How to Mellow Out Bitter Veggies
Wild dandelion greens, flowery broccoli rabe, and purple-hued radicchio are all delicious, but that’s not all they have in common. They’re also bitter. If you adore coffee, dark chocolate, and acidic greens, you probably can’t get enough of them. But if your taste buds land you in the large group of eaters who can’t tolerate bitterness on their tongues, you might wonder what on earth to do with these readily available vegetables.
Fortunately, there are methods for reducing their inherent bitterness and making this group of produce more easy on the palate though the goal isn’t to eliminate the sharpness completely: “These bitter flavors…can be complex, happily challenging, and quite delicious,” explains vegetable guru Deborah Madison. Maybe you’ll even love the challenge of learning to like this complex bitterness, especially once that very sharpness gets mellowed. Here’s how to do it:
Soak in cold water
If you’re committed to enjoying your bitter vegetables raw, then best action you can take is to soak them in very cold water. Prep the vegetables by cutting them into bite-sized pieces or thin slices, then place in a bowl with water and a few ice cubes and let sit for 30 minutes to a few hours. The chill actually sweetens the vegetables, making them easier to adore.
Just like the cold, heat mellows the bitter flavors, but in a different way. Searing, roasting, and braising vegetables like radicchio, escarole, and cauliflower helps to caramelize the edges and relax the bitter notes, deepening the flavors and lending the flavor profile a nutty tinge that’s hard to get off your mind once you’ve tasted it. Know that heat will also dull the bright red and green hues of the raw vegetables, but also know that it’s worth it.
This works especially well for vegetables you don’t want to cook into sublime softness but would prefer to keep tender-crisp without any accompanying bitterness. Broccoli rabe is the prime example. It’s so good when quickly sautéed with garlic and red pepper flakes, but an overload of acrid flavor can destroy the dish’s balance. To guarantee the right taste, first blanch the rabe in a pot of boiling salty water until it turns bright green. Then drain the stalks and finish the newly non-bitter vegetables however you’d like.
Pair with Something Sweet
Just like chocolate wants sugar to taste its best, bitter vegetables respond well to hints of sweetness. Add a little extra sugar or honey to vinaigrettes intended for bitter veggies, or try matching them with naturally sweet vegetables, such as winter squash.
Add Salt and Vinegar
The wham-bam of seasonings, the combination of strong vinegar and a big pinch of salt can tame even the bitterest of bites with its own assertiveness. Look for vinegars with a lot of character: this is the right place to pour on your aged balsamic or imported sherry wine vinegars.
Reach for the Cream
We perceive that foods with fat taste amazing, when in fact they’re dulling our taste buds so we actually taste less. If you’re sensitive to bitter flavors, you can make use of this odd factoid by adding cheese, cream, and butter to bitter vegetables, thereby inoculating your taste buds against their boldness. Creamy gratins are good formats to look to, and strong rich cheeses, like fontina and gorgonzola, make an ideal finish for anything with bitter greens.
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