Craving salads this time of year—but tired of the same old bowl of greens? Move over, iceberg: These leafy greens will transform your next salad and help you get your recommended daily veggie intake. San Francisco-based chef and nutrition consultant Grace Avila shares her favorite preparations and pairings for the following eight super-greens.
If you’re looking to make the switch from iceberg, this mild-flavored lettuce will deliver the satisfying crunch you crave along with eight times more vitamin A and six times more vitamin C than its light green counterpart. These leaves also provide higher levels of potassium and folic acid than other types of lettuce.
Salad Savvy: Pair this lettuce with a mustard vinaigrette to pep up the mild flavor. Toss in hard-boiled eggs, grape tomatoes, and boiled red potatoes for a French-style salad that’ll complement most dishes.
Beyond a Bowl of Greens: Top a veggie pizza with chopped romaine immediately after cooking for an extra layer of flavor (and nutrients!).
A member of the mustard family, arugula has a pungent, peppery flavor. Along with nutrients like vitamin C and beta-carotene, arugula offers more omega-3s than other greens, providing about 47 mg in 1 ounce of uncooked leaves. Bonus: Arugula was prized as an aphrodisiac among ancient Romans and Egyptians.
Salad Savvy: Try a creamy yogurt-based dressing to cut arugula’s strong flavor. Mix 1 cup yogurt with 1/2 cup lemon juice and 2 tablespoons honey.
Beyond a Bowl of Greens: In late fall, when basil begins to fade and frost-tolerant arugula still soldiers on, make a peppery pesto by mixing arugula leaves with olive oil, walnuts, garlic cloves, and Parmesan cheese.
Like other members of the all-important cruciferous vegetable family, delicate watercress is packed with enzymes known as isothiocyanates, which have been shown to prevent cancer. One recent study even showed a 23 percent decrease in DNA damage to white blood cells—an early indicator of whole-body cancer risk—after two months of eating a cereal bowl full of watercress each day.
Salad Savvy: Tone down the spicy-herb quality of watercress with a sweet dressing. Mix 1/4 cup orange juice, 1/4 cup olive oil, and 2 tablespoons lemon juice. (Add 2 teaspoons honey for more sweetness.)
Beyond a Bowl of Greens: Puree the leaves with lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper to make a pungent, herby dressing for other greens.
Gram for gram, kale contains more nutrients than most other greens combined. Just 1 cup delivers twice your daily requirement of vitamin A and nearly seven times the recommended amount of vitamin K, an essential for bone and blood health. Kale also carries a hefty load of calcium, copper, and manganese, all three of which help ward off bone loss and help the body absorb iron.
Salad Savvy: Most chefs steer clear of serving this tough green raw, but chopping it into thin strips and massaging them with vinegar and olive oil can help quiet the bitter flavor and wilt the stiff leaves.
Beyond a Bowl of Greens: Chop and toss kale into a white bean soup during the last 15 minutes of cooking to deliver maximum nutrients and milder flavor.
Ever wonder about the name of that strange, coral-looking plant resting in your mixed greens? Chances are, it’s chicory. Also known as curly endive, this bitter green comes packed with carbohydrate compounds known as fructans that boost immunity, fight harmful intestinal bacteria, and reduce the risk of colon cancer.
Salad Savvy: The slightly acidic tang pairs well with sweeter flavors. Use a raspberry vinaigrette, and add apples and beets.
Beyond a Bowl of Greens: Sauté the leaves with onions in a skillet, and add garlic and salt to taste. Add this mixture to pasta for an authentic Italian preparation.
Southern cooking often gets a bum nutritional rap, but it is one of the few food traditions around the world that regularly incorporates the thick, leathery leaves of collard greens. One cup of cooked collards provides 45 percent of your daily requirement for folate, a B vitamin shown to slow cognitive decline in older adults.
Salad Savvy: Like kale, these leaves have a strong flavor that you can tone down with a vinegar marinade. Cut the thick leaves into thin strips and top them with pesto or fresh corn and chopped onions.
Beyond a Bowl of Greens: Discard the central rib, and cook the leaves, covered, on medium heat for three minutes or until they wilt. For an authentic Southern side dish, simmer them in 4 cups of water with a smoked ham hock or bacon, and add salt and red pepper flakes to taste.
This cabbage-like lettuce grows in the shade, which gives it a purplish-red color. But the lack of sunlight also means radicchio contains lower levels of beta-carotene than its sun-kissed cousins. Even so, this green packs high levels of lutein and zeaxanthin, A vitamins known for their ability to protect the eyes from age-related macular degeneration.
Salad Savvy: Soft cheeses like feta or goat complement radicchio’s stiff-textured leaves. Top with a dressing of rosemary olive oil and sherry vinegar.
Beyond a Bowl of Greens: Slice a head into halves or quarters, and roast them in the oven next to a chicken or turkey, where they will absorb some of the meat’s flavors. Or add small pieces to risotto or rice for a veggie option.
Also known as lamb’s lettuce, this leafy green may be extremely delicate but it’s no nutritional lightweight. It’s packed with vitamin B9, known for its anti-fatigue and anti-stress properties, and contains 30 percent more iron than spinach.
Salad Savvy: Mix lime juice and olive oil for a dressing that will add flavor without overpowering the subtle taste of the leaves. Eating this green raw also helps retain the water-soluble vitamins.
Beyond a Bowl of Greens: Puree with an egg yolk for a creamy green dipping sauce for veggies.
Quick tip! Don’t cook greens in copper or aluminum pans if you can help it. The metals react with the sulfur compounds in the veggies and can destroy some of the vitamins and phytonutrients.
Certain greens (particularly spinach, chard, kale, and collard greens) harbor mineral-bound compounds known as oxalates. Oxalic acid forms a particularly strong bond with calcium, which may hinder the body’s ability to absorb calcium and can contribute to kidney stones. Add vinegar or cook the greens to reduce oxalate levels so the body will better absorb and process their nutrients.
By Lindsey Galloway