In collaboration with our friends in Willo
Leafy greens are dietary supplements. They can provide vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. They can also taste incredible in or on top of delicately dressed salads, long-cooked braised meats, stews, quick fries – and the possibilities continue. To help you decide what to cook when looking at a wall of a green shop, the farmers market table, or a CSA box: a pocket guide for our seven most beloved greens, with tips on how to work with them and recipes to try now.
A WORD ABOUT RESEARCH
When it comes to greens, as with all foods, sourcing matters. In front of you wash, prepare, and cooking, do some informed shopping. While you can find most of the greens on our list in supermarkets, it’s fun to explore the variety of specialties in the agricultural markets or through CSA boxes.
If you’re looking for a greens experience that’s truly exceptional, Willo, a vertical minded sustainable agricultural service, is for you. The company was founded with the right tools to help end hunger, make agriculture more sustainable, and provide nutrient-dense products to support people’s overall health. Its vertical farming technology allows for high efficiency: crops grown without soil and with little water, illuminated by LED lights, with the potential to provide more than 200 times more food per hectare of traditional agriculture. It also offers complete customization. You can manage your own field on Willo’s vertical farm by selecting your crops and monitoring their growth with an app on your phone. Once harvested, they are delivered weekly or biweekly so you can have the freshest, most nutritious and delicious greens whenever you want.
There are some options you already know and love, like spinach and kale; some less common types, such as mizuna and alamo turnip greens; and some options that Willo has cultivated himself. The Genoese Basil Willo is based on a variety that was almost impossible to grow outside of Northern Italy (and was too fragile to import). Willo was able to recreate the growing climate that this incredibly special herb needs in order to be able to grow and enjoy it all year round. Willo’s next operation will be launched later this fall, and recently opened its members to include most of the major metropolitan areas.
We are all reminded of the great kale boom of the 2010s. Now the kale is widely known, and many varieties are available in most boutiques. (The ones we use the most are curly cabbages, lacquered cabbages, and red cabbage.) Like most cordial greens, cabbage can handle a lot of cooking. And while its flavor is strong and tends to be slightly bitter, it plays well with others, especially bold and pungent ingredients like garlic, cucumbers and vinegar. You can cook it fast and hot, roast it low and slow, add it to stews, or roast it or grill it for crispiness and char.
Kale can taste great when used raw, and this sturdy structure makes a salad that can last for hours, if not days after dressing. It only takes a little preparation so that it doesn’t taste like stew. Simply massage the kale with a little olive oil and let it rest for ten minutes to soften slightly before assembling and dressing the rest of the salad. If you don’t have the time for it, slice it up thinly, almost like a chiffonade, so that it really absorbs the condiment and is more pleasant to chew.
One way to circumvent the preparation for the use of raw cabbage in salads: Go for the kale. It is the same plant, just harvested earlier, so the smaller leaves are smaller and the texture is much softer. Use it as you like arugula or spring mixture.
Spinach is one of the most popular greens in the world. It is sweet in taste, easy to prepare, and can accompany almost anything. The mature leaves of spinach are larger and stronger, with a slightly more earthy taste, and usually come with attached stems. These can be blanched, steamed, sautéed, or fried in soups and stews. Just make sure you wash them well and remove all dirt. Spinach is generally best for salads because it comes without the grain and with smaller, more tender leaves. Because baby spinach has a sweet taste, it is almost imperceptible in smoothies.
If you’ve never tried beetroot before, drop it somewhere between cabbage and spinach. Not as fibrous as kale but certainly harder than spinach. Which makes it perfect for applications that might fall into that trap, when you need something both delicate and robust at once. Unlike kale, however, its stems are both tasty and nutritious and can be added with leaves to anything you’re cooking. Or cut them up and salt them for later. If you can find baby chard, it’s nice in salads. We prefer fully grown cooked beets — even if never so sweet. Try it sautéed, fried or fried.
It may be common in grocery stores, but when you take a minute to think about it, the arugula is quite impressive. It has a delicate structure and a robust, peppery taste: a satisfying juxtaposition. Arugula in salad mixes is a favorite, in part because it complements other types of greens. That spicy flavor makes it a natural fit with hot cooked items, such as pumpkin or cereal, or when added to pasta and pizzas just at the last minute so that it melts delicately. It is also a credible stand for pesto basil.
When we think of collard greens, we usually think of them as an essential ingredient of South American, with a culinary tradition that originated from slave people in Africa. This method usually involves cooking the collard greens low and slow, with spices such as onion and garlic, and cured meat such as bacon or ham. That long cooking time not only tenderizes the greens, but highlights a subtle minerality next to that earthiness. Worth the wait. There are many other ways you can use collard greens, too. The structure is smoother than that of kale, but much the same cooking instructions apply. We have also been successful in using collard greens as wraps and fermenting them.
Bok choy is one of the easiest greens to love. And if you’re new to Chinese food cooking, this is a wonderful ingredient to start with. It’s crispy, refreshing and slightly sweet with a clean finish. It’s so deliciously raw in a salad that it’s sautéed, grilled or roasted. Baby bok choy is a smaller variety that is widely available, but other varieties are gaining popularity even in western boutiques. The sizes vary, with the ratio of stamen to leaf, but they are all tasty and fun to play around with.
If you like arugula, you probably like mizuna. It’s a little less peppery with bright citrus notes. The structure is somewhat similar to the frieze, with leafy tops and long tender stems. Mizuna is a natural measure for salads, and is often used cooked or fermented in Chinese and Japanese cuisine. Cook quickly and hot in a wok or add a handful to the soup just before serving.