Photo: Oxmoor House
SEASON: Although available in markets year-round, they are at their prime in spring and fall.
CHOOSING: Look for greens that are not wilted, have no physical damage, and have no areas that are turning yellow or brown.
STORING: Place greens in a produce storage bag in the coldest part of the refrigerator. Most will stay fresh for about a week.
GROWING: Most gardeners will have success growing mustard greens, collards, and Swiss chard in the spring and again in the fall. In warm, temperate gardens, greens will live through the winter. If your area has cool summers, you can grow them then, too.
Greens need full sun and rich soil to produce a lot of leafy growth very quickly. Space mustard greens 4 to 8 inches apart, collards 12 to 18 inches apart, and Swiss chard 8 to 12 inches apart. Apply a liquid fertilizer at planting time and again every three to four weeks.
In a well-prepared bed, sow seeds or set transplants two to four weeks before the last spring frost. Plants will mature in spring, making quite a display of light yellow flowers when the weather gets hot. Pull them out to make way for summer veggies.
For a fall and winter harvest, sow seeds or set out transplants in late summer or early fall. The plants will mature as the days get cooler. This is ideal for greens because light frosts actually sweeten them. Collards are the most cold-hardy of the bunch, and they frequently provide fresh greens all winter long. Harvest the outer leaves from the bottom, moving up, as soon as the leaves are large and the plant is established.
Taste: Pleasantly pungent and peppery
Best in: Salads and sandwiches. Also known as rocket, roquette, rugula, and rucola, the leafy green is a staple of Italian fare and often found in mesclun (young tender greens) salad mixes, where it behaves like a cross between lettuce and herb.
Smart substitutions: Watercress, endive, or young mustard greens
All-star nutrient: Potassium
Body benefit: Blood pressure balance
When cooked, a cup contains almost a third (1,309mg) of the potassium you need in a day. But you don't have to cook: These burgundy-veined beauties are softer in texture than other hearty greens and can be eaten raw.
Taste: Broccoli rabe, a cooking green popular in Italian cuisine, resembles tiny clusters of broccoli florets amidst bunches of leaves. The leaves have a slight bitter flavor.
Best in: The leaves are best cooked or sautéed to bring out the flavor (the stalks are too bitter to eat).
Smart substitutions: Chinese broccoli, dandelion greens, or Swiss chard
Taste: A good bit like cabbage-no surprise, since collards are a variety of cabbage
Best in: A variety of world cuisines. Southerners boil collards with bacon or ham hocks; Italians simmer them in bowls of minestra.
Smart substitutions: kale, mustard greens, or turnip greens
Taste: Prickly texture and slightly bitter taste
Best in: Use in salads or stir into soups and bean dishes.
Smart substitution: Escarole, mustard greens, arugula, or spinach
Taste: Like its relative, Belgian endive, it's slightly bitter
Best in: Young, tender leaves are good in raw salads. Because escarole is more delicate than other hearty greens, it doesn't require long cooking-nice if you want supper on the table in a hurry.
Smart substitutions: mustard greens, arugula, or spinach
Taste: Earthy and cabbage-y, like other cruciferous vegetables
Best in: Kales sturdy leaves are excellent sautéed and added to casseroles.
Smart substitutions: collard greens, Swiss chard, mustard greens, or spinach
All-star nutrient: Vitamin A
Body benefit: Vision health
Hard to believe how soft and silky this crinkly, supercrisp leaf turns when cooked. One cup offers more than a day's worth of A (481mcg), nearly double the amount in most other greens.
Taste: Mildly tangy
Best in: A mixture of baby greens, mesclun is good in raw salads.
Smart substitutions: Arugula, romaine, and spinach.
Taste: Spicy and peppery; the smaller the leaves, the sharper and hotter the taste
Best in: Stir-fries or sautés. To tone down mustard greens' assertiveness, blanch the leaves in salted water before incorporating them in a recipe.
Smart substitutions: Escarole, kale, Swiss chard, or spinach
Taste: Mildly bitter and earthy
Best in: A wide variety of salads and entrées. Be sure to wash thoroughly-spinach, especially more mature leaves, likes to hang onto grit.
Smart substitutions: For cooked dishes, Swiss chard, beet greens, kale, turnip greens, escarole; arugula in salads
All-star nutrient: Iron
Body benefit: Fatigue fighter
You get a lot of concentrated goodness in a very small serving: A pound of fresh, mild-flavored raw leaves (tender babies or tougher adults) cooks down to 1 cup, boasting a third (6.4mg) of a day's recommended iron.
Taste: Chard is in the same family as beet, so you may detect some beetlike flavor in the ribs. The leaves taste more like intensely flavored spinach.
Best in: Swiss Chard's hearty leaves are excellent added to cooked dishes such as casseroles, stews, and lasagnas.
Smart substitutions: Beet greens or spinach
All-star nutrient: Vitamin K
Body benefit: Better bone health
Sturdy candy-colored ribs have an almost celery-like texture, while the leaves are earthy and slightly sweet. A cup of cooked greens has six times your daily recommended intake (572mcg) of vitamin K. Chard is also naturally high in sodium, so use less salt when cooking.
Taste: Cooked, they're pleasantly pungent and bitter
Best in: Braises, stews, and sautés. Remove the tough central rib before cooking. Cooks often use a mix of turnip greens and milder greens like spinach or collards to soften the bitter flavor. Avoid cooking turnip greens in an aluminum pot or pan, which can give them an off flavor.
Smart substitutions: mustard greens, collards, kale, Swiss chard, spinach
Flavor: Peppery, with a touch of mustard (it's a member of the mustard family)
Best in: Salads, and as a garnish
Smart substitution: Arugula