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Removing bitterness from cooked greens

  • s

I just cooked a bag of TJs southern greens last night for tonight's dinner - a mix of mustard and turnip greens, collards, and spinach. Doing a s/p taste test, I noticed the mixture was quite bitter. I'd never had mustard or turnip greens before - those may be the culprits, or it just might not be the highest quality.

In any case, I have serious doubts my 4 yr old would eat it unless I can figure out something to cut the bitterness a tad. The greens have already been cooked in some broth, garlic, and browned sausage bites for about 30 minutes. It may be too late - if it is, please tell me so. Thanks!

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  1. To cut bitterness, you can add acid (try a bit of vinegar or lemon juice), salt (looks like you've already done that plus the broth and sausage are probably salty), or sweetness (but I wouldn't do that here). If those don't help, dilute the bitter impact by serving your greens over a neutral starchy food: pasta, polenta, mashed potatoes, grits, crostini, etc. Next time you may want to blanch them in lots of salted water before sauteing.

    1. c

      Mustard greens are, by their nature, bitter. They do tend to be less bitter when they are in season but will always have some of that bitter flavor

      2 Replies
      1. re: cinderella525

        But not that bitter! Seasonal means after the first frost is the best time to pick the greens, the smaller leaves are better and more tender.
        I never heard of cooking longer helping with the bitterness; you just have more tender greens or overcooked greens .
        Cracker Barrel or country cooking serve pepper sauce consisting of small hot peppers pickled in vinegar to put on the greens so I guess vinegar or an acid helps with the bitterness. There is nothing wrong with adding a spoon of sugar or to taste--At any time in the cooking process, even the end. It definitely takes care of the bitterness.
        Mustard greens have a stronger flavor than turnip greens but not an unpleasant bitterness. It's okay to cook them together. Both cooked down much more than collard greens.

        1. re: suecc2746

          Turnip greens have , to my tastebuds, an unpleasant radish/mustard green "bite" (not necessarily bitterness, but some might call it that) if not well-cooked. If thoroughly boiled, like 10 minutes, they lose that completely and taste like spinach.

      2. I would not have put spinach into that mix. Also they all need slightly different cooking times. When I do mixed greens I put a ham hock in a large pot and a chopped onion. I also like to add a couple of ancho chilis, a chipotle anda can of chopped tomatoes and some water. Then my collards, with the tough rib removed, chopped go into the pot. They cook about 30-45 mins. and then the mustard goes in and in another 30 minutes the turnip greens. The whole thing will cook about 3 hours or so.

        I don't find mustard bitter but kind of having a spicy bite, it is good raw in salads. The collards and turnip greens have a more cabbagy flavor to me but it might have been the turnip greens since soome people find turnips to be a bit bitter too.

        I have bought those bagged pre-washed greens(not mixed) but prefer to buy them bulk the companies selling the bagged stuff just chop them up tough stems and all and then I have to go through them and pick all of that stuff out. Not a time saver at all.

        1. You just need to cook them longer. Most greens need to simmer at least 20 minutes, preferably a half hour to get rid of beiiterness. Then they're wonderful. Especially if you simmer covered in chicken broth with a teaspoon of sugar, a pinch of red pep flakes, a small minced onion, 2 smashed cloves of garlic, and 2 teaspoons of apple cider, or white, vinegar. A ham hock or smoked turkey parts are always a great addition, but you need to simmer them by themselves for about a half hour before adding the greens for the second half hour. Then serve with the broth over white rice (and how about a corn muffin?)

          2 Replies
          1. re: Niki Rothman

            They are quite bitter still after simmering for 30 minutes, maybe 35.

            1. re: Sasha

              Continue to simmer. At an hour, you've probably gotten whatever it is you're gonna get.
              It may be that they weren't fresh. Sometimes when I attempt to cook green veg that have been sitting in my fridge like a week, they just taste awful and I throw them out without ever serving them. Also, somebody said mustard greens can stay bitter - I've never experienced that. In fact, I've often adored the lightly cooked mustard greens that Chinese restaurants serve. Chard and collards are always mellow when well cooked - maybe in the future, stick with them. And of course, spinach is only ever cooked until barely wilted for the best flavor.

          2. I cook these TJ's greens all the time in water, and usually for at least 20 minutes or longer. I agree with the other poster who suggested longer cooking time -- that should reduce/eliminate bitterness, though with this particular mix of greens by that point I find that the spinach has pretty much disintegrated.

            1. The can of tomatoes idea is great. I often do this as a quick and easy sauce for pasta (bitter greens - mostly broccoli rabe and a can of chopped tomatoes).

              Also, you can always add more sausage. as well as the tomatoes to cut the bitterness.

              1. My very southern mother-in-law says that if you put them in the freezer overnight, it takes out some of the bitterness. Similarly, greens harvested after the first frost are less bitter.

                When we make greens, we simmer them for an hour or so in chicken stock with a ham hock. If you have time, turn the heat to just above warm and leave them overnight, adding more water if necessary. The next day they are meltingly tender and not bitter at all.

                Finally, for the greens you've already cooked you can splash a little cider vinegar on them, or better yet, hot pepper vinegar. Mmmmm.

                I agree that the spinach does not belong in that mix.

                1. Cook bitter greens in water first, drain, and then proceed with the rest of the dish. The bitter compounds in these vegetables are water soluable, so cooking them forever does limited good unless you discard the cooking liquid. It's less nutritious (and tasty, if you like the bitterness) but it's better than not eating veggies at all.

                  Link: http://tomness.blogspot.com

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Tom Meg

                    I think this is crucial for collards. I boil 10 minutes in salted water first, then cook with the fat and onion.

                    Also, as Candy notes above, the spinach has a much shorter cooking time.

                  2. For more fibrous greens, like those you refer to, blanch first for just a few minutes in boiling water (your pasta pot will make this easy). Then, saute in olive oil or butter with whatever flavorings you like. I usually add some red chile flakes, anise and a little garlic. Easy & delicious! This is also great added to pasta.

                    1. I cook a mix of mustard greens and spinach frequently. I like them with lentils or in soups. My rule is to cook them just till the color turns. I do add the mustard first, usually, then the spinach, esp. if it is young. Mustard has a peppery flavor that I quite like. For faster cooking, I chop the mustard into smaller pieces.

                      The country way of cooking was to cook the life out of greens, but I don't like anything cooked to death.

                      1. cooking methods exhausted, so my suggestion is to add some cooked (caramelized) diced onions to the mix, and maybe some mushrooms... if the little one will eat those...

                        1. Why would anyone want to remove the bitterness from greens? It's the best part.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            I'm with you ipsedixit. I LOVE my bitter greens!

                          2. A little ricotta can help mellow bitter greens.

                            1. A little reading of greens recipes last night has made me think that the bitterness you experience might be from the collards. If the taste really isn't for you, you could always eliminate them from the mix. The advice about hot pepper sauce (vinegar based) is good, and authentic to country cooking. (Based on my experience.)

                              1. first of all, that's a bad mix of greens as they all have different cooking times, collards taking the longest. growing up we either had mustard & turnip together (with spinach once in a while) or collards alone. it's hard to say definitively which is the culprit for the bitterness, however the mustards would be at the top of the list.

                                with that in mind some suggestions: try cooking them separately so that you can understand how each of them cook and taste. something i haven't seen offered as a suggestion for bitterness is baking soda, a pinch will help those mustards mellow out, although sugar and vinegar also can help. also, if you're using bagged greens, get rid of as many of the stems as possible, as they can add to bitterness as well.

                                1. Dice up an onion and cook it with the greens. This works even with extremely bitter greens (e.g, broccoli rabe)!

                                  1. I always add a tablespoon of sugar to collards and mustards and serve them with peppersauce ( peppers and vinegar ). Young turnip greens and mustards usually don't need anything besides a quick boil though I do cook collards a little longer as they can be a little tougher and a little bitter...

                                    1. as mentioned those grens all have different cooking time,s so not the best mix in a bag, unless you go full-on southern and cook them to death with a hock. it's like those mixes of soup beans. always a fail.

                                      and as an aside, kids have an inherent aversion to bitter flavors. they do grow out of it, so don't force the issue.

                                      1. Sasha,
                                        My dad cooked dandelion greens for me a lot when I was a child, and he would always season them with yellow mustard and a drop--and I mean a drop--of honey for me.

                                        Do you have honey mustard at home? As Junie D noted, the vinegar in the mustard really cuts the bite of the greens, but your four year old might love them.

                                        When all else fails---ketchup.:-)

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: pinehurst

                                          i like most bitter greens, but recently bought a bunch of something at a local southeast asian market. oh my stars! even with garlic and lemon and honey they were powerful puckers! jeebus. never again for those babies!

                                        2. if you are cooking fresh greens, boiling (blanching) til tender in a LOT of water helps reduce the bitterness. then you can drain, squeezing out the water, and season as desired. I really like the southern italian and spanish treatment where the drained greens are sauteed with olive oil in which plenty of garlic has been cooked til golden, with pine nuts and raisins. Other nuts and fruits, like apricots and walnuts are good too. The combination of bitter-garlic/oil and sweet (well salted) is wonderful. Ditto the classic southern italiian combo of chopped greens, olive oil, garlic,chile flakes and parsley, all sauteed together. Italian sausage works with this last. I like all of these better than the more traditional american use of vinegar or smoked meat to mellow greens

                                          1. +1 on everyone who suggested boiling first - and another suggestion - strain and keep that green water and use it as a soup or other moistening base. It'll have a lot of taste and nutrition in it.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: rcallner

                                              The pot liquor is the best part. Talk about wake up a boring soup...

                                            2. Just read what I posted on January 3. It's simple and it works every time!

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: krazkat

                                                This is how I prepare mine and it the same East Africans prepare collard greens. Chop the greens to small pieces. cook withonions, tomatoes (becareful with tomatoes they add more bitterness), add a cup of water cook for 20 minutes or more. to take the bitterness away add milk preferrebly low fat milk. I usually add the milk when the greens are served. add the milk to the base of the plate. this will take away the bitterness. alternatively is to chop cabbage to and add to the greens and cook together this should take away the sting

                                                I think the reason why collard greens are bitter is they are way to mature. if the leaves were picked weekly the greens would be softer and less bitter