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Little-Known Greens to Perk Up Your Salad Plate

Rachel Tepper Paley
April 9, 2014

Photo credit: StockFood, illustration credit: Jen Fox

Salad made with plain old lettuce? A chore. (Even spicy arugula can induce yawns when it’s overplayed.) The same goes for mundane cooked sides that too-often rely upon garden variety greens such as spinach and kale. Zzzzzz

No more, we say! Countless under-appreciated greens are waiting to be discovered and tossed into salads, stir-fries, soups, and stews. Bitter, spicy, mild, and sweet, these greens run the flavor gamut.

Take a look at some of our favorite unsung greens:


Photo credit: StockFood

Perhaps you’ve heard of amaranth seeds, which have been a hit with the quinoa crowd in recent years. But amaranth leaves are enormously popular in Asian, Mediterranean, and Caribbean cuisine, where cooks use them for everything from stir-fries to soups. They tend towards bitterness when raw, but the leaves mellow when cooked. Serious Eats suggests sautéing a mound of the greens in oil with a handful of crushed garlic cloves. Find amaranth in Asian groceries or grow your own from seed.


Photo credit: Stock Food

Mizuna, sometimes called Japanese mustard green, has long, broad leaves that boast a spicy, earthy flavor. In Asian cuisines, cooks pickle them and use them to garnish noodle dishes. But you can also chop them roughly and toss ‘em into a cold picnic salad of boiled new potatoes dressed with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Look for mizuna at your local farmer’s market.


Photo credit: Stock Food

Chrysanthemum flowers get all the attention. But Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Southeast Asian markets often stock green chrysanthemum leaves, which in those cuisines are served steamed or boiled in soups and stir-fries. (They’re too bitter to eat raw.) Once prepared, the leaves have a grassy flavor, and its stalks are slightly sweet.

Good King Henry

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The whimsically-named green Good King Henry tastes a good deal like spinach when blanched. You can eat it raw in salads, but fair warning: It’s bitter. (Noticing a trend yet?) According to The Guardian, ancient Romans were chowing down on it way back when, so why shouldn’t we? Unfortunately, not many people do, so your best bet to finding some is growing your own.


Photo credit: Stock Food

Purslane has a “pleasant crunch and lemony tang,” and here’s more excellent news: It’s high in vitamin C and omega-3 fatty acids. Do like the Turks and toss the raw leaves with a hearty dollop of yogurt cut with olive oil and crushed raw garlic. You can find purslane in farmer’s markets or grow your own.


Photo credit: Stock Food

What’s not to love about lovage? Its leaves pack a flavor similar to that of celery (minus the crunch). It works well raw in salads or cooked in soups and stews. Try this colorful salad of lovage, chervil, spinach, arugula, new potatoes, beets, and tarragon. Dried leaves work in cooked dishes, but you can either grow your own or purchase a plant if you’re hankering for a salad.


Photo credit: Stock Food

Tart and acidic, sorrel leaves are an excellent citrusy accent in salads, though its flavor softens when cooked. Experiment with it in this creamy soup of potatoes, onion, carrot, basmati rice, and thyme. You can purchase your own sorrel plant here, or (are you noticing another theme, here?) grow your own.


Photo credit: Stock Food

When mature, primrose’s lemon-scented yellow flowers would make for a pretty sight in a vase atop your kitchen table. But before the buds make a flashy appearance, snatch up some leaves. When stir-fried, they take on a light flavor similar to mustard greens. You can grow your own, but skilled foragers might be able to find primrose wild—making salad that much more exciting.