Broccoli Rabe is a green leafy vegetable that is popular in Italian cuisine but unfortunately it isn’t always available at the local supermarket. So you’ll often need to find a great substitute for broccoli rabe to cook your favorite Italian dishes. A good alternative for broccoli rabe needs to have a similar texture, similar appearance and similar flavor profiles.
What is Broccoli Rabe
Broccoli Rabe is a green cruciferous vegetable commonly found in the United States. It has large outer leaves, thick stalks at the bottom, and thinner stems on the top. Unlike regular broccoli, broccoli rabe has tiny florets and is known for it’s spicy, nutty, and bitter flavor. It’s often cooked with olive oil and served as a side dish. Raw broccoli rabe has a peppery flavor but cooked broccoli rabe has a milder flavor.
Why Substitute Broccoli Rabe
This green veggie is often called for in recipes from Italy and Mediterranean cuisine. They’re not always easy to find in supermarkets so you may need to substitute them for one reason or another.
- Allergies – Although allergies to broccoli rabe are not common, they do exist.
- Cost – Broccoli Rabe is more expensive than some of it’s cousins like regular broccoli! If you’re on a budget it would make sense to swap them out for a more affordable option.
- Taste – Broccoli Rabe has a strong peppery and bitter flavor that turn off some people. Other green vegetables like baby broccoli and collard greens offer the same texture with a less intense flavor.
- Texture – Lots of people don’t like the soft texture of broccoli rabe.
- Availability – Broccoli Rabe simply may not be in stock or available at your local super market.
Best Broccoli Rabe Substitute For Salads
The best broccoli rabe substitutes for salads are collard greens, mustard greens and arugula.
- Mustard Greens As A Broccoli Rabe Substitute For Salads: Mustard greens are the most similar to rapini when compared to all other substitutes. They have a similar texture and the same bitter and earthy flavor. Mustard greens are slightly more peppery than broccoli rabe. The small leaves of mustard greens are delicate and easy to chew which makes them ideal for eating raw. However, mustard greens have a slightly more peppery taste than broccoli rabe. So if you’re going for an exact match, mix the mustard greens with another substitute like collard greens which are more earthy.
- Arugula As A Broccoli Rabe Substitute For Salads: Arugula is another great substitute for raw rapini. Arugula is easier to find in the grocery store than mustard greens and is slightly less peppery. You can mellow the peppery flavor of arugula by mixing it with collard greens.
- Collard Greens As A Broccoli Rabe Substitute For Salads: Collard greens are considered by many to be the best broccoli rabe substitute. They have an earthy taste and thick leaf which is similar to broccoli rabe. Collard greens are also the least expensive and most commonly found broccoli rabe substitute for salads.
Most Versatile Broccoli Rabe Substitute: Chinese Broccoli
Chinese broccoli (also known as Gai Lan or Chinese Kale) is considered the best substitute for broccoli rabe. Chinese broccoli is a hybrid of broccolini and Gai Lan. It has large blue leaves and florets that are similar in size to rapini. Gai Lan is a great rapini substitute if you are looking for something that isn’t too bitter. Chinese broccoli is less bitter than broccolini but is more bitter than regular broccoli.
You can use Chinese kale in stir fry, it’s also commonly boiled and steamed. In Vietnamese cooking Gai Lan is often served with oyster sauce (wikipedia).
Best Substitutes For Broccoli Rabe
Arugula is a suitable substitute for broccoli rabe in salads. Arugula is much more delicate than broccoli rabe so it wouldn’t work as a replacement in cooked dishes. Both greens have a bitter and peppery flavor.
Mustard greens are the most popular substitute for broccoli rabe out there. Broccoli rabe is genetically very similar to mustard greens and turnip greens. Mustard greens can be used successfully in any application that broccoli rabe calls for. This includes being used raw in salads, cooked into pasta dishes or sauteed and served as a side dish.
Broccoli is an O.K. substitute for broccoli rabe. It can be cooked or served raw. Broccoli has an earthy flavor but is much more mild than it’s cousin rapini.
Broccolini looks a lot like broccoli rabe but it is much different. While broccoli rabe is bitter and though broccolini has a sweet mild flavor and is actually very soft. Broccolini would be a good substitute for broccoli rabe if you don’t like the taste of bitter greens.
Chinese broccoli is the most dynamic broccoli rabe substitute. Chinese broccoli is also known as chinese kale and it is a brassica vegetable that has blue leaves that are larger than broccoli rabe’s leaves.
It also has a slightly bitter taste that is similar to broccoli rabe. Chinese broccoli is great steamed and sautéed. Chinese broccoli also has similar health benefits to rapini. It’s rich in vitamin E and beta carotene.
Chicory root is commonly made to make coffee but the greens are edible too! Just like broccoli rabe chicory has bluish green leaves but it doesn’t have flavor.
Collard greens are a great substitute for broccoli rabe. They have a similar taste but lack the florets that broccoli rabe has. They have big thick leaves with tough large stems. The stems are often removed before the collards are cooked. They work well as a wrap and bread replacement. You can also sauté collard greens to use in soups, salads, meat dishes and pastas!
Endives are yellow and white layered greens that have tight leaves that are woven together. They have an intense bitter taste. People use endives in salad but the most popular way to serve them is cooked. Cooking endive mellows their flavor and makes them butter soft. I love braised endives.
Kale is similar to collard greens. It’s a basic thick leafy green with an equally tough stem. The stem is often removed and the kale can be used in salads and in cooked dishes. Kale is most popularly used in salads and for chips. Kale can be used to replace broccoli rabe in almost any recipe.
Spinach is an O.K substitute for broccoli rabe. Spinach can be used both raw and cooked. It’s flavor is much more mild than broccoli rabe. SO it doesn’t provide the closest flavor profile. However it’s cheap, easy to find in the grocery store and it’s good for those who don’t like bitter greens.
Turnip greens are genetically the closest cousin to broccoli rabe. Turnip greens are great for replacing broccoli rabe because they have a similar texture and nutritional value. Turnip greens taste great blanched and sautéed with olive oil and garlic!
What is the difference between broccoli and broccoli rabe?
Broccoli and broccoli rabe are cousins with plenty of similarities. However they are quite different. because broccoli rabe has smaller florets, more leaves and thinner stems than broccoli. Broccolini look like weeds while broccoli looks like mini trees. Also broccoli stems need to be peeled before they are consumed while every part of broccoli rabe is edible. Rapini is more bitter and peppery than broccoli whose flavor is very mild. If you’re looking for a peppery flavor than broccoli would not be a good substitute for rapini.
Is Broccoli Rabe As Healthy As Broccoli?
Actually broccoli rabe is healthier than broccoli in many ways.
- If you compare their macronutrients, broccolini is lower in calories and carbs but is higher in fat and protein.
- Overall broccoli rabe is richer with more minerals than broccoli including calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc. Rapini is also lower in potassium than broccoli making it a better choice people with kidney disease.
- Rapini also has more bang for it’s buck when it comes to vitamin B content. This green veggie has more vitamin B1(thiamine), B2(riboflavin), B3(niacin), B5, B6 and B9(folate) than broccoli.
- Broccolini also has more vitamin E, K and beta carotin.
However these cousins have similar health benefits because they have the same nutritional content in slightly varying amounts.
Best Way to Cook Broccoli Rabe?
The best way to cook broccoli rabe is to blanch it first to take out some of it’s bitterness and then to sauté it with oil to serve as a side dish. My mother has been cooking broccoli rabe as a part of a Mediterranean diet for years and this is her recipe!
1 head of broccoli rabe, chopped with stems removed
2-4 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pinch red pepper chili flakes
- Boil a large pot of salted water. The best way to cook broccoli rabe is to blanch it and then sauté it. Cut 1/4th of the stems off and then roughly cop the rest.
- Put the rabe in the boiling water to blanch for 2 minutes. Scoop the broccoli rabe out with a spider and place it in an ice bath.
- Heat olive oil and minced garlic in a skillet. Strain out large spoonfuls of the rapini from the ice bath and saute them until the water evaporates and each leaf is coated in oil (2-3 minutes).
- Add a dash of chili pepper flakes in the last minute of cooking.
How to Clean Broccoli Rabe
Leafy greens are one of the most important types of produce to wash before they are consumed because they are typically eaten raw. Food borne illness causing bacteria are killed off in the cooking process.
Food borne illness is commonly caused at home by cross contamination, pets, dirt etc. broccoli rabe is usually sold in unwashed bunches. Unless you’re lucky and find triple washed broccoli rabe then you can’t skip this step.
- Fill a bowl with ice cold salt water.
- Submerge the greens and agitate the water.
- Lift the greens out of the water and place them into a salad spinner. Spin the rapini until it’s completely dry.
Now your rapini is ready to be safely eaten whether you choose to cook or eat it raw!
Nutritional Value of Broccoli Rabe
This healthy vegetable is rich in vitamin C and A. It’s also a good source of calcium, iron, and foliate! Another benefit that adds nutritional value to broccoli rabe is that it’s high in fiber and low in calories which support digestive health and weight loss. In truth broccoli rabe has smilier health benefits to other leafy greens like spinach.
Boil a large pot of salted water. The best way to cook broccoli rabe is to blanch it and then sauté it. Cut 1/4th of the stems off and then roughly cop the rest. Put the rabe in the boiling water to blanch for 2 minutes. Scoop the broccoli rabe out with a spider and place it in an ice bath. Heat olive oil and minced garlic in a skillet. Strain out large spoonfuls of the rapini from the ice bath and saute them until the water evaporates and each leaf is coated in oil (2-3 minutes). Add a dash of chili pepper flakes in the last minute of cooking.
Broccoli rabe looks like weeds with thick stems, tons of blueish leaves and little green florets.
Rapini tastes bitter with peppery and nutty undertones. You can mellow the bitterness by blanching the broccoli rabe.
Cooked broccoli rabe tastes like sautéed spinach with a peppery kick.
Mustard greens are the most similar to broccoli rabe when compared to all other substitutes. They have a similar texture and the same bitter and earthy flavor. Mustard greens are slightly more peppery than broccoli rabe.