What to do with beet greens? That is the question. The beauty about buying beetroots from the farmers markets or getting them in your CSA share is that they come with the lush leaves and stems still intact. I will then cut them off immediately so that the roots can be stored separately for a longer time, as I've learned, but what can I do with the leftover beet greens? That was one of the questions I asked Aarika Chilson of the blog Just Beet It when she agreed to help me learn more about beetroots as part of the Spring Discovery series.
"Give them some love!" she told me. In the previous post, Aarika and I explored the root, the bulb portion of the beet that gets most of the attention. In this post, we'd like to shine the spotlight on the leafy part, which according to her is how beetroot was historically consumed.
As someone who writes solely about the beetroot on her blog Just Beet It, Aarika eats every part of the plant. "I am a lover of the beetroot in its most natural, organic form: raw. However, I absolutely adore beets roasted with gourmet olive oils and freshly ground spices. I also am a smoothie junkie and add beetroot to almost every smoothie that I blend," she said, adding that one of her favorite ways to eat beet greens is "sautéed with a dash of olive oil or sesame oil, some fresh lemon juice, grated ginger and garlic, and a sprinkle of sea salt."
I have not encountered a way of eating beetroot that I do not enjoy, and even successfully incorporated the earthy sweet roots in a Malaysian rendang recipe. I decided to give beet greens and even the stems a real go with a simple stir-fry using lots of ginger and garlic plus a splash of soy sauce. Flash cooking leafy vegetables like this helps retain their freshness, and I find the ginger and garlic complement the slightly bitter taste of the greens remarkably well.
As a fan of beetroot myself, I can see why Aarika has chosen to dedicate an entire food blog to the surprisingly versatile vegetable. "As a child, I was quite familiar with pickled beets. However, my passion for beets was further cultivated many years ago when I joined a CSA and an abundance of beetroots and beet greens arrived on my doorstep. A fervent foodie and never one to shy from experimenting in the kitchen, I started adding beets to everything imaginable, creating foods like beet burgers, beet juices and beet muffins. When eating beets or drinking beet juices and smoothies, I feel energized, healthy and strong. After vast research, I learned of the beet’s incredible nutritional benefits and its ability to naturally and radically transform health. I fell in love with the quirky root vegetable, and we have been in a passionate relationship ever since," she explained.
"The beetroot is a humble and extraordinary vegetable that absolutely fascinates me, and I want to inspire others to fall in love (more deeply) with it, and enjoy its beautiful life-giving health benefits and deliciously diverse flavors." She also hopes that non-enthusiasts will give beetroot a chance. "Everyone can find the beet!"
Getting to Know Beet Greens with Aarika Chilson of Just Beet It (Part II)
Beet greens in a nutshell: Beetroots are edible from root to leaf, and the stems and leaves are extremely nutritious and delicious. So when buying bunches of beets, look for healthy stems and leaves as well! Historically, beet greens were used more than the beet root. Prior to Romans cultivating the plant for its roots, the leaves were consumed and used medicinally. A nutrient-dense vegetable, beet greens are a wonderful source of calcium, iron, vitamin A, C and K.
Describe the taste: Beet greens taste similar to chard or spinach. Some people find them bitter, but they are less bitter when sautéed or steamed.
How to select and store: Organic greens should appear fresh and have a bright, green color. Leaves should not be withered, yellowed or spotty. Cut beet greens and stems from the roots and store them unwashed in a separate plastic bag, squeezing out as much of the air as possible. Wrapping in a paper towel also works, but beet greens stay fresher when less oxidized. Place beet greens in the refrigerator where they will keep fresh for about four days.
How to use: Beet greens can be juiced or blended in smoothies, chopped raw in salads, steamed in soups, or sautéed. The stems are crunchy and can be quick-pickled.
You may also be interested to read Part I of the beetroot posts, which features beetroot in a Malaysian curry recipe. Don't forget to come back next Wednesday for another vegetable in the Spring Discovery series.
Beet Green Ginger Stir-Fry
A quick and simple way to enjoy beet greens, using lots of ginger and garlic to enhance their slightly bitter taste. Leave some of the stems on if you like some crunch. Serves 2.
1 to 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
5 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
1 1/2-inch ginger, peeled and cut into small sticks
2 bunches beet greens
2 tablespoons soy sauce
Salt and pepper, to taste
Rinse the beet greens. Then cut away the heavy stems, leaving about 2 inches near the leaves for some crunch, or cut off most of the stems for a softer texture. Cut the leaves into bite-sized pieces. Set aside.
Heat oil over medium heat in a large skillet or wok. Add garlic and ginger and stir-fry until they are soft and aromatic. Turn up the heat, add the beet greens, soy sauce and some water, and quickly toss to combine. Cook until the greens are tender or have reached the desired consistency, and finish off with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately with rice.