Glorious Cooking Greens—From Collards to Turnips

  • 01 of 17

    Cooking Greens

    Greens at the Market
    Mix of Cooking Greens. John Burke/Getty Images

    Cooking greens range from the very tender and quick-cooking spinach to the hearty fibrous varieties of kale. See the difference and learn how different—and yet similar—they are here.

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  • 02 of 17

    Beet Greens

    Beet Greens
    Beets With Their Greens Attached. Dr. Sue Atkinson/Getty Images

    Beet greens are almost only available when attached to freshly dug beets as shown above. Beets with their greens attached are, in this writer's opinion, one of the great deals (two for one!) of buying vegetables at farmers markets. If you don't cook them that same day, be sure to separate the greens from the beets and store them separately - the beet roots will continue to drain energy from the beet greens if you don't.

    Even with this precaution, beet greens don't stay fresh very...MORE long, so you'll need to use them within a day or two. Use them as you would chard leaves but note that the greens from red beets will stain things (including lighter vegetables) a lovely shade of pink. Or use them with the beets they helped grow in this Beet Greens Salad.

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  • 03 of 17

    Collard Greens

    Collards at Market
    Collard Greens. Jupiterimages/Getty Images

    Collard greens are mild, earthy, and delicious when treated well. They have broad leaves with solid, firm veins running through them. They have a strong, vegetal flavor and a remarkably hearty texture. They don't break down easily, so they are good to use when you want a green that doesn't lose its shape and texture.

    How to Buy Collard Greens

    Before you cook them, you need to buy them. Look for dark green leaves without any yellowing, browning, or wilting. Collard greens should be quite...MORE stiff, almost like fans.

    How to Store Collard Greens

    Store collard greens like all greens, wrapped loosely in plastic in the fridge. Rinse collard greens thoroughly in water before using.

    How to Cook Collard Greens

    Collard greens are famously good when cooked with smoked meats, bacon or sausage in particular. Garlic, chiles, and anchovies are other strong flavors that stand up to and bring the best out in collard greens.

    Traditionally, collard greens are cooked an exceptionally long time—at least an hour if not more—a process that fuses the flavors of the greens with cooking aromatics or liquids. If you don't want to cook them that long, you can try blanching them first and then sautéeing them like spinach or chopping them up and adding them to soups. You can also use them, once properly cooked, in dishes like Greens With Yogurt & Cumin.

    Or, give them fast sautée to highlight their nutty flavor or a slow braise that teases out their earthy sweetness, that's how to cook collard greens.

    Try collard greens in these recipes:

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  • 04 of 17

    Curly Kale

    Kale (a.k.a. Curly Kale). Photo © Molly Watson

    Straight-up kale has broad leaves with wonderfully curly edges that are a deep green color. Kale is usually cooked a long time or blanched in salted boiling water before being used to tenderize it, reduce its bitterness, and set its beautiful color.

    The hearty nature of kale helps it stand up to long cooking times, making it a great fit for dishes like Greens With Pepper and Ginger.

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  • 05 of 17

    Dandelion Greens

    Bunches of Dandelion at Farmers Market
    Dandelion Greens. Photo © Bill Boch/Getty Images

    Yep, dandelion greens are the green leaves from the pesky lawn and garden intruder. They are earthy, nutty, and, quite frankly, bitter. They have a sharp flavor much like radicchio, but more so.

    The variety of dandelion green cultivated for sale at markets and grocery stores is milder than the intensely bitter and mineral-tasting garden weed. Do note, however, that those "weeds" are perfectly edible, if you want to tame their bitter attitude.

    How to Buy Dandelion Greens

    At the market, look...MORE for stiff leaves with pointy, fine "teeth." Avoid any bunches of dandelion greens with any yellowed leaves or slime-y stems. In the garden, choose perky green leaves and only use leaves from lawns and gardens that aren't treated with pesticides or other harmful chemicals.

    How to Cook Dandelion Greens

    For people who find the bitterness of dandelion greens a bit much, you can always blanch them (cook them briefly in boiling salted water), squeeze the water out of them, chop them and lightly braise them with strong flavors like bacon, garlic, and chiles.

    Dandelion greens are also lovely served slightly wilted in warm salads, as long as a strong red wine or sherry vinaigrette and/or rich flavors like a poached egg, toasted nuts, or grated cheese round out their flavors. Try dandelion greens in place of frisée in this classic French bistro salad or in place of escarole in this salad with roasted beets. To soften the sharp bite of dandelion greens, slowly simmer or braise them with some bacon or pancetta.

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  • 06 of 17

    Kohlrabi Greens

    Kohlrabi & Greens
    Kohlrabi With Its Greens. Rosalind Simon/Getty Images
    Like turnip greens and beet greens, kohlrabi greens are the leaves from a vegetable that are tremendously, deliciously edible. Like beet greens, they are usually only available when sold attached to the vegetable in question. Use them in place of any hearty cooking green or cut into thin ribbons and serve with a strong dressing as a salad.
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  • 07 of 17

    Lacinato Kale (a.k.a. Dino Kale)

    Lacinato Kale (Dino Kale). Photo © Molly Watson

    Dino kale—also known as Tuscan kale, lacinato kale, black kale, or cavolo nero—is an incredibly hearty cooking green with dark, dark almost blue-green or even black-green leaves and lots of earthy, nutty flavor. The leaves are so hearty that even when well cooked they retain a wonderful firm texture.

    How to Buy Dino Kale

    Look for the biggest bunches with the widest leaves you can find. Look at the leaves carefully, you want very dark blue-green or black-green leaves with no brown or wilted bits.

    How...MORE to Store Dino Kale

    Store dino kale loosely wrapped in plastic in the fridge. When ready to use, be sure to rinse the leaves well. Unlike more tender greens, dino kale doesn't store better if washed first. The leaves are so sturdy that you don't need to be nearly as careful to avoid bruising and crushing as with other greens. No need to beat them up, but also no need to tenderly place them on top of the bag for the trip home.

    How to Cook Dino Kale

    Dino kale is particularly well suited to braising in a bit of broth. Or, simply blanch it in boiling water, then sauté it in olive oil with garlic and a chile or two, if you like. A sprinkle of salt and a squirt of lemon are nice, too.

    Here are a few of my favorite dino kale recipes:

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  • 08 of 17

    Mustard Greens

    Mustard Greens. Photo © Molly Watson

    Mustard greens are the greens of the mustard plant (shocking!). The leaves have a sharp, bright flavor that may just remind you of mustard seeds at their greenest and most piquant. You can mellow the flavor by blanching them in salted boiling water for a minute or two, draining, and then using. Or, sauté them as-is for a sharper flavor. While any hearty cooking green works in Greens with Mustard Seeds, using mustard greens has a delicious—and conceptual—appeal.

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  • 09 of 17

    Pea Greens

    Pea Greens. Photo © Molly Watson

    Pea greens, a.k.a. pea shoots, are the green vines that yield green pea pods later in the season. Look for these tangled masses of greens in late spring and early summer as farmers prune back their green pea plants and bring big tumbled masses to farmers markets and Asian markets. Some specialty markets are starting to carry them, but they are not well suited to traditional supermarkets since they go bad so quickly.

    Look for bright pea green vines without fresh, vibrant looking leaves. Avoid...MORE vines with brown or mushy ends or damaged leaves. Pea greens should be used within a day or two after buying them. In the meantime, store them loosely wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator.

    How to Cook Pea Greens

    Pea greens are at their best simply sauteed in a bit of olive oil or grapeseed oil. Some browned garlic or shallots add a nice bit of sweetness, and a squirt of lemon juice at the end highlight the bright, clean flavor of pea greens.

    Pea greens are also delicious added to soups, where their great leafy volume cooks down into lovely green ribbons.

    Before cooking pea greens, look them over and cut or snap off any tough ends. You can cut them up to make them easier to eat after they're cooked.

    Note that pea greens cook down in volume a tremendous amount—up to 90%. To cook them for a large group you may need to cook them in several batches.

    See Sautéed Pea Greens for a formal recipe.

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  • 10 of 17

    Rainbow Chard

    Bunches of Chard
    Rainbow Chard. Photo © Maximilian Stock Ltd./Getty Images

    Rainbow chard is a mix of Swiss chard, red chard, and golden chard. Use it as you would any other chard, but be ware that bunches that contain red chard will bleed just as red chard does and stain lighter vegetables pink. As with all chard, you can remove the center ribs for seprate cooking, if you like.

    Learn more about rainbow chard with this guide to All About Rainbow Chard.

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  • 11 of 17

    Red Chard

    Red Swiss Chard at Market
    Red Chard. Adam Jeffery Photography/Getty Images

    Red chard is like Swiss chard but with red stems and ribs. The chard-beet connection (they are extremely close relatives) really comes forward and gives red chard an earthier flavor than Swiss chard. Use as you would Swiss chard, but be ware that red chard will "bleed" a bit red and can stain lighter colored dishes and vegetables pink.

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  • 12 of 17

    Red Mustard Greens

    Red Mustard Greens. Photo © Molly Watson

    Red mustard greens are pretty much just like green mustard greens, except they have a pretty red tinge to them. Baby mustard greens are fabulous in salads, and the red ones add a lovely hue. When cooked red mustard greens lose their distinctive color as well as the sharp edge of their flavor. As with green mustard greens, you can mellow the flavor by blanching them in salted boiling water for a minute or two, draining, and then using. Or, sauté them without blanching first for a sharper, but...MORE still mellowed, flavor. Longer cooking leads to an increasingly mellow flavor.

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  • 13 of 17

    Russian Kale

    Russian Kale. Photo © Molly Watson
    Russian kale looks a lot like curly kale, but it has a bit of a red blush to it. Use it as you would kale, but be warned that it can leave a slight pink tinge to white and other lighter-colored dishes.
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  • 14 of 17

    Spinach

    Bunch of Fresh Spinach
    Spinach. istetiana/Getty Images

    Spinach is the quickest cooking of the greens listed here. Unlike other cooking greens, spinach is commonly eaten raw as well as cooked. Use in a salad—such as Blueberry Blue Cheese Spinach Salad—or toss into soups  (Beans & Greens Soup is a favorite).

    Get great Spinach Recipes here.

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  • 15 of 17

    Sweet Potato Greens

    Greens From Sweet Potato Plant
    Fresh Sweet Potato Greens. Dorling Kindersley/Getty Iages
    Sweet potato greens have a lovely, almost sweet, flavor. They have no discernible bitterness, and certainly none of the astringency one finds in chard or spinach. They work well in soups or stews, or simply and quickly sautéed in a hot pan with a bit of oil and a sprinkle of salt.
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  • 16 of 17

    Swiss Chard

    Fresh Silver Swiss Chard
    Swiss Chard. Maximilian Stock Ltd./Getty Images

    Swiss chard has very dark green leaves punctuated by bright white stems and ribs. The ribs are often cut out and used separately, either in the same recipe or for use in a different recipe (Roasted Chard Stems are delicious). The leaves are scrumptious simply sautéed; the ribs require a bit more cooking and are often boiled to tenderize them before being used in gratins, casseroles, and other dishes (one of this writer's favorites is Gnocchi With Ricotta and Chard). They can also be used...MORE much like celery, chopped and sautéed to add flavor to soups and stews.

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  • 17 of 17

    Turnip Greens

    Turnips & Greens
    Turnips With Their Greens. John Burke/Getty Images

    Turnip greens are the greens of turnips (you guessed that, right?). They are usually sold on their own, bunched like collard greens, but you can sometimes find them still attached to turnips, as pictured here. 

    They are a mild, easy-to-use green that cooks quickly. Add to soups, stews, or simply sauté them for a quick side dish. Turnip Soup With Its Greens is a favorite of this writer.