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Why you should make friends with bitter greens [recipe]

mustard greens

“When I see the first signs of spring, I think of bitter greens,” says Sandra Dubrov, a New York-based integrative health counselor.

Most of us, however, do not.

So, with Dubrov’s help, we set out to demystify this oft-ignored leafy family.

Bitter greens come in all shapes and sizes, from the more common mustard greens, kale, and arugula of the cruciferous family to the slightly more exotic endives, radicchio, or escarole of the chicory family to the weed-esque dandelion greens.

But all of these varieties have real health benefits, says Dubrov. In addition to calcium and magnesium for bone health, bitter greens are full of cancer-fighting antioxidants like vitamin E, beta-carotene, and manganese. (This nutrition profile on mustard greens breaks down the numbers.) And in Chinese medicine bitter foods help stimulate liver chi, making it a detox-assisting food.

Sandra Dubrov
Sandra Dubrov

But isn’t the reason we shy away from these healthy greens is because they have the word “bitter” in their name?

Dubrov says we shouldn’t let that stop us. The bitterness is easily tamed by adding small amounts of salt and fat and cooking them properly, and the resulting flavors can be scrumptious. “Salt creates balance and harmonizes the palate, and blanching and light sauteing will mellow out the greens, release nutrients, and enhance digestibility,” she explains.

Try this quick and easy recipe from Dubrov to begin to nibble your way into the world of bitter greens.


Mustard Greens with Apple-Smoked Bacon

4 slices of organic apple-smoked bacon, chopped (optional)
1 lb mustard greens, washed and rough-chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1⁄4 teaspoon sea salt
1⁄4 teaspoon pepper
1⁄2 teaspoon dark sesame oil

1. In a large pan over medium heat, saute the bacon (if using) and garlic until golden.
2. Add the mustard greens and vinegar, toss to coat and cook covered until wilted, but still bright green.
3. Toss with sesame oil, sea salt and pepper. Serve while still warm.