From butterhead and bok choy to beet greens and more, these nutrient-packed leafy greens are about to shake up lunchtime.
Sure, a bowl of kale and spinach can provide amazingly high amounts of vitamins and nutrients, but the garden is full of so many other leafy greens just waiting for you to give them a try. From spicy arugula and earthy dandelion to rich options perfect for roasting like collards and Swiss chard, there are lots of options to toss in your next salad, pasta dish, or veggie bowl.
Check out this list of leafy greens (minus spinach and kale) below, plus how to use them for maximum flavour and health benefits.
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Yeah, that’s right, you can eat the leafy greens from these pretty weeds, and they’re packed with health benefits to boot. “Dandelion is a rich source of fibre and vitamin A, C, K, and B,” says New York-based dietitian Lisa Moskovitz. These bitter earthy greens are particularly delicious in hearty soups and fall salads.
“While not as sweet as the beet bulb, beet greens are still full of nutritional value including vitamin C, vitamin A, and up to 4 grams of belly-filling fibre per cup,” says Moskovitz. Sautée beet greens like you would spinach or kale, with a little fresh garlic and olive oil.
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Like beets, turnips are good for more than their roots. Their greens are packed with vitamin A and calcium, and one cooked cup of turnip greens has just 29 calories. They are great as baked “chips”-just toss with a little olive oil and salt and bake at 190°C for four to five minutes.
There’s nothing fresher than adding light, slightly bitter arugula to a recipe. “This Mediterranean green offers up tons of nutrients similar to most other leafy veggies, including vitamin A, C, and K,” says Moskovitz. Arugula’s unique flavour easily livens up any dish. Try the leafy green with sautéed shrimp and cherry tomatoes. It also makes a great pizza topping.
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This flavourful Southern staple delivers big with vitamins A, C, and K—all essential for keeping your heart healthy-and in one cooked cup of collards, you score more than 7 grams of fibre at only 63 calories. Ditch the bread and use this hearty leafy green to wrap your favourite turkey burger-it’s a low-carb alternative, says Moskovitz.
Swiss chard is juicier than other leafy greens and milder than red chard. Filled with antioxidants and vitamins A, C, and K, this fibrous green improves bone and heart health, and builds a strong immune system. Blend it into your favourite green smoothie or chop and toss with egg whites for a breakfast scramble.
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Raw mustard greens can be a little bitter, but are a great source of fibre, vitamins A and C, potassium, calcium, and vitamin K. To balance out the spiciness, steam the leafy greens and mix with one cup of ricotta. Then, bake the mixture at 220°C for 12 minutes—you’ll have a healthy, warm dip that’s much better than anything you’ll find at the market.
Classic romaine clocks at just 8 calories per cup but still sneaks in a good amount of vitamins A, C, and K, according to Moskovitz.
With less than 25 calories per cup, plenty of vitamins, and a good source of cancer-fighting antioxidants, Moskovitz says cabbage deserves another look. Try steaming green (or red!) cabbage or you can even make your own sauerkraut.
Iceberg lettuce is mostly water and doesn’t have much in the way of nutritional value, says Moskovitz. Still, iceberg is almost calorie-free, which makes it a smart option in salads if you want to use more high-fat toppings like cheddar cheese or walnuts but want to prevent calorie overload.
Mesclun, a mix of mild-tasting baby greens, is low in calories but high in nutrients, including iron and calcium. Try swapping it for romaine as the bed of your next salad and toss with fresh cherry tomatoes and sunflower seeds for an especially satisfying lunch.
This bitter but tasty red leaf has just 9 calories per cup but is high in antioxidants, as well as iron and magnesium. Chop to put in salads, or use the full leaves to create “boats” for cheese or light dips. Even better, grill the whole leaves to mellow out the bold spiciness a bit.
This delicate, peppery little green is an excellent source of nitrates, which can lower blood pressure and perhaps even improve athletic performance. “Watercress is considered a superfood for all its health wonders, including fighting against cancers and other degenerative diseases,” says Moskovitz. Fresh-flavored watercress can easily be snuck into tomato sauce or your favourite pesto recipe-just finely chop the leaves before mixing.
This Asian variety of cabbage is a lighter flavour than its red or green relatives. Plus, it has a healthy helping of vitamins A and C, as well as calcium and iron. Try this leafy green with steamed or stir-fried with a bit of olive oil and soy.
Known for its smooth, buttery taste, butterhead lettuce is low in calories and fat, but not nutritional value, says Moskovitz. Sweet-tasting butterhead lettuce is a good source of antioxidants and bone-building phosphorous. Because of its thick, hearty leaves, this leafy green variety makes a great bread replacement for wraps and sandwiches.
How to Make Your Leafy Greens Shine
The key to making any of the leafy greens from this list taste good? Treat them (aka flavour and prepare them) right. Here’s how.
Pair Down Their Bitterness
Assertive leafy greens, like arugula, endive, radicchio, mizuna, watercress, and dandelion, add a bold bite to dishes. “The key is to combine them with ingredients that are just as robust and that also soften their bitterness,” says Joshua McFadden, the chef and owner of Ava Gene’s and Cicoria in Portland, Oregon, and the author of Six Seasons: A New Way With Vegetables. Go for foods that have sweet notes, like balsamic vinegar, or creaminess, like cheese. Try a bitter-greens Caesar salad: “The rich dressing, the salty anchovies, and the fat of the cheese pair perfectly with the bite of the greens,” McFadden says. Or “char leaves in a pan with lots of saba, an Italian syrup, or reduced balsamic vinegar and a grating of sharp cheese.”
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Play With Texture
Pair cooked greens with a handful of fresh leaves to create a balance of soft and snap. “I like to cook kale in a pan for 10 minutes and then add some raw kale at the end, letting it cook down only slightly, about a minute or so,” says McFadden. “This adds crunch and a bright finish.”
Turn up the Heat
Kale, Swiss chard, and beet and radish greens are hearty enough to take on some spice. Sauté them quickly over high heat with garlic, chiles, olive oil, and some lemon juice, says McFadden.
Eat the Ribs
When you’re prepping chard, kale, and beet greens, don’t discard the thick center strips. They’re perfectly edible and add nice crunch. “Cut the ribs away from the leaves, and chop them. Cook them first with the olive oil, garlic, and chiles so they can soften, then add the leaves,” says McFadden.
Make Your Own Mix
Skip the packaged stuff. Instead, grab handfuls of different leafy greens at the market. Mix and match flavours, textures, and colors. For example, combine mesclun with a small handful of pea tendrils and a bitter green like radicchio. Next, add herbs, like basil, mint, and parsley, along with some celery leaves, which will give your dish a distinctively fresh, sharp flavour.
All your leafy greens need is a little vinegar and a drizzle of oil for the leaves’ taste to truly come through, says McFadden. Put greens in a big bowl with plenty of room to toss them. Slowly drizzle in some vinegar or lemon juice with one hand, and toss greens with the other hand. Do not drench them. Bite into a leaf—it should taste fresh and acidic. Season with salt and pepper. Taste again. Drizzle with good-quality extra-virgin olive oil, and toss to lightly coat.
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