When it comes to vitamins, minerals and disease-fighting chemicals, leafy greens are hard to beat. Leafy greens offer fibre, vitamins C, A and K, folate, calcium, potassium and phytochemicals such as beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin, which together may help guard against a number of chronic diseases. Natural chemicals in leafy greens, called carotenoids, have been shown to inhibit the growth of certain types of breast-, skin-, lung- and stomach-cancer cells. A steady diet of leafy greens may also offer protection from ovarian cancer.
Eating more leafy greens might also ward off heart attack and stroke. They are also good for your eyes: lutein and zeaxanthin are antioxidants that are believed to protect the eye's lens and retina. These antioxidants may also help forestall age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in older adults. The sizable vitamin K content in leafy greens may also help your bones, since higher intakes of vitamin K have been linked with higher bone densities in women and a lower risk of hip fracture in women and men.
Arugula [ah-ROO-guh-lah] This mildly bitter, aromatic lettuce has with a peppery mustard flavour, akin to horseradish or some cress varieties. It is also known as rocket, roquette, rugula and rucola (FLC). It grows wild in Asia and the Mediterranean region. While arugula has long been popular with Italians, North American palates may not be accustomed to its relatively strong flavour. Its flavour is particularly strong in mature leaves, so add to salads with discretion. Young leaves may be used more freely.
Arugula resembles radish leaves and is sold in small bunches with roots attached. It may be found among the salads or fresh herbs in the produce section. The leaves should be bright green and fresh looking. Arugula is highly perishable. It should be tightly wrapped in a plastic bag and should be refrigerated for no more than 2 days. It may also be kept immersed in cold water. Wash thoroughly just before using, since its leaves can hold a significant amount of grit. Discard any discoloured leaves.
Aside from salads, arugula is excellent in soups and sautéed vegetable dishes. It is a rich source of iron and vitamins A and C. It can be ground with garlic, pine nuts and olive oil as a pesto-like dressing for pasta. Its distinctive flavour contrasts well with grilled goat's cheese. Add a leaf or two to sandwiches, or loosely pack into pita break pockets with tomatoes, avocado, peanuts and bean sprouts.
Did you know?
- In classical Rome, arugula was cultivated for its leaves and seeds and used as a flavouring. The seeds can be used to produce an oil. It may even have been used for its alleged aphrodisiac properties.
Butterhead lettuce Butterhead is one of two varieties of head lettuces, along with crisphead. Bibb and Boston are the most well-known members of the butterhead family. They have small, round, loosely formed heads, with leaves that are soft and buttery in texture and pale green to yellow-green in colour. Both have a sweet and succulent flavour. Bibb, which has smaller heads that Boston, is highly prized by gourmets. Take extra care washing butterhead lettuce since the leaves are quite tender.
Chicory, Endive and Radicchio Chicory, endive and radicchio are members of the same botanical family, and the names are often interchanged. There are 3 main varieties of endive: Belgian endive; curly endive; and escarole.
Chicory Chicory has curly, bitter-tasting leaves, and resembles early endive. The leaves are often used as part of a salad or cooked as greens. It is available year-round. Choose leaves that are brightly coloured and crisp and store, refrigerated and unwashed in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
Did you know?
- Roasted chicory, also known as succory, is used as a coffee substitute or as an "extender", adding body and aroma to some coffees.. It is made of the roasted, ground roots of some varieties of chicory. Popular in Louisiana, this coffee-chicory blend is often referred to as "New Orleans" or "Creole" coffee.
Endive [EN-dyv; AHN-deev; ahn-DEEV] Belgian Endive: Also known as French endive and witloog (white leaf), consists of a small, cigar-shaped head of cream-coloured, tightly packed leaves, with a slightly bitter taste. To keep the leaves from turning green, it is grown in complete darkness, in a labour-intensive growing technique known as blanching. The paler it is, the less bitter its flavour. Belgian endive is available from September to May, but its peak season in November.
When buying, heads should be smooth, crisp and firmly-packed, with leaf-tips coming to a close. Leaves should be pale with yellow-green tips. Use Belgian endive within a day of purchase, and keep it refrigerated, wrapped in a paper towel inside a plastic bag until use to prevent it from being exposed to light and becoming bitter.
Belgian endive can be served cold in a salad or cooked through braising or baking. The leaves have a shape that make them a natural choice for dipping, along with other crudités.
Curly Endive and Escarole: Heads of curly endive are loose, with lacy, green-rimmed outer leaves that curl at the tips. The compact heart of the head is off-white. The leaves have a prickly texture and slightly bitter taste. Escarole's leaves are broad, slightly curved and pale green. They have a milder flavour than Belgian and curly endive.
Escarole and curly endive are available year-round. Their peak season is June through October. Avoid heads with discolouration or insect damage; choose those with fresh, crisp texture. Store them tightly wrapped, in the refrigerator, for up to 3 days. Both are primarily used in salads, but can also be cooked briefly and eaten as a vegetable or in soups.
Radicchio [rah-DEE-kee-oh] Radicchio is a red-leafed Italian chicory, which comes in several varieties. Their leaves may be variegated or speckled and come in shades of pink to dark red and green. The most popular and widely available North American varieties are Verona and Treviso. Radicchio di Veronia has burgundy-red leaves with white ribs. The heads are small and loose, similar to butterhead lettuce. Radicchio di Treviso comes in tighter, more tapered heads and the leaves are narrow and pointed. The leaves' ribs are also white, but the leaves themselves range in colour from pink to dark red.
Dandelion greens Dandelions are a member of the sunflower family. They are in fact cultivated, which may seem strange at this time of year, when the plentiful weed is the target of many herbicides and avid gardeners. Their bright green leaves have a slightly bitter, tangy flavour, which makes them great in salads or cooked like spinach. Dandelion greens may be available in grocers throughout the winter, but the best and most tender greens are available in early spring, before the plant begins to flower.
The dandelion greens sold in markets are cultivated for eating; they longer and more tender than wild greens. If you choose to pick wild dandelion leaves from lawns or meadows, be sure that the area has not been treated with lawn chemicals such as weed killer or fungicides. Also avoid dandelions growing near heavily traveled roads.
Choose dandelion greens that are bright green and with tender-crisp leaves. Avoid leaves that are yellowed or have wilted tips. Dandelion greens can be refrigerated, tightly wrapped in a plastic bag, up to 5 days, and should be washed thoroughly before using. They are an excellent source of vitamin A, iron and calcium.
Did you know?
- The term dandelion comes from the French dent de lion, or "lion's tooth", referring to the jagged edges of the plant's leaves.
- Dandelion roots can be eaten as vegetables or roasted and ground to make something similar to coffee.
Mâche Also known as corn salad, field salad, field lettuce and lamb's lettuce, mâche is native to Europe, but can also be found growing wild in American cornfields. It has narrow, tender, dark green leaves with a mild, tangy, nutlike flavour and velvety feel. Highly perishable, mâche is considered a gourmet green and can be expensive and hard to find. It is usually sold bunched together with its roots.
Use mâche within a day or two of purchase, since it does not keep well. It should be washed and drained, removing all excess moisture before being stored in an airtight plastic bag.
Mâche is excellent mixed with a variety of other lettuces in a salad; and since it is costly, this may be the best way to enjoy it in a salad. It can also be steamed or cooked like spinach, to be used in soups and stuffings.
Did you know?
- The term "mâche" comes from the French mâcher, meaning "to chew."
- The term "lamb's lettuce" comes from its resemblance to the size and shape of a lamb's tongue.
Watercress Watercress is a member of the mustard family. It grows in shallow gravel beds, fed by cool running water, so it can be found growing wilds in and around streams and brooks. It has small, crisp, dark green leaves. Watercess has a distinctive, peppery and slightly bitter taste. It is available throughout the year.
Buy watercress that has crisp leaves with deep, vibrant colour. Leaves should not be yellowing or wilting. To store for up to five days, refrigerate in a plastic bag; some suggest placing bouquet stems-down in a glass of water covered with a plastic bag. Wash and shake dry just before using. Use watercress in salads, sandwiches, soups and cooked dishes. It also makes an excellent garnish, as a change from parsley.
Did you know?
Unless they're advertised as pre-washed, all greens need to be washed before using them. For some, this means a light rinsing (e.g. tender mâche and butterhead) and for others, a more vigorous and thorough cleaning is needed to remove all dirt, sand and insects that may have gotten lodged inside the head. Many greens also need to be trimmed of thick stems.
To cut or tear? The Raw Goods
Tearing greens produces a rustic, appealing appearance. Cutting them is often fine, as long as you use a stainless steel blade; other knives may cause blackening of the leaves and alter the flavour. When cutting greens, do so shortly before serving to minimize blackening.
Firmer, darker and more stongly flavoured greens benefit from cooking briefly, since this mellows their flavour.
Braising: Before braising, first blanch washed and trimmed heads of greens in boiling water for approximately 2 minutes, then cool under cold running water. Halve heads lengthwise, place in heavy skillet and add just enough water or broth to almost cover them. You may add lemon juice, onion, garlic or herbs for flavour. Cover pan tightly and simmer until tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove cooked greens and reduce the cooking liquid to a sauce.
Grilling: Halve heads of greens such as radicchio, lengthwise, and brush lightly with oil; grill until softened and beginning to brown, about 6 to 10 minutes.
Sautéing: For sturdy lettuce or greens such as escarole, chicory, radicchio and watercress, cut heads in half or separate into leaves or small bunches. Sauté in broth and chopped garlic until wilted, about 5 minutes. Season with herbs or sprinkle with grated Parmesan.
Steaming: After washing greens, do not dry them; the water that clings to individual leaves should be sufficient to steam them. Place wet leaves in a tightly covered skillet and cook over low heat, shaking the pan occasionally, until leaves are just tender, about 8 to 15 minutes. Alternatively, place whole heads of greens in a vegetable steamer and cook over boiling water. Season with lemon juice and herbs.
You can enjoy any of these greens in salads - either on their own or in mixes. Experiment with mixtures of salad greens, different dressings, fruit, nuts and seeds: The possibilities are endless! To counteract the bitterness of some varieties of salad greens, serve with fruit such as oranges or grapefruit.
There are also numerous ways to enjoy salads greens that have little or nothing to do with salads! Try some of the following tips and think outside the bowl.
Healthy Ways to Enjoy Salad Greens:
- Chop finely any cookable greens and add to omelettes, flans and other egg dishes for extra interest in breakfast and brunch spreads.
- Watercress sandwiches: Mix finely chopped watercress with light mayonnaise, salt and pepper and spread on whole grain bread.
- Use some salad greens in soups, stir-fries and stews: leftovers make great lunches. Good candidates for cooked greens include arugula, endive, dandelion greens, mâche and watercress.
- Sautée arugula in olive oil for a vegetable side dish.
- Make arugula pesto and serve over pasta.
- Boil dandelion greens until tender, changing the water once during boiling to mellow their tangy taste. Garnish with butter or lemon juice.
- Serve salad greens alongside your main course - either as a salad or as a vegetable side: steamed; braised; or stir-fried.
- Add Belgian endive leaves to your crudité platter.
- Try a dandelion cheese square.
- Prepare a dandelion fruit salad with oil, mild vinegar, garlic, herbs and spices (optional). Use torn dandelion and lettuce leaves, bite-sized apple and orange pieces, and toasted nuts.
- Blend mâche into a green dip for crudités: Place a few bunches of mâche in a blender and blend until smooth; add an egg yolk, salt and pepper and blend well. In a separate bowl, beat two egg whites to soft peaks, fold in yolk blend and bind with a spoonful of light cream.
Chicory, Endive and Radicchio:
- Food Network Encycolpedia