Dark, leafy greens are an all-around best value for gardeners. They're nutrient dense, versatile and easy to prepare, and they are prolific growers with very little coddling. Some are even extremely aesthetic plants and can be used as decorative garden borders, like Russian Red kale. Many greens are related to the cabbage family.
A few types of greens are considered delicacies in certain cultures. The tops of beets, kohlrabi, and turnips are examples of greens that some growers enjoy preparing and eating as much as the roots, and in many cases, the greens contain more nutrients than the more popular roots. Some varieties, like seven top heirloom turnip, are grown to produce the heartiest greens and don't even generate much of an edible root.
Bottom line is greens can be used so many ways in the kitchen that every garden should grow some. Collard greens are a staple on Southern menus, boiled or slow-cooked, prepared with ham hocks or pigs' feet. Kale roasted in olive oil and garlic will caramelize to bring out all the sweetness. Peppery mustard greens sautÃ©ed with olive oil, onion, garlic and a touch of sesame oil is the perfect complement to any Asian meal. Beet greens can be chopped and steamed right along with the deep red roots. Greens also preserve wonderfully in any type of vinegar pickling brine.
Freezing greens is an excellent way to store them for use in the winter. Any vegetable freezing method worksblanching, parboiling or steaming and packaging them in quick-thaw portions will have them ready to add to recipes in a snap. Greens can also be canned by traditional methods. The juice that's left over from boiling or steaming greens contains a ton of their valuable nutrients, so don't throw it away. Use it for soup stock and as a base for any dishes containing the cooked greens.
Greens vary in tenderness. Some cook in a flash, while others need to spend much longer on the stove. Mustard stems retain a nice crunch, where collard stems are too tough for some palates. Consult recipes to determine the best way to cook your particular variety of greens. But none are complicated or time-consuming. Greens are slightly to extremely bitter, and some are spicy, so be advised that not all taste great raw.
Young greens are the most flavorful, but you can harvest any time during the growing season. Just snip leaves with a sharp knife, and the plants will produce more. Cut off the entire plant and the root may generate an entirely new plant in an effort to produce seed.
High in dietary fiber, low in fat, and rich in chlorophyll, greens all contain a wealth of vitamins and minerals.
The best part about greens is they thrive in most garden conditions. Give them sunshine and well-drained soil, and they'll provide a constant source of vegetation. Some even taste best after being exposed to a light frost, so plant early and enjoy throughout your growing season.