Mary Papoulias-Platis is a Plant-Based Culinary Chef and will soon be the Culinary Director for the future N40 Culinary Center at the North 40 Urban Farm. Mary also keeps busy as a culinary teacher, cookbook author, and recipe developer. She recently completed her first book, Cooking Techniques and Recipes with Olive Oil. Mary teaches, speaks, and writes about the Greek lifestyle and diet, and teaches olive oil tasting, having completed the program at U.C Davis as a certified “Olive Oil Taster.” Author and creator of the long-standing cooking blog, California Greek Girl, you can also find Mary on Facebook and Twitter.
As a child, my mother served bitter greens weekly at our dinner table. It is definitely an acquired taste, and I can’t say I loved them when I was young. But, as time went on my tongue did eventually acquire the bitter taste and I began to like these not-so-popular greens.
On my way home from school, I’ll never forget my mom eyeing dandelions in nearby fields. As soon as she spotted a hearty patch, she’d quickly pull over to the side of the road. In her high heels, she’d tip toe into the brush. Using her floral-print cotton dress, she would create a makeshift pocket and fill it with enough dandelions for dinner that night.
To the average American, dandelions are simply weeds, but to my mother they were a nutritious meal. Bitter greens are consumed regularly in Greek households — they’re a staple. Radiki, as we call them in Greek, are mostly a combination of mustard greens, herbs, and dandelions.
Did you know? Bitter Greens are a member of many diverse vegetable families. What they all have in common is their bitterness. Leaves are displayed with unique forms such as, broad, narrow, jagged , and curly. They often exhibit colors of the rainbow in their veins – showing red, yellow and purple. Many blossoms from these greens show up in salads, soups and fancy vegetable dishes as toppings. If you want a less bitter taste, pick them while they are young, and the flavor is more mild. The stronger and thicker the leaf, the more pungent the taste.
The many types of bitter greens!
- Arugula – belongs to the cabbage family.
- Chard – is a beet-top that went wild.
- Collard – is a member of the cabbage family.
- Dandelion – cousin of the sunflower, marigold, and zinnia.
- Mustard greens – belongs to the mustard family. (brassicas)
- Sorrel – a pot herb, Rumex genus and distantly related to the buckwheat.
- Turnip Greens – curly tops of the turnip.
- Also in this category; Watercress , Belgian Endive, Beet Greens, Escarole, Frisee, Mizuna, Radicchio, Rapini, Rocket, Cress, Chicory, Kale, Amaranth, and Nettles.
Why they are healthy? Bitter greens are rich in vitamins and phytonutrients. They are an excellent source of vitamins C and K. They provide folate and fiber, which promotes good digestion. If you’re watching your diet they are low in fat and sodium. Along with your gut health, bitter greens help with great skin, blood clotting, and better eye health. Best of all, they work to naturally detox the liver, which regulates cholesterol, balances hormones, detoxifies the blood, and metabolizes fats.
How to cook them? Best boiled for 7-9 minutes or until tender. Drain and refresh with cold water. Drain and squeeze out excess water with hands. Add and sauté with your dishes. Always add lemon juice or balsamic vinegar with olive oil to add depth to the greens and add contrast.
What dishes can I add them too? Once you boil, drain and squeeze them, then add them to:
- egg dishes: quiche, omelets, savory custards
- soups: for a nutritional boost
- salads: fresh or warm wilted
- potato or sweet potato salads
- grains: rice, farro, quinoa, wheat berry and bulgur
- toppings for pizza and flatbreads
- great with bacon, prosciutto, sausage, and meats
- bean dishes
- 2 bunches of dandelions, roots removed (about 1 inch from bottom)
- 2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Juice and zest of one lemon
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- Rinse dandelions in water and drain. Cut off the bottom roots and coarsely chop.
- Place a medium pot of water on to boil, add dandelions and reduce heat to simmer.
- Cook for 5-8 minutes, making sure greens have softened.
- Remove and strain into a bowl, and reserve the juices. (great for a drink later)
- Add back 1 cup of juice, extra virgin olive oil, juice of one lemon, salt and pepper.
- Top with zest. Serve warm.