When I was a kid, my mother would buy carrots with the long bunch of greens attached. She would chop them off and give them to our parakeets and finches who loved to eat them. Today we know that the tops of vegetables are not just for the birds. A few summers ago, I had an abundance of radishes and used the greens in several recipes. The green tops of many veggies are edible and yummy. Just like the vegetables they come from, the green tops have distinctive flavors and textures. There is a new movement in the food world of root to stem and root to stalk cooking. The leaves, greens, stems and stalks we tend to throw away are completely edible and instead of wasting them, we should all be using them to cook amazing and unique dishes. So the next time you buy carrots and beets, don’t throw the greens away. Here are some ways to use them instead of tossing them.
When you bring your beets and carrots home from the market, don’t store them with their greens still attached. The tops take moisture away from the vegetables. Remove the tops from the vegetables and store them separately. The tops don’t last very long so plan to use them right away. Until you are ready to cook them, wrap a damp paper towel around them and store in a plastic storage bag in the fridge for no more than a day.
2. Blanch Away the Bitterness
Although you can eat the greens raw, some people might find them a bit bitter. Blanching is a useful technique to help remove any bitter taste. To blanch the greens, bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil and drop the greens in. Stir them around a bit. In just a few minutes, the greens will start to soften and become a beautiful, bright color. You don’t want to cook them too long or they will lose that color and get mushy. Then transfer the greens to an ice bath to shock them. This will stop the cooking process and help them keep that beautiful, bright color. If you don’t want to set up an ice bath, at least transfer the greens to a colander and run cold water over them for a minute. When they are cool enough to handle, drain any excess water and continue with your recipe. For more tips, see How to Cook Vegetables So They Don’t Wilt.
3. Make Pesto
While pesto is traditionally made with basil, you can use any kind of greens to make it. I love making pesto out of kale, spinach, radish greens or any greens I happen to have on hand. My Beet Greens Pesto is simple: in a food processor, combine 4 cups of beet greens (remove the stems), 4 cracked garlic cloves, ½ cup walnuts, 3 Tbs. vegan grated parmesan, ½ tsp. kosher salt and ¼ tsp. black pepper. Process the ingredients while streaming in up to ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil until you have the consistency you want. Store the pesto in an airtight container in the fridge. You can use the same recipe using carrot greens instead. See How to Make Pesto Without Cheese for tips and recipes. Then use your pesto as a sauce for your zucchini pasta or to make incredible veggie pizza.
4. Make Vegetable Stock and Soups
Soups and stock are great ways to use up any veggies and their parts. Since they will just boil away in the liquid, you don’t have to worry about overcooking them and any bitterness will be taken care of. If you have never made your own stock before, check out How to Make the Best Vegetable Stock Recipe and 5 Tips for Making Your Homemade Veggie Broth Even Better. Just add the carrots and/or beet greens to the pot with whatever veggies, herbs and spices you are using to make your stock. The next time you make a Root Vegetable Soup, add the tops of your root veggies to it as well.
5. Make Salads
Whenever I make Borscht or beet soup, I make sure to buy beets with lots of greens attached. Then I make a salad with the greens to have with my soup. Carrot and/or beet greens can be added to any salad. If you find them bitter, you might want to blanch them first (see above) but I like them raw. Add the greens to salads that already have carrots and/or beets to show how you can eat all parts of a vegetable. Try it in this Kale and Golden Beet Salad, Quinoa and Beet Salad with Hazelnuts, Grilled Beet Salad with Almonds and Dried Cranberries, Raw Healthy Asian Carrot Avocado Salad, Carrot Coconut Salad, and Roasted Carrot, Lemon, Avocado Salad with Tangy Dressing and Toasted Seeds.
6. Saute the Greens
My favorite way to cook greens is to saute them in a pan with olive oil, garlic, shallots and a pinch of red pepper flakes. I don’t cook them long, just long enough to wilt and get bright green. I love the greens sauteed with just the aromatics but a bit of tamari, vegan Worcestershire sauce or vinegar is also delicious. Sautéing is easy: heat your pan over medium-high heat, add oil and let the oil heat up until it starts to shimmer. Add any aromatics such as onion, garlic, ginger or chile pepper, and saute them until they are softened. Add the greens and season them with your favorite herbs and spices. Stir often in the pan and cook until they are wilt and are crisp-tender. See Secrets to Sautéing and Stir-Frying Chinese Style and Tips for Cooking Greens So They Taste Delicious for more tips and then try these Beet Greens with Garlic and Toasted Almonds and these Sauteed Beet Red Greens.
7. Make Smoothies
Smoothies are a great way to use beet and carrot greens. It shouldn’t seem unusual since we already add plenty of greens like kale, spinach and chard to our smoothies. Try adding just a little to start with and see how you like it before adding a lot more. If you are new to smoothies, try adding carrot or beet greens to this Beginner Green Smoothie and then work your way through these 11 Awesome Green Monster Smoothies and the Best Green Smoothie Ever.
8. Swap Them In
Sometimes when I am out of parsley or cilantro, I garnish my dishes with whatever greens I have – kale, celery leaves, radish tops, etc. Parsley and cilantro get added to a lot of dishes, as garnish and in the actual recipe. Try swapping out the parsley and cilantro and swap in the carrot or beet greens. Add them to dishes like this Red Lentil Soup with Fresh Cilantro and Lemon, Cheezy Spinach and Cilantro Rice, Lemon Butter Fettuccine with Parsley and Pine Nuts and Squash Parsley Dip.
The next time you visit the farmers’ market and they ask if you want the tops of your beets and carrots cut off, politely decline. The farmers will probably smile because they knew all along that carrot and beet tops are edible and delicious.
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