Winter Wonders

Key players in cold-weather recipes, hearty greens such as collards and kale are versatile, healthy and delicious.



Photo by Laura Petrilla

Bright, leafy winter greens are welcome at this chilly time of year, whether your favorite type is mild collards, peppery mustard greens, hearty chard or spicy-sweet kale. With thick, fibrous stalks in brilliant hues and frilly, crinkly leaves, these wintertime treasures possess an earthy flavor that inspires satisfying cold-weather recipes.

We often lump these different greens into one group because they are prepared and cooked in similar ways—making them into a side dish is as simple as stripping out the stems, chopping the leaves and wilting, sautéing or braising them. Yet each of these vegetables has a unique story, with a distinctive history.

With stems that come in bright ruby and lemon yellow, the beautiful plant kale makes a bright addition to any garden. Kale is the same species as cabbage, but was cultivated before that “headed” vegetable, which requires a warmer climate for growth. The name “kale,” or “kail,” originated in Scotland, where it was so commonly used that the word “kail” became generic for “dinner”—and the “kail bells” signaled dinnertime, even when the leafy vegetable was not being served for supper.

Collard greens, which are closely related to kale, are best-known in the United States as a “soul food” staple. Pungent, peppery mustard greens are also commonly used in Southern cooking, although the origins of the plant lie in Asia, where cooks use them in endless preparations. In Japan, they are often eaten boiled with soy sauce; in China, some varieties are used for braises or soups, while others are for pickling. In our own kitchens, however, three primary-ingredient combinations are most popular when it comes to preparing greens: Just about any variety tastes delicious seasoned simply with garlic and lemon juice, prepared Southern-style with smoked bacon or given an Asian flair with soy sauce and sesame oil.

The fact that winter greens are fresh and crisp at this time of year, when good produce is in short supply, is a great argument for bringing them home. But should you need additional convincing, look no farther then the vegetables’ impressive nutritional content: Greens including collards, chard, mustard greens and kale are rich sources of vitamin A and C and many other nutrients—perfect to provide a boost during cold season.

Great Greens

Collards, kale and mustard greens are in peak season until early spring; good-quality Swiss chard can be found year-round (local crops peak in summer). When shopping, look for crisp green leaves without wilting, yellowing or insect damage. Store greens in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to three days.

Collard Greens: One of the mildest-tasting winter greens, collards are usually slow-cooked with smoked bacon or salt pork. The plant is a variety of cabbage that doesn’t form a head and tastes like a combination of cabbage and kale. The stalks that run down the center are usually removed before cooking. Collard greens are an excellent source of vitamins A and C, calcium and iron.

Kale: Not as mild as collards, but not as spicy as mustard greens, kale is a good choice when you’re looking for a vegetable with medium sharpness. As a principal crop in nearby states such as Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey, kale is easy to find fresh in local stores. The vegetable’s tough, center stalk should be removed before use. It’s very healthful and supplies ample amounts of vitamins A and C, folic acid, calcium and iron.

Mustard Greens: Strong, assertive and peppery, mustard greens are second only to collards as a common ingredient in Southern cooking. Mustard greens come in many leaf shapes (jagged, crinkly, ruffled) and colors (including purple and crimson), but the most common kind for cooking is a rich green color. The thick, bitter stems are usually discarded. The vegetable is an excellent source of vitamins A and C, thiamine and riboflavin.

Swiss Chard: Both the crinkly leaves and crisp, celerylike stalks of mild-flavored chard are edible (the latter require more cooking time, and should be cooked separately from the leaves). Common varieties include green chard, which has silvery-white stalks; red chard, which has bright ruby stalks and red-veined leaves; and yellow chard, which has golden stalks. They are basically interchangeable in recipes, although red chard can lend a ruby tint to any dish in which it’s used. Chard is a good source of vitamins A and C, as well as iron.

It’s Easy Being Green

Exploring the world of leafy greens beyond the well-known types profiled here can yield some delicious results in the kitchen. Consider trying one of these other varieties:

Arugula: This delicate, peppery leaf is used raw in salads or sandwiches and makes a versatile addition to recipes,
especially pasta.

Bok Choy: This sweet, mild, crisp green is especially delicious in stir-fry or salad.

Broccoli Rabe: A classic Italian ingredient, this chewy, robust green is wonderful sautéd or braised with red-pepper flakes and added to pasta.

Mizuna: With its spicy flavor but tender texture, mizuna is often included in salad-green mix and works well served raw or just slightly wilted.

Turnip Greens: Boiling in the traditional Southern style brings out a mellow, silky quality in this otherwise sharp and bitter green.

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Pittsburgh's Best Restaurants 2015

Pittsburgh's Best Restaurants 2015

Which 33 establishments did our independent Restaurant Review Panel include among its top picks this year? Find them here.
The Right Recipe: Spy Inside 5 Killer Kitchens

The Right Recipe: Spy Inside 5 Killer Kitchens

Executive chefs often are given much of the credit for their restaurants’ success, but that praise would be hard to bestow if each did not lead an outstanding kitchen brigade.
The Beginner's Garden: How to Easily Create a Summer Eden

The Beginner's Garden: How to Easily Create a Summer Eden

From ferns to forsythia, there are ample growth opportunities for creating a gorgeous, low-maintenance garden this year in your own backyard.
PittGirl Believes She is Totally Right about the Pittsburgh Left

PittGirl Believes She is Totally Right about the Pittsburgh Left

In this case, as in most others, it's better to give than take.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Pittsburgh Magazine Wins 7 Golden Quill Awards

Pittsburgh Magazine Wins 7 Golden Quill Awards

Sponsored by the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania, the contest recognizes excellence in magazine, newspaper, broadcast and online journalism.
Got Tickets? Pittsburgh's Best, Biggest Food Event Is Weeks Away

Got Tickets? Pittsburgh's Best, Biggest Food Event Is Weeks Away

Join us on June 8 at Heinz Field for the 26th annual Best Restaurants Party.
Bow Wow: Pittsburgh Gets Props for Dog Parks

Bow Wow: Pittsburgh Gets Props for Dog Parks

The city earned a No. 1 ranking for giving our four-legged friends plenty of room to roam.
Idlewild Park Opening with New Ride

Idlewild Park Opening with New Ride

The park begins its 138th season this weekend.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Pittsburgh's Best Restaurants 2015

Pittsburgh's Best Restaurants 2015

Which 33 establishments did our independent Restaurant Review Panel include among its top picks this year? Find them here.
The Right Recipe: Spy Inside 5 Killer Kitchens

The Right Recipe: Spy Inside 5 Killer Kitchens

Executive chefs often are given much of the credit for their restaurants’ success, but that praise would be hard to bestow if each did not lead an outstanding kitchen brigade.
The Beginner's Garden: How to Easily Create a Summer Eden

The Beginner's Garden: How to Easily Create a Summer Eden

From ferns to forsythia, there are ample growth opportunities for creating a gorgeous, low-maintenance garden this year in your own backyard.
PittGirl Believes She is Totally Right about the Pittsburgh Left

PittGirl Believes She is Totally Right about the Pittsburgh Left

In this case, as in most others, it's better to give than take.
On Par with Arnie, She is America's 'Queen of Golf'

On Par with Arnie, She is America's 'Queen of Golf'

The world of golf may have been slow to embrace women, but Sewickley amateur Carol Semple Thompson always has found her way into the club.
Last in the Water But First at the Finish Line

Last in the Water But First at the Finish Line

Penn State Behrend swimmer Mia Pietropola’s deafness may give her competitors an advantage at the starting blocks. She beats them anyway.
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit Module