Spring Greens: Quick and Easy Tips, Recipes, and Nutrition Know-How

Fire up your salads and other dishes with the peppery flavors of watercress, dandelion greens, mustard greens, and arugula.

A selection of spring greens

It’s easy to get in a rut buying bags of “spring mix” greens, which mostly include mild, traditional lettuces and spinach. Next time you’re shopping, consider selecting some of the lesser-known spring greens like watercress, dandelion greens, mustard greens, and arugula; they are bursting with peppery flavor and are very versatile when cooking. They can zest up your salads, add deep flavor and nutrients to sautés, and they’re amazing sprinkled on top of cooked dishes. Eating them is like a spring cleaning for your body — they’re deeply nourishing, their fiber helps your body shed waste, and their nutrients both detoxify and give your immune system a healthy boost. In the next few pages, you’ll find easy ways to treat yourself to their fresh spring goodness.

Mustard Greens

mustard-greensFood photography by Terry Brennan; Food styling by Betsy Nelson
The distinctly pungent flavor, wide array of textures, and beautiful color — whether emerald green, dark red, or deep purple — of mustard greens make this cruciferous vegetable a beautiful, tasty addition to meals.

Mustard greens originated in the Himalayas and today are an important ingredient in Southern cooking. To tame the bitterness, use heat (sauté or blanch), salt (tamari, bacon, or prosciutto also work well), and oil (like extra-virgin olive oil, sesame oil, or nut oils). For a simple dish, enjoy mustard greens sautéed with walnuts. You can also add young or finely chopped raw mustard greens to salads for a kick.


arugulaFood photography by Terry Brennan; Food styling by Betsy Nelson
With a crisp texture and a sweet, spicy, bitter flavor, arugula is one of the most peppery spring greens. A relative of broccoli and cabbage, arugula is a cruciferous veggie that’s terrific raw in pesto and salads — it’s a main ingredient in salad mixes called mesclun — or as an unexpected topper on pizza or eggs. It’s less pungent when added to hot foods like pasta or cooked vegetables, or used like an herb in sautés.

Dandelion Greens

dandelion-greensFood photography by Terry Brennan; Food styling by Betsy Nelson
These natural healers help support strong bones and healthy skin and ward off cancer. When they grow, they usually pop up on degraded land, where their roots pull nutrients from deep in the soil back up to the surface through their leaves. You can harvest these greens just about anywhere they haven’t been exposed to chemicals. Their earthy, nutty, bitter flavors are best right after picking, and before the plants’ yellow flowers emerge. To reduce bitterness, especially with older leaves, try steaming them before sautéing, or blanch them, saving the water as dandelion tea. Or combine dandelion greens with a mix of sweet, sour, or salty foods to balance the bitterness on your palate. They’re especially good raw in salads or blended into smoothies, or braised with garlic, meat, or vinegar. And don’t forget the dandelion’s roots, which are sweet and can be cooked like parsnips.


watercressFood photography by Terry Brennan; Food styling by Betsy Nelson
Delicate and crisp, this water-grown delight is one of the earliest-known leafy greens eaten by humans. Related to radishes and mustard, watercress has a strong peppery flavor that pairs well with similarly assertive flavors like salty meats and olives, or contrasts with milder flavors like goat cheese, pears, or walnuts. It’s great raw on salads and in sandwiches, but avoid exposing it to prolonged high heat. Because watercress wilts easily, add it to soups and pastas at the last minute, or toss it fresh onto already cooked hot foods.

Quick & Easy Spring Greens


  • Pesto

    For a zesty pesto, substitute watercress, arugula, dandelion greens, or mustard greens for the traditional basil.

  • Raw Salad
    Raw Salad

    Spring greens like arugula are a natural enjoyed raw in a salad, and are perfect with other spring-market finds like citrus, strawberries, asparagus, radishes, and spring onions. Drizzle with a light vinaigrette, or just a squirt of lemon juice and a bit of extra-virgin olive oil. Great with a sprinkle of chèvre or crumbled bacon.

  • A selection of spring greens
    Sandwich or Wrap

    Green up a sandwich or wrap by replacing lettuce with zippy spring greens, like arugula, watercress, or mustard greens. The spicy greens are great with cheese, avocado, meat (like smoked turkey or bacon), and creamy spreads like hummus.

  • Sauté

    Quickly sauté any spring greens with a little extra-virgin olive oil, beginning with some minced pancetta or bacon if you like. Drizzle with a touch of vinegar or a squirt of fresh lemon juice to finish, and season with salt and pepper.

  • Soup

    Add chopped fresh greens to a broth soup, such as miso soup or hot-and-sour soup. They will wilt quickly and add a delicious flavor. They’re a great addition to a bean soup as well.



Spring Greens and Zucchini Lasagna

This grain-free lasagna has thinly sliced zucchini instead of pasta — eggplant makes a great substitute, too — and it’s served with a roasted-carrot sauce. Adding a little nutritional yeast and almond flour to the ricotta provides richness and flavor.

Makes six servings
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 75 minutes

  • 3 large, whole carrots, washed and trimmed
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 to 4 medium zucchini, cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch slices
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 cups chopped arugula, watercress, dandelion greens, or mustard greens
  • 11/2 cups ricotta cheese
  • 1 clove garlic, pressed
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 tbs. chopped fresh dill
  • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. When oven is hot, place the carrots on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Roast until they are tender, about 25 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the lasagna ingredients. Roast the zucchini slices on a lightly oiled sheet until just tender, about 10 minutes. Season the zucchini with salt and pepper. Remove the roasted zucchini from the sheet, replace with the arugula, and return the pan to the oven to wilt the greens, about five to seven minutes. Mix the ricotta cheese with the garlic, eggs, and lemon zest, and season with salt and pepper. When the carrots are roasted, add to a blender with the vegetable stock and blend until smooth. Season with chopped fresh dill, salt, and pepper. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Pour half of the carrot-dill sauce in the bottom of a 9-by-9-inch pan. Line the bottom of the pan with a single layer of the zucchini slices, then cover with half of the roasted greens. Top with the ricotta-cheese mixture, sprinkle with the remaining greens, and layer with the zucchini slices. Pour the rest of the carrot sauce on top and sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, and serve.

Watercress, Citrus, and Avocado Salad

Change up this classic salad by trying other combinations: dandelion greens with a balsamic and dried-cherry vinaigrette, or arugula with a warm pancetta dressing and shaved Parmesan. For a heartier salad, add diced smoked turkey or chicken, or a crumble of cooked bacon.

watercress-saladFood photography by Terry Brennan; Food styling by Betsy Nelson
Makes four servings
Prep time: 10 minutes

  • 4 cups coarsely chopped watercress, stems included
  • 1 cup pink grapefruit segments, juice reserved
  • 11/2 cups diced avocado (about 1 avocado)
  • 1/4 cup finely sliced red onion
  • 1 tbs. white-wine vinegar
  • 4 tbs. walnut oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Toss the greens together with the grapefruit, avocado, and onion. Whisk the reserved grapefruit juice, vinegar, and oil together, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour over the salad.

Spring Greens Korean Rice Bowl

Greens are an essential part of any rice-bowl dish. This version features pork, but you could easily use beef, chicken, fish, or tempeh, and you can sub in any seasonal veggies.

korean-rice-bowlFood photography by Terry Brennan; Food styling by Betsy Nelson
Makes four servings
Prep time: 45 minutes, plus marinating time
Cooking time: 15 minutes

  • 2 tbs. tamari
  • 1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tbs. grated gingerroot
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 tbs. honey
  • 3/4 pound pork loin, sliced into 1/8-inch-thin strips
  • 1 cup julienned cucumber
  • 1 tsp. brown-rice vinegar
  • 1 tbs. peanut oil
  • 5 green onions, chopped
  • 6 cups chopped mustard greens, dandelion greens, or watercress
  • 4 cups cooked brown rice
  • 6 radishes, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup julienned carrot
  • 4 tsp. toasted sesame seeds
  • Kimchi for serving (optional)
  • 4 poached eggs (optional)

Combine the tamari, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, and honey with the pork strips in a bowl; marinate the meat for at least one hour or overnight. Drizzle the cucumber with the brown-rice vinegar. Heat a heavy skillet with the peanut oil, and sauté the meat and its marinade with the green onions. When the meat is cooked, toss in the greens and cook until wilted. Divide the cooked rice into individual bowls, and top with the meat and greens, radishes, carrots, and cucumbers, and sprinkle with the sesame seeds. Serve with kimchi and top with a poached egg, if desired.

Spring Greens Tonic

Make a refreshing cleansing juice with celery, lemon, romaine lettuce, and watercress or another spring green. Add a green apple or a pear for sweetness if you like.

tonicFood photography by Terry Brennan; Food styling by Betsy Nelson
Makes 24 ounces
Prep time: three minutes

  • 5 stalks celery
  • 1 head romaine lettuce
  • 1 bunch watercress or arugula
  • 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 Granny Smith apple

Run all ingredients through a juicer and enjoy immediately.


Kitchen Tricks

  • Just before use, wash greens in a sink full of cold water to clean them and liven them up, then spin dry.
  • If the stems are tougher than the leaves, try separating them before cooking. Put the stems over heat first, adding greens at the last minute.

Spring Green Pakoras: Indian Fritter Recipe

These little Indian fritters are traditionally made with spinach or other vegetables but are fantastic when made with mustard greens, dandelion greens, watercress, nettles, or arugula. Serve with the yogurt-mint sauce.



Makes 12
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes

  • 1 cup garbanzo-bean flour
  • 1 cup plain full-fat yogurt, divided
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • 1 cup chopped mustard greens or other spring greens
  • 4 green onions, sliced
  • 1 tsp. whole cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp. ground coriander
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 cups peanut oil
  • 1 tbs. minced fresh mint leaves
  • Dash of cayenne pepper (optional)

Mix the garbanzo-bean flour, 1/2 cup of yogurt, and water in a bowl until smooth. Stir in the greens, onions, cumin seeds, coriander, and salt until well combined to make the pakora batter.

Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan to 350 degrees F.

Meanwhile, make the yogurt sauce by mixing the remaining yogurt with mint and salt to taste. Add a dash of cayenne pepper if you want to spice it up.

Drop 1 tablespoon of the pakora batter into the hot oil. Continue until you have three to four pakoras in the oil. Fry until they float to the top, about three to four minutes. Continue with the remainder of the batter.

Drain on a cooling rack, sprinkle with a little salt, and serve with the yogurt dipping sauce.

is a Minneapolis-based writer and a frequent contributor to Experience Life. All recipes were created by Betsy Nelson (a.k.a. “That Food Girl”), a Minneapolis-based food stylist and recipe developer.

Food photography by Terry Brennan; Food styling by Betsy Nelson

Leave a Comment

Subscribe to our Newsletters

Newsletter Signup
Weekly Newsletter
Special Promotions