Spring is on its way, which means you'll soon find a bounty of sweet and tender salad greens at your local farmers markets. But we're not quite there yet, so for now we're contenting ourselves with all the bitter greens we can get our hands on—kale, radicchio, beet greens, escarole, and more. While any one of these can be eaten raw, they tend to be a little on the tough side and, well, bitter. Cooking the greens softens them up and helps bring out their sweeter, earthier flavors.
For all the dishes you need to get your vegetable fix in what remains of winter, read on for 16 of our favorite recipes involving cooked bitter greens, from creamed kale and wheat berry salad with beet greens to escarole soup and Sicilian-style broccoli rabe with eggplant.
Vegan Peanut, Sweet Potato, and Kale Soup With Coconut
Kale is one of the most popular and versatile bitter greens around, in part because it's one of the least bitter. Drawing inspiration from both West Africa and Thailand, this flavorful vegan soup calls for the dark lacinato variety, combined with peanuts, sweet potatoes, coconut milk and oil, ginger, and scallions.
Sautéed Japanese Turnips With Turnip Greens
It's common to discard the tops when cooking root vegetables, but some greens are just too tasty to waste. For an introduction to root-to-leaf eating, try this super-simple dish of sweet, juicy Japanese turnips seasoned with salt and pepper. We blanch the greens to bring out their bright color and keep them plump and tender, then sauté the bulbs in olive oil and toss everything together.
Beet and Wheat Berry Salad With Pickled Apples and Pecans
Another recipe that makes use of the whole vegetable, this salad combines chewy wheat berries with chopped roasted beets and sautéed beet greens. Toasted pecans add extra nuttiness and crunch, but the real star is the quick-pickled apple-shallot mixture, which lends a dose of brightness to balance out the earthy ingredients. This salad takes a good bit of work up front, but your reward is a dish that will keep for several days in the refrigerator, with no loss in quality.
Endive, Shallot, and Goat Cheese Tart
With a pronounced bitter flavor, endive is definitely an acquired taste. But give it a good sauté and its sweetness will begin to shine through, along with a mild earthy flavor that pairs well with Parmesan and goat cheese in this savory tart. Any goat cheese will work, but firm, funky Bûcheron is best if you can find it.
Grilled Trevisano or Radicchio With Gorgonzola, Olive Oil, and Saba
Like endive, the bitter lettuces trevisano and radicchio turn tender and sweet when cooked. Grilling them until they're slightly charred provides an extra layer of flavor. We like to serve the grilled leaves with crumbled Gorgonzola cheese, olive oil, and a sweet syrup made from grape must, called saba. If you can't find saba, a balsamic syrup will make a fine substitute.
Mushrooms and Tofu With Chinese Mustard Greens
Inspired by a Chinese New Year classic featuring abalone, this recipe tops blanched Chinese mustard greens with mushrooms and crisp, golden pan-fried tofu, cooked together in a flavorful blend of vegetable stock, soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, and toasted sesame oil. We use a combination of assorted fresh mushrooms and dried shiitakes—once the shiitakes have been rehydrated in water, that soaking liquid goes back in the pan to help flavor the sauce.
Sicilian-Style Broccoli Rabe With Eggplant and Capers
This dish has its origins in caponata, a powerfully flavored Sicilian relish made by cooking down eggplant in olive oil with capers, celery, onions, vinegar, and sugar. Here, we make ours a little thinner than is traditional and use it as a sauce for blanched broccoli rabe—the intensity of the caponata stands up nicely to the bitterness of the green.
Hearty Escarole, Barley, and Parmesan Soup
A vegetarian take on a chicken and escarole soup from Chef Marco Canora, this soup is made simply with a base of sweated aromatics, followed by sautéed escarole and tomato paste. The secret ingredient is Parmesan rind, which adds protein along with flavor, helping to emulsify the soup. The addition of nutty pearled barley makes it filling enough to be a main course.
Easy Slow-Cooker Creamed Kale
We may be working with greens here, but that doesn't mean we're limited to health food. In this recipe, we slow-cook sturdy kale with a mixture of chicken stock, milk, heavy cream, and Parmesan cheese. A little nutmeg and red pepper add depth, and a pinch of lemon zest keeps the dairy-rich sauce from feeling too heavy.
Escarole and Parmesan Soup With Chicken Meatballs
Meat-eaters can make a more traditional version of the escarole soup described above, incorporating mini meatballs made with chicken breast and seasoned with Parmesan cheese and nutmeg. Rather than forming the meatballs by hand, we pipe the chicken mixture out of a plastic bag, cutting the little meatballs straight into the soup, like dumplings.
Caldo Verde (Portuguese Potato and Kale Soup With Sausage)
This easy Portuguese soup, made with potatoes, kale, onion, and chicken stock, is the perfect warming dinner on a chilly end-of-winter night. We use a mix of russet and Yukon Gold potatoes—the waxy Yukon Golds stay in nice chunks to add texture, while the russets break down to thicken the soup. Garlicky linguiça sausage is a traditional addition, but you can omit it and swap the chicken stock out for vegetable stock to make the soup vegetarian.
Skillet Pasta With Mushrooms, Pancetta, and Wilted Greens
One-pot pasta dishes are quick to prepare and leave minimal cleanup, making them excellent for weeknight dinners. This one combines any short, twisted pasta you like with salty pancetta, earthy shiitake mushrooms, and wilted greens. Kale, dandelion greens, or mustard greens are all fine options—use whatever greens look good at the market, and throw them in toward the end to wilt them.
Smoked Turkey Braised Collard Greens
Braised collard greens are typically made with pork, but smoked turkey works just as well as bacon or ham hocks (though we do use a tablespoon of butter to replace the rich bacon fat). If you want to double up on the turkey flavor, make a roast turkey stock to cook the greens in—the recipe includes instructions for that, too.
Stir-Fried Beef With Kale and Frisée in Black Bean Sauce
This quick recipe marries two very Western greens—kale and frisée—with a traditional Chinese cooking technique. We stir-fry the kale (both stems and leaves) with marinated flank steak, fermented black beans, and a sauce of sesame oil, soy sauce, water, and cornstarch. Cooking everything in batches keeps the wok good and hot.
Roast Pork and Broccoli Rabe Sandwiches
For folks from Philadelphia, the combination of roast pork, broccoli rabe, and Provolone cheese in a sandwich needs no introduction. We make our slider-sized version a little differently—instead of braising the broccoli rabe before pairing it with slow-cooked pulled pork and sharp Provolone, we prefer to blanch, shock, and sauté the greens, allowing them to retain some of their bite.
Sausage and Radicchio Pizza
The high heat of a pizza oven will soften and sweeten radicchio just like the flames of a grill. For this homemade pizza, we pair chopped radicchio with sweet Italian sausage, plus San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, grated Parmesan, and basil. As the fat from the sausage renders, it infuses the whole pie with its porky flavor.