Leafy greens like arugula, collards, kale, mustard greens, Swiss chard and spinach run the gamut from mild- tasting to hearty to spicy hot. They may be available in other seasons, but cold weather really brings out their flavor. The vegetables are all super nutritious and versatile to cook with.

“People tend to shy away from winter greens because of their assertive flavor, but I think it's their strong suit and use it for inspiration when preparing them,” says FoodFit Executive Chef Bonnie Moore.

The leaves of young, tender greens can be used raw for a garnish, in salads, or lightly steamed or sautéed. Tougher, more mature leaves need to be cooked a little longer and lend themselves to simmering, braising and pureeing. Trimming any thick stems, and cutting the greens into pieces can help speed the cooking time.

“When kale is tiny, you just barely need to wilt it. And when it’s older and bigger, you change your methods. It goes into the soup. Maybe it gets pureed. It needs to cook longer,” explains Alice Waters, famed chef of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif. (Read more from Alice Waters.)

The deeper flavor of winter greens makes pairing them with other foods interesting. For instance, arugula is more peppery and mustard greens are more fiery and dried fruits wonderfully balance these spicy tones. Smoky bacon or ham is a great match for collards.

“Most greens have some bitterness, so they naturally pair well with anything equally sweet, smoky or sour,” says Chef Moore. For more ideas check out Flavors that Love Greens.

Greens owe their lovely hue to the health-promoting antioxidant beta-carotene. They are also rich in vitamin C and folate. Some greens, notably collards and turnip greens, supply calcium, which is unusual in vegetables. Cooked greens also offer fiber and iron.

The latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans, Uncle Sam’s prescription for healthy eating, recommend that people on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet eat three cups of dark green vegetables each week.

Wash three cups of greens, such as spinach, kale, chard, arugula or a combination, remove any tough stalks and cut into two inch- pieces. Bring a 1/4-cup vegetable stock and a tablespoon of finely chopped shallots to a simmer in a skillet over medium-high heat. Cook for one minute. Add the greens and salt and pepper to taste. Toss quickly until the greens are barely wilted. Serve.

Fruits: figs, pears, prunes, raisins, especially golden raisins
Nuts: almonds, pecans, pine nuts, walnuts
Spices: black pepper, chili, garlic, nutmeg
Sour notes: lemon juice, vinegar, especially sherry vinegar
Savory: bacon, ham, strong cheeses such as blue, feta, Parmesan

Wash greens only when you’re ready to use them—they’ll keep better in the refrigerator unwashed. Also, the water that clings to greens after being washed helps them to cook more evenly and quickly.
A splash of lemon juice or vinegar really heightens the flavor of most greens. Likewise a bit of chili pepper.
Spinach can be lightly steamed in the microwave for 30 seconds up to two minutes for an incredibly quick and healthful side dish.

  1. Greens and Figs with Blue Cheese
  2. Garlicky Kale
  3. Herbed Lemony Swiss Chard
  4. Chickpea and Spinach Soup with Shrimp, Almonds and Garlic
  5. Lamb with White Beans and Arugula

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