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
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
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 »
Get the recipe for Chicken and Broccoli Rabe Stromboli
Puntarelle and Dandelion Green Salad with Honey and Olive Vinaigrette
Biscuits with Pancetta, Collard Greens, Marbleized Eggs, and Espresso Aïoli
Brazilian Beans with Smoked Pork, Rice and Collards (Feijoada)
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 »
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 »
Watercress Ricotta Torte
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 »
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 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
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 »
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
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 »
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 »
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 »
For a twist on the classic Waldorf salad, try tossing sweet apples with crisp watercress and nutty kohlrabi in a sumac-infused yogurt dressing.
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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) »
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) »
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 »
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 »
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
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
Fried slices of prosciutto provide a crisp contrast to sautéed escarole.
Get the recipe for Escarole with Prosciutto »