greens

Locally-sourced Washington greens. Photo by: Michael Sarko

A bushel of greens walk into a salad bar. Each type of leaf takes its seat just left of the ranch dressing and the lot of them begin discussing what they plan to do for the weekend. The Arugula from Mill Creek Farm in Battle Ground, Washington is the first to speak up.With greens season in full swing and providing so many choices, it can sometimes be hard to pick which tasty leaves to put in a salad or serve as a side. If only the greens could just tell us which one to pick, it would be so much easier! Join us on an imaginary journey in which we eavesdrop on some local greens and really get to know them.

“Me? I like to keep things simple. Put me in a Mediterranean salad with a simple vinaigrette, maybe pair me with some cucumbers, cherry tomatoes and olives,” the Arugula says, “I have a strong, sharp flavor, after all. There’s no need to confuse matters with heat and spicy sauces. I’m just too free-spirited for all that cooking nonsense. I’ve been growing wild for thousands of years. Heck, folks haven’t even been cultivating me in farms for more than 20 years anyway. Nope, all I need is some salt and pepper to make me happy.”

The greens all nod in agreement. They look to their ancient cousin, though they also know that none of them are as famous (or infamous) as their Asian compatriot, Spinach.

“Yes, yes. Salads are well and good. Always saw plenty of them down at Garden Delights Farm in Brush Prairie, Washington,” the Spinach mutters, “But when you’ve got as many nutrients as me, a little heat can do wonders. I like giving it my all, which includes a half dozen vitamins, plenty of iron, potassium and even Omega-3 fatty acids. Nothing does it quite like a bowl of Saag Paneer, a classic Indian dish with simple cheese curd and curry sauce.”

Everyone seems very impressed with Spinach. They all perk up at the Paneer recipe. Everyone except for Chard. The little Sicilian fellow, fresh from a CSA box care of Sunshine Farm Market in Chelan, Washington, is guarded and perhaps a bit defensive.

“Everyone thinks I’m too bitter,” the Chard complains, “It’s not my fault, though, if they’re not cooking me right!”

The greens all implore the Chard to elaborate. After some coaxing, he concedes.

“I may not be an expert at salads or fit in with some fancy Punjabi dish, but I’ve still got my strengths. Folks just have to know how to work with me. I don’t stay fresh for long after coming out of the ground, but that just means you’ll have to get to know a local farmer better. Nothing wrong with that. And the reason I’m bitter is because my brother’s the beet root. I’ve got those sharp flavors to contend with. It’s no problem, though. Stir fried with a little bacon and a tiny dot of molasses to make me savory and balance my flavors, I make a breakfast fit for kings!”

The last of the greens, a sturdy Irish fellow hailing from Garden Treasures Farm in Arlington, Washington, has waited his turn patiently.

“Folks are always asking what a hungry cook can do with a handful of Kale,” the Irish green says, “On account of me being so much like cabbage but often too thin and frail to make soup and the like. Well, let me tell you lot about Colcannon. It’s nothing exotic, but it’s comfort food by the very definition. I just hang out in a pot of boiling water with some salt for a little while until I turn nice and dark, then I mix with some mashed potatoes, chives, pepper, and a little milk. There never was a finer dish at the end of the summer or the early autumn.”

With that, the greens glance around the salad bar and feel right at home. They may look similar, but they’ve each got their own character and unique flavor profile.

Editor’s note: Updated from original post May 2011.