Home Cook's Guide to Greens
Is there any sight more cheerful than a bouquet of leafy greens? They look so springy and full of vitality, a veritable green flag for health — hello, they say, get your nutrients here!
SoCal really loves its greens. We don’t need to be told they’re good for us: We already wrap our taco fixings in butter lettuce and add chard to everything, from smoothies to pizzas. We proudly break for salads.
So this guide is not here to convince you to squeeze a few more leafy greens into your diet, but instead, to increase your love with nerdy factoids, cooking tips, and a bunch of recipes. After all, it’s really easy to get into a deep, green rut. (Yes, kale Caesar salad, we’re looking at you.)
With that in mind, here’s a fresh look at five of our favorites.
Would you believe collard greens are actually a form of cabbage? Instead of curling into a ball, their Brassica leaves grow into broad, grey-green paddles. Eaten raw, collards are bitter and chewy — characteristics that can be delightful in a slaw or salad. But they cook up tender and mild, with that earthy sweetness you’d expect from a cruciferous.
Collard greens need to cook a bit longer than less hearty greens, and they love a little fat. The classic recipe, which has deep connections to African American and Southern foodways, is a long simmer with broth and a ham bone.
Could you braise it with chunks of pancetta instead? Yes, and we’d pile them on a biscuit. For the vegetarians, a simple braise in butter, garlic, and onion is nice too. Collard greens also like some spicy heat, so we’d toss them with pasta and red pepper flakes, sauté them with chorizo, or cream them with a chile-infused peanut sauce.
Yes, dandelion greens really are the humble and toothed leaves of the winsome yellow flowers that perennially spring up on our lawns. Does it make them seem fancier to know that they’re related to the noble sunflower? In any case, they have a bold flavor, tangy and wonderfully bitter, like endive or radicchio.
Dandelion greens are fantastic salad fodder, and we like to toss them with fruit and cheese to balance out their bitter notes, like peaches and blue cheese — or, for an earthy, mellow take, golden beets and chévre.
Of course, they’re also great wilted. Again, pairing them with cheese is a good idea, so we’d swirl them through a risotto or bake them into a tart with Gruyére. Similarly, they’re wonderful paired with a creamy bean: think fava beans, garlic, red pepper flakes, and loads of lemon zest.
How do we love butter lettuce? We love its iconic good looks: its leaves are broad and frilled at the edges, and they cluster loosely on the head, like a great big, green rosette. We love its crisp, tender leaves and mild, nutty-sweet flavor. We love that its heads are small — they’re far less likely to wilt away in the veggie drawer. But most of all, we love its versatility.
Butter lettuce leaves are the exact right size for a hamburger, and unlike many a flimsy green, they’ve got some presence, some tasty crunch. They’re also cup-shaped, so they’re perfect for filling with goodies, like a zippy larb made with Impossible Burger or a summery wrap made with ahi tuna and mango salsa.
Our favorite way to eat butter lettuce, though, is in a salad. Although the leaves are very tender, they’re also pretty hearty, so they stay nice and springy after you dress them — and they look wonderful in a bowl. For that reason, we’re loath to bury them in a bunch of ingredients. Instead, we go simple: imagine a butter lettuce salad of bacon, shaved radishes, croutons, and fresh herbs in a puckery Parmesan vinaigrette. So fancy, so delicious!
Lacinato kale goes by a handful of monikers: black Italian cabbage, cavolo nero, Tuscan kale, and the most fun of all, dinosaur kale. A kale by any other name would taste as peppery and full of tangy bite? Yes, lacinato kale is a fan favorite in our produce department and in the Gelson’s Kitchen. (Hey-o Jessica’s crunchy kale salad!)
Like collard greens, our friend lacinato belongs to the Brassica family, and has similarly tough stems — and thick, bumpy “dino” leaves. It hails from the Tuscan region of Italy, so no surprise, you’ll find it in traditional minestrone soups and white bean stews, like ribollita (and our vegan version of that classic). It also makes a light, bright pesto that’s great on everything from pasta to scrambled eggs.
Speaking of breakfast, our new favorite way to wake up is a skillet full of lacinato kale cooked in bacon fat, onions, and garlic, tossed with the crispy bacon, and topped with poached eggs and cornbread crumbles. Looking for something lighter? Try this green smoothie. On the later side of the day, we’ve also been enjoying kale in a chopped salad with Ambrosia apples and, for a heartier meal, a farro salad with pomegranates.
Deep burgundy and green leaves and stems of gold, pink, orange, purple, and red — hands down, rainbow chard is the most colorful of the greens. That might lead you to guess that it belongs to the same family as beets, and in fact it’s sometimes called beet spinach, leaf beet, or seakale beet. But is it Swiss? That’s a marketing ploy: French seed catalogues first called it Swiss chard to differentiate it from a cardoon, the artichoke’s stocky relative, and it stuck.
Rainbow chard is beloved for its great big, shiny leaves, which are tender, succulent, and quick cooking. Raw or cooked, they have an earthy saltiness that’s very pleasing. But the stems are tasty too — a bit like a very thin, very tender celery. We cook them with the leaves, or if we’re making something like a salad, we’ll reserve them for some future use: they’re fantastic grilled, they make a pretty quick pickle, and they add a nice flavor to veggie stock.
For an elegant side dish, we love to gently wilt the leaves in a punchy tarragon vinaigrette — so good with crispy salmon. Like its fellow greens, rainbow chard is also delicious with a little spicy heat, and we recently swirled it through a pasta with anchovies, chiles, pecorino cheese, and buttery breadcrumbs. Magnificent! But the end-all, be-all chard dish might be fritters, which are deeply comforting and so scrumptious. (Come hither, basil-mayo!)