Go Green: The Ins and Outs of Green Leafy Vegetables
The term greens refers to a variety of leafy green vegetables that can be served raw or cooked. Salad greens vary greatly in size, shape, color, and flavor. Some are sold as heads and some as individual leaves. Flavor and color often go together--mild, sweet, pale colored butter and romaine lettuce and spicy, bitter dark green watercress and arugula. Mild flavored greens are relatively neutral and pair well with just about any ingredients. Bitter and spicy greens lend themselves well to more intense flavors such as sweet fruit and ingredients higher in fat like cheese or bacon. Dark, leafy greens are extremely nutritious and very high in many vitamins and minerals.
Know Your Greens
Cooking greens are frequently used in the Asian and Mediterranean cuisines and are an important part of regional cuisine in the southern United States. Many, such as cabbage, mustard greens, dandelion greens, kale, and collard greens have strong or spicy flavors and some like escarole, chard, and spinach are a bit less intense.
All greens have a high water content and shrink in size, often by more than half, when cooked. For this reason, you must purchase a large quantity of greens to end up with a proper portion. The quantity of uncooked greens is deceiving and it is crucial to consider what the cooked portion will look like when adding oil or seasonings, otherwise you may end up with a very oily or over-seasoned dish. Some greens like spinach cook almost instantly and are best done so over high heat. Other greens, particularly those that have tougher leaves and stems, take substantially longer to cook and should be cooked at a lower temperature for a longer amount of time.
Choose the Perfect Green
When purchasing greens either to be eaten raw or cooked, it is best to choose those that are young and tender and are brightly colored and not wilted. You should avoid greens with dry, split stems, yellow or brown leaves, and those that are very wet or have rotted, mushy spots on them. Most greens are available fresh year round. Most greens are best eaten as close to purchase as possible and are best stored in a perforated bag in the refrigerator. Greens are mostly made up of water and tend to go bad within a few days of purchase.