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Celery and Celeriac






Spinach etc.

A Weeder's Salad

Gardener's Revenge

Green Fritters

Nettle Bhajis

Spinach, Chard and Wild Greens

The first fresh leaves that you pick in spring always taste the best, but they are really just as good to eat a few months later, so keep picking and cooking your greens - they are full of vitamins and minerals.

Green leaf vegetables need to be picked when young and tender and eaten as soon as possible after picking. They are not really suitable for storing though you can keep them in an open container in the fridge for a day or two. Spinach and Chard can be grown in pots and containers as well as the open ground and, by sowing a succession of varieties, and giving them a little protection in spring and autumn, you should be able to pick fresh leaves for much of the year.

leaves in a rowFor the cook, it is easier to pick individual leaves of all these greens: that way only undamaged, tender leaves are selected and there is minimal picking over. However the gardener wants to remove large, outer leaves that are clearly past it and pick out potentially flowering stalks of chard or spinach. You can cut, at one time, the whole plant of both spinach and chard, cutting about two inches above ground level and leaving the stump to regrow; a few weeks later there will be a nice flush of tender leaves.

The wild greens, Good King Henry, Nettles and Ground Elder also benefit from cutting down to encourage a flush of new leaves; though in the case of the last two the idea is to stop them regrowing - a vain hope.

Spinach is the best known green leaf vegetable but is the trickiest to grow, needing plenty of moisture to stop it bolting; it also dislikes the erratic temperature swings we usually experience here in the south of Scotland. Utterly delicious when young, some people find the older leaves too strong for their taste so try chard instead.
Bought spinach sometimes comes, not as individual leaves, but as complete little plants that have been cut off at ground level. These will need teasing apart and thorough washing. Leaves that grow close to the ground get copiously splashed with earth when it rains.

Chard, Swiss Chard, Spinach Beet and Leaf Beet, this delicious vegetable goes under many names, which can make it a nightmare to find in a seed catalogue; but persevere, it is a must-have vegetable, looking attractive, being troubled by very few pests and diseases and having a multitude of uses in the kitchen.
chard stemsThe brilliantly coloured stems of Rainbow Chard retain their colours when cooked and can be served either separately or mixed with the leaves. They take a little longer to become tender so I usually put them, chopped, into the pan first and then add the leaves once the stems are partially cooked. Because chard leaves grow very upright they don't become as muddy as spinach but will still usually need a rinse before using.

Good King Henry
is a slightly domesticated plant which grows enthusiastically and seeds freely. Do not plant it near anything delicate. In fact it is a thug, growing happily in semi-shade and poorish soil. The whole plant feels slightly mealy and, as well as the leaves, the young flowering spikes are good to eat. Pick tender leaves from the base when it first starts to grow in spring, or from near the tops of the stems later in the season. These last should not be muddy.

You probably won't need to plant the most useful wild greens:
 Nettles (Urtica dioica) and Ground Elder (Aegopodium podagraria) - but don't eradicate them completely. Both are delicious when cooked and are very useful sources of greens at a time of year when garden produce can be minimal. Pick individual ground elder leaves, young and bright coloured ones, and the top bunch of six tender leaves from nettle stems; the lower, larger ones can be very stringy. Give these a wash.

All these green leaf vegetables collapse when you cook them, they are also very light, so when I have given an indication of the weight required for a recipe, the enormous looking heap piled up on the scales really is right.
Nettles, Ground Elder and Good King Henry can be a little fiddly to pick so I often use a mixture of wild and tame leaves if I need to use a big lot.

The recipes can all be made with either spinach or with chard but will have a more interesting flavour if you add at least some of the more weedy leaves. Vary the composition depending on what you have available and what you like best.