When the days get short, and the nights drop below freezing, the selection of fresh produce plummets. Unlike at the peak of summer when you could stock your entire fridge with local fruits and veggies, in the winter you're lucky to get your hands on much at all. Root vegetables and dark, leafy greens are the name of the game - but fortunately if you educate yourself a bit, you'll find that there are a lot of leafy green veggies that actually hit their peak in this season, and with a variety of ways to prepare them they’ll never get old.
So what greens should you seek out? The list is surprisingly long! Kale - a sharp, peppery, and sometimes slightly bitter green - is probably one of the best-known leafy greens, and seems to be making quiet a surge in recipes and restaurants these days. For some people, even the thought of consuming such a tough, fibrous vegetable seems unappetizing, but the truth is if prepared correctly, kale and its counterparts can take on a whole new flavor.
In addition to kale, other greens are plentiful as well. Those include chard, collard greens, escarole, mustard greens, and beet greens - which often come attached to the beet itself, and that's a great dual-purpose buy.
Beets are a popular winter vegetable, known for their vibrant red hue and their earthy flavor. They're certainly an acquired taste, but simply roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper, and perhaps tossed with a few crumbles of goat cheese, they become a tasty and well-balanced dish. But did you know that you can eat the entire beet plant? That's right - the greens are just as good! They too have a rich, earthy flavor, and can be prepared sautéed or added to soups and stews, and add a nutritional punch to any meal. And a little fun fact - if you're unsure what color/type of beet you're eating, the color of the veins in the leaves will tell you the color of the beet flesh!
Chard (commonly known as Swiss Chard, even though it's roots actually trace back to Sicily) is a member of the beet family, and has large, shiny ribbed leaves. The veins of the leaves come in a variety of colors, including red, white and yellow. The flavors range from mild to bold, mostly depending on the color of the veins - white veins produce leaves with a flavor reminiscent of spinach, while colored veins have a stronger, earthier flavor similar to beet greens.
Collard Greens are very popular and bountiful in the South, where they are commonly served on New Year's Day with black-eyed peas. They are characterized by their broad, flat leaves. This very dense, fibrous green tends to keep its shape and volume when cooked down, unlike many of the other greens mentioned here. They have a neutral taste which makes them a great vehicle for tasty sauces or other flavors in a dish.
Escarole is a type of chicory that looks very reminiscent of a leafy lettuce, with tender green leaves. Because of its more delicate nature, it can be eaten both raw in salads, as well as cooked in soups or pasta dishes. It has a hint of bitterness, so it's well paired with other foods that can balance it out.
Mustard Greens have a bold, peppery flavor that is popular around the world in a variety of different types of cuisine. They are best in dishes with plenty of flavor to counter their strong taste, but they are also nice paired with other milder greens. You can recognize them in the store by their frilly edges.
The best way to prepare these leafy greens is either to saute them to break down some of their tough fibers, or to add them to soups and stews, where they will cook down as the dish comes together. They're also quite good in casseroles, pasta dishes - and really anything you're adventurous enough to try!
What's your favorite way to cook with leafy greens?