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Greens Get Bitter

Now that the world is hooked on kale, The Wall Street Journal reports that it’s a “gateway green” when it comes to bitterness. Radicchio, long-leafed Treviso, tardivo, castelfranco, Italian escarole, chicory, puntarelle and stinging nettles are the next-level bitter greens, according to the Journal.

Noodle bowls have made greens from Asia more familiar, and more chefs are trying items like mizuna, daikon greens, chrysanthemum greens, and Chinese broccoli in salads and slaws. Regional American fare also has its share of bitter greens: Dandelion, mustard, turnip and beet greens, along with collard greens, are just a few of the varieties that once were long-cooked but are now emerging in uncooked or lightly cooked preparations.

“Lettuce is an easy way for supermarket salad bars to add some flare,” says Colleen McClellan, director of client solutions at Datassential, a Chicago-based research firm that has tracked romaine, spinach, iceberg, cabbage, arugula and kale as some of the top greens on restaurant menus. She suggests grocerants check out less penetrated greens, which include radicchio, watercress, baby arugula, endive, mizuna and escarole, according to Datassential menu tracking.

Vegetable-centric foodservice chains are also great sources of new greens ideas. Freshii made a name for collard greens when the company offered the blanched greens as a sandwich wrap, while True Food Kitchen dresses a salad of organic Tuscan kale with lemon, garlic, grana padano cheese and breadcrumbs.

Although salad bars are an easy place to mix up greens in the prepared food section, some grocerant chefs see composed salads as a way to show customers how to use less familiar greens.

“Our Winter Chicory Salad is a best-seller because it’s beautiful, delicious, and the perfect option for lunch or dinner,” says Jason Rose, culinary director for the Bi-Rite Family of Businesses in San Francisco. “The color of the chicories is beautiful, and these are the same chicories you see in our produce section. The salad is accented with shaved Parmigiano Reggiano [cheese] and walnuts for texture, and dressed in our house-made lemon vinaigrette.”

Grocerant-Ready Ideas:

  • A green-of the-month special at the salad bar
  • Collards or chicory in any recipe where kale is featured
  • Greens named for their origins, such as Tuscan kale and Chinese cabbage
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