What Is Escarole And How Does It Compare To Kale?

You may never have heard of escarole, but you likely have heard of Italian wedding soup. Though some recipes substitute other leafy greens, escarole is one of the most popular types to use in this dish and is a staple in Italian cooking in general. Yet in the United States, there is still quite a bit of mystery shrouding this vegetable — so what, exactly, is escarole?

It's a leafy green that can be eaten raw or cooked, and it's part of the chicory vegetable family, making it a close relative of radicchio and endive. At first glance, it's easy to mistake this veggie for romaine, as it comes in a big head of lettuce with airy leaves and a light green color. But unlike romaine, the flavor of the greens is bitter, and the leaves are sturdier. You can use escarole to make salads, but you may want to balance the veggie out with sweeter ingredients (like dried fruit) or milder lettuce (like the aforementioned romaine). But where it really shines is in soups — it's hearty enough that it doesn't wilt away like spinach can, but it's tender enough that it blends in nicely with the other ingredients.

Escarole vs. kale

It's easy to compare escarole and kale — they're both hearty leafy greens with a somewhat bitter flavor. Plus, you're likely to find these two sitting next to each other at the grocery store, while escarole's closer relatives (like radicchio) will probably be in a separate spot. They can even be used in similar ways, as they both work well in soups, stews, sautés, and salads. For the latter, you'll want to massage the leaves so that they break down and become a little softer before eating, just like you would with kale. In the summer months, you can even throw both of these veggies on the grill to get a delicious char — and to even out the bitter flavor, add a little acid like lemon or lime juice.

However, there are a few key differences between these two. For one, escarole is even more bitter than kale — but when you compare textures, it's a little more tender. While escarole is a traditional staple in Italian cuisine, kale comes from the north Mediterranean coast. These two leafy greens are highly nutrient-dense, with similar amounts of calories, carbs, vitamin K, and fiber per serving. Kale has more vitamin C, calcium, and manganese than escarole, while escarole has much more iron and vitamin A. But if you love kale, you may want to give this hearty, Italian version of the leafy green a try.