As the weather begins to heat up outside, many home cooks are looking for ways to create satisfying meals without turning on the oven, and our eyes inevitably land first on leafy greens. Most of us think of greens as the base of salads, the ultimate no-cook meal, but they can be so much more. To help find out exactly what each of the most common greens has to offer our recipes or our stomachs we turned to Celine Beitchman, is director of nutrition at the Institute of Culinary Education.
Beitchman, who has a masters in nutrition and integrative health, gave us all the details on the differences between the 12 most commonly used greens and how to best use them. According to Beitchman, when identifying greens and where they belong in a dish and your diet, home cooks should look at three things: texture, flavor, and color.
When it comes to texture, greens range from hardy to delicate. Those textures are dictated by weather patterns, with hardier greens growing in colder climates and more delicate greens growing in more mild ones. "Kale that is grown in the dead of winter is going to be a much tougher vegetable than one that's grown in the springtime and picked early, so I might apply different techniques to that," Beitchman explains. "One might be more conducive to the massaging raw technique and one might be better sautéed or braised."
As for a green's flavor profile, Beitchman says that's broken into four main categories: bitter, sharp, buttery, and watery. There is a range within each of those classifications and there can be crossover.
Finally, you can tell a lot about how to use a specific green by looking at its color. If the color is bright, we know it's fresh and would likely be served well raw. However, as a green loses its vibrancy, that might be a sign that it's less fresh. In that situation, Beitchman suggests applying heat in some way. Using a variety of techniques on your greens will help you get your money's worth and cut down on food waste. Color can also be a good indicator of a green's nutritional value. In most cases, the darker a green is, the more vitamins and minerals it contains, according to the chef.
Since each green has a different texture, flavor, and color, Beitchman recommends taking full advantage of the variety by always keeping a mix of many different greens in your home. "I might have a big bunch of farmers market greens and then also a box of washed lettuce and a box of washed spinach... I'm not a purist by any means." To get a handle on which greens you might want to use for what, take a look ahead for details on 12 varieties.