How to Cook Greens

Leafy greens brim with nutrients and great flavor. Here's how to cook them up.


Sturdy leafy greens, such as chard, kale, mustard, beet, collard, and turnip greens, are known as cooking greens. They bring valuable nutrients to your diet, along with some sparkle, flavor, and color to your table. With the exception of collard greens, most cooking greens can be shredded and used raw in small amounts with other, more tender lettuces in a salad mix. However, these sturdy greens are most commonly served cooked. We'll show you the basic how-tos for cooking greens, then point the way to recipes that call on a variety of these healthful veggies.

Great Greens

Here are the flavor profiles of some of the common cooking greens you're likely to find at the market.

  • Beet Greens: Often red-veined, the leaves have a mild beetlike flavor, though larger leaves can be more pungent.
  • Chard: Tasting a little like a cross between beets and spinach, chard can be light to dark green, with stems in colors from white to pink to orange to red. Chard is often referred to as Swiss chard.
  • Collard Greens: These thick, coarse, paddlelike leaves bring cabbage- and broccoli-like flavors.
  • Kale: This crinkly-leaf green has an assertive peppery bite.
  • Mustard Greens: Expect a hot mustardy flavor in these light green leaves, though cooking can mellow the heat.
  • Turnip Greens: These greens impart both peppery and mustardy zing, which become less pronounced after cooking.

Choosing and Storing Cooking Greens

  • While most cooking greens are available year-round, their peak season is in the winter months. The exception is chard, which is at its peak in the summertime.
  • Look for leaves that are brightly colored, with no sign of yellowing, wilting, or discolored spots.
  • To store, cut away the center stalks of kale leaves (leave stalks on the other leaves). Refrigerate greens in plastic bags for up to three days; the exception is mustard greens, which can be refrigerated for up to a week.

How to Cook Greens

This basic method yields four servings.

1. Prep the Greens

  • Wash 12 ounces greens in cold water. Drain well. Remove the stems by cutting them away with a sharp knife. Discard any bruised leaves.
  • Tear the leaves into pieces. You should have about 12 cups total.

2. Cook the Greens

  • Bring a small amount of lightly salted water to boiling in a Dutch oven. Add the greens.
  • Cover the pan and cook until tender. Chard and beet greens will take 8 to 10 minutes; kale, mustard, turnip, and collard greens will take 20 to 25 minutes.
  • Drain the greens well in a colander, pressing to remove excess liquid.
  • Toss with 1 tablespoon butter or olive oil, if desired, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Adding Flavor to Cooked Greens

For more flavor, consider these options.

  • Use chicken broth for the cooking liquid instead of water.
  • Add chopped onions, garlic, and/or bacon to the cooking liquid.
  • Top cooked greens with crumbled crisp-cooked bacon.
  • After cooking, sprinkle greens with balsamic or cider vinegar.

How to Cook Greens
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