best underrated winter greens and how to use them

When the colder-weather months begin to arrive, eating seasonally can seem daunting. The vegetables you’ve relied on all summer and fall are quickly consumed during the great harvest, while the surplus is often fermented and canned so as to last through the winter. And as winter finally starts to drag to an end, there’s still a bit of a wait for sweet spring produce to emerge again.

From Hippie Green to Hipster FaveThe Ultimate Guide to Different Types of KaleSometimes it can seem like the list of fresh fruits and vegetables will fit on one hand. Kale has been a superstar over the years for its ability to be grown all year, but I think it’s time for kale to take a step back as the overshadowing, overachieving older sibling of the late-season greens. Along with root vegetables, there are a variety of greens that can hold on through the cold temperatures, and as a result, they develop deep, robust flavors. Because of their heartiness, it is important to know how to prepare them; but once you give them a try, you’ll find a variety of flavor profiles from sweet beet to bitter mustard. Here are nine kinds of less-popular winter greens you should definitely get to know.

Virtually all of them are great sauteed with garlic and served as a side or mixed into soup, pasta, and grain salads—or eaten raw in bracing winter salads, for that matter. They can even be turned into hearty basil-free pesto (singly or mixed together), or combined into a Gumbo Z’Herbes. Most of them make good substitutes for each other too, so don’t feel restricted by the specific recipes given for each green below; see our kale recipes and chard recipes for even more inspiration, and keep busy experimenting with winter greens until it’s time for more tender vegetables to arrive again.

1. Collard Greens

In the South, these greens are eaten throughout the year. Their large, dark, thick leaves are often braised or thinly sliced for best consumption.

Slow Cooker Collard Greens with Smoked Ham

Slow Cooker Collard Greens with smoked ham hocks

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Slowly simmered in a spicy, smoky, rich broth, this is a classic way to enjoy collard greens, except it comes together in a slow cooker instead of a pot on the stove. Cornbread is optional, but you’re going to want it for sopping up the pot liquor. Get our Slow Cooker Collard Greens recipe.

2. Dandelion Greens

Although it starts to sprout in the spring, this highly nutritious bitter green stores well. It has multiple medicinal purposes such as helping with digestion.

Wilted Dandelion Greens with Balsamic Fried Eggs

Wilted Dandelion Greens with Balsamic Fried Eggs recipe

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Sauteed greens make a meal on their own with the addition of eggs and cheese, but crusty bread wouldn’t hurt. Get our Wilted Dandelion Greens with Balsamic Fried Eggs recipe.

Dandelion Green Salad

Or try pleasantly bitter dandelion greens raw in a salad; this one also includes prosciutto, blue cheese, and candied walnuts with a white wine vinaigrette. Get the Dandelion Green Salad recipe.

3. Beet Greens

Beets have a long growing season, which means their greens are available throughout the winter. They are high in antioxidants and vitamin B6, among other nutrients; plus, their leaves are naturally sweet.

Crispy Baked Beet Green Chips

You know and love kale chips, but you can turn any other leafy winter green into a crispy, healthy veggie chip too. Get the Crispy Baked Beet Green Chips recipe.

Beet Green Pesto

Turn your beet tops into a winter pesto for pasta, barley, baked fish, or garlic toast. (Or try making them into a miso pesto with soba noodles for a twist on the usual pesto pasta.) Get the Beet Green Pesto recipe.

Beet Greens and Feta Pasta

Beet Greens and Feta Pasta recipe

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Don’t want to dirty your blender? Just toss sauteed beet greens with pasta and cheese for an easy dinner. Get our Beet Greens and Feta Pasta recipe.

4. Chicory

Related to Belgian endive and radicchio, this green has been cultivated for thousands of years by the Romans, Egyptians, and Greeks.

Chicory, Tangerine, and Pomegranate Salad

Chicory, Tangerine, and Pomegranate Salad recipe

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Sweet-tart citrus segments and pomegranate seeds liven up this bitter winter salad, with pickled shallots in the mix for good measure. Get our Chicory, Tangerine, and Pomegranate Salad recipe.

5. Cavolo Nero

This green comes from the kale family and is often referred to as black kale, Tuscan kale, lacinato kale, or dinosaur kale (among other names). It is a great source of vitamins and calcium, and is versatile enough to be used in a variety of dishes, from soups to salads.

Sauteed Cavolo Nero

Sauteed Cavolo Nero recipe

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Four pounds of kale may sound like a lot, but it cooks down considerably; meanwhile, it gets to know garlic, onion, red pepper, and orange juice. Get our Sauteed Cavolo Nero recipe.

Black Kale Quiche

If you’re a savory pie fan, adding winter greens to quiche is a smart—and delicious—move. Get the Black Kale Quiche recipe.

6. Sorrel Leaves

This perennial green is herbaceous and hardy, with an acidic taste. It is often used to season sauces and to add depth and color to soups.

French Sorrel Soup with Garlic Parmesan Croutons

Green Pea Soup

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The lemony flavor of sorrel makes for a rather refreshing soup, though it’s tempered with chicken stock, potatoes, and cream. (There’s also a Polish sorrel soup called schav, which is served chilled.) Get the French Sorrel Soup recipe.

7. Escarole

A less bitter member of the endive/chicory family, escarole is high in fiber and vitamin A. The greens make for a perfect seasonally fresh salad, but are also good braised or in soup, especially with beans.

Escarole Salad with Blue Cheese Toasts

Escarole Salad recipe with Blue Cheese Toasts

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Piquillo peppers, orange juice, and olive oil give our escarole salad a Spanish sort of flavor. The blue cheese toasts make it suitable for a light lunch, but if you prefer, you can skip them and toss in some sardines instead. Get our Escarole Salad recipe.

8. Mache

Also known as corn salad, mache has a nutty flavor and is historically known as a wild-growing weed in wheat fields.

Lemon Dill Salmon with Mache and Arugula Salad

This light, antioxidant-packed salad with a simple honey and red wine vinaigrette would be great with any number of things, but roasted salmon is perfect as we head into spring. Get the Lemon Dill Salmon with Mache and Arugula Salad recipe.

9. Mustard Greens

Like the name suggests, this green has a peppery, mustardy flavor, which makes for a spicy salad. They’re also good sauteed or braised.

Mustard Greens Salad with Anchovy Dressing

Mustard Green Salad recipe with Anchovy Dressing

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The anchovy in the dressing makes this reminiscent of Caesar salad, but not heavy like the creamier version can sometimes be. Pear slices provide a sweet contrast to the other spicy, savory, and pungent flavors. Get our Mustard Greens Salad with Anchovy Dressing recipe.

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Nyanyika Banda has worked as a chef for over 15 years in restaurants in Massachusetts, San Francisco, and New York, and as a recipe tester for a national publication. She currently runs a ramen popup and catering business in Minnesota while pursuing a degree in Food Studies.

Header image courtesy of Martin Barraud / OJO Images / Getty Images.

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