5 Ways to Tame Bitter Greens

updated May 1, 2019
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Eaten on their own, bitter greens — like broccoli rabe, chicory, turnip greens, and kale — can have a bite that’s strong and assertive. Not everyone loves the intense bitterness these greens have when left wild and untamed.

But paired with the right ingredients or given a little TLC first, these strongly flavored greens can offer a softer side, full of mellow richness. Here are five ways to tame the bite of bitter greens.

1. Blanch the greens first.

Once, I decided to skip a step and not blanch the broccoli rabe for a pasta dish. I totally regretted it and the whole dish came out bitter and unappetizing. The next time, when I made the same dish and blanched the broccoli rabe in salted water first, it was delicious. Blanching helps to leach out some of the bitterness and works best with hardier greens.

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2. Add strongly flavored ingredients.

Fight bitterness with other flavors like sweetness and spice. Cook bitter greens with bacon or sausage, pump up the garlic, throw in something spicy, or add a sweet element, like roasted squash or dried fruit. Having a strong contrasting flavor will temper the bitterness and help balance the dish out since bitter greens can have a strong vegetal flavor in addition to bitterness.

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3. Add acid.

Acids, like vinegar and citrus juice, help to brighten up bitter greens and provide a light contrasting flavor. While bitter green salads usually already contain a good amount of acid, adding a little acid at the end of a cooked bitter greens dish will also provide the same effect of brightening and bringing all the flavors in a dish together. A splash of vinegar can do wonders for a braise, stew, or sauté that’s full of this type of vegetable.

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4. Use salt.

Salt is a friend to bitter greens, whether you plan to eat them raw or cooked. Mellow the bitter flavor with a sprinkle of salt on endive or radicchio, or include anchovies or cured meat (like bacon, pancetta, or proscuitto) along with mustard, beet, or collard greens. It eases an otherwise assertive bite into a tame, pleasant flavor.

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5. Braise them.

For sturdy greens with a bite, like rapini, collards, kale, and turnip greens, consider braising. Not only will this slow-cooking cut the bitterness, but it will also soften the otherwise tough leaves.

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Do you have any smart tips for coaxing the bitterness out veggies like broccoli rabe or kale?