This section covers the sturdier vegetables such as kale, chard, collards and bok choy whereas lettuces and baby greens are covered in Lighter Leaves. Typically, these greens encompass stems and leaves, both of which are edible and delicious. Many recipes focus on cooked preparations, although tougher leaves like kale are all the rage in raw salads these days. Every recipe here can also be made using leaves of other vegetables which often get discarded, such as beet, sweet potato, and turnip greens. While the roots of those vegetables typically get all the attention, it’s silly to discard their flavorful, nutrition-packed leaves when they’re just as good as the ones we spend money on!
The flavor of greens can vary considerably according to age and variety, but here’s a basic overview of the heartier types of greens. This is by no means an exhaustive list of edible greens – you may find many additional options at farmers markets and grocery stores – but hopefully this roundup can help you learn how to use unfamiliar new greens you may encounter, from amaranth to borage. Taste them - are they mild or assertive, bitter or cabbage-like? Once you’ve tried them, you can replace them in any of the recipes in this chapter with a sense of how the final dish will taste.
Sweeter, more neutral: all varieties of chard, bok choy, gai lan, beet greens, sweet potato greens, spinach (I'm referring here to the more mature, full leaf spinach that comes in bunches – milder baby spinach is covered in Lighter Leaves)
Cabbage-like (members of the Brassica family): all varities of kale, including Red Russian, Curly, Tuscan (also known as Cavolo Nero, Dinosaur, Black or Lacinato); collard greens, turnip greens
Spicer, more pungent: mustard Greens, radish Greens
Most heartier greens are sold in bunches rather than in bags or boxes like the Lighter Leaves. Once you get them home, remove any twist ties to minimize stem bruising, then store loosely wrapped in an unsealed bag in the refrigerator, with a paper or dish towel to soak up moisture if the greens are wet.
The longer your greens hang around. the stems and leaves will begin to wilt and the leaves will start to turn yellow. At this point, you’ll want to serve the wilted parts cooked, in a supporting role where texture doesn’t matter, like in Fridge Cleanout Frittata. Similarly, yellowed leaves (or leaves with holes, or other cosmetic issues) can be used in cooked dishes such as Bread Pudding or raw in Herby Green Sauce – the color won’t affect the taste. Once the greens start to turn brown, slimy, or smell funky – then it’s time to say goodbye.
In all too many greens recipes, the stems get ignored completely; it’s as if they never existed. And sure, if you’re making a light, raw salad, then it probably doesn’t make sense to include a heavier stem like from kale or collard greens. But if you’re cooking the greens – as you do in nearly every recipe in this chapter – we encourage you to treat the stems as an integral part of the vegetable. It’ll add more flavor and texture, and you’ll get more bang for your buck. If you’re not used to cooking stems, a good rule of thumb is to treat them the same way you’re treating the leaves, but with a longer cooking time. Add them to the pot first, let them soften a bit, then add the rest of the greens. Cutting them into small equally-sized pieces will shorten cooking times and help them cook more evenly. And if stems don’t really make sense in your dish, just chop them and put them in a bag. Pop them in your fridge or freezer, and they’ll be ready to add to gratin, bread pudding, soup or noodles in the future.