40 Ways You’ll Love Using Bitter Greens

From arugula to escarole, these pungent leafy vegetables make for epic salads, soups, pastas—and a whole lot more

Any green deemed “bitter” has some things working against it—the word itself doesn’t have the best connotations. But for those of us who live in a food bubble, the phrase “bitter greens” conjures up visions of satisfying salads, sharply flavored sautées, and vivid stews.

When you’re bored with kale or spinach just won’t cut it, an array of bitter leafy vegetables are waiting at your farmers’ market or supermarket shelves to sweep you off your feet. There’s watercress, which—no big deal—the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has deemed the world’s most nutrient-rich vegetable. And other powerhouse bitter greens like chicory, arugula, turnip greens, endive, mustard green, and dandelions fall close behind it in terms of healthiness. Bitter greens have also been reported to purify the blood, aid in weight reduction, cleanse skin, prevent anemia, and improve digestion, among other miraculous feats.

But the quality we love most is their ability to transform dishes and pack in flavor. Be it collards, escarole, puntarelle or frisee, their bold flavor can boost any salad from a pile of greens to a sophisticated dish—and a whole lot more. Use them to make ace frittatas, fill ravioli and stromboli too, top soup, garnish crostini, or perk up a pureed soup, smoothie, or dip for crudité.

The trick is knowing how to temper their sometimes spicy heat, or pair them with other ingredients to keep a dish balanced. Adding fat—in the form of good olive oil, bacon or prosciutto, or meaty drippings from a roast or sautée—can help tame their flavor, or rich foods like runny egg yolks, buttery doughs, or mild cheeses also work well. Salt and acids (like vinaigrettes, vinegars, or citrus juices) are two other important keys: Both can mellow the flavor of the greens and also brighten a dish, helping the brain register deliciousness and not just bitterness.

The proof is at the table. These 40 tried-and-true recipes and techniques for cooking with bitter greens will set you on a path to obsession:

Watercress with Spicy Chile and Sesame Vinaigrette

Watercress with Spicy Chile and Sesame Vinaigrette

“Creamed”Collard Greens with Peanut Butter and Chile

Greens laced with freshly ground peanut butter and fermented seafood for a funky umami kick is a common one-pot dish in West Africa. Get the recipe for “Creamed”Collard Greens with Peanut Butter and Chile »

Broccoli Rabe with Pine Nuts & Golden Raisins

Broccoli Rabe with Pine Nuts & Golden Raisins

Endive Salad with Bee Pollen Vinaigrette

A thick honey vinaigrette pairs with pleasingly bitter endives that are steamed, grilled, and marinated in this recipe from Castle Hill Inn in Newport, Rhode Island. Get the recipe for Endive Salad with Bee Pollen Vinaigrette »

Chicken and Broccoli Rabe Stromboli

Get the recipe for Chicken and Broccoli Rabe Stromboli

Puntarelle and Dandelion Green Salad with Honey and Olive Vinaigrette

Puntarelle and Dandelion Green Salad with Honey and Olive Vinaigrette

Biscuits with Pancetta, Collard Greens, Marbleized Eggs, and Espresso Aïoli

Biscuits with Pancetta, Collard Greens, Marbleized Eggs, and Espresso Aïoli

Brazilian Beans with Smoked Pork, Rice and Collards (Feijoada)

Brazilian Beans with Smoked Pork, Rice and Collards (Feijoada)

Braised Turnip Greens

There’s no shortage of greens you can cook, but the Memphis BBQ Company goes for turnips. The vegetables grow wild in the Mississippi Delta, and the greens can be cooked just like collards. Cube up the turnip roots for a full side dish. Get the recipe for Braised Turnip Greens »

Braised Collard Greens with Pickled Trotters

While you can use store-bought trotters in this dish, we pickled our own, which add a similar kick of acidity and deep hammy flavor. Get the recipe for Braised Collard Greens with Pickled Trotters »

Chicory and Herb Salad with Apple, Pomegranate, and Creamy Miso Dressing

Watercress Ricotta Torte

Watercress Ricotta Torte

Arugula and Cashew Pesto Salad

A chunky cashew pesto made with sharp, pungent Västerbotten cheese is tossed with chopped arugula to yield an unctuous salad with a robust umami flavor. Get the recipe for Arugula and Cashew Pesto Salad »

Seared Radicchio with Raisins and Shaved Parmigiano

This warm salad is made with a naturally sweet, high-quality balsamic vinegar to balance the bitterness of the leaves. If top-shelf balsamic vinegar di Modena is unavailable or out of your price range, cooking the grocery store version down by about one-third of its volume over a medium-low flame—and further sweetening it to taste with a drizzle of honey as needed—helps produce a similar level of sweetness.

Escarole Soup

Escarole lends sweet depth to this comforting soup from former Saveur executive editor Dana Bowen. Get the recipe for Escarole Soup »

Parmesan-Crusted Halibut with Broccoli Rabe and Mashed Potatoes

Parmesan-Crusted Halibut with Broccoli Rabe and Mashed Potatoes

Endive and Walnut Salad

With winter looming, this salad with endive, comte and walnuts is a great choice for cold weather. The recipe, adapted from Susan Herrmann Loomis’s The French Farmhouse Cookbook, is from a cook in the town of Vinay, where walnuts are produced. The crisp and bright salad is made heartier by the addition of nuts and cheese. Get the recipe for Endive and Walnut Salad »

Sausage and Arugula Pasta Salad

Pasta salads are essential summer food: they travel well; they’re easy to adapt to whatever produce you have on-hand; and they’re simple to make in large portions, making them perfect dishes to carry to parties, picnics, and barbecues. Get the recipe for Sausage and Arugula Pasta Salad »

Charred Escarole Salad

Charred Escarole Salad

Creamy Watercress Dip

Creamy cottage cheese combines with watercress, lemon, chive, and parsley to make a bright dip for raw vegetables or chips. Get the recipe for Creamy Watercress Dip »

Tricolore Salad with Grapefruit Saba Vinaigrette

Grapefruit supremes (segments of pulp separated from the membrane) and aged balsamic vinegar brighten this classic Italian salad from author Dana Bowen. Get the recipe for Tricolore Salad with Grapefruit Saba Vinaigrette »

Salade Lyonnaise

Hailing from Lyon, this French bistro standard gathers a delectable trio of bitter frisée, runny poached egg, and crisp lardons. Get the recipe for Salade Lyonnaise »

Kohlrabi and Watercress Salad

For a twist on the classic Waldorf salad, try tossing sweet apples with crisp watercress and nutty kohlrabi in a sumac-infused yogurt dressing.

Softshell Crab Sandwich with Collard Slaw

A crisp collard slaw and tangy tartar and cocktail sauces top pan-fried softshell crabs in this classic sandwich. Get the recipe for Softshell Crab Sandwich with Collard Slaw »

Arugula, Radicchio, and Fennel Salad

Walnuts and parmesan add richness to this crunchy salad from The Yellow Table’s Anna Watson Carl. Get the recipe for Arugula, Radicchio, and Fennel Salad »

Escarole with Confit Duck Gizzards, Comté, and Walnuts

Winemakers Alice and Olivier de Moor use confit duck gizzards in this simple winter salad, but confit duck legs make a fine substitute. Get the recipe for Escarole with Confit Duck Gizzards, Comté, and Walnuts »

Dandelion Salad with Lardons

The salty richness of the lardons cuts through the crisp bitterness of the dandelion greens in this perfect spring salad. Get the recipe for Dandelion Salad with Lardons »

Thai Pomelo Salad (Dtam Som Oo)

Sweet pomelo pairs beautifully with chiles, peanuts, and mint in this recipe for a classic Thai salad from Talde in Brooklyn, New York. Get the recipe for Thai Pomelo Salad (Dtam Som Oo) »

Gulai Sayur (Indonesian-Style Collard Greens Curry)

Coconut milk balances the spicy notes of chile in this Indonesian-style curry with collard greens. Get the recipe for Gulai Sayur (Indonesian-Style Collard Greens Curry) »

Spaghettini with Carrots, Olives, and Red Endive

Carrot ribbons cooked al dente and lightly braised red endive add color to this simple vegetable-packed pasta dish, brightened with lots of lemon zest. Josita Hartanto of Berlin’s Lucky Leek uses multicolored carrots for a beautiful presentation. Get the recipe for Spaghettini with Carrots, Olives, and Red Endive »

Pepper Pot

Colonial Philadelphia, with its busy waterfront, was well influenced by trade from points south. Among the most famous Caribbean culinary imports was pepper pot. The rich, spicy stew of beef, pork, root vegetables, and greens became a staple in Philly, where West Indian hawkers advertised it with cries of “pepper pot, smoking hot!” Today, at City Tavern, a colonial-style saloon, this version is served. Get the recipe for Pepper Pot »

Shaved Cauliflower and Radicchio Salad

Aleppo pepper (a tangy Middle Eastern spice), raisins, and raw cauliflower marry in this simple yet unusual salad. Get the recipe for Shaved Cauliflower and Radicchio Salad »

Broccoli Rabe and Italian Sausage Fried Ravioli

Broccoli Rabe and Italian Sausage Fried Ravioli

Orecchiette with Rapini and Goat Cheese

Slightly bitter rapini (also known as broccoli rabe) marries well with tangy goat cheese in a pasta recipe that’s ideal for summer picnics and potlucks. Get the recipe for Orecchiette with Rapini and Goat Cheese »

Ramp and Wild Greens Pesto

Fermentation revivalist Sandor Katz makes this punchy pesto to capture the essence of spring. Chickweed, a spicy herb, is his green of choice to pair with ramps, to which he adds mild herbs and sunflower seeds, but you can replace chickweed with watercress, arugula, or any other peppery green. The same goes for the ramps—this pesto works just as well with spring onions or garlic. It will keep in the fridge for a few weeks, and Katz uses it throughout the day: on grits or eggs for breakfast, slathered on sandwiches for lunch, and tossed with potatoes or pasta for dinner. Get the recipe for Ramp and Wild Greens Pesto »

Garlicky Skillet Greens with Ham

Garlic confit, a silky, spreadable condiment, relies on a French technique for gently poaching peeled whole cloves in oil or fat. The process caramelizes the cloves and draws out their sweetness, yielding a sumptuous spread. We love to use it in dishes like these skillet-cooked greens from Linton Hopkins, chef and owner of Restaurant Eugene in Atlanta, which feature garlic confit and a piquant sorghum gastrique. Get the recipe for Garlicky Skillet Greens with Ham »

Sautéed Crab with Avocado, Grapefruit and Herb Salad

Crabmeat is rubbed with a smoky chile paste, then sautéed and tossed in a refreshing salad of creamy avocado, tart grapefruit, and herbs. Get the recipe for Sautéed Crab with Avocado, Grapefruit and Herb Salad »

Cooked and Raw Winter Salad

Bacon, parmesan, and pine nuts combine with a medley of cooked and raw vegetables to make a satisfying salad from The Canal House’s Christopher Hirsheimer. Get the recipe for Cooked and Raw Winter Salad »

Chicory in Anchovy Sauce

Tossed with a garlicky anchovy dressing, this vegetable dish is a great foil for rich pastas and roasted meats. Get the recipe for Chicory in Anchovy Sauce »

Escarole with Prosciutto

Fried slices of prosciutto provide a crisp contrast to sautéed escarole. Get the recipe for Escarole with Prosciutto »