In partnership with our friends at Willo
Leafy vegetables are diet powerhouses. They can provide vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. They can also taste incredible in or on tenderly prepared salads, long-cooked braised meats, stews, quick stir-fries – the possibilities go further. To help you decide what to cook when you’re staring at a green supermarket wall, farmer’s market table, or CSA box, a pocket guide to our seven most popular vegetables with processing tips and recipes for making them try now.
ONE WORD ABOUT SOURCING
When it comes to vegetables, as with any food, sourcing is important. Before you wash, prepare, or cook, be sure to do your shopping well. While you can find most of the greens on our list in supermarkets, the specialties are fun to discover at farmers markets or in CSA boxes.
If you are looking for a truly extraordinary greens experience, Willo, a sustainable vertical farming service, is for you. The company was founded with righteous goals to end hunger, make agriculture more sustainable, and provide nutrient-rich products to support people’s overall health. Its vertical farming technology enables high efficiency: crops that are grown without soil and with little water are illuminated by LED lights, with the potential to provide over 200 times more food per hectare than traditional agriculture. It also offers full customization. You can manage your own field in Willo’s vertical farm, select your plants and monitor their growth through an app on your phone. Once harvested, they will be delivered to you either weekly or bi-weekly so that you can enjoy fresh, nutritious and delicious vegetables as often as you like.
There are some options that you already know and love, like spinach and kale; some less common varieties, such as Mizuna and Alamo beet greens; and some options that Willo cultivated himself. The Willo Genovese Basil is based on a variety that could hardly be grown outside of northern Italy (and far too fragile to import). Willo was able to recreate the growing climate of this incredibly special herb so that it can be grown and enjoyed all year round. Willo’s next farm is due to be launched later this fall, and it recently opened its membership to cover most of the major metropolitan areas.
We all remember the great kale boom of the 2010s. Today, kale is widely known and several varieties are available in most stores. (We use kale, lacinato kale, and red cabbage the most.) Like most savory greens, kale can take a lot of cooking. And although its taste is strong and slightly bitter, it goes well with other particularly strong, hot ingredients like garlic, chillies and vinegar. You can cook it quickly and hot, simmer it slowly and slowly, add it to stews, or roast or grill it to keep it crispy and charred.
Kale can taste great when used raw, and this robust texture makes for a salad that will last for hours, if not days, after serving. It just takes a little preparation so it doesn’t taste like roughage. Simply massage the kale with a little olive oil and let it sit for ten minutes so it softens slightly before you put the rest of the salad together and serve. If you don’t have time for it, cut it into thin slices, almost like a chiffonade, so it really soaks up the dressing and is more pleasant to chew.
One way to bypass the preparation for using raw kale in salads: opt for baby kale. It’s the same plant, just harvested earlier, so the younger leaves are smaller and the texture is much more tender. Use it like arugula or spring mix.
Spinach is one of the most popular greens in the world. It has a mild taste, is easy to prepare, and goes with almost anything. Ripe spinach leaves are larger and thicker, have a slightly earthy taste, and usually come with stems. These can be blanched, steamed, sautéed or cooked in soups and stews. Just make sure to wash them well and remove all the dirt. Baby spinach is usually better for salads because it comes without grains and with smaller, more tender leaves. Since baby spinach has a mild taste, it is almost imperceptible in smoothies.
If you’ve never tried Swiss chard, it’s somewhere between kale and spinach. Not quite as fibrous as kale, but certainly tougher than spinach. That makes it perfect for uses that might be in between when you need something delicate and sturdy at the same time. However, unlike kale, its stems are both tasty and nutritious and can be added to anything you cook along with the leaves. Or cut them off and put them in for later. If you can find baby chard, it’s delicious in salads. We prefer full-grown Swiss chard cooked – albeit gently. Try it sautéed, fried or steamed.
It may be common in grocery stores, but if you take a minute to think about it, arugula is pretty impressive. It has a delicate texture and a robust, peppery taste: a satisfying juxtaposition. Rocket in mixed salad is a favorite, in part because it compliments other vegetables. This pungent taste makes it a natural addition to hearty cooked items like pumpkin or cereals, or when added to pasta and pizzas at the last minute to gently wilt it. It’s also a believable substitute for basil in pesto.
When we think of kale, we usually think of a staple South American ingredient with a cooking tradition stemming from enslaved people of Africa. This method usually involves slow and slow cooking of the kale with flavorings like onion and garlic and cured meats like bacon or ham. This long cooking time not only makes the greens tender, but also brings out a subtle minerality in addition to this earthiness. The wait is totally worth it. There are many other ways to use kale as well. The texture is smoother than kale, but many of the same cooking instructions apply. We also had success using kale wraps and fermenting them.
Bok Choy is one of the easiest greens to love. And if you are new to Chinese cuisine, this is a wonderful ingredient to start with. It’s crisp, refreshing, and slightly sweet with a clean finish. It tastes just as delicious raw in a salad as it is sautéed, grilled or fried. Baby Pak Choi is a smaller variety that is widely available, but other varieties are also gaining popularity in western grocery stores. The sizes vary, as does the stem to leaf ratio, but they’re all tasty and fun to play around with.
If you like arugula, you will likely like mizuna. It’s a little less peppery with light citrus notes. The texture is similar to Frisée, with leafy tips and long delicate stems. Mizuna goes naturally with salads and is often used cooked or fermented in Chinese and Japanese cuisine. Cook it quickly and hot in the wok or add a handful to the soup just before serving.