We make mistakes so you don’t have to.

Get unlimited access to ALL our foolproof recipes, unbiased equipment reviews and ingredient ratings. Guaranteed to work for you.

Try Free for 14 Days

Email is required
How we use your email address

Five Ways to Cook Greens

By Cook's Illustrated Published May 2011

Here we outline our preferred methods for cooking various types of greens.


Best For: Green, Red, and Savoy Cabbage

Why Use It: Cooking cabbage in a small amount of flavorful liquid preserves its bite. This method also creates a flavor exchange with the cooking liquid and builds complexity. Adding butter to the liquid deepens cabbage flavor and improves texture.

Basic Method: Melt 2 tablespoons butter in Dutch oven; add 1 pound thinly sliced cabbage and 1/2 cup braising liquid. Simmer, covered, until cabbage is wilted, about 9 minutes.

NINE IS THE MAGIC NUMBER: Cabbage notoriously gives off an unpleasant odor when it cooks due to the breakdown of the leaves’ cell walls, which releases sulfur-bearing flavor compounds. The key to minimizing that smell is all in the timing: We’ve found that about nine minutes of braising is just long enough to tenderize the sturdy leaves but brief enough to avoid producing an overabundance of sulfurous odor.


Best For: Bok Choy and Napa and Savoy Cabbage

Why Use It: Stir-frying over high heat lightly browns the greens, enhancing flavor while preserving some crunch.

Basic Method: Heat oil in nonstick skillet (preferred to wok when cooking on flat-top burner) over high heat. If using bok choy or napa cabbage, add sliced stalks and cook briefly. Add aromatics and cook briefly, then add 1 1/2 pounds thinly sliced leaves and cook until tender, about 1 minute.

GIVE STALKS A HEAD START: Unlike many other greens, bok choy and napa cabbage contain both edible stalks and edible leaves. We add the stiffer stalks to the pan first, cooking them until crisp-tender and just starting to brown before adding the more delicate leaves.


Best For: Kale, Collards, and Mustard and Turnip Greens  

Why Use It: Pan-steaming quickly wilts assertive greens while preserving some of their pungent flavor and hearty texture.  

Basic Method: Heat garlic in olive oil in Dutch oven over medium heat. Add 2 pounds damp chopped greens (lots of water should still cling to leaves), cover pan, and cook until wilted, about 7 to 9 minutes for kale and turnip and mustard greens and 9 to 12 minutes for collards.


Best For: Kale, Collards, and Mustard and Turnip Greens

Why Use It: This one-pot method slow-cooks assertive greens in a small amount of liquid. The long cooking mellows the bitterness of the greens more than pan-steaming and yields a more tender texture. To ensure that the greens don’t taste watery, we increase the heat at the end of cooking to evaporate excess liquid.

Basic Method: Cook onions in oil in Dutch oven until softened. Add 2 pounds damp chopped greens and cook until beginning to wilt. Add 2 cups braising liquid, cover, and cook over medium-low heat until tender, 25 to 35 minutes for kale and turnip and mustard greens and 35 to 45 minutes for collards. Uncover, increase heat to medium-high, and cook until pot is almost dry.


Best For: Mature Spinach, Swiss Chard, and Beet Greens

Why Use It: The relatively high heat cooks down medium-tender, high-moisture greens before they have a chance to get soggy.

Basic Method: Heat garlic in oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add 2 pounds damp greens and cook, tossing with tongs, until wilted, about 2 minutes for spinach and 5 minutes for Swiss chard and beet greens.

QUICK SQUEEZE: While sautéing evaporates most of the greens’ moisture, we like to transfer hot greens to a colander in the sink and gently press them against the side to remove any excess water before serving.

PARCOOK BABY SPINACH, Then Sauté: Sautéing baby spinach usually results in a watery mess. Our solution: Wilt this very delicate green in the microwave on high power for three to four minutes with 1 tablespoon of water per 6-ounce bag. Parcooking softens the leaves so moisture can be removed. Press the wilted leaves against the sides of a colander to squeeze out moisture; chop and press again. Then proceed with sautéing.