Bring New Flavors to Salad with These 5 Spring Greens

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Jenny Huang)

Welcome spring by punching up your salads with greens that are not only delicious, but also ridiculously good for you. There is no need to feel like you are laboriously rotating through three or four salad greens in the name of health. And while the always-popular spinach and arugula are certainly delicious, there are so many other wonderful options to choose from.

These five greens are powerhouse vegetables so nutrient-dense that they give the mighty kale a real run for its money. It also doesn’t hurt that each brings a truly unique flavor profile, ensuring that you won’t get bored.

(Image credit: Jenny Huang)

1. Dandelion Greens

Dandelion greens, the edible leaves of what many consider to be an invasive weed, have been gathered for food since prehistory. Low in calories, these greens provide high amounts of vitamin A, B, and C; minerals; and fiber. Just one cup of dandelion greens contains 10 percent of your daily recommended value of calcium. Long prized for its medicinal properties, dandelion greens have been used as an herbal remedy to purify blood and settle digestion. While available year-round, dandelion greens are at their best in the spring to early summer, when the less-bitter tender, young leaves are harvested. When eaten raw, these greens display a bitter spiciness that many find to be too pronounced. Blanching and sautéing first is a great way temper this bitterness. They are a wonderful foil for rich flavors such as eggs, bacon, and creamy cheeses.

Dandelion Green Recipes

(Image credit: Jenny Huang)

2. Mizuna

Mizuna, a member of the mustard family, is a plant indigenous to Japan and much loved by the Japanese. High in immune-boosting vitamin C, folate, and iron, it also contains powerful antioxidants. A very hearty plant with a long growing season, it has a fresh, crisp taste with a mild, peppery flavor that is slightly spicy but more subtle than arugula. Both the crisp stalks and beautiful frond-like leaves are edible. Its mildly sweet flavor is especially wonderful when paired with citrus, such as a lemon or grapefruit vinaigrette. The Japanese also love pickling this wonderful vegetable.

(Image credit: Jenny Huang)

3. Pea Shoots

The tender pea shoot has long been an important part of Asian cuisine, but it is only recently gained popularity in the U.S. The soft leaves with curlicue tendrils are typically harvested from sugar snap peas. They are a great source of vitamins A and C and folic acid, and are high in protein. Pea shoots are also dense with antioxidants and fiber. Deliciously sweet and filled with the promise and taste of sweet peas, the leaves, stems, and tendrils of the plant are delicate enough to eat raw, but especially wonderful with a quick sauté.

Pea Shoot Recipes

(Image credit: Jenny Huang)

4. Watercress

Watercress, an aquatic plant, is a close relative to the more well-known mustard greens, cabbage, and arugula. Watercress has long been popular in Europe, Central Asia, and the Americas for use as both food and medicine. This powerhouse green contains more than 15 essential vitamins and minerals — more calcium than milk, more vitamin C than oranges, and more iron than spinach. These beautifully round, scalloped leaves deliver a spicy, peppery punch that pairs especially well with gamey meats such as duck or tart fruits like sour cherries.

Watercress Recipes

(Image credit: Jenny Huang)

5. Mâche

Mâche, also known as lamb’s lettuce, is a hardy vegetable that has been eaten in Europe for centuries and cultivated in France since the 17th century. While only recently gaining some popularity in the U.S., this delicious green is one of the most nutrient-dense vegetables around. It contains three times as much vitamin C as the common lettuce and almost as much iron as spinach. This rosette-patterned green is deliciously mild and nutty-tasting. In salads, the soft, buttery leaves are a wonderful contrast to some of the more bitter-tasting greens on this list.