Think twice before you toss the leaves growing from your beets. Beet greens are sweet, mild, and cook up into the silkiest, most tender greens you’ll ever eat. And the stems? They’re far more delicious than those of kale and collards.
They’re also more nutritious. Beet greens are some of the most nutrient-rich greens around, containing more antioxidants and other phytonutrients than the bulbous roots themselves, according to Jo Robinson, author of Eating On The Wild Side. In terms of general health benefits, beet greens are right up there with kale.
Reading: How to eat beet greens
So if I had my choice between a plate of braised beet greens and one of braised kale, I’d pick the beet greens every time. They’re much sweeter than kale, and the leaves cook up as silky as spinach. Plus, beet greens and stems get tender faster than kale.
Of course, in other to cook a batch of beet greens, you have to find them first.
Find Beet Greens at Farmer’s Markets
Beet greens are standard fare at most farmers’ markets right now, and beets are increasingly available with their greens in supermarkets—well, some supermarkets. Imagine my shock and disdain when I discovered a local grocery store was systematically chopping the bushy greens from bunches of beets and no joke, stuffing them in the trash!
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.
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“What happened to the beet greens?” I cried to the produce clerk.
“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 to 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.
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 free beet 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 them off in the first place. The hacked-off greens leave people wondering if you can eat beet greens at all! If farmers left the leaves intact and preached the joys of beet greens instead, there’d be far less confusion.
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Furthermore, tossing edible greens is money down the drain. Wake up supermarket managers and farmers! Take a tip from Littleton Food Co-Op in New Hampshire, 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.
Braising is the simplest way to prepare beet greens. Here’s how to do it.
Swish leaves and stems vigorously in a big bowl of water to remove the sand from the leaves, which also gets lodged between the ridges of the stems.
Cut the stem and the thick part of the center rib from each leaf. The easiest way to do this is to fold the leaf in half along the rib. Chop the stems and leaves separately.
Film a large skillet with olive oil. Cook up some chopped onion, shallot, or garlic over medium heat, covered with the lid, until softened for 1 to 5 minutes.
Add the stems to the skillet along with 1/3 cup water and salt to taste and braise the chopped stems, covered, until tender for 4 to 6 minutes.
Finally, add the chopped leaves (and a few tablespoons of water if the pan looks dry) and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until the leaves are tender for 3 to 4 minutes.
Season with salt and pepper, and you’re good to go!
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