“There’s just not a lot of recipes that are given for these types of vegetable tops,” says Linda Ly, a cookbook author who runs the website Garden Betty. “People aren’t sure what to do with them”
Try to think of the extra greens as a bonus, not a burden. “When you think about cooking all the parts, you have more food on hand than you may realize,” says Anne-Marie Bonneau, the author behind “The Zero-Waste Chef” book and website.
Here are some tips for picking, storing and using them, along with specifics about the most common types you’ll come across.
Cut waste and boost flavor with recipes that use the whole vegetable
Things to look for. First, be sure the greens look good. They should be “perky,” as Abra Berens says in “Ruffage.” Avoid anything wilted, slimy or yellowing.
If you find beets with tops, they were probably dug up within the week, according to Berens. Just keep in mind that there isn’t anything necessarily wrong with beets, carrots and radishes sold without greens, as all store well for weeks or more.
“It’s hard to find radishes with pristine tops, because of how they’re farmed and watered, but if you find them with full, unblemished leaves, get those,” Aaron Choi, farmer and co-owner of Girl & Dug Farm in San Marcos, Calif., told my colleague Daniela Galarza.
Spicy, crisp, buttery or tender, radishes offer something for every season
If you grow your own, former Post columnist Barbara Damrosch wrote that with radishes, “it’s best to try the leaves when they are still young and tender and the roots have just formed.”
Malfunction and prepping. “When I get home from the farmers market, I deal with the greens first,” Bonneau says.
Your guide to salad greens, plus tips to pick, prep and store them
Leaving them attached can draw moisture and nutrients out of the vegetables, and the greens have a shorter shelf life than the actual vegetables. Expect them to last a few days. Bonneau stores them in a slightly damp cloth bag in the crisper, although you can use a plastic or resealable bag or pack them in a hard-sided container in between layers of paper or dish towels, a method my colleague Aaron Hutcherson suggested in his guide to salad greens. Carrot tops are more like herbs, so follow Aaron’s advice there: “Spread the herbs across a barely damp towel, roll into a bundle, place the bundle in a bag and store it in the refrigerator.”
How to store fresh herbs to keep them perky and happy
To clean greens, swish in cool water to remove dirt or silt, lift out, drain well and dry in clean towels or a salad spinner.
Overall tips. Many vegetable greens do well with a quick saute, Ly says. Start by cooking some onion or garlic in oil. Then add the greens and cook until they want. Season with salt and pepper, and for an extra flourish, finish with a bit of acid, such as lemon juice or vinegar. If you have the beet stems, add them before the greens, to soften.
Ly makes pesto out of all kinds of greens, though she also recommends simply pureeing them to add to marinades or dips.
Green smoothies are another way to make quick, nutritious use of your surplus. If all else fails, use them in Scrappy Vegetable Broth.
For any of these greens, you can get the most bang for your buck with less waste and extra work by trying to use the greens and the vegetables in the same recipe.
carrot tops. “With an intensely carroty flavor and aroma, carrot greens possess the pleasant earthy bitterness common for leafy greens but with a feathery texture that feels like an herb,” our Nourish columnist Ellie Krieger says in her recipe for Carrot Top Pesto. They stand in well for parsley, as a garnish or in a salad or salsa.
“I like to make a tart chimichurri with carrot tops while I roast the bottoms and spoon the former over the latter for serving,” Food editor Joe Yonan says about his Honey-Roasted Carrots With Carrot-Top Chimichurri.
Bite greens. Bonneau says beet greens are comparable to kale or Swiss chard, earthy with a slightly bitter edge.
In Crispy Smashed Beets With Garlic, Scallions and Chilethe greens are quickly cooked in a hot skillet after you’re done shallow-frying the roasted, smashed beets. Roasted Beets With Sauteed Beet Greens takes a similar approach in pairing roasted roots with wilted greens. The leaves melt into silky perfection when baked, as in Beet Greens Strata.
Because beet greens are on the more tender side, Ly will thinly slice them to add raw to salads.
If you don’t end up sauteing the beet ribs (stems) in your finished dish, consider pickling them, following the lead of Pickled Red Onion and Chard Stems.
Radish greens. I love Damrosch’s description: “Radish leaves are typically described as hairy, but in fact they’re downright prickly, even a bit painful. Your tongue says, ‘Big mistake.’
“Like many edible plants not shaped by breeders for culinary pleasure, radishes don’t want to be eaten. They’d rather be left alone so that they can go on and make seeds with which to reproduce themselves, so their scratchy surface is probably a defense. But I’ve come to appreciate how radish greens are quickly tamed by heat.”
Ly says radish greens are milder than the radishes themselves, with a slightly peppery edge that mellows during cooking. In her recipe for Butter-Braised Radishes and Radish Greens With Farroyou cook the radishes in butter and then add the greens, which wilt in just 2 to 3 minutes. Stir-Fry Radish With Crab is another stovetop option. In Roasted Radishes With Green Goddess Butteryou keep the leaves on, giving you a combination of tender vegetables with crispy greens that might remind you of kale chips.
If you like arugula, try raw radish greens in your salad.
If you’re faced with mature, thicker greens or still struggle with the texture, there’s no shame in pureeing them into submission. Cream of Radish Top Soup is one example, with potatoes adding bulk and creamy texture.