Market Matters- Red Is The New Greens

January is the height of the season in Southern California for the greens we all love.

Kale, Spinach, Rapini, Chard, Mustard, Pea Tendrils. You see them this time of year at the market. They are so beautiful, like masterful Baroque still-life paintings of the Dutch Golden Age.  The intensity of detail of these greens can almost be off-putting. Intricate shapes, complex gradations of color; thick, lush and vibrant. Cooking with them just makes you feel like an artist.

But if you are able to look past all the variations of green greens, you might notice another type of green entirely. And that green is RED!

You may be familiar with Red Leaf Lettuce. It’s a pretty alternative to the Green Leaf Lettuce you find in your local supermarket. Aside from its striking red blush, it tastes fairly similar to its more common green brother. Though, I swear it gets all black and slimy much quicker than the green guy.

But unlike green/red leaf lettuce, there are greens at the Farmers Market now that not only differ in their stunning red chromatics…but you will find they have a whole other flavor palate to boot. Perhaps it’s the coloration. I have researched this and cannot find a definitive answer. But, especially among the so-called bitter greens, the red varieties are often milder; sometimes noticeably sweeter. And I mean sweet like honey.


Why is this? I want to know. Do you know? Believe it or not, I have a very well hidden comment section on this site. It’s on the home page at the bottom of each post in the same gray bar as the tags. Use it if you have some ideas!

Some say that the autumn leaves that turn red (as opposed to yellow or orange) have a higher sugar content.  I have noticed that deep red beets have a very high sugar content too (sweeter than yellow or orange). Red Life-Savers are sweeter than the green or yellow ones too – I am sure of that. Do you think it’s the same for m&m’s?

For this week’s Market Matters I have decided to pick up a trio of these red beauties and prepare three separate recipes in three separate posts this week. That means I am going to be busy.

I have chosen a Red Kale. It is so red it’s practically purple. Its leaves are thick and dense. They have a pebbly texture too, very curly at all the edges. To be honest I do not love Kale in general. It has a certain “raw greeny-ness” that makes my teeth squeak when I eat it. But the red variety is so darn pretty I can’t resist giving it a go. It’s going to need some cooking to beat it back a bit. So it’s a good bet I’ll be doing a soup.

There is also Red Frill Mustard in my shopping bag. It is truly beautiful all on its own. It is a wild jumble of deeply cut, multi-fingered, red leaves. Frilly is exactly the adjective that comes to mind. So this little guy is well named. While it is a type of mustard green and retains many of the qualities we admire about the traditional springtime green mustard, this red variety is very mild. So mild, I am tempted to do a salad. But I have not decided.

And finally my most amazing discovery. Red Spinach. It’s a bit fleshier than the green type. It is partly green with very red veins and stems. But here is the amazing part. It is so sweet you would think they’d been candied in some way. Maybe cultivated with sugar water. It is the most surprising flavor I have ever encountered in a vegetable. It’s going to be a challenge thinking of something to make with it, however. Partly because I can’t stop eating it raw right out of the farmer’s hands.

So, rev up the reds ‘cuz I am ready to go. GREG