Why stop at kale when there are so many delicious greens to choose from? Here are a handful of our favorite nutritional powerhouses—both leafy and hearty—and how to prepare and enjoy them.
From now-classic baby spinach to less common tatsoi, the produce section of any market these days is filled with rows of leafy and hearty greens. You know they’re nutritious, and often a good source of dietary fiber—but you might not know the difference between them, or just how many delicious ways you can eat them. Check out our guide below, then get creative with these amazing greens.
Baby Greens: These tiny versions of standard favorites—like arugula, kale, and spinach—are often sold in plastic clamshell packages or bulk bins. Great for salads, they also shine in main course dishes, like our creamy polenta and wild mushrooms, and homemade flatbreads.
Arugula: Popular in salads, this peppery green is also a great companion to charred or grilled steak, but that’s not all. Dishes like our Creamy Fettuccine With Corn and Arugula, take full advantage of this green’s crowd-pleasing flavor, while offering a perfect option for a quick weeknight meal. A good dose of iron and vitamins A and C is an extra bonus.
Spinach: Popeye’s preferred green is also one of ours. Rich in flavor, with tender stems that are also edible, spinach boasts an impressive array of nutrients, including riboflavin, B6, folate, and magnesium. Widely available year-round, fresh spinach is yummy in salads, pastas, and egg dishes; blended into smoothies; or simple sautéd with a little olive oil or butter, along with salt and pepper for a tasty side dish or baked potato topping.
Watercress: This peppery number is a member of the Cruciferae family, a group of greens and vegetables that are notoriously low in calories and high in fiber and nutrients, including some that have been shown to have anti-cancer properties. Watercress delivers big when it comes to beta carotene, fiber, potassium, and vitamin C. Slightly bitter and fairly peppery, this under-the-radar green, with its pleasingly crisp edible stems, is perfect for tucking into sandwiches; tossing into risottos, stir-fries, and salads; and much more. Here are 12 of our favorite simple ways to use it.
Radish Greens: Cooking with “tops” (from carrots, beets, radishes, and turnips) is popular these days, and for good reason: tops taste great and give you a extra bang for your buck. As long as they’re in good condition (perky and unblemished), there’s no reason not to give peppery radish greens a good rinse and use them in any way you’d use watercress (see above).
Tatsoi: A kin to cabbage, tatsoi has tender little leaves that are sweet with a hint of pepper. Use them fresh in salads, or cook with them the same way you would with spinach.
Kale: The celeb of the greens world, this 21st century favorite is known for its versatility and nutritional profile (it’s a cruciferous vegetable that also offers a large dose of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which research shows may counteract age-related macular degeneration and cataracts). From smoothies to snacks, salads, and more, we love kale for its sweet, slightly cabbage-like flavor, but also for the myriad varieties we find at supermarkets and farmers markets alike. The most commonly known is frilly-edged green kale. Similar, but with slightly sturdier, magenta-colored leaves, is purple kale. Tuscan kale (also called black kale, dinosaur kale, and cavolo nero), an Italian variety and chef favorite, is one we love for salads and pastas; its crinkly leaves have smooth edges and offer a sweet, slightly peppery flavor. You might also come across Red Russian kale, which has tender blue-green leaves shaped like oak leaves. Little-known fact: Kale stems can be trimmed, then chopped and cooked along with its leaves.
Swiss Chard: Also called chard, this cruciferous vegetable is a member of the beet family. Along with fiber, vitamin C, and magnesium, chard offers hefty amounts of the antioxidant vitamin E and a very high dose of vitamin K. Multiple varieties of chard are commonly found in supermarkets, including those with rainbow, red, and white-colored stems, which can be trimmed and cooked along with leaves. Try serving sautéed chard alongside meats or fish; in vegetarian dishes, like this favorite with chickpeas and couscous; and, of course, pastas. You can even use chard to make fritters!
Escarole: A member of the chicory family, escarole has a pleasing slightly bitter flavor that’s well suited to salads and sautés. Though it’s classically paired with beans and sausages, we also love it alongside shrimp. For something different and equally delicious, try your next Caesar salad with grilled escarole. This green gets bonus points for delivering big on vitamins and minerals like beta carotene, riboflavin, and vitamin C, as well as calcium, iron, and fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), which may be a boon to gut health.
Beet Greens: If the tops of beets are fresh and peppy (not wilted), by all means cook them—tender stems and all. Stems can be chopped and cooked alongside greens. Toss cooked beet greens into pastas and rice dishes, or enjoy them as a side to meats, fish and/or other vegetables.
Mustard Greens: These robustly peppery greens can be used in salads or cooked into pastas or lentil stews. Mustard greens are another member of the cabbage family and boast hearty amounts of vitamin C along with beta carotene, folate, calcium, and iron.