You know spring is in full bloom when tender greens fill farmers’ markets and produce stands. From spinach and arugula to delicate romaine, these crisp leaves form the foundation for warm-weather salads, fresh pastas and more. Here’s a sampling of some of our favorite spring greens, along with our best tips for choosing, storing and cooking with them.
Look for: Greens should be fresh and crisp, free of blemishes, yellowed spots or tiny insect holes. Small, young leaves will have a milder flavor; more and more greens are now available as tender “baby” leaves. Look for greens tied in bunches or washed, chopped and sealed in plastic bags. (Even though the latter are prewashed, they should be rinsed well again before using.)
It’s best to store greens unwashed in plastic bags. They are best if eaten the day of purchase, but soft-leaved greens will keep for up to 4 days in a plastic bag in the crisper of the refrigerator. Firmer lettuces such as romaine will keep for up to 10 days. Here are a few of the best varieties for spring:
- Arugula: These dark green, deeply notched leaves are nutty, tangy and slightly peppery in flavor. Add it to a salad, or use it to top pastas and pizzas.
- Delicate Lettuces: Butter, red-leaf, oakleaf and romaine lettuces are sweet and tender. Mesclun — a Provençal word for “mix,” is a varied mixture of young, tender greens — is traditionally a salad consisting of the first greens and herbs of spring.
- Mâche: Also known as field salad, corn salad or lamb’s lettuce, mâche is very delicate and mild, with oval leaves that grow in small, loose bunches. It makes a beautiful addition to salads.
- Sorrel: Sorrel has a strongly tart flavor and triangular leaves; the paler the leaves, the more delicate the flavor. It lends a bright, pleasantly sour flavor when pureed into soups and sauces.
- Spinach: With dark green leaves and an earthy, faintly bitter taste, spinach is a staple on tables around the world. Use baby spinach leaves raw in salads, and save mature spinach for sauteeing, stir-frying and pastas.
- Watercress: Watercress has a refreshingly peppery flavor and small, round, dark green leaves on short, delicate stems. It’s delicious used fresh on salads and slightly wilted in seafood and meat dishes.
Prep tips: To wash greens, immerse them in a large bowl or sink filled with cool water. Gently lift them out and repeat the washing until the water is clear. A salad spinner is ideal for drying greens, but shaking them gently in a clean kitchen towel will also absorb excess moisture. Be sure to dry the greens as much as possible, especially if using them for salad — excess water will dilute the dressing and prevent it from coating the leaves. If you have time, put the washed greens in the refrigerator to crisp.
|Baked Eggs with Spinach and Cream
These individually-sized dishes of blanched spinach and baked eggs are perfect for an easy breakfast or brunch. The rich cream balances the earthy spinach leaves to perfection.
|Beet and Watercress Salad with Fresh Mozzarella
Here, peppery watercress, mild mozzarella and sweet beets combine for a colorful, simple salad.
|Sweet Pea Soup with Fresh Sorrel
Sorrel’s natural tartness works beautifully in this bright, refreshing soup, made with freshly shelled peas and topped with crème fraîche.
|Spaghetti with Arugula-Mint Pesto
Swap arugula and fresh mint for traditional basil to make a flavorful pesto that’s perfect for spring. Toss with spaghetti, and dinner is served.
|Grilled Romaine Salad
Yes, you can grill your greens! Add some avocado and a Caesar-inspired vinaigrette, and you’ve got a grilled salad that can stand on its own or accompany a juicy steak.
|Shrimp and Mâche Salad
Thinly sliced radishes, herbs and delicate mâche make the perfect foundation for shrimp in this main course salad.
Featured Recipe: Butter Lettuce with Mustard Vinaigrette