Robust in flavor and high in nutrients, greens are a welcome addition to the winter kitchen. You can toss raw, tender greens into salads or tuck them into sandwiches in place of lettuce. Sturdier greens can be steamed or sautéed and served as a healthful side dish. The leaves also make delicious additions to soups, omelettes and risotto. Represented by several different vegetable families, winter greens range in flavor from lemony sorrel to peppery turnip greens. For information on specific greens, click on the link at right.
Look for fresh, crisp leaves free of blemishes, yellowed spots or tiny insect holes. Do not buy greens if they are wilted or dried out. Small, young leaves will have a milder flavor, and more and more greens are now available as tender "baby" leaves. Look for greens tied in bunches or washed, chopped and sealed in plastic bags. (Even though the latter are prewashed, they should be rinsed well again before using.) Baby greens are sold in bulk or in plastic bags.
Although greens are available year-round in large markets, most are at their peak from late winter to early spring. Exceptions are turnip greens, in late fall; spinach, spring and fall; beet greens, summer and early fall; and Swiss chard, arriving in early spring and lingering through the fall.
Since greens will continue to draw nutrients and moisture from their roots after harvesting, trim off the greens and store them separately if you plan to eat the roots as well. Wrap unwashed greens in a clean, damp kitchen towel or damp paper towels, then cover them loosely with a plastic bag. They will keep in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days. Generally, the sturdier greens will keep for a longer period of time than the delicate ones, although their flavor may become stronger—and perhaps unpleasant—with age.
The textured leaves of greens often trap large amounts of dirt and sand, especially the leaves of darker varieties, so wash them well just before using. Fill the sink or a large bowl with cool water, immerse the greens, then lift them out, letting the grit settle at the bottom. Repeat a few times until no grit is left behind.
When stems are fibrous and leaves are tender, you'll want to remove the stems before cooking. Use a paring knife to cut away the wide, thick stems of tougher greens, such as chard or mustard. For thin stems of tender greens:
1. Gently fold a leaf in half lengthwise along the stem with the vein side out.
2. Holding the folded leaf in one hand, quickly tear the stem away along with the tough center vein.
Most tender greens, such as spinach and broccoli rabe, can be simply sautéed. Tougher greens, such as kale and chard, may need a quick blanch to tenderize them and remove some of their bitterness.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Companion: The A to Z Guide to Everyday Cooking, Equipment and Ingredients (Time-Life Books, 2000)