With snow on the ground and temps below freezing, it seems a little odd to focus on greens. On the other hand, dietitians emphasize the importance of greens in our diet, particularly since they are chock-full of vitamins and antioxidants.
With that in mind, I decided to see which greens were available midwinter in Rochester. That took me to People's Food Co-op downtown, and what a surprise! The variety on display appeared as fresh and vibrant as you see midsummer at the farmers market.
Lined up in the produce area were full heads of romaine, bunches of arugula, containers of Boston and butter lettuces, chard and red radicchio. And that was before I got to the three varieties of kale — green, lacinato and red.
Produce Manager Alex Christensen said this is an especially good time for escarole and endive. The lineup was pretty impressive, especially for this time of year, and most of it is organic. Fresh lettuces and greens are delivered every day but Sunday, with kale still a bestseller.
Greens of all types are the second most popular vegetable in the U.S., according to the Department of Agriculture. The first? Potatoes.
Spinach, among the most versatile in the green family, is another steady seller, either loose in bundles or bagged. In the 1960s, it was sold in cans or frozen packages. Now, 75% is sold fresh.
The grandfather of greens is head lettuce. It was developed in 1894 by the Burpee Seed Company, and has had its ups and downs over the years. Peak popularity was in the 1950s, even though it has always been described as fairly tasteless. The wedge salad with its dressings saved it, and today it still is on menus and a popular item. It does have a nice crunch. Another plus: It doesn't wilt like other lettuces when you put it on a hamburger.
The mid-1960s introduced another category, originally described as "boutique" greens from California, which quickly became the salads of high-end New York eateries. First came the peppery arugula, followed by endive, then radicchio and frisee. Mesclun, a mix of greens ranging from bitter to sweet, also joined the group. They are now all well integrated into our choices of greens.
There are also some greens we don't usually think about, like the leaves on broccoli stalks. Generally, that vegetable is sold with just the heads and a small stalk with leaves removed, but those are a good addition to salads or added to a soup. Christensen also suggested grating the stalk and adding it to a slaw. It can also be pickled. And don't ignore beet greens, and radish and turnip tops.
Greens have a life outside the salad bowl. While we use them mainly in salads, they can also be wilted, stir-fried, added to soups and stews, used in a frittata, and even grilled.
We have many choices of greens, both on display in produce sections, as well as in bags as salad blends and salad kits. If there are some you haven't tried yet, this is a good time to do so. As Christensen said, "Experience and experiment" — good advice for all of us.
Post Bulletin food writer Holly Ebel knows what’s cookin’. Send comments or story tips to email@example.com.