Over the past few years, there has been no food more beloved by health nuts than kale. It’s one of the world’s best superfoods, but it’s also, at this point, overhyped to the point of no return. We’re well past “peak kale,” and the next mention of oven-crisped kale chips recipes on Pinterest might just cause me to finally run off to warmer climes, where (hopefully) kale just doesn’t exist.
Nothing against kale, but there are plenty of other bitter greens that deserve equal fanfare. Greens are an economical way to add a nutritional boost to everything from eggs to pasta sauce, and you don’t have to spend $5 on a bundle of organic kale that can’t even feed a family of four. These five bitter greens, thanks to their D-list status, are affordable and nutritious, making them a great addition to your weekly shopping list.
If you’re already trekking through Whole Foods to find whatever the hell “dinosaur kale” is, searching out dandelion greens won’t be much more difficult. These versatile greens are sold in hefty bundles, and are perfect for wilting slightly for a side dish or mixing into a fresh, springy salad—this is the time of year when these greens are in their prime. You may not be able to forage up enough dandelion greens in your front yard (lawn herbicides are also a concern), but they’re available at plenty of spring farmers markets.
These big leafy fronds are now popular in summer CSA baskets, but they’ve always been a staple of southern soul food. Sautéed with bacon or simmered for hours on the stove, collard greens are broccoli and cabbage’s nutritionally packed cousin that’s just a little bit bolder in flavor. Make sure that you serve these greens with plenty of cornbread or crusty baguette—the “pot likker,” or cooking broth, is full of the greens’ nutrients, and delicious when mixed with a little hot sauce.
The leaves of this weird broccoli-greens hybrid are extremely popular in Italian and Portuguese cuisine, typically served as a way to lighten up heavy dinners. The tops resemble broccoli, but broccoli rabe (or rapini, as it is also called) is closer to turnips than its green lookalike. Gently sautéed with garlic and olive oil, broccoli rabe is a perfect green vegetable for all seasons, and its light flavor is friendlier to kids and picky eaters than other strongly-flavored greens.
If you’re not into greens, adding the doctor-recommended several cups of the leafy stuff into your diet doesn’t exactly sound appetizing. Fortunately, strongly-flavored bitter greens aren’t your only option if you’re looking to add a little more chlorophyll into your cooking. Romaine lettuce is one of the healthiest foods on the planet, and it has long been used as a bitter herb during Passover dinners. Its mild taste makes it a simple and extremely nutritious swap in that iceberg salad you serve the family every night for dinner. You can also blend it into your green smoothies if you need to work your way up to spinach and other bitter greens. And you can even stir-fry it.
It’s surprising that Swiss chard doesn’t have the same market appeal as kale. These beautifully rainbow-stemmed bitter greens are almost as much of a nutritional powerhouse as kale, offering plenty of fiber and a potent dose of vegetarian iron. Swiss chard is a year-round green, meaning that you won’t be reliant on seasonal availability to incorporate it into your diet. One serving of Swiss chard will provide you with over 100% of your daily recommended intake of Vitamins A and K, and over half of your daily Vitamin C.
Amy McCarthy is Assistant Food Editor at Paste Magazine. She enjoys lipstick, cooking, and fighting with celebrities on Twitter.