How to Cook Greens Deliciously
Leafy greens are full of nutrients and flavor. We know not everyone loves them, but when you know how to cook greens, including how to cook collard greens to add to Southern dishes plus tips for cooking mustard greens to mellow their heat, you'll find almost everyone likes this veggie more than they thought.
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 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 greens in a salad mix. However, these hearty greens are most commonly served cooked. Whether you're interested in how to cook mustard greens, how to cook kale greens, or other leafy veggies, we've got the basics on cooking greens covered.
How to Cook Greens
Cooking greens, as the name suggests, are most commonly served cooked (though you can use most of them raw). Beet greens, chard (including red Swiss and rainbow chard), collard greens, dandelion greens, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, and spinach are all considered to be cooking greens. The difference between them and other greens is that they're usually cooked before eating, unlike other leafy veggies such as arugula and spring greens. You can certainly still cook arugula and other noncooking greens (like bok choy), but since they're more often eaten raw, they're not considered cooking greens.
Follow these two steps for cooking collard greens, turnip greens, beet greens, or any other type of cooking greens. This basic method works for most greens and yields four servings. Spinach is an exception—while you can boil it similar to the method included below, cooked spinach is best when sautéed.
1. Prep the Greens
2. Cook the Greens
- Bring a small amount of lightly salted water to boiling in a Dutch oven like this Lodge 6-Quart Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven ($58.70, Amazon). 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 15 to 20 minutes.
- Drain the greens well in a colander, pressing to remove excess liquid.
- If desired, toss with 1 tablespoon butter or olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Adding Flavor to Cooked Greens
For more flavor when you're cooking greens, consider these options.
Different Types of Greens
If you can't decide between cooking beet greens and cooking kale, use this guide to help you pick out a green to pair with dinner. 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.
- Dandelion Greens: These greens are tender but have a subtly bitter flavor to their slender, sawtooth-edge leaves.
- Kale: This crinkly-leaf green has an assertive peppery bite. You can find it in flowering, purple, common green, and white varieties.
- Mustard Greens: Expect a hot mustardy flavor in these light green leaves, though cooking can mellow the heat.
- Spinach: If you want a mild, sweeter flavor, look for baby spinach at the store—it'll also be less prep work, since the stems are smaller and more tender than larger, mature spinach leaves.
- Turnip Greens: These greens impart both peppery and mustardy zing, which becomes less pronounced after cooking.
Choosing and Storing Cooking Greens
While most cooking greens are available year-round, their peak season is from September to May. The exception is chard, which is at its peak in the summertime, from June through August.
- 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 up to five days; the exception is mustard greens, which can be refrigerated up to a week.
Once you master cooking greens (and discover your favorite), it's easy to serve them as a healthy side with dinner. We're always on the lookout for speedy, healthy side dishes that we can serve with a weeknight dinner, and cooked greens are an easy go-to. Plus, there are so many different varieties that you can mix it up each night by cooking collard greens one day, cooking beet greens the next, and switching it up every night of the week.