How to shop, store and use seasonal fresh greens

Fresh, tender leafy greens are a summer staple in the kitchen — make sure you’re taking advantage of them with these tips.

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Fresh spring greens. Clockwise from left: Mache, bibb lettuce, radicchio, arugula, baby spinach.
Fresh greens. (Photo, Michael Alberstat.)

Fresh greens are something that every cook should have in their kitchen, especially when they’re in season. They’re healthy and versatile ingredients you can do a lot with. Here’s a guide on everything you need to know about leafy greens, from how to store them, what to use them in and when they’re in season.

Arugula

Known for its peppery, slightly bitter notes, arugula (sometimes called rocket) is often used as a salad green. Originally from the Mediterranean, arugula is a staple in Italian cuisine, often used as a pizza topper or made into a pesto or condiment. Most commonly purchased as a baby green year round, arugula can be found fully grown in large bundles during the summer months.

Shop: Look for bright green leaves without yellowing edges.

Store: Keep unwashed arugula refrigerated in a tightly sealed plastic bag for two to three days — be sure check expiration dates when purchasing clamshell containers.

Did you know? Arugula is part of the cabbage family and is in season during the spring and fall.

 

Bok choy

Boy choy (also called Chinese cabbage or pak choi) is a quick-cooking green often used in Chinese cuisine. It is a mild and slightly sweet vegetable that is a great addition to any stir-fry.

Shop: You can find both small and regular-sized bok choy in grocery sores. Look for thick, firm stalks with bright green leaves.

Store: Keep unwashed bok choy in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer of your fridge for up to a week.

Did you know? For larger, more mature bok choy, cut the leaves away from the stem before cooking (stems require a longer cook time).

 

Collard greens

Closely related to kale, collard greens are a staple in Southern cuisine in the United States. Typical preparation cooks this bitter and earthy green with ham hocks, but collards can be enjoyed raw as well. For something a little different, try using the leaves for a healthy wrap option. 

Shop: Look for wide, flat leaves with a deep green colour — avoid any limp leaves with yellow spots.

Store: Wrap unwashed collards in paper towels and store in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer. They should keep for up to five days.

Did you know? Collard greens are available year-round but are at their peak January through April. 

 

Spinach

Spinach may be the most well-known variety of leafy green on the market. It’s available year-round, but is best during the spring and fall. You’ll find various types in stores, from flat-leaf spinach to baby spinach and frozen spinach. We like to use baby spinach for a quick no-cook dinner and opt for frozen in a spinach and feta pan pie.

Shop: Look for bright green leaves without any slimy spots (which indicate that that the spinach is well past its prime.)

Store: Refrigerate in plastic bags and use within the first couple of days (because spinach is tender, it is known to spoil quickly).

Did you know? Spinach with crinkled or curly leaves is savoy spinach; a slightly more crisp and bitter variety that is best enjoyed cooked.

 

Kale

This hearty green is available in stores year-round, but is at its most tender during the summer months. Kale can be found in a few varieties, such as curly and Tuscan (also known as dinosaur or black kale). Earthy and bitter, kale holds its shape and texture well when cooked. Try it in creamed kale or blend it up into a vitamin-packed pesto. 

Shop: Choose slightly moist kale with dark green leaves, avoiding any that are yellow or wilted. 

Store: Wrap unwashed kale in paper towel and seal in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer – they’ll keep for up to three days.

Did you know? The stems are very fibrous, making them tough and inedible, so be sure to de-stem the leaves before cooking.

 

Swiss chard

With crinkly green leaves and colourful stalks (they can be light green, red or yellow), swiss chard is a sturdy green vegetable similar in flavour to spinach. It is best served cooked — try sautéing or braising for optimal results.

Shop: Opt for bright green leaves with juicy stems without any brown or soft spots.

Store: Keep swiss chard in a plastic bag in the fridge, it should keep for up to a week.

Did you know? Be sure to chop and cook the stems first as they require a longer cooking time than the leaves.

 

Watercress 

Slightly bitter and peppery, nutrient-dense watercress makes a great addition to sandwiches, and salads. It’s best prepared raw but can be cooked and puréed into soups or sauces.

Shop: Look for fresh and crisp stems with dark-green leaves. 

Store: Submerge the stems in cold water and cover the leaves with a plastic bag and store upright in the fridge.

Did you know? Watercress is a member of the mustard family and is available year-round.

 

Romaine lettuce

This crunchy and slightly sweet lettuce is a favourite for fresh salads (often the go-to lettuce for a classic Caesar salad). It pairs well with creamy dressings and other crisp vegetables like cucumbers and bell peppers.

Shop: Look for tightly bunched, crisp green leaves without any browning.

Store: Keep unwashed romaine in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer of the fridge for up to a week.

Did you know? Romaine is a sturdy green that can hold up to the high temperatures of grilling.

 

Related:
How to de-stem kale and other greens
Roasted beets and their greens
A detoxifying green juice to start the day