We’re celebrating the return of organic-greens season in North Carolina. Leafy, hearty greens are often overlooked in the fall and winter months because we fully lean into starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes, potatoes, and winter squashes. The colors on our plates often match the colors of fall and winter landscapes: white and brown with the occasional splash of orange. It’s true that our favorite starchy vegetables carry a lot of nutrients our bodies need, but it’s just as important to make space on your plate for hearty greens that thrive during sweater weather.
So, what are the 4 leafy organic greens that will dot the fields of North Carolina and have a space on our plates through January?
Although the kale-me-crazy trend has somewhat plateaued, meaning kale has finally found a permanent place on our plates and in our vocabulary, Happy Dirt farmers’ kale production continues to expand to meet demand. Farmer Herbie Cottle, who owns over 400 acres of organic fields in Duplin County, NC, finally drank the kale kool-aid. He figured since it was one of his top sellers that he might as well give it a try. He now puts kale in his smoothies every morning.
Our farmer partners in North Carolina produce kale from September to December and from April to June. From the mountains to the coast, Happy Dirt farmers grow: green, red, and lacinato. Each type of kale varies in taste and texture.
With ruffled leaves and a fibrous stalk, green kale (or curly kale) is the kale that you are accustomed to seeing in grocery stores. Its flavor is lively and pungent with bitter, peppery qualities. Red kale is more sweet and tender than green kale, and its leaves and stems have a deep-red hue. Lacinato kale (also called dinosaur kale) is less bitter than green and red kale with an earthy, nutty sweetness. Its taste is more delicate on the palette. Lacinato kale has dark blue-green leaves that are slender and embossed in appearance. Regardless of the variety of kale, you want to make sure that the leaves have not wilted or yellowed. To store kale, place in a plastic bag and remove all the air before sealing. It will keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Do not wash your kale before storing, as the exposure to water increases spoilage.
Kale is one of the healthiest foods you can eat. And if you’re curious if you are using the right type of kale for different recipes, we recommend bon appétit’s guide.
If you are from the Southeast, you know about collard greens. Although the collard green as we know it originated in Northern Europe, it’s rooted in African-American experience and food culture. Collard greens (or collards for short) carry robust stories of family and survival in the Southern Black community. The leafy green also carries a healthy amount of protein, fiber, and essential vitamins (A, C, and K) and minerals. Collard greens share the Brassica family with kale.
Look for collard greens that have firm, un-wilted leaves that are deep green with no signs of yellowing. Leaves that are smaller in size will be more tender and have a milder flavor. If you don’t plan to eat your collard greens right away, you can store in the refrigerator for up to a week. Just place in a plastic bag and remove as much air as possible before sealing.
Collard greens can be eaten raw or cooked. Raw collards have a smooth, tough texture with the perfect amount of crunch, making them perfect for wraps. For salads, we recommend shredding collard leaves, tossing them into your salad as an addition. When eaten raw, the flavor is similar to kale but slightly less bitter and more mellow. You can also boil, braise, steam, or sauté collard greens. To prepare collards, rinse under cold water. Chop the leaf portion into 1/2 inch slices, and slice the stems half the size for even cooking.
If you want to try your hand at cooking collard greens, you need a tasty potlikker recipe. We recommend this one from Janice King or this one from Sheri Castle. And in order to really enjoy and appreciate collard greens the way Southerners do, the most important ingredients are patience for the process and understanding of the dish’s history.
Mustard greens fall into the Brassica family along with collard greens and kale. But like collard greens, mustard greens are lesser known. Mustard greens are native to India but date back to ancient Greece. Just like the name implies, the seeds of mustard greens have been used for centuries to make one of the only condiments that should be put on a hotdog: mustard. Similar to collard greens, mustard greens became synonymous with soul food in the American South.
Out of all the leafy greens, mustard greens have the strongest flavor. They definitely have a peppery, spicy bite similar to arugula and radishes. There are many varieties of mustard greens, but the most common variety you will find in the grocery store has bright green, large leaves with ruffled edges. Like all leafy greens, you want to avoid leaves that are wilted and yellow. To store mustard greens, place them in a plastic bag, pressing as much of the air out of the bag before sealing. The greens should last in the refrigerator for three to five days. You can also blanch mustard greens and store them in the freezer!
Both the leaves and stems of mustard greens are edible. If you enjoy the spicy bite, you can eat mustard greens raw. You can steam, sauté, and blanch mustard greens. They are perfect to toss in soups (try this “Italian soup with Southern flair”). Some people even like to pickle mustard greens. To prep mustard greens, wash the greens thoroughly. If you choose to discard the stems, simply fold the leaves in half and break the stems away from leaves.
Not to be confused with Swiss cheese, Swiss chard is a type of leafy green that is a descendent of wild beets in Sicily. It’s part of the Chenopodioideae family. While we love all greens equally, there is something magical about Swiss chard. With stems of many colors that are just as edible and tasty as the leaves, Swiss chard is more versatile than the leafy greens in the Brassica family. And to clarify, there is not a difference between Swiss chard and chard. Saying “chard” is like saying “collards”.
Swiss chard is considered a superfood! It is a great source of vitamins A, K, and C. It boasts high levels of potassium, magnesium, iron, and fiber. Its powerful antioxidants can also lower the risk of certain types of cancer.
Before adding chard to your grocery cart, make sure the leaves and stems are crisp. Make sure the leaves have not wilted and that they are still a vibrant green. As far as the stems of many colors, Swiss chard is often bunched together to create rainbow chard, which is most common in supermarkets. To store chard, use the same method used to store kale, collard greens, and mustard greens. Do not wash the chard before storing in the refrigerator, as it will lead to spoilage. When stored in the refrigerator, Swiss chard should last for up to five days.
When cooking chard, the general rule is to cook the leaves like spinach. You can boil, braise, steam, or sauté Swiss chard. Since the stems are edible, go ahead and cook them along with the leaves. If you need a recipe to start your culinary journey with Swiss Chard, Love & Lemons has a simple recipe. Chard is also delicious when eaten raw. Just as you would do with any raw greens or vegetables, be sure to wash before consuming.
If you are a buyer and want to learn more about how you can add leafy, organic greens from North Carolina to your store’s lineup, fill out our contact form or email [email protected] If you are a farmer who is interested in learning how to work with Happy Dirt, we want to hear from you as well. And if you are a consumer who just wants to learn more about where your food comes from and would be interested in receiving happy, quarterly newsletters, fill out our contact form as well and let us know what you would be interested in learning more about.