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When cooking with veg there are always multiple ways to substitute different things, and this is particularly easy with commonly used vegetables like potatoes or peas. It does, however, get slightly harder to think of alternatives for vegetables that are slightly more unique.
The problem is, the vegetables that are hard to replace, are also the same ones that are hard to find in your typical grocery store. One vegetable that is particularly enjoyed across the board is broccoli rabe, however we are not always able to get our hands on it.
Most people would simply use broccoli in place of it, but for those veg lovers out there, this swap is not always sufficient enough. People opt for broccoli rabe because it is different to broccoli in terms of not only appearance, but in taste and texture.
In this article I will aim to tell you some of the best substitutions for broccoli rabe and why these substitutions will keep a meal from turning average with regular broccoli, to becoming memorable and taste-bud blowing with new and interesting alternatives!
Table of Contents
What is Broccoli Rabe?
By this point, some of you are probably wondering what on earth broccoli rabe is. Broccoli itself is a very common vegetable. It is easy to find, easy to prepare and easy to eat on the side of just about any meal. It is a great source of fiber and protein, and has many health benefits.
Broccoli rabe is a form of broccoli, also known as rapini. It is the leafy, green florets of the broccoli plant and although used and found across the US, it is most typically found in Italian cuisine. Broccoli rabe has similar health benefits to regular broccoli, and so it can be an interesting alternative if you get sick of regular broccoli.
Broccoli rabe has quite a bitter taste in comparison to broccoli, and is best enjoyed when sautéed with olive oil and garlic or salt. Much like broccoli, or any other green veggie, broccoli rabe works well as a side dish.
It is usually pretty easy to find in supermarkets, but if you fancy switching it with something else, or if you cannot get your hands on it, then there are plenty of vegetables that work as a great substitute for broccoli rabe.
Both mustard greens and broccoli rabe belong to the cruciferous family, and have a similar texture when used to sautee with other vegetables or mixed into a pasta dish.
Both have a leafy appearance, and although broccoli rabe is slightly more bitter, mustard greens have quite a spicy flavor to them – similar to mustard seeds but not as strong.
Both can be eaten cooked or eaten raw, and whilst sharing a similar taste they also share very similar health benefits, making mustard greens an ideal like-for-like alternative.
A lot like mustard greens, turnip greens have quite a spicy taste. They have the earthy taste of roots, similar to the earthy taste found in broccoli rabe, but also have a peppery flavor which adds a similar flavor to mustard greens.
They look slightly different in appearance, but are just as healthy and easy to accessible. Whilst not as close to broccoli rabe as mustard greens, turnip greens are another fantastic alternative, especially if you are looking for a stronger, unique flavor.
Collard greens are lot larger and leafier, and originate from the cabbage family. Unlike broccoli rabe, collard greens have a very tough stem and usually you would not eat this even when cooking.
Collard greens come with an earthy flavor as well, but do not have the spice bite as mustard greens or turnip greens. They cook well and can be chopped up and used in pastas and salads, or can also work well as a side dish if steamed and sautéed.
Whilst collard greens are a fantastically healthy alternative, if the stem of broccoli rabe is one of your favourite parts, or if the unique and bitter flavor is the bit you enjoy best, then collard green may not be the best option.
Chinese broccoli is one of the closer substitutions. In terms of appearance, chinese broccoli is a lot closer than collard greens. Both the leaves and the stalk are a lot larger. Chinese broccoli is very similar in taste and texture once cooked, but it is a lot chunkier than broccoli rabe.
They can be used in exactly the same ways as they both have that similar, bitter taste. Both are high in nutritional value and health benefits, but because Chinese broccoli is a thick stemmed broccoli, it means that it does store more minerals and nutrition than broccoli rabe. Chinese broccoli is one of the more accurate broccoli rabe substitutes.
Whilst plain and simple and probably used in a lot of your cooking already, spinach can work in place of broccoli rabe. Like any other leafy greens, spinach is full of nutrition.
Because spinach is so commonly used, it is really easy to find in almost any grocery store. Whilst it doesn’t have the same stem and texture, it does have that similar earth taste and can be eaten raw or cooked as well.
Dandelion greens are better to use in a replacement when you are cooking, as opposed to eating raw. Younger dandelion greens tend to have a shorter stem and larger leaves, making them the most similar to broccoli rabe.
They have a bitter taste which weakens slightly as it is cooked. Although they can be eaten raw and cooked, it tastes best when wilted and cooked through your recipes that would normally call for broccoli rabe.
Kale is similar to spinach in terms of it being much more leafy and lacking a stem. Kale stems are extremely tough, even when cooked, and so many people like to only eat the leaf.
Kale has an earthy taste and the leaves are slightly tougher than other leafy green foods. Kale also belongs to the cabbage family and is packed full of health benefits as well.
Kale is best when cooked and so would be a better substitute for the recipes calling for cooked broccoli rabe.
Arugula is extremely similar in taste, but not in appearance or texture. Arugula has a very bitter, peppery flavor to it and really stands out in dishes.
This is the ideal substitute for salads. Whilst you can cook arugula, it is a lot more common to eat it raw and it is usually used as a leaf when making a salad. Using arugula in place of raw broccoli rabe would make a great alternative and would even add an extra kick to your meal.
Finally, we have broccolini. In terms of similarity, broccolini is the perfect middle ground between broccoli and broccoli rabe and is an amazing way to substitute broccoli rabe.
When using broccolini to substitute broccoli rabe, it is important to keep in mind that they do differ in taste. Broccolini has a much milder taste, a lot more similar to broccoli. Broccolini also takes longer to cook and is not enjoyable if eaten raw, so you need to make sure you cook it properly.
Although broccolini has a slightly bitter taste, it is a lot sweeter and many people actually prefer it. It can be a great substitute if you are cooking for anyone who isn’t a big fan of the bitter flavor of broccoli rabe.
You can season your broccolini with salt and pepper, and the black pepper will help to give it a bit more of a kick if you still desire that spicy flavor.
Again, it is packed with healthy benefits and works as a really great substitute for broccoli rabe if you are struggling to find broccoli rabe.
Almost any leafy green vegetable will work as a good substitute for broccoli rabe, but the difference between a good substitute and a great substitute is all in the flavor.
Any of the above recommendations not only pack a delicious flavor, but they are all full of health benefits.
Whilst the best substitute is down to preference, Chinese broccoli is the closest in terms of both appearance and taste.
Other alternatives may work as the best substitute because they pack some extra flavor, and really give a spicy kick, however some may prefer the alternative that looks more the part – such as broccolini.
It really is down to you, but if you fancy spicing up the meal more or if you simply cannot find any broccoli rabe, the world is your oyster!
Can you substitute broccoli rabe for Chinese broccoli?
Yes, broccoli rabe and chinese broccoli work as amazing substitutions for each other. They are both full of nutrition, they have a similar earthy and bitter taste, and when it comes to appearance they are not too dissimilar either.