Nutrition Articles

Getting Your Greens

Tasty Ways to Prepare Good-for-You Greens

When Martha Stewart was doing hard time, there were reports that she voluntarily pulled up weeds outside in the prison yard each day. Was she just trying to get out early for good behavior? Not quite. Martha was actually taking an unconventional approach to good nutrition. She would harvest the leaves of dandelions, wash them, and then eat the nutritionally-dense greens as a side dish to balance out her bland prison fare.

Martha couldn’t have picked a better side dish, from a nutritional standpoint. Foraging for foliage provided her with a rich source of beta-carotene, vitamin C, calcium, iron, folate, and magnesium. Besides these vitamins and minerals, dandelion greens also contain Lutein and zeaxanthin, which may help prevent cataracts and macular degeneration. Fiber and potassium are also abundant in the greens.

But don’t worry—you don’t have to become a weed eater to enjoy the benefits of greens. There are lots of nutritious choices of greens that you can pick up at your local grocery store or farmer’s market. You could try collard, turnip, broccoli rabe, or mustard greens—all of which, like dandelion greens, are strong-flavored and slightly bitter. Or you could enjoy popular greens like spinach, chard, beet greens, and bok choy, which are mild and tender. And then there’s kale, which lies somewhere in the middle of the flavor spectrum.

When purchasing or harvesting greens, look for leaves that are perky, lively, and deeply-colored. Generally, small leaves will be mild, sweet, and tender compared to larger leaves. Stay away from greens that are wilted, yellowed, or spotted—these will certainly be bitter, even when cooked. When you bring your greens home, store them inside a plastic bag in the refrigerator and use them within a few days.

Greens are versatile when it comes to cooking. You can heat them as a side dish, add them to soups, chop them to fill calzones or lasagna, and eat them raw in salads. Although greens can be delicious when they're properly prepared, most people who don't know how to do that, and wind up with a slimy, wilted pile of vegetable mush on their plates.

So here's a quick introduction to cooking and enjoying some of the most common greens, featuring recipes from our sister site,

Most people have tried spinach at least a few times. This green is very versatile and can be eaten raw or cooked. When eating raw spinach, be sure to choose leaves that look dry, not slimy, and wash the leaves thoroughly. Toss a handful into your salad to boost its nutritional content, or put the leaves inside a wrap with cheese, tomatoes, grated carrots, romaine lettuce and Caesar dressing. You can also sauté fresh spinach with olive oil over medium heat until wilted, adding salt and pepper to taste. Frozen spinach can be added to lasagna, pasta sauce, soups or egg dishes (like omelets or frittatas). Skip the canned spinach, unless you’re going for slimy and flavorless cuisine. Try these spinach recipes: Swiss Chard
There are two types of chard, green and red, which are distinguished by the color of their stalks. Sometimes you’ll find them packaged together and marketed as “rainbow" chard. Look for hearty, perky, crinkled, dark-green leaves, attached to upright stalks. If the stalks are large, they should be cooked separately from the leaves, which cook much more quickly. Try cutting the stalks into 3-inch lengths and sautéing in olive oil until almost tender, adding salt and pepper to taste. Just as the stalks are almost done, add the leaves (sliced or torn) to the pan and cook just a few minutes more, until the leaves are wilted and the stalks are tender. Try these recipes that contain Swiss chard:
Bok Choy
Similar to chard, bok choy is made up of large leaves and succulent stalks. The stalks cook pretty quickly compared to other greens, so the leaves and stalks can be cooked together. Try adding chopped bok choy to a stir-fry, or sauté in olive oil and minced fresh garlic until tender. Try these recipes with bok choy: Beet Greens
These are the leaves that grow from beets. They can be cooked much like chard and bok choy.

Collard Greens
These big, flat, matte leaves take much longer to cook than other greens, and if they aren’t fresh, they can be very bitter. Raw collards are almost always bitter. The stems and tough ribs aren’t edible, so the leaves must be torn or cut away. Try boiling them for 10 minutes, and then braising them in garlic butter and some of their cooking water, covered, for 30 minutes, salting to taste. Try these recipes for collard greens: Turnip Greens
These have curlier leaves than collards, but the handling instructions for turnip greens are the same as collards. Try these turnip greens recipes: Broccoli Rabe
Peel the tough lower stalks of this Italian vegetable, and then boil until almost tender. Drain and sauté in garlic butter or olive oil. These recipes include broccoli rabe: Mustard Greens
The curly leaves of mustard greens look like light-green kale (see below), but taste nothing alike. Mustard greens have a spicy, horseradish-mustard flavor and can be very pungent. Remove the stems and tough ribs, and boil for one minute before sautéing in garlic butter or olive oil until tender. Try this recipe that contains mustard greens: Kale
Kale is versatile and its mild flavor goes well in soups and hearty stews. Just rip the leaves away from the stems, tear the leaves into bite-sized pieces, and toss them into the stew when there is five minutes of cooking time left. Steamed kale can be eaten as a side vegetable. To steam, rip the leaves away and discard the stalks. Steam leaves for 4 to 5 minutes until tender. Drizzle with a scant amount of toasted sesame oil and soy sauce. Try these kale recipes:

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Member Comments

  • I love my greens!
  • I'm definitely a GRITS, and if you go to any local "soul food" eatery, or any local's home for supper, you'll eventually be served collards, cooked with ham hocks, fat back or a ham bone, chopped stems and all, and cooked with salt and pepper until very tender (hours!l). You can eat them your way, but our way, with a little hot pepper vinegar and fresh corn bread is a Southern staple!
  • I eat collard greens frequently and always eat the stems unless tough and just chop finely and then sauté in olive oil. Very tasty and very quick. No clue why they would need simmering for 30 minutes unless someone likes grey, mushy leaves.

    Same with rapini. I chop them roughly and sauté them in olive oil. I don't bother with steaming them before hand. They cook very fast.

    My favorite way to eat spinach, chard, beet greens is just lightly steamed, and tossed with butter and salt, delicious. Tougher greens are good, braised for hours with bacon.
    Best opening sentence EVER. Made me laugh.
  • Educational article! The recipes sound yummy. I never tried these greens before because all of them (even dandelion greens, which people pay companies to destroy from their lawns here!) cost a bundle. I figured if I cooked them wrong I would be wasting money. Will try the recipes!
  • This article is a great resource, I never knew how healthy greens can be.
  • I grew up in the South. All the greens mentioned in the article are my favs. They were a staple in my family's garden and I grow them in the spring, fall and winter. I also set aside a few plants just to produce seeds for the next growing season. I prefer to eat them raw are lightly steamed. A greens and fresh basil leaf salad is hard to beat anytime of the year.
  • I recently at a u-pick farm got cauliflower. Instead of throwing away the leaves, I used them like kale - rolling them up, slicing thinly and then placing in lemon juice to break down the fibers. So excellent and completely free food.
  • Afresh new look at greens
  • I enjoyed this article and will pick up some greens for sunday dinner. The greens I enjoy most are kale and collards.

    One of my fav recipes I found on spark is Collards cooked in the slow cooker. These were definately a keeper and they don't turn out wilted of nutrients.

  • Kale chips are the best!
  • I think the trick to eating greens and LOVING them is to get very fresh greens. The longer they sit they "self-destruct" and lose their complex sweet/savory flavors. If the greens are more then 4 days old, they start to taste bitter (to me).

    I am lucky to be a veggie farmer, so i have tasted the freshest greens and they are light years better then greens I have kept in the my fridge for a week. Please, if you think you don't like greens just give them one more chance. Go to a farmers market, buy a mild green like Swiss chard and cook it the day you buy it.
    Kale is my favorite. I always have it in my garden, it reseeds itself if you leave a plant or to to over winter and flower and set seeds the next year.
  • Love, love, love greens!!! There is life and nutrition in them!!! This summer I have been growing Swiss chard in two pots on my deck. Yesterday I stir-fried some chopped leaves and stems and then beat an egg and poured it on top, along with a little shredded cheese, to make an omelet. YUM! Tonight I had stir-fried bok choy with some garlic, onion, mushrooms, yellow peppers, tomatoes, and beans - a great vegetarian entree.

About The Author

Liza Barnes Liza Barnes
Liza has two bachelor's degrees: one in health promotion and education and a second in nursing. A registered nurse and mother, regular exercise and cooking are top priorities for her. See all of Liza's articles.

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