A Visual Guide to Leafy Greens: How to Cook and Store Them

A Visual Guide to Leafy Greens: How to Cook and Store Them

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You know all about kale, the hearty, green superfood making its way onto every menu and sweatshirt. It's so popular yet, somehow, it never makes it into your grocery basket. Or maybe it does, but you end up watching it die a slow, wilt-y death in your refrigerator. Good news: Your relationship with greens (not just kale) changes today.

Gone are the days of being overwhelmed in the produce aisle and not knowing what to do with the goods when you get home: Properly identify each one, understand the best methods for storing them so they last, and start cooking. We promise these tips will change the way you look at (and eat) those green guys.


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You'll find the versatile, peppery salad green in some lettuce mixes, but its sharp flavor really makes it a great standalone option when dressed in a punchy vinaigrette. Better yet: You can sauté and chop arugula, just like spinach, and add it to creamy pasta dishes for extra bite. Fun fact: Brits and Aussies call arugula “rocket.”Next time you're at the salad bar go ahead and say, “I'll have a rocket salad, please.”

Beet Greens

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The next time you're wondering if you should keep those stems? The answer is YAS. They look tough, but these greens actually cook to tender pretty quickly, whether you steam or sauté them. If you want to add more flavor to wilted or raw beet greens, go with a squeeze of citrus, minced raw shallots, or a Dijon mustard-based vinaigrette.

Bok Choy

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Who doesn't love adding small baby bok choy leaves to a wok for a better-than-restaurant-quality Asian stir-fry? It's so mild and tender, making it easy to cook down, plus with baby bok choy, you don't need to spend time tearing apart the leaves into bite-size pieces. The stem and leaf can be torn from the base and placed whole into any cooking pan, which will give it a crunchy texture. If you buy large bok choy, the mom and pop of the bok choy fam, give yourself a little more time to rip into smaller pieces, just like you would with chard or kale.

Collard Greens

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Similar to Mr. Popular (kale) in heft and nutrition, collards have a more assertive, slightly bitter flavor and a chewier texture. Collards require cooking-braise, steam, or stir-fry-to break down some of the toughness of the leaves, but they're also amazing for rolling up your favorite sandwich ingredients when you're going easy on the bread.


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Don't be fooled: It looks like a dark head of lettuce, but escarole has slightly thicker leaves and a distinctive bite that lends robust flavor to salads. Escarole sautéed with garlic, olive oil, and cannellini beans is a classic combination, especially in a warm, hearty soup.


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The celebrity of dark, leafy greens, kale has a mildly bitter bite when eaten raw, but the flavor mellows when sautéd with a little olive oil (just be sure to chop it or tear it finely). Kale chips (kale leaves tossed with olive oil and roasted at 350 degrees until crispy) will change the way you think about any leafy green. Or try this simple sauté combo: kale + garlic + olive oil + red wine vinegar. Boom, your side dish is ready.

Mustard Greens

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These greens have a spicy, peppery kick that pairs well with acids, such as vinegar or lemon juice, when cooked. Asian-inspired accents (soy, sesame oil, garlic, rice vinegar) and Southern flavors (bacon, ham hocks, beans, onions) are also a good… no, a great match.

Romaine Lettuce

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There are umpteen varieties of lettuce, but as a general rule of thumb, the darker and thicker the leaf, the more nutritious it is. (Sorry, iceberg.) Think beyond the salad bowl and use hearty lettuce leaves to make Korean-style lettuce wraps with stir-fried sesame chicken.


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Popeye's favorite food packs 5.36 grams of protein per cup (cooked), making it one of the most protein-rich veggies out there. Spinach has a mildly bitter flavor that pairs well with accent flavors of bacon, lemon, garlic, black pepper, or sesame seeds. Don't be afraid of the fresh spinach bunches. Even though they have a little dirt on them, they'll probably be more flavorful than the baby leaves in a plastic container (although those are super convenient for smoothies).

Swiss Chard

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Think of chard as the lighter, more tender cousin of kale-these mild leaves taste similar to beet greens and spinach, and the crunchy, slightly sweet stems might remind you of bok choy. Like most greens, garlic and chard are a good combination, but you can also punch up the flavor of sautéed or steamed chard with a few dashes of balsamic or red wine vinegar, or dare we say crushed red pepper flakes?

Turnip Greens

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Yes, turnips. (You can eat the greens of almost any root vegetable, including carrots and parsnips). Turnip greens have a slightly peppery bite, giving your taste buds a little more excitement. Cook them with black-eyed peas, ham hocks, onions, or bacon. FYI: This image shows the turnip greens growing back; eventually they will look similar to the beet greens.

How to Shop for the Best-Quality Greens

When you're at the market or grocery store, you want to look for fresh greens: crisp, rich in color, and not wilted.Avoid any bunch with slimy or yellowing or brown leaves: They will taste bitter when cooked and also might cause the whole bunch to spoil faster than normal.

How to Store Greens So They Last

Before storing your greens, always remove twist-ties or bands around the stems. The tight packaging can can cause bruising and make the greens wilt faster (not good). Need more tips? Let's get down to the nitty-gritty (literally) of storage.

Root Vegetable Greens

  • If you buy a bunch of beet or turnip greens still attached to the root, always remove the greens from the vegetable before storing. If the greens remain attached, the leaves will slurp the moisture out of the root vegetable and make them soft.
  • Use these greens within three to five days of cutting from the root. (The vegetables will last in a cool refrigerator drawer for weeks, but these delicate greens will lose moisture and start to wilt within days.)
Hearty Greens
  • Hearty, thick greens (think: kale, collards, chard, spinach, mustard greens) should be washed before storing because they often hold more dirt and grit, which you don't want in your refrigerator. Swish them in water until the water runs clear.
  • Dry greens thoroughly-either in a salad spinner or by gently patting dry with a towel-and store them in a zip-top plastic bag with a damp paper towel to keep them fresh.
  • These greens should be used within five to seven days of washing.
  • Unwashed lettuce greens can be washed-swished around in cool water-before storing or before you use them in a salad.
  • If you wash before storing, dry the leaves thoroughly in a spinner or by gently patting dry with a towel. (Too much moisture will cause the leaves to brown and turn slimy faster.)
  • Store lettuce in a zip-top plastic bag (or the plastic container they're packaged in) to keep it fresh for five to seven days.

Don't Make This Mistake

Do not store leafy greens in thin grocery store produce bags, which are too porous to hold in moisture and keep greens fresh. We like reusable gallon-size produce bags like Neat-O's Farmers Market zipper bags. If you're thrifty, you can reuse clean, plastic spring mix lettuce containers a few times. Line with a damp paper towel and layer freshly washed and dried greens in the container. Lay a clean paper towel on top of the greens to catch any condensation that collects on the lid of the container. To keep the bottom layer from getting smashed, flip the container upside down every day (or so).

Time to Dig In

Newsflash: You can eat the tough stems of hearty greens-some are mild, such as chard and kale, and some are punchy, such as mustard and collards. Chop them into smaller pieces to help them cook evenly. If you want to remove the stems, fold the leaf in half lengthwise and tear the tough end of the stem away from the leaf. Stack several leaves on top of one another and roll. If you're eating the greens raw, thinly slice the leaves into ribbons and take a couple minutes to massage the salad dressing into the greens. This softens the texture. Looking to cook? Slice the leaves in one-inch pieces for a sauté or stew.