Home-Grown Greens: Recipes Using Greens

Try these recipes for hot and hearty main dishes using greens.

| April/May 1995

  • A simple herb and nut sauce enhances the flavor of greens-filled tortelli.
  • Sorrel adds a welcome tang to fresh spring salads.
  • Goldgelber purslane, top, is tart and lemony. The colorful leaves of amaranth have a mild flavor.
  • Recognize this one? It’s a dandelion, which gets more respect in the kitchen than it does in the lawn.


For how many generations and in how many languages have mothers encouraged or commanded their children to “Eat your greens; they’re good for you”? The fact is, greens are tasty; why many children leave them until last on the plate is one of life’s minor mysteries. The sometimes complex flavors cover a wide range, from mild, delicate, and sweet to sharp, tangy, bittersweet, and even meaty.

Our knowledge of greens today is worlds away from what we knew as children. All manner of greens are now available in restaurants, supermarkets, farmers’ markets, and urban, suburban, and country gardens across the nation. A confluence of factors is responsible: an interest in eating healthy foods, fueled by medical research into many foodstuffs; an influx of immigrant populations bringing favorite greens with them; the ease of growing most greens, even in small spaces; and many food professionals’ desire for plate and palate novelty.

Most Americans still make iceberg lettuce salads and believe that the ­dandelion is their enemy, but a vast ­variety of edible greens await their discovery. These greens represent many different plant families, and they are used in cuisines around the world. The herbal greens—including rocket, cress, sorrel, perilla, and the less commonly used amaranth, corn salad, dandelion, Good-King-Henry, lamb’s-quarters, orach, and many others—combine splendidly with lettuces, spinach, and chicories for tender, fresh spring salads. They can be blanched and added to pasta dishes and stuffings or stir-fried in vegetable dishes. And they can stand out in hot, nourishing main courses; the recipes that start on page 56 suggest some possibilities.

Greens, like other plants that humans have depended on for a long time, are well represented in the historical record. The Egyptians recorded lettuce growing about 4500 b.c. The ancient Greeks and Romans greatly fancied greens. Although the ancients knew nothing of vitamin and mineral content, they knew which greens to gather or cultivate for nutrition and flavor, and which to celebrate with stories and recipes. The Jewish ritual of eating sorrel and other bitter herbs at Passover is thousands of years old, and many Jewish people continue to eat bitter and other greens as part of their everyday diet. This tradition influenced some Christians’ use of bitter greens and herbs at Easter. An Easter soup of watercress, sorrel, dandelion, chervil, and spinach is still made in Bavaria.

The happy fact is that herbal greens are good for you. In the 1920s and 1930s, the vitamin and mineral content of many unprocessed foods, including greens, was determined, confirming what people had understood for ­centuries: greens are high in many elements necessary for good health. Sorrel has substantial amounts of iron and vitamins A, B2, and C; dandelion greens and cresses are at or near the top of practically every list: iron, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, vitamins A, B1, B2, niacin, and C. Because most greens contain sodium and other mineral salts, they need little, if any, added salt when prepared for the table.

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