Tender, Flavorful Baby Greens

My husband has been growing greens all winter long in his greenhouse. Now that it is warming up, he has begun moving things to his outdoor garden. Although he grows many wonderful items, I just love the baby greens. I have written a prior Cooking Tip on lettuces as well as on microgreens. In between these two categories is the subject of this Cooking Tip – Baby Greens.

In the growing stages of greens, it all starts with the seed. When this germinates, it is called a sprout. As the sprout puts out its first leaves, it becomes a cress. These first leaves are called “cotyledons” and are not true leaves. One source compares cotyledons to baby teeth and true leaves to adult teeth. After this cress stage, the microgreens develop and are anywhere between 2-4 weeks old. As the plant continues to develop and put out true leaves, the result is baby greens. Although there is not a true distinction between microgreens and baby greens, for our purposes we will think of baby greens as older and more developed than microgreens. And, they are smaller versions of the fully developed plant. Any type of green can be harvested at a “baby” stage. For a list of types of greens, see my prior Tip on lettuces.

Baby greens are very tender and flavorful. For some greens such as lettuce and spinach, there may not be too much difference in texture and flavor between the baby version and the mature plant. In other heartier greens such as kale, the baby version may be much easier for some people to eat since it is going to be lighter in flavor and more tender.

Arugula is interesting in that its baby form is different in shape than its adult form. Younger arugula is more oval in shape rather than the typical branched shape of older arugula. Baby arugula has a less intense flavor than the adult counterpart.

According to farmers, “microgreens” and “baby greens” are not true botanical terms but are applied to these products for marketing purposes. There are other labels you will see at the store that are also solely to get you to grab their particular box of greens. Here are some examples from my supermarket. Your neighborhood store may have different varieties. To know what to buy, just look at the list of greens to see whether it contains anything you do not like.

Power greens – these are generally mixtures of baby leaves of, among others, chard, kale and spinach.

Mixed salad greens – these give you a variety of color and texture and include greens such as romaine, arugula, frisée, radicchio, mizuna and chard.

Baby spring mix – also termed “mesclun”, this is similar to the mixed salad greens and contains a mixture of lettuces, chard, spinach, arugula, frisée, tatsoi, lolla rosa, mustard greens, radicchio and beet tops. Some spring mixes may also contain herbs such as cilantro, parsley and dill.

50/50 salad blend – this is a mixture of half spinach and half baby spring mix.

Protein greens – distinguished by the addition of sweet pea leaves, it also contains other baby greens such as spinach, bok choy, kale and mizuna.

What do you do with baby greens?

  • Make a simple salad with your favorite vinaigrette. I normally use a mixture of what my husband has harvested. It might be mature lettuce and spinach along with baby greens and microgreens or it might be just baby greens. Rarely are you going to make a dish with just microgreens.
  • Some of the sturdier baby greens such as chard and kale might be gently sautéed and served with a warm, light sauce.
  • Layer them with similar flavors such as tossing pea greens in a pea salad made of different types of peas.
  • Use them as a garnish for soups or entrees.

There is a debate on which is healthier – microgreens, baby greens or mature greens. I am not sure I really care as I know that they are all healthy and we should all be eating more greens. Eat the ones you like. Eat a variety. Try them in new preparations. We have so much choice nowadays. Enjoy them and be creative!