Leafy, nutrient-rich mustard greens, collards, and Swiss chard offer wonderfully unique texture and flavor that spice up any meal.

February 16, 2007
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

 Arugula Salad with Shrimp and Grapes
 Chicken-Arugula Focaccia Sandwiches
 Tomato Fettuccine with Shrimp and Arugula


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.

 Roasted Beet and Shallot Salad over Wilted Beet Greens and Arugula 
 Pasta with Beet Greens and Raisins
 Potato-Beet Gnocchi


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

 Broccoli Rabe and White Bean Soup
 Gomiti with Broccoli Rabe, Chickpeas, and Prosciutto
 Garlicky Broccoli Rabe


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

 Ham, Collard Greens, and Egg Noodle Bowl
 Collard Greens with Lima Beans and Smoked Turkey
 Sherry-Glazed Salmon with Collard 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

 Belgian Endive-and-Apple Salad
 Endive Stuffed with Goat Cheese and Walnuts
 Braised Fennel and Endive


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

 Escarole Soup with Ginger and Cilantro
 Escarole with Bacon and White Beans
 Escarole Salad with Melons and Crispy Prosciutto


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.

 Braised Kale with Bacon and Cider
 Dijon Chicken Stew with Potatoes and Kale
 Spinach and Kale Turnovers


Taste: Mildly tangy

Best in: A mixture of baby greens, mesclun is good in raw salads.

Smart substitutions: Arugula, romaine, and spinach.

 Grilled Chicken Breasts on Mesclun
 Mesclun and Romaine Salad with Warm Parmesan Toasts
 Mesclun with Grilled Onion, Apple, and Gruyére Cheese


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

 Warm Salad of Mustard Greens and Black-Eyed Peas
 Winter Greens and Potato Casserole
 Greens-and-Cheese Pie (Hortopita)


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.

 Autumn Apple and Spinach Salad
 Creamed-Spinach Gratin
 Hearty Beef, Pasta, and Spinach Minestrone


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.

 Spicy Swiss Chard with Lemon
 Swiss Chard Spanakopita Casserole
 Ziti with Chard


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

 Turnip Greens
 Sicilian-Style Greens over Polenta
 Turnip Green and Shiitake Mushroom Calzone with Smoked Cheddar


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

 Broccoli, Orange, and Watercress Salad
 Citrus Salad with Shrimp and Watercress
 Roasted Potatoes with Tangy Watercress Sauce