For the longest time, whenever the CSA gave me root vegetables with the tops still attached, my first order of business would be to hack off the greens and toss them in the compost bin. After all, the orange part was the edible part, right?
It turns out that a lot of then vegetable tops we see as “trash” are actually treasure. They often contain extra fiber and nutrients our diets are lacking, but because they’re not as sexy or familiar as the fruit itself, we assume they’re useless.
Everything changed when a friend from the gym told me how much she loved beet greens. “You meant the leaves on top of whole beets?” I asked, “I didn’t know you could eat those!”
I know. It sounds silly. I feel silly now, just writing it, but it had honestly never occurred to me before! I sautéed those greens up in a pan with some coconut oil while roasting the beets in the oven. I’m not exaggerating when I say they were the most delicious leafy green I’d ever tasted.
The experience inspired me to investigate other vegetables with under-appreciated tops. Here’s just a short list of the delicious garden veggies that can give you twice as much food when you give the tops a taste!
1. Radish Tops
Although radish tops have a thick, rough texture, they’re full of that same spicy flavor we love in the fruit. The leaves can be plucked and mixed into salad alongside lettuce greens for extra pepperiness. I’ve also seen more than a couple recipes for radish green that look absolutely amazing.
2. Sweet Potato Greens
Unlike radish greens, sweet potato leaves have a very mild flavor. They can be cooked up in a frying pan just like spinach (but beware, they shrink like spinach too!) or tossed into a soup or smoothie for added nutritional value. “Analysis published in the journal HortScience that found the leaves have 3 times more vitamin B6, 5 times more vitamin C, and almost 10 times more riboflavin than actual sweet potatoes,” reports Prevention Magazine.
3. Beet Greens
Ahhh yes, my beloved beet greens! They can be harvested while the beets are still growing in your garden, or you can simply opt for whole beet bunches with the leaves still attached when shopping at the farmers’ market or grocery store. They look a lot like swiss chard and I would encourage you to cook them in exactly the same fashion. Beet greens are an incredible source of iron, calcium and magnesium, and they have the most wonderful, buttery flavor that makes them delicious straight out of the pan.
4. Carrot Tops
If you’ve been avoiding carrot tops because you’ve heard they were poisonous, know that you’re not alone. “Carrot tops are bitter, and bitterness has often been associated with poison, so we wonder if that’s half the story. But that bitterness can be put to wonderful use in the kitchen,” explains The Kitchn. These greens are high in chlorophyll, potassium, vitamin K, and contain 6 times the vitamin C of the root, according to the UK Carrot Museum. Use them to make pesto, chimichurri, salad and as a standalone side dish.
5. Broccoli Leaves
The greens of a broccoli plant (along with its cousins cauliflower and Brussels sprouts) are known to be delicious with a mild flavor that harkens back to the fruit itself. “They can be steamed, sauteed and even grilled in place of other greens, such as collards, cabbage and kale. If you pick the younger leaves off the plant, they’re also tender enough to toss into a salad. Medium leaves are the perfect size and thickness to stuff with veggies and meat. Large leaves work best in soups and stews, where they’ll wilt but still have shape,” explains Garden Betty.
6. Fennel Leaves
Fennel stalk and seeds are delicious, but did you know you can eat the fern-like leaves as well? Known as “fronds,” these leaves have a faint licorice flavor and can be juiced or blended into smoothies, added to salads, ground into pesto and saved for making your own vegetable stock.
7. Kholrabi Leaves
Kholrabi bulbs are delicious and usually get all the attention when it comes to this unusual plant, but don’t ignore the greens! These leaves are yummy in their own right and can be eaten raw in salad if they’re young and tender, or sautéed and steamed like collards when more mature.