Cooking with Kale and Other Leafy Greens

Leafy greens can be steamed, baked, added to stirfry or blended into a smoothie

Credit: Flickr/Laura Taylor

Leafy greens like kale can be steamed, added to stirfry or blended into a smoothie

Leafy greens like kale, chard and spinach are some of the most nutrient-dense foods you can find. Here’s how to incorporate them into a meal

Leafy greens are low in calories and high in fibre, beta-carotene, calcium, iron, folic acid and chlorophyll. And many varieties of leafy greens, especially members of the cruciferous (cabbage) family such as collards, kale and bok choy, are also rich sources of vitamin C.

Regardless of variety, always look for crisp leaves with vibrant colour. Yellowing is a sign of age and indicates that the greens may be off.

Young leafy greens generally have small tender leaves and a mild flavour. Many mature plants have tougher leaves and stronger flavours.

Choose mild-flavoured greens such as collards, chard, bok choy or spinach when you want their flavour to blend well with other ingredients in your dish.

For a medium sharpness choose kale, and for stronger, assertive flavours, select mustard, arugula, mizuna or turnip greens. Collards, kale, turnip greens and mustard greens are best from October through early spring.

How to Cook Greens

One pound of fresh, untrimmed greens will typically serve two to three people. To prepare greens for washing, cut off the stems and discard any bruised leaves. For greens with tough stems, such as kale, remove the fibrous stem, which can be done easily by grabbing the leaves near the stem end and pulling up toward the top.

Chard, bok choy, turnip and beet greens have tender stems that can be eaten along with the leaves.

  • Wash the greens and edible stems in a sink full of water to remove dirt and sand. Drain the greens in a colander.
  • Chop into bite-sized pieces or ribbons and lightly steam using a metal or bamboo steamer
  • Season greens with an herb blend (like Spike Vegit) or your favourite dressing
  • Serve as a side dish or toss greens into a stirfry, pasta or salad such as Rainbow Kale Slaw
  • Start your day off right with this nutrient-rich breakfast on-the-go: Green Power Smoothie
  • Try homemade Parmesan Kale Chips for a quick and healthy snack

Guide to Popular Leafy Greens

Peppery, delicate texture. Use raw in salads or sandwiches; versatile for cooking.

Beet Greens
Mild, slightly sweet, very tender. Steam, braise or sautée; eat raw in salads.

Bok Choy
Sweet, mild, stays crisp when cooked. Use in stir-fries, salads or soups.

Broccoli Rabe
Tender, chewy, robust flavour. Sautée or braise; typical in Italian fare.

Mild, sweet, cooks to tender texture. Steam, braise or sautée, shrinks less than other greens when cooked.

Dandelion Greens
Pungent, spicy, bitter. Eat small leaves raw; braise or sautée longer leaves.

Endive (Chicory)
Tender, bitter, high in fibre. Eat raw in salads; cook briefly for milder flavour.

Coarse, mildly bitter. Eat raw in salads, steam, braise or add to soups.

Mildly peppery, tender. Boil, steam or sautée; tough stems and ribs must be removed.

Tender, spicy, exotic flavour. Serve raw or slightly wilted; mix with other greens in salads.

Mustard Greens
Subtle hot mustard flavour. Steam, braise or sautée. Tough stems and ribs must be removed.

Soft, sweet, rich flavour. Eat raw in salads and sandwiches, sautée, braise, add to soups, quiches or pasta.

Swiss Chard (Red, Green, Rainbow)
Tender, sweet, velvety texture. Wilt, sautée, braise, add to soups, casseroles or pasta. Red chard may dye other foods.

Turnip Greens
Sharp, bitter. Boil until silky for traditional Southern style.

Article courtesy of Whole Foods Market, Canada’s leading natural and organic retailer. B.C.’s Whole Foods Markets are committed to their communities, sourcing locally grown products whenever possible and raising money for local charities through a variety of in-store events and programs. Visit for the latest featured products, recipes and events in your area.