When it comes to leafy greens, most of us rely on the basics like romaine, leaf lettuce and spinach week after week - and while all of these provide health benefits, there is a huge selection of leafy greens in the produce aisle that you could potentially be missing! Shaking things up can help keep things fun and interesting in the kitchen while also diversifying your nutrient intake.
You’ve all heard that it’s important to eat those green vegetables but it’s more of a motivation to try new varieties when you grow them yourself. Leafy green vegetables are a total nutrition powerhouse providing plant-based calcium, iron, and magnesium, plus vitamins A, C and K (vitamin K is necessary for blood clotting and bone health).
The varieties that I’ve listed below can be planted now in either a container pot on your patio or in your garden. You can buy seed packets at the hardware store, plant close to the soil surface and water daily. I have been growing these for years and they grow almost as fast as weeds!
If you don’t like the taste of one variety, try another. It might also be a matter of preparation method, so don’t hesitate to do some experimenting. Here are some of my favorites along with simple ways you can try incorporating them into your regular rotation:
Swapping arugula for romaine is a great way to spice up a salad (literally!). This leafy green has a peppery bite and delicate texture. It pairs perfectly with a light citrus vinaigrette and some shaved parmesan cheese (aka - the ultimate no hassle dinner side salad). It also makes a nice addition to the classic Calabrese Salad --sliced soft mozzarella cheese with sliced tomato, basil, balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
Arugula is a cruciferous vegetable, like its cousins broccoli and cauliflower, and therefore has added disease-preventative effects.
Bok Choy and Baby Bok Choy
Bok Choy is a type of Chinese cabbage with a large, bright white stem surrounded by dark green leaves. It’s most commonly used in Asian cuisines including stir-fries and soups like ramen, but feel free to add it to salads and slaws.
It would have to be grown in your garden vs. a planter like the others listed here. Try this simple recipe for sheet pan bok choy - simply place quartered bok choy on parchment-lined sheet pan and toss with freshly grated ginger and sesame oil. Roast at 350° F until softened and serve with fresh lime wedges.
Beet Green Tops
Yes, you can eat these so don’t cut them off the beets and throw away! If you don’t have the room (or inclination) to grow beets in your garden, when you buy beets look for less mature tops without holes and marks. I like to add these to my regular salads of romaine or spinach.
(By the way, roasting the whole beets on the grill with olive oil and in a foil packet is really delicious.)
You might already be familiar with traditional “curly” kale that has become a grocery store staple in recent years. Lacinato or “dinosaur” kale is a different variety that has a long flat leaves with a bumpy texture like dinosaur skin. Add it to your favorite soup or stew near the end of cooking time for a pop of bright green color and an extra element of texture. Cooking kale mellows its bitter flavor, so a quick sauté in some olive oil with a bit of lemon juice is a delicious way to enjoy this nutrient powerhouse.
This leafy green typically has a gorgeous bright pink or yellow stem. Chard leaves are large so they make a nice swap for tortillas (a great low-carbohydrate option!). Or any other kind of “wrap”. You can also sauté the delicate leaves, as they cook up quickly. The stems are full of nutrition so chop them and sauté first with some onion and garlic for an amazing side dish. I like to add in some chickpeas for a plant-focused meal, or just add sliced chicken to make it all a skillet meal.
Watercress is a cruciferous vegetable with long stems and small, circular leaves. It looks like a cross between giant alfalfa sprouts and flat leaf parsley. It makes a great sandwich topper in place of traditional leaf lettuce for a fun presentation. The bright, peppery taste does well with just a bit of vinegar and olive oil. You can also drop into soups just before serving for a burst of flavor. One of my favorite salads includes watercress, cucumbers, and radishes - fresh and delicious!