If you want to get more fresh leafy greens into your life but don’t want to spend time washing, chopping, and stemming, this guide to baby greens is for you.
Where once baby greens used to seem precious, even pretentious, now they’re a staple of supermarket greens sections. Many a CSA or farm box share comes with them, and you’ll find them at farm markets, too. They’re even more fantastic when freshly picked!
What are baby greens? They’re just what they sound like — typical leafy greens, including spinach, arugula, kale, lettuces, and more, harvested at just a few weeks old. Ready to eat, these greens in miniature are at their most tender.
A more exotic, purple-tinged variety of baby kale
Use baby greens up quickly. Baby greens are more tender and perishable than their full-grown counterparts. If you buy them packaged and don’t use them up within 2 or 3 days, you mights start to see some leaves turn brown, slimy, and pretty yucky. Sorry for the unappetizing language, but that’s the truth. So do use them while they’re fresh and appealing.
Wash even if triple-washed? If you purchase packaged baby greens, they’re usually labeled “triple-washed.” Personally, I still like to give them a good rinse, because you just never know. If tossing into a salad, make sure to dry before using, either in a salad spinner or blotted gently between clean tea towels. If adding to soups, stews, grain dishes, stir-fries, etc. it’s fine to add with just a little water clinging to the leaves.
To cook or not to cook? Mixed salad greens are best raw, since after all, they’re tender lettuces and cooking doesn’t improve them. The other baby greens are just as good raw or cooked. Uncooked, they’re a great addition to smoothies, in which their mild flavor blends beautifully with fruit, and as salad greens.
Lightly cooked, and by that I mean just the briefest of wilting, you can toss them in at the very end of cooking warm dishes, and stir in just until wilted. Similarly, you can scatter a big handful atop a pizza just as it’s finishing its bake time and bake for just another minute or so.
Are baby greens good for you? Of course! Like their larger counterparts, greens (and the darker, the more packed with nutrients as a general rule) are good sources of Vitamins A, C, and K. Depending on variety, they can be good sources of the minerals calcium and potassium as well. Greens are high in fiber and low in calories.
Baby spinach comes in a surprising array of varieties, but it seems like many of us have gotten stuck on baby spinach. It’s so convenient — no chopping or stemming. And unlike fresh batches of larger leaf varieties which can harbor gritty soil, baby spinach is triple washed and super clean. That said though, I still like to give any greens, even those labeled triple-washed, a good rinse before using, as mentioned earlier
Used raw as a salad or smoothie green, or lightly wilted in any number of dishes, baby spinach might be the most versatile of the baby greens.
Baby arugula has a bold flavor, sometimes described as peppery or mustardy, though somehow those fail to capture its unique flavor. Baby or young arugula leaves are less pungent than larger leaves that are left to grow larger before harvesting. Arugula is used raw (in which form it retains more of its bite) and wilted or very lightly cooked. See more in our Guide to Arugula.
Baby kale is just what it sounds like — tiny kale leaves, minus the tough stems. No need to stem or chop. Now there’s no excuse not to eat your hardy greens! Sometimes green, sometimes tinged with purple or red, baby kale it’s good anywhere you’d use regular kale, spinach or arugula.
Power greens are a newer blend, featuring various combinations of baby-sized leaves of chard, kale, spinach, chard, and/or others in one neat package. You’ll find this located wherever baby spinach and baby arugula are shelved in the produce sections of well-stocked supermarkets.
Mixed salad greens prove that when the greens of a salad supply such a lovely palette of colors and variety of textures, just a few additional ingredients are needed. Mixed baby salad greens can include any of: romaine, arugula, frisée, radicchio, mizuna, chard, and others.
Baby Asian greens like baby bok choy are excellent as well. See more in our guide to bok choy. Pictured above is tatsoi, which technically isn’t a baby green, because it’s always small. But since it’s one of the most widely available of Asian greens I thought to include it here.
Tatsoi can be used much like some of the other baby greens mentioned here, and is lovely to add to salads and stir-fries, with its dark, spoon-shaped leaves.
Recipe-free ideas for salads using baby greens
Baby greens of any kind are a fantastic way to start a salad. My preferred way of dressing these kinds of pretty salads is with a little olive oil and lemon juice, but you can use your favorite dressing. Salads incorporating some fruity, for instance, are good with French dressing or raspberry vinaigrette.
Here are some ideas for using baby greens to start great salads that don’t need recipes, just a few fresh ingredients and inspiration:
- Strips of sun-dried tomatoes; diced fresh tomatoes or halved cherry tomatoes; thinly sliced red or orange bell pepper; sliced cucumber; toasted pine nuts or sunflower seeds
- Marinated artichoke hearts; pan-roasted corn kernels; cherry or grape tomatoes; toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds
- Diced Asian pear; sweet pea shoots or other sprouts; chopped toasted cashews, pickled beets
- Diced apple, pear, or Asian pear; diced avocado; thinly sliced red bell pepper; toasted walnuts or pecans (optional: add a tiny head of radicchio)
- Diced Granny Smith apple; diced avocado; sliced carrots or baby carrots, pumpkin seeds
- Sliced pickled beets; sliced crisp cucumber; diced or grated daikon radish or turnip; chopped fresh dill and/or cilantro
- Sliced red bell pepper; cured black olives; yellow grape tomatoes; sliced brown mushrooms (raw or wilteed)
- Sliced mushrooms, matchstick-cut baby carrots, sliced bok choy, and white turnip, daikon radish, or Jerusalem artichoke; bottled or homemade Sesame-Ginger Salad Dressing.
Here are more good food guides.
Can’t get enough leafy greens?
Wild About Greens by Nava Atlas