Making a Meal of Garden Greens

Cooking and preparing garden greens from your garden, including recipes for salads, basic vinaigrette, blue cheese dressing, Mediterranean salad, homemade croutons, and vegan spicy greens and tofu.

| August/September 1996

MOTHER's Kitchen column shares how to make a meal of your garden greens.  

Making a Meal of Garden Greens

Summer just wouldn't be the same without those backyard greens. I know because last summer I almost did without them. In the spring, my husband (our house gardener) was too busy to plant much more than a few tomato plants. Not wanting to deviate from our "you plant 'em, I'll cook 'em" agreement and pleading an old back injury, I refused to plant the greens. I never did enjoy planting, probably because even as a child I was never crazy about playing in the mud. Well, the Fourth of July rolled around and I was till begging (my husband says nagging) him to get out there at and plant. This losing strategy may have continued all summer (possibly resulting in divorce) if he hadn't stopped by an organic grocery to pickup some baby salad greens for me. After emptying out his wallet, he decided that a few seed packets were a better investment. So on a steamy hot mid-July day, a few rows of salad greens, arugula, mustard green, and kale were planted and we ate well from August till Halloween because I covered them on cool nights with an old shower curtain.

Besides the fresh flavor, convenience, and economic advantage, we benefit nutritionally from our backyard greens. As a general rule, the darker the green, the more nutritious it is. (This leaves tasteless iceberg lettuce at the bottom of the list.) The darker leaves also tend to be more flavorful, which is why our pet rabbit always nibbled on the kale and spinach. The darker greens are high in beta-carotene (vitamin A), vitamin C, calcium, iron, and of course, fiber, with kale and arugula in the lead. Among these nutrients are antioxidants, which have been shown to discourage cell damage and may help ward off cancer.

Types of Garden Greens 

Common salad varieties : Iceberg, romaine, green and red leaf, Boston, oak leaf, and endive (chicory) can be found in most supermarkets, but you can grow other interesting varieties. Select smaller leaves because the larger ones can sometimes be tough and bitter. Look for rust on the stems, especially when picking out romaine lettuce.

Mesclun salad greens (not to be confused with the mind-altering drug): This is a Provencal term referring to a mixture of spring or wild greens. This mixture varies but can include arugula, radicchio (an Italian chicory belonging to the cruciferous family), endives such as frisee, sorrel, baby spinach, and lettuces such as baby romaine and red oak leaf. Since mesclun tends to be expensive, I recommend either growing it (there are mesclun seed packets) or buying small amounts to mix in with other lettuces. When you're buying mesclun, check for yellowed or soggy leaves, which indicates it's too old. Since mesclun can get slimy when stored in a plastic bag, keep it in a plastic container and use within three to four days.

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