In the summer, eating local is easy. Farmers’ markets abound, featuring mounds of beautiful, colorful produce. In the winter, there are potatoes, sweet potatoes, and a rotating cast of root vegetables that require a bit more work than the kiss of the grill and a splash of olive oil. Fortunately, there are a few green things hardy enough for the long slog through winter—kale, collard greens, chard and spinach among them. These winter staples are essential for providing that I’ve-eaten-my-vegetables satisfaction, and are some of the healthiest things around.
Dark, leafy greens are packed with vitamins A and C, calcium, iron, fiber and folic acid. They are also incredibly versatile; many varieties can be eaten raw, but they can also be sautéed, braised or used to stuff meat, pasta or those ubiquitous root vegetables. The only tricky thing is that the ribs and leaves of some varieties can require staggered cooking times to prevent overcooked leaves or tough, stringy stems. Just separate the stems from the leaves, and give them a short head start in the pan.
Bitterness is the quality most often associated with dark greens. Cooking will often mellow that flavor, but it is also something that should be played against with tartness (citrus, wine, vinegar) or richness (cheese, meat or nuts). The leaves are excellent tossed into hearty soups, or blanched, then folded into ricotta and layered in lasagna. Bitter greens are also an excellent addition to Southeast Asian-style stir-fries that rely on a balance of disparate flavors—they absolutely love chili, garlic, fish sauce, oyster sauce and a dash of sugar.