Even with bagged spinach back on grocers' shelves, this fall's outbreak of food-borne illness has startled many into realizing what a leafy-greens rut they had fallen into, convenient though it was.
There's a whole world of dark, leafy greens out there. If you're looking for varied tastes and textures, here are some other greens to keep in mind:
ARUGULA (rocket). The substitute most often mentioned in recent weeks as a baby spinach stand-in, but even the younger arugula leaves are spicy. Hothouse-grown plants are milder; those raised in very hot weather are more bitter.
BABY CHARD. Almost as mild as baby spinach and a little sweet. Sturdy yet tender additions to a mixed green salad.
DANDELION GREENS. Tender, with a subtle bitterness. Young greens are good in mixed salads, topped with a sweet dressing.
MIZUNA. Japanese mustard green often found in mesclun mixes. Its pungent flavor, similar to that of arugula, strengthens with age. Leaves less than three inches long have a milder bite.
TAT SOI (flat Chinese cabbage). A bok choy cousin that tastes like slightly bitter spinach. Whole leaves are used in green salads, pasta and potato salads.
WATERCRESS (upland, winter cress, English cress). Sharp-tasting radish flavor. Trim the root balls and tough stems if using in a salad.
BEET GREENS. Close to spinach in flavor. Best cooked the day they are purchased; preparation is similar to that for chard. Pull off and discard the ribs before cooking. Look for them from spring through the fall.
CHARD (ruby and rainbow Swiss chard, leaf beet). Similar in flavor and texture to spinach. Thick and thin stalks as well as leaves are edible. Unless the chard is young, stalks should be separated from the leaves and cooked longer. Available through November.
COLLARD GREENS. Mild flavor, a little stronger than cabbage. Leaves are chewy unless they are cooked for a long time over low heat.
KALE (curly, flowering, dino or Tuscan, red Siberian). Full-flavored, it can be cooked to a spicy sweetness; discard the stems before cooking. Some varieties available much of the year in grocery stores, but experts say cooler weather yields the tastiest leaves.
MUSTARD GREENS (red and green). Tangy, with its namesake aroma. Smaller leaves are less bitter. When cooked, the flavor mellows. Available in fall, winter and spring.
SORREL. Large-leafed herb with a sharp, lemony bite. Its stems become very tough and stringy once cooked. Look for it in the spring and summer.
TURNIP GREENS. Perhaps the most bitter-tasting of this crowd. They need longer cooking, usually in a broth, to make them tender.
AMARANTH (een choy, snow cabbage). Attractive spotted red or white varieties look like a landscape plant. Very young leaves are nice in salad. Older stems and leaves can be cooked like spinach. Look for it in early spring in Asian markets.
CHRYSANTHEMUM GREENS. An edible brother of the Western floral variety we know. Mix raw leaves with salad greens or serve with sliced tomatoes. Blanch whole leaves, cool in ice water, then add at the last second to mixed-vegetable stir-fry. In Asian markets.
MUSTARD SPINACH (komatsuna). Similar in appearance to pak choi, with large leaves and long, tender white stems. But the taste is closer to that of mild cabbage. Tear leaves and chop stems for salad. Stir-fry with noodles, beef, pork or shrimp.
PURSLANE (verdolagas). Small, oval, crunchy leaves, not as mild as watercress, with a slight lemon flavor. It becomes slippery when overcooked. Look for it in Latino markets.
WATER SPINACH (swamp cabbage, kankong). Delicate, slender, pointed leaves are mild and sweet and lack the bitterness of spinach. They reduce greatly when cooked. Great raw in salad, or added at the last moment to a stir-fry or a soup. In Asian markets.
Sources: "Melissa's Great Book of Produce," "Field Guide to Produce," "The Asian Grocery Store Demystified," "Latin & Caribbean Stores Demystified," Washington Post research