Bon Appetit magazine published a recipe for kale “chips” in 2009 from noted chef, author and food activist Dan Barber, co-owner of Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, New York. It became the tipping point for an improbable star: a scruffy green leaf that has been cultivated for thousands of years, but up until the mid-aughts, spent life as a curly bed lining for salad bars in ordinary chain restaurants. Barber’s recipe hurled kale—and its many varieties—into the collective consciousness of health-seeking foodies. By the following year, kale was the new “it” food, topping trend lists and making appearances on chic restaurant menus across the country. Suddenly, kale was cool.
“Kale’s trendiness was kind of forced on all of us,” said chef Laura Apshaga of NourishMe, a health food and supplement store in Ketchum. “But I’ve eaten it and cooked with it all my life.” The most popular grab-and-go item at NourishMe? A vegan kale Caesar salad.
The rising tide of kale’s boat has been a boon for other leafy greens as Americans look for ways to add more plants to their diet. Health experts tout the antioxidant properties and abundance of other phytonutrients in greens. Most greens are loaded with vitamins A and C and contain other essential vitamins, including K, E and several B vitamins. Greens are low in calories and rich in fiber. Some greens are high in calcium and other minerals, such as iron and manganese, the latter helpful in bone development and strength. Greens are also credited with helping regulate blood sugar. Bonus? Among “superfoods”—technically a marketing term coined to highlight the health benefits of nutrient dense foods—greens are abundant, available year-round and inexpensive, especially compared to other superfoods such as blueberries, salmon and walnuts.
Susan Sampson, author of “The Complete Leafy Greens Cookbook,” groups greens into four user-friendly categories, which are far easier to remember than the scientific species names. Her easy-to-recall categories are: salad greens; cabbages; leaves and vines; and “wild” greens. Salad greens include the usual suspects of romaine, green and red leaf, butter lettuce, and arugula, but also include more exotic greens such as mâche, sometimes referred to as lamb’s tongue because of its shape and soft texture; mizuna, a spicy, tender Asian green with pointy edges; and frisée, the frilly bitter green that is the basis of the French classic, Salade Lyonnaise. Cabbages are also leafy greens, and beyond common green and red cabbages, this category includes the now ubiquitous kale, collard greens, and even Brussels sprouts. And then there are other leafy greens referred to as foliage—think chard, beet greens, spinach, pea shoots, and turnip greens. The final category, wild greens, includes dandelion greens, purslane, ramps and sorrel. Peppery watercress is considered wild even though the cress found in most grocery stores is carefully cultivated, as are other greens in this “wild” category.
Valley residents can find fresh greens year-round in grocery stores, including some of the more obscure greens, and during summer and early fall, farmers’ markets in Ketchum and Hailey offer a handful of greens, from lettuces to pea shoots to kale and spinach.
Carol Murphy of Shooting Star Farms in Hailey focuses almost entirely on leafy greens. “My [late] husband Dan and I wanted to offer a straight-up sweet, tender lettuce mix,” Murphy said. Shooting Star Farms market booth sports bags of colorful lettuces, dark kale, spinach and sometimes arugula and peashoots, depending on the week. “Greens love cool weather, so we will have fresh greens when other farmers down-Valley don’t.” Shooting Star Farms also supplies greens to NourishMe and GLOW Live Food Café in Ketchum.
“In the summer and fall, we try to support the local farmers here,” said Sara Jarolimek-Summers, manager of GLOW. “We get greens from Springs of Life in Buhl, Shooting Star Farms and from other farms in Idaho’s Bounty [Cooperative].” GLOW incorporates greens into salads and wraps, including using the broad leaves of collard greens in place of a tortilla wrap for their popular Sun Valley wrap filled with hummus, quinoa and mixed greens. “We use kale and dried greens in the form of a powder in our power smoothie and of course we have a green juice full of fresh greens.”
Chef Apshaga said to think out of the box when it comes to using greens in the kitchen. “You can substitute collard greens for cabbage in slaw,” she said. “They’re great shredded as a taco topping, or tossed in a stir-fry,” she said. “Really, anything you make in the kitchen can incorporate greens.” For those not familiar with cooking and eating greens, Asphaga recommends experimenting with several varieties, adding them in small amounts to see how you like them. She adds raw and lightly cooked greens to grain salads. “I’m personally not a bitter-green fan,” she said, but there are ways to balance bitter greens with something sweet, like dried fruit, or something neutral and creamy, such as cooked beans, or even with a splash of vinegar.
No one is saying greens are the single magic bullet or that eating greens will suddenly reveal the elusive fountain of youth, but there is a reason moms nag their children about eating their spinach. Scientific data overwhelmingly points to health benefits. Consuming leafy greens provides a significant source of daily vitamins and minerals in comparatively fewer calories. Couple that with availability and affordability, and there is no reason not to eat more greens. With so many options to choose from, there is something for everyone, from sweet, tender leaves to bold, peppery—even pleasantly bitter—bites.
Go on. Eat your greens.
Escarole (salad greens)
Other names: Batavia, Batavian endive, broad chicory
Taste: succulent, nutty, astringent and briny, with a slightly bitter finish
Nutrition: Vitamins A, C, E and K, calcium, copper, folate, iron, and more
Cooking: Careful not to overcook it. Braised escarole is tender in 5 minutes, blanched and sautéed escarole in less than 10 minutes.
Taste: when raw, collards are lemony and astringent with a slightly bitter finish. When cooked, they taste deeply nutty and slightly smoky with a faint lemony finish
Nutrition: Vitamins A, B6, C, E and K, calcium, folate, iron, magnesium, and more. Particularly high in fiber.
Turnip Greens (leaves and vines)
Taste: pungent and bitter, like a cross between rapini and radish. They are milder when cooked.
Nutrition: Vitamins A B6, E and K, calcium, copper, folate, iron and more. Particularly high in fiber and rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, as well as strongly anti-inflammatory.
Cooking: rarely eaten raw. Simmer greens in water or stock until tender enough to cut with a fork. Don’t throw away the cooking liquid. Contains nutrients. Traditionally tossed with vinegar after cooking.
Watercress (wild greens)
Taste: mustardy, sharp and astringent.
Nutrition: Vitamins A, B6, C, E and K, calcium, copper, folate, magnesium and more.
Buying: cress is a supermarket staple. Sold in small bunches. Even though it is in the wild greens category, it is farmed. Foraging for watercress is not recommended.
Cooking: all parts are edible. Can add raw to salads or stir-fry. Cooks in less than 5 minutes.