“What happened to the beet greens?” I cried to the produce clerk. I adore beet greens, even more than the big red root, so I always look for beets with the bushiest tops. They’re standard at farmers’ markets right now, and they’re increasingly available with their greens in supermarkets…well, some supermarkets, that is.
Because I missed my farmers’ market last weekend, I stopped by a local store with a huge produce department. To my dismay, the greens had been hacked from the roots, and rather brutally, it appeared. There had to be a blood-red beet bath going on in the refuse bin near the clerk who was busy trimming other produce.
“People complain about ’em,” he explained. “They don’t want ’em, so we’re cutting ’em off.”
“You’ve got to be kidding!” I said, my voice rising in shock. “So what happens to those greens?” I inquired further, hoping I’d hear something positive.
“We throw ’em away,” he replied.
“Throw. Them. Away?” I exclaimed. “That’s the most nutritious part of the beet!” It wasn’t his fault, but it’s hard keep your cool when you see food wasted like that. It’s not just that beet greens are edible; they’re incredibly good for you. The leaves are richer in antioxidants and other phytonutrients than the roots, according to Jo Robinson, author of Eating on the Wild Side.
Supermarkets aren’t alone in tossing beet greens. Farmers, eager to please their customers, often lob off the tops at the customers request. By politely asking for the discards, I’ve scored gobs of freebie greens, but I’d be happier if the farmers didn’t plant the idea of yuck in the minds of the shoppers by offering to cut off the greens in the first place. If farmers preached the joys of cooked beet greens instead, we’d be off to a good start.
Finally, tossing edible greens is money down the drain. Wake up supermarket managers and farmers! Take a tip from the Littleton, New Hampshire Food Co-op, where I bought a bag of beauteous beet greens on vacation, no roots attached. I’m willing to bet that if beet greens were sold like kale, collards, and Swiss chard, they’d eventually win out over all of them. Why? Because beet greens cook up into the silkiest, most tender greens ever. And the stems are far more delicious than those of kale and collards. They are a meal unto themselves.
Here’s the easiest way to cook beet greens: Cut out the stems and thicker parts of the center ribs of 1 good-sized bunch of beet greens. Wash the ribs and leaves separately (they’re sandy). Chop the stems. Finely chop 1 large shallot or 1/2 medium red onion and cook in about 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat, covered, until softened. Add the chopped stems, 1/4 cup water and a generous pinch of salt or two and simmer covered, until the stems are just tender, about 5 minutes. Add the greens and cook, covered, until tender, about 3 minutes, adding additional water if necessary. Voilà! A beet green feast.
What do you do with your beet greens?