These green leafy vegetables are seasonably available in winter and early spring. Common vegetables described as winter greens are chard, collards, spinach, rapini, mustard, beets and kale. They include several different vegetable families and are categorized under “winter greens” because of their availability during the cold months.
Of course, they can be grown almost year-round in California, but most are at their peak flavor during winter. The hardy, prolific row crops are popular for farmers to grow because the same plant can produce multiple bunches and they continue to produce leaves even after several cuttings.
The fresher the greens, the better their flavor. When you purchase winter greens at your local farmers market, their just-picked flavor is intense, well-rounded and ready for your enjoyment.
Their hearty flavors range from lemony sorrel and mild chard to peppery turnip greens and strong collards. Purchase them as baby greens for milder flavor or fully mature for a more robust taste in your recipes.
Nutritious and flavorful
Winter greens are highly nutritious and flavorful ingredients to supplement your meals during the winter months when other vegetables might not be in season. Mix them with winter root vegetables like roasted carrots and beets, tuck the leaves into a sandwich, add them to soups and stews, combine into casseroles, mix them in pasta dishes, or make a leafy winter salad with winter squash and pomegranate seeds.
Here are some tips for cooking with winter greens:
Most winter greens have thick, fibrous stems that are tough and not inedible. Use your hands or a sharp knife to remove them. Tear with your hands or cut the leaves away from the stems. Don’t throw away the stems but blanch them for use in stir fry dishes, pesto and salads.
With their hearty flavors and thicker textures, pair them with vigorous companion ingredients. Mix with bacon or sausage, dried fruit, acidic liquids like vinegar or citrus juice and hefty winter vegetables like winter squash.
Use collard green leaves or chard leaves in place of tortillas or bread if you are avoiding carbs. They don’t need to be cooked and can be rolled around your favorite filling, like chicken or tuna salad.
If you have an overabundance of greens, freeze them for later. Prep and blanch the leaves and freeze them on a baking sheet before storing them in a freezer bag for a few months. Use them later for soups, stews, salads, smoothies, braises and stir fries.
To tame the bitterness associated with winter greens, blanch them before using in dishes like pastas and casseroles. Most tender greens, such as spinach, can be simply sautéed. Salt and acid can also lessen the bitterness.
Enjoy winter greens direct from the farm at your farmers market this winter. Most vendors offer a delicious variety.
Winter hours for the Concord Farmers Market: Tuesdays, 10 AM to 2 PM in Todos Santos Plaza.