that people thought collards had to be cooked to within an inch of their lives – however, they need to be treated more like spinach.  A quick cook to wilt is really all that is needed.  Smaller leaves can even be added raw to a salad.  Collards withstand extreme heat and into the first cold months of the year.  Collards are readily found in the freezer section and produce section of most grocers.  Try collard greens wilted with a chicken broth.  Add a little Earth Balance or rice vinegar at the table.  But there is NOTHING like collards, black-eyed peas and good old fashioned Southern cornbread for a wonderful meal.  Chopped collards can also be added to vegetable soups.
  • Dandelion Greens – Dandelion greens may grow abundantly in our yards, but are not very common in produce markets and grocers.  Dandelion greens are great raw or cooked and are a slightly bitter green.  Some people recommend that you boil dandelion greens and change the water several times to wash away the bitterness.  This is a lengthy, time consuming process which is not really necessary.  Try them sautéed with a little olive oil, garlic and wine.
  • Escarole – Escarole is a variety of chicory, and much less bitter than other chicory greens.  It looks like leaf lettuce and is often found along side leaf lettuces in produce departments.  Escarole can be eaten raw or cooked.  Try them wilted with mushrooms, onions, white beans and marsala cooking wine.
  • Kale – Oh, kale is SO much more than a pretty decoration on your plate.  Kale is a cruciferous vegetable and is full of calcium with a wonderful meaty texture!  Kale is a cold weather vegetable so it is it’s freshest from September to May.  There are several varieties of kale available at well stocked health food stores, although most grocers carry only the familiar dark, blue-green kind with curly leaves.  Kale is not difficult to wash or de-stem.  It holds up well in the fridge before and maintains a firm, meaty texture after cooking as well.  Kale needs to be cooked slightly longer than spinach, but can be eaten raw as well if you have the jaw strength to masticate it thoroughly.  Try kale cooked and mixed with a raw cashew cream sauce or served with a spicy tomato base or quickly sautéed with garlic and olive oil.
  • Mustard Greens – Mustard greens have a peppery, hearty taste and are often described as bitter.  They can be eaten raw, although most often are cooked.  They are available washed, chopped and bagged in some grocery stores.  Do not try to “sweeten” these greens, cook them when you are craving something slightly bitter and tangy.  Once again, they do not need to be cooked for a long period of time, but merely wilted.
  • Spinach –Spinach is a readily available green and can be prepared in a variety of tasty ways.  Try it raw in a salad, frozen added to smoothies, wilted with Earth Balance or garlic or tomatoes and onion.  It can be served as creamed spinach, spinach soufflés, spinach and rice enchiladas and spinach marsala.  Frozen spinach works better in smoothies – the smoothies don’t get overloaded with a “green” taste when you use frozen.  Spinach grows in sandy soil and can be nearly impossible to remove all of the grit before cooking.  Avoid any limp looking, wet or yellowing leaves.
  • Turnip greens – Turnip greens are a slightly bitter alternative to spinach, collards and other greens and are also in the cruciferous family.  They are most often found frozen in the grocery store.  You can purchase them with and without small pieces of diced turnips, the bulbous root which is quite good.  Try simply wilting the greens and add Earth Balance or rice vinegar at the table.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Shawn Bauer December 4, 2010 at 12:59 pm

I would like recipes that I can cook ahead and freeze. Also, I need quick ideas for lunch for us. We homeschool, so there we are almost all home during the day.
Thank you so much,


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