It may not be easy being green, but it’s sure worth it to eat green vegetables. The term “cooking greens” refers to leafy green vegetables from several plant families that are often pungent and always nutrient dense, with lots of vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, carotenoids, fiber, and other health-promoting compounds. Examples are collards, broccoli rabe, beet greens, Swiss chard, kale, and escarole. Our recipes use some of these but just about any cooking green can be substituted for another. Some like dandelion greens and stinging nettle are only available seasonally, so get them when you can.
Did you know you can eat the green tops of the beets? These may be sold attached to full-sized or baby beets, or in bunches by themselves. The long-stemmed, large, green or greenish-red leaves are actually more nutritious than the beets. Beet greens are at their best and most tender when young.
The slight bitterness of broccoli rabe, also known as rapini, is tempered in this recipe by the sweetness of raisins. If you prefer, substitute milder broccolini—a cross between broccoli and gai-lan (Chinese broccoli), sometimes marketed as “baby broccoli”—for the broccoli rabe. All of the broccoli rabe is edible, including the flowers, though it’s best to trim off the very ends, which may be tough.
Spinach, a leafy member of the amaranth family, is the super green in this recipe, offering an array of vitamins and minerals, including vitamins B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin K, magnesium, manganese, and iron. Spinach is also rich in the carotenoids beta carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. This is a good basic recipe for sautéed spinach but you can substitute other leafy greens like Swiss chard, collard greens, or kale. The sturdier greens will take a little longer to wilt.
Swiss chard is a member of the beet family but is grown for its stems and leaves. It has a distinctive flavor that’s similar to, but milder than, beet greens. And talk about packing nutrition—it’s rich in potassium, vitamin C, and magnesium, and, along with beta carotene, it contains lutein and zeaxanthin, phytochemicals that play a role in maintaining healthy vision. Unless the chard is young, the stalks should be separated from the leaves and given a little extra cooking time.
We’ve taken some liberties with the ingredients in this recipe but have preserved the spirit of the classic dish’s textural contrasts. For example, instead of bean sprouts, we’ve used shredded napa cabbage, whose name comes from a Japanese word (nappa), not from California’s Napa Valley, as many people think. The most familiar type is large and barrel-shaped, with crinkly, tightly packed white to light green leaves. Napa cabbage can also be eaten raw.
Watercress is a powerhouse green, scoring a perfect 100 in a CDC study that ranked 47 fruits and vegetables for their nutrient density, based on 16 key nutrients and fiber. With its small, crisp, dark green leaves and slightly bitter, peppery flavor, watercress is a highly underrated vegetable that can spice up any meal, including this pork-based salad.