Because guess what: Almost any vegetable’s greens are edible.
It is madness – madness! – to buy local beets or radishes only to chop off the greens and discard them.
Sure, they don’t always look as nice as the washed-and-bagged salad mixes, but once you clean and taste them, you might not even want to buy the bagged stuff every week anymore.
Last spring and summer, my guy grew both radishes and beets. When we first thinned the rows, we ended up with two huge grocery bags full of homegrown micro greens. I busted out the salad spinner to clean them and topped all our salads with them for weeks thereafter. The radish micro greens have a little kick to them, just a touch of heat after a sweet crunch. If you like the peppery taste of arugula, you’ll like radish greens.
Here are some greens you might not have tried before, but should:
- Kale. Hearty and fibrous, with curly leaves that can grow to be very broad. As such, it takes longer to stir fry than most greens, but holds up well in dishes that require longer cooking times, like soups and casseroles. Moderate bitterness — the longer you cook it, the less bitter it will be.
- Chard. Swiss chard has dark green leaves with white stalks, and there are also red and golden varieties. Rainbow chard is simply a mix of all of them. The stems are similar to, and can substitute for, celery, and both the stems and the ribs are delicious sautéed. Red chard will stain other vegetables.
- Beet greens. Don’t separate them from the beets until you’re ready to use them because they don’t keep long, but once you chop them off, they’re a nutritious and flavorful addition to your regular salads. Very similar to chard in texture and stain power.
- Collard greens. Broad, flat leaves, firm veins and ribs. Like kale, they can withstand high cooking temperatures and heavier sauces. A great flavor that is used often in southern cooking. I’ve not used the stems and ribs, only the leaves (same as kale).
- Dandelion greens. Love or hate their sharp bitterness, they give punch to salads (reduce bitterness through braising or sautéing). Best when young.
- Mustard greens. Also sharp in flavor, just like mustard. Curly leaves like kale, but more delicate.
- Pea greens. Bright, clean flavor. Usually sold still on the vine, with “shoots.” Saute in olive oil or add to salads within a day or two of purchasing because they don’t keep well.
- Sweet potato greens. Sweet and tender like spinach.
- Turnip greens. Mild flavor, also tender.
Buying tip No. 1: If your favorite market vendor is selling turnips, beets, sweet potatoes, peas, radishes, etc., ask if s/he can save the greens for you for next time. You might get a deal. Remember that most of these greens don’t have a long shelf life, which is why you’ll usually not find them in regular grocery stores. Unlike with the green onions, don’t buy in bulk!
Buying tip No. 2: If you haven’t found a decent, moderately priced olive oil yet, you need one. Besides roasting, sautéing any veggies, including greens, in olive oil is the easiest flavorful way to prepare them. Key words to look for are “extra virgin” and “cold-pressed.”
Cooking tip No. 1: Almost all greens cook down in volume, so don’t be afraid to overflow the sauté pan. Just keep them moving with your wooden spoon.
Cooking tip No. 2: You can mellow the flavor of any greens you find too bitter or sharp by gently blanching them in salted water as a first step.
Mixing greens tip: The most bitter greens should highlight your salad or dish, not be the main component. This means you can buy/pick/grow fewer dandelion and mustard greens and more kale and chard.
Regarding a recipe, I’m not going to tell you how to make a salad or sauté leaves.
However, the pea shoots jumped out at me while I was assembling this list. A while back, I tried my hand at homemade ricotta, a la Smitten Kitchen, my all-time favorite food blog. For now, store-bought ricotta or even a creamy goat cheese will do for this absurdly easy side dish or appetizer recipe.
If you can’t find the pea shoots, which are admittedly a bit of a specialty item, any sprouts will suffice. If bitterness doesn’t bother you, quickly sauteed dandelion greens would work here, too.
Garlic toast points with cheese and pea shoots
- A fresh baguette or good loaf of fresh bread, like sourdough, rye or anything seeded
- A few cloves of garlic (In my world, there are two amounts of garlic to be found in food: Not Enough and Almost Enough. If you love garlic, buy and use tons. If you don’t … well, I can’t say I get it, but feel free to omit.)
- Ricotta or goat cheese, as much as you want (bitter greens are best with milder cheeses, in my opinion)
- Pea shoots or other micro greens or sprouts
Slice the baguette in half long-ways, then cut short slices at an angle to make the points. Rub a cut clove of garlic onto the bread, whether you use any butter or not. Broil the points on your oven rack for a few minutes until golden. Spread cheese as thick as you like, top with generous handfuls of greens and drizzle with that olive oil you bought in bulk because you cook so many fresh, locally-sourced vegetables. Eat while browsing Smart’s May/June 2013 e-zine.