The word “bitter” brings up all kinds of unpleasant memories. Remember when you tried coffee for the first time? Or how you felt when that long-ago girlfriend told you that you were no longer her dreamboat? Divorce?–we won’t go there.
But that, as they say, was then. Nowadays, bitter is most definitely in. Hotshot restaurants like New York’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns feature bitter greens on their menu. Syndicated food writers like Lynne Rossetto Kasper suggest sprinkling them in your Mediterranean Braise. Just about every food emporium worth its boasting rights–and the prices that go with them–is pushing endive, rappini and raddicchio.
Here at Persephone Farm we’ve been growing these greens for years. We’re not going to boast that we’ve been ahead of the culinary curve–not too much anyway–but we can still recall the days we’d lug this stuff to the farmers market on Saturday morning for a smattering of hardcore foodies and try to explain to the other shoppers why they would want to add such a puckering element to their salads.
It was a long hard slog. A lot of those greens came home after the market. Still, Rebecca has always had a slightly perverse yen for bitter–chocolate, beer, veggies, sometimes even a mate. So we kept at it. Only a relatively small percentage of the greens we grow here qualify as “bitter” but we eat a lot of them.
Lately, though, we’ve had a hard time keeping up with the demand for them, both from our CSA customers, market shoppers, and from the restaurants we supply. Take dandelions. The compost bin used to be the preferred place for those lawn despoilers. These days, though, dandelions are the star of the salad bowl.
How did this happen?
Well for one thing eating seasonally has become more desireable–thank you Michael Pollan. Our bodies tend to crave certain kinds of chemicals and vitamins, especially after a long dreary winter, and spring is when a lot of bitter greens are available if you like to eat seasonally.
Kale and dandelion greens, for instance, are big sources of phylloquinone, or vitamin K, which helps heal cuts and strengthen bones. Here’s the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s list of top vitamin K veggies. Add collard or turnip greens if you want good sources of vitamin A, which protects your body’s immune and reproductive systems. Rapini, or broccoli rabe, and cress are also nutrient powerhouses.
Put them all together and guess what, you have a salad of bitter greens.
The trick, says our friend Brendon McGill, the owner and head chef of Hitchcock on Bainbridge Island, is to add a bit of salt and olive oil to bitter greens, either while you cook them or as a salad dressing. “They balance out the bitterness,” Brendon says, “and make it more pleasant.” He also suggests adding a salty goat cheese to salads to smooth out the tang of bitter greens.
Bitter is not for everybody, but you never know. There will be plenty of endive, arugula, raddichio and cress in the salad when the CSA subscribers show up for their weekly produce boxes later today. And we’ve got some recipes posted on our farm website, www.persephonefarm.com if you are unsure what to do with the stuff.
Like your mom always told you: “Eat your greens.”