If you love leafy greens, escarole is probably a regular on your menu. You may have heard about escarole under the names broad-leaved endive, Bavarian endive, or simply – escarole. It is similar to lettuce, as it is green and leafy, but some people compare it to kale and spinach.
Escarole offers great versatility in cooking and can be served raw, or prepared in many ways. Whether you prefer it in your salads, or you’re preparing an Italian wedding soup, it provides a unique crunchy texture and beautiful flavor.
Can it be replaced though? Let’s see what’s the best escarole substitute.
The best substitutes for escarole
Even though to some people it looks like kale, escarole is actually leafier, and since it’s sold in bunches it often resembles lettuce. It has wide, short leaves, the outer ones being darker, while those underneath are usually yellow and much more tender.
Escarole belongs to the chicory family, also known as bitter greens, and some of its most widely known relatives include endive and radicchio. Even though it is a “bitter green” by definition, that flavor isn’t dominant in escarole, but there is a hint of bitterness in it.
However, there is a difference between outer and inner leaves – and not only when it comes to color. The outer, darker leaves are generally sharper and more bitter, while the inner ones tend to be brighter and less bitter.
The darker leaves, being chewier and having more structure, are great for soups, stews, and other cooked dishes, as this texture allows for cooking, braising, and sautéing.
The tender, more delicate leaves on the inside portion of escarole are more suitable for salads due to their bright flavor – especially if you pair them with stronger flavors such as goat cheese.
Also, you’ll notice that the characteristic bitterness of escarole stands out when you’re using it raw, but it is much more subtle when it’s cooked. Escarole is the main ingredient of the traditional Italian wedding soup, commonly paired with beans, pasta, and meatballs.
While other ingredients are more or less replaceable, many Italians would agree that escarole is the only green that can deliver the unique taste this soup requires.
But can escarole be replaced in other recipes? If you’re looking for a substitution for escarole, you’re bound to find at least one adequate option on our list.
This delicious escarole replacement belongs to the cabbage family, but it resembles wild cabbage far more than the green one we’re used to seeing. Also, as opposed to cabbage, kale has elongated leaves that aren’t gathered in a round, stacked-up heads.
You’ll usually come across two kinds of kale: baby kale and curly kale. Baby kale tends to be more tender, which makes it a great replacement for the inside leaves of escarole. Curly kale, on the other hand, is more suitable for cooking – just like outer escarole leaves.
2. Curly endive
Curly endive is, as a matter of fact, a relative of escarole, which explains the resemblance between the two. This hearty, leafy green has very curly leaves that are usually not as dark as the outer escarole leaves, and it is slightly bitter.
However, the bitterness is significantly decreased when cooked, which makes curly endive a great substitute for escarole in soup. They’re not only similar in flavor, but in texture, as well – both raw and cooked.
When shopping for curly endive, make sure that the stems show no signs of browning, and the outer leaves have no brownish spots or black tips.
Spinach is one of the most widely used leafy greens, native to Persia. What may come as a surprise is that spinach actually belongs to the amaranth family, which means that it is related to beets and quinoa.
Spinach is well known not only for its versatility, beautiful earthy, yet mild flavor but also for its outstanding nutritional profile, given that it is packed with beneficial vitamins and minerals. Just like escarole, it is slightly bitter, but this bitterness fades away when it’s cooked.
Spinach is amazing not only in salads and green smoothies, but also as a side dish mixed with ricotta cheese, or even as a main dish! It pairs beautifully with many seasonings – especially garlic powder.
This substitute for escarole is often mistaken for the red cabbage, but it is in fact a type of chicory and a staple in Italian cooking. This leafy chicory has recognizable purple leaves and long, white veins combined in an elongated head.
Radicchio is a bit more bitter than escarole, but this taste decreases significantly when you cook it. The flavor is also a bit more herbaceous, and you’ll notice that raw radicchio can be a bit spicy.
It is a great choice for acidic salads, especially crunchy slaws, but it can also be roasted or grilled.
Arugula is a delicious option if you’re looking for that escarole taste with a hint of bitterness. It belongs to the cabbage family, as well as the mustard green family, which explains its unique tanginess and spiciness.
Arugula, as opposed to escarole leaves, is much smaller and has a rather delicate texture, which is why it is generally eaten raw. The spicy, peppery flavor makes it a great addition to your salads, but you can also add it to cooked dishes such as potato soup.
Chard, also known as Swiss chard, is a leafy green related to beets, and it comes in many colors, including golden and red. It is quite similar to beet greens, but unlike this vegetable, the root of the chard is not used in cooking.
When it comes to the flavor profile, chard resembles spinach, but it can be a bit more bitter. However, cooking transforms this bitter flavor into sweetness and earthiness that can elevate any dish you can think of.
Chard is a great escarole alternative in soups, especially white bean soup such as the Italian wedding soup. You can also make stuffed chard leaves, add them to your stews, or chop up some fresh chard and mix into your dipping sauce.
Just like escarole, frisée is a member of the chicory family, which means that it provides that recognizable bitter taste. It shouldn’t be too hard to recognize frisée, since it has a unique bushy head with frazzled stems.
This leafy green is usually bright to green-colored, the core is white, while the tips of the leaves are often pale yellow. Since the leaves are quite tender, they’re more suitable for salads than cooked dishes.
However, since it is a hardy green, you don’t have to worry about frisée getting all mushy if paired with warm ingredients.
8. Mustard greens
These peppery leafy greens are related to kale, collard greens, and cabbage, and just like the name implies, they have a dose of that mustardy pungency and spiciness. Also, it is important to note that mustard greens usually aren’t as bitter as other greens we mentioned.
When cooked, these greens resemble spinach, but they don’t lose much texture in cooking so they have more body. When it comes to flavor, besides the peppery and spicy note, they also have a horseradish-like bite, but the young mustard leaves have a milder flavor.
9. Iceberg lettuce
Also known as crisphead lettuce, the iceberg is a quite popular variety of lettuce and a beautiful choice for refreshing salads. As opposed to romaine and butterhead lettuce, this variety isn’t as bitter, and it has a more sweet flavor, which is precisely why many opt for it in their salads.
This escarole lettuce substitute has a firm, crunchy texture which makes it a great addition to salads and all kinds of sandwiches. It can also be used as a garnish, thanks to its vibrant green color and wavy leaves.
Iceberg can also be stir-fried and lightly cooked, but it isn’t the best choice for soups, stews, and similar cooked dishes.
10. Romaine lettuce
Romaine lettuce is perfectly crunchy, hearty, and a great choice for Ceasar’s salad. Just like with escarole, you’ll see that outer leaves are darker and sturdier, while the inside is more tender and sweet.
Romaine lettuce is also a good option for garnish, and it has a rather mild, neutral taste that can be paired with all ingredients and dishes. It is a great choice for quick salads, and veggie side dishes, as it can brighten more complex flavors.
11. Butterhead lettuce
When you think of lettuce, the first image that comes to mind is probably butterhead lettuce. It is more on the soft, tender side, and it doesn’t provide as much crunch as the options we’ve mentioned above.
If you prefer a leafy, soft texture as opposed to the crunch, you’ll gravitate more towards the butterhead lettuce. It is usually dark green, similar to spinach, and it has a mild flavor that allows you to experiment with many other ingredients.
Aside from using them in salads, butterhead lettuce leaves can use them as carb-free taco wraps (so-called lettuce wraps) since they’re tougher than many other leafy greens.
12. Chinese cabbage
The two most popular varieties of Chinese cabbage are bok choy and napa cabbage, and both of them are quite popular in Chinese recipes. They have a crisp, crunchy texture and a rather mild taste that becomes sweeter when cooked.
Chinese cabbage, no matter the variety, is a staple in Chinese cooking, especially in stir-fries, noodle dishes, pork buns, and spring rolls. It can be cooked in all kinds of soups, stews, and sauces, but you can simply eat it raw in a salad.
13. Beet greens
Beet greens have a unique flavor similar to Swiss chard, and both their leaves and stems are completely edible. While some people choose to remove the stems, we advise you to use these greens entirely (and much of the flavor is hidden in the stems anyway).
While you can find beet greens sold separately from the actual beetroots, you can also get them in bulk. Simply trim the greens, leaving about an inch of the stem on the actual beets so it’s easier to flip them if you intend to roast them.
Beet greens complement roasted beets, but they can also be sauteed on their own, made into a salad, or added to a pasta sauce for more flavor and texture.
How to choose an escarole substitute
When the recipe calls for one specific ingredient, you may feel discouraged to continue if you don’t happen to have it at home. However, when it comes to escarole, there are many options that can adequately replace it.
While escarole isn’t an actual lettuce variety, you may find that lettuce replaces it the best. In that case, you can choose iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce, or butterhead lettuce – depending on the level of crunch you want.
If you want something from the chicory family, go with radicchio or frisée. Both of these options are quite similar to escarole when it comes to both texture and flavor, so they also have similar applications in the kitchen.
Kale, curly endive, spinach, chard, Chinese cabbage, and beet greens are quite neutral when it comes to flavor, and they allow for experimenting and different cooking techniques, as opposed to lettuce. All of these options are delicious in soups, but you can use them fresh, too.
Arugula and mustard greens, on the other hand, aren’t as mild and subtle as the above-mentioned options. They offer a kick of spiciness and tanginess, which is a good solution if you prefer that kind of flavor profile as opposed to neutrality.