Fresh & Healthy: Getting to Know Leafy Greens

When I was growing up, I thought leafy green vegetables like spinach were the worst things in the world. Now, not only do I enjoy them, but they’re actually super trendy. Who knew kale would be such a culinary star?
You know these guys are good for you, right? Greens—think: kale, chard, spinach and mustards—are very high in vitamins (especially K and A), minerals like iron and manganese, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients. They’re a good source of fiber and extremely low in calories, just 35 to 40 calories per cup (cooked).
Leafy greens are having a moment not just because they’re super nutritious, but because they’re delicious, varied and interesting. Toss them with pasta, pine nuts and Parmesan cheese. Add them to casseroles. Make a salad. 
Because leafy greens thrive in cool weather—in fact, their flavor takes on more mellow sweetness—they’re perfectly in season locally in late fall through spring. Find interesting varieties of kale, both long-leafed and frilly, lots of spinach, and specialty greens like mustards and collards on farmers’ market tables.

Leafy Green Varieties

Swiss Chard — deeply green leaves with stems in rainbow colors, chard is the beauty queen of the leafy greens. Chard has a bright, almost citrusy flavor.
Collards & Mustard Greens — these are in the Brassica family of vegetables, related to kale, broccoli and cabbage. Large-leaved and firm textured, collards and mustards can have a bold, almost spicy flavor. They’re especially good simmered with a bit of liquid.
Kale — the social media star of greens, kale comes in a range of shapes and styles, from wide leafed varieties, to dark, pebbly Italian types like Lacinato or Toscano, to curly-leafed types. Both baby and full size kale are widely available.
Spinach — the superstar of the veggie world, nutritionally speaking, with extra-high levels of vitamins, managanese, folate, other minerals and phytonutrients. Spinach is very versatile.

How to Choose & Store

Locally grown greens will have better flavor and freshness, because they travel a short distance from farm to table. Greens of all types should not look bruised or wilted; organically grown greens may have a few holes from insect nibbles, which is perfectly fine. If you’re buying bagged baby greens at the grocery, look for the most recent “packed on” date, and avoid bags with wilted leaves or condensation.
Refrigerate fresh greens in a bag that’s loosely closed to allow air circulation. Don’t wash until ready to use.
Before cooking, remove any tough center stems by cutting or tearing away the leafy parts. Reserve the stems if you’d like; some people like to pickle chard stems, or to sauté chopped stems in olive oil before adding the leaves.

How to Use & Enjoy

More tender greens like chard and spinach need just a quick hop in a pan to wilt them; collards and mustards benefit from simmering in broth. To wilt, place a dry skillet over moderate heat; rinse the greens well and add them, with the water clinging to the leaves, to the pan and toss gently until just wilted. Or you can blanch greens quickly in boiling water.
You can also make pesto with leafy greens; just substitute kale or chard for some or all of the basil called for in your favorite pesto recipe.
You can use chopped cooked greens in lots of ways. Toss with cooked Italian sausage, sautéed onion and penne. Add to omelets, quiches or frittatas, or use wilted greens as a bed for poached eggs.
For salads, add baby spinach to almost any salad recipe in place of part or all of the lettuce called for. To make a kale salad, place a bunch of baby kale in a large bowl; drizzle with a bit of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and use your hands to rub the mixture together to soften the kale.

Simple Sauteed Greens

2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 bunches greens, stemmed & chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 chicken or vegetable stock
Juice of 1/2 lemon
In a large skillet, heat olive oil; add garlic and cook until garlic is soft and has flavored the oil. Add greens. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, using tongs to toss greens until they’re evenly wilted. Add stock, bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer 5 minutes. Stir in lemon juice.

Pasta with Chard Pesto and Creme Fraiche

5 large leaves Swiss chard, center stems removed
3 tablespoons sliced toasted almonds
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 Tbsp. creme fraiche
Pinch of aleppo pepper (or cayenne to taste)
1/2 pound dried pasta such as farfalle
Grated Pecorino Romano for serving
In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, pulse the chard leaves briefly to chop. Add almonds, garlic scapes (or garlic), olive oil and lemon juice; process until the pesto is smooth and velvety, about 2–3 minutes. Season with salt to taste. In a bowl, whisk together 4 tablespoons pesto and 2 tablespoons creme fraiche; add a pinch of aleppo or cayenne pepper to create just a spark of heat.
Cook pasta according to directions; drain, reserving 1/2 cup of hot cooking water. Return pasta to pot and, over low heat, toss with the pesto-creme fraiche mixture, adding a bit of cooking liquid to make a sauce and another tablespoon of pesto if needed. You want a generous coating of pesto on the pasta. Divide pasta among 4 serving bowls and top each with a generous shower of Pecorino.

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​Bryn Mooth is the author of the Findlay Market Cookbook, the editor of Edible Ohio Valley  magazine, and she also publishes a website called She loves cooking tasty and uncomplicated dishes, cultivating a small vegetable garden and shopping at the Tristate area's many local farmers markets. Saturday mornings, you'll find Bryn at Findlay Market bright and early, doing much of her grocery shopping for the week. She's pleased to be partnering with Healthspirations to share her recipes, how-tos and information about eating healthfully in Cincinnati!