If you’re a fan of farm-fresh produce, chances are you don’t know what you’re missing.
Those feathery carrot tops you just tossed? Edible. Ditto goes for the green leafy tops of beets and radishes and the stalks and leaves of broccoli.
All too often perfectly edible vegetable parts are tossed in the garbage. With farmers market season in full swing, it’s time to reconsider how we use the veggies we buy.
When it comes to wasted food, the amount is mounting. Each year, Americans waste some 40 percent of all edible food, according to the National Resources Defense Council, a New York City-based environmental watchdog agency. Contributing food waste factors include unharvested fields, quality and appearance standards, mishandling and improper storage, the council says.
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Add to that not knowing how to prepare whole vegetables. Using an entire vegetable can yield more value and variation. Not only are stalks, stems and leaves tasty, but some have entirely different flavors than their bulbous base or floret.
Broccoli stalks have a sweeter taste compared with their florets. Feathery carrot tops taste like herbs and can be used as such. And beet greens mellow when sauteed and can add a peppery flavor when added raw to salads.
Mark Nowak, owner of Seeley Farm in Ann Arbor, Michigan, estimates that only half the people who buy vegetables from his stand at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market know they can use the whole plant. “Radishes, their flavor, can get spiky, and beet greens can get coarse,” Nowak says. “Anything younger is more edible and a lot of times more nutritious.”
Savvy shoppers like Nathalie Lambrecht, 23, and Elliot Jackson, 24, both of Ann Arbor are among those in the know. They love beets, including the leafy green tops. Recently, at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market, they were buying golden beets, a favorite that they usually steam or roast.
“We eat (the green tops) raw in salads or saute them with olive oil and spices,” Lambrecht says.
Not being wasteful, the two reap as much as they can from the whole plant.
“We cut a thin slice off the top and sprout more greens,” Jackson says. “We’ve even roasted the beet greens in the oven -- they are more like chips.”
When it comes to vegetables, Sally Brandtneris, 57, of Ann Arbor believes how people eat is coming full circle. In the past, she says, “you had to use everything.”
Brandtneris cooks a lot of cauliflower and broccoli and has found recipes for using the stalks.
“We use beet tops and lots of chopped herbs in salads and the green parts of young garlic,” she says.
MAKE THE MOST OF IT
Here are some ways to get the most out of veggies and herbs.
-- Cut into thin coins, place on a sided baking sheet and toss with some olive oil, salt, pepper and crushed red pepper flakes. Roast at 400 degrees until edges are brown and crispy, about 20 minutes.
-- Stir chopped tops into soups before serving or add to salads. Add coarsely chopped carrot tops to sauted greens or other vegetables during the last 2 minutes of cooking.
Fennel fronds and stalks
-- Finely chop celery-like fennel stalks and saute in olive oil and garlic, until stalks are tender, about 5 minutes. Add chopped fronds before serving as a side dish.
Cilantro or parlsey stems
-- In a large saucepan, combine 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro stems with 2 tablespoons salt, 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, 2 garlic cloves (peeled and crushed) and 1 small white onion (peeled and cut in half) and add about 8 cups water. Bring to a boil. Add four boneless chicken breast halves, reduce heat to a simmer and cook uncovered for 20 minutes until chicken is cooked through and tender. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let chicken cool in mixture. When cool, remove the chicken and shred it for another use.
Leafy green tops of radish and beets
-- Wash green tops thoroughly in big bowl or clean sink of cool water. Swish them around to remove any dirt. Heat about 2 tablespoons olive oil and crushed garlic over medium heat and saute tops until tender, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve as a side dish.
-- Keep a plastic bag in the freezer to add vegetable scraps or unused pieces (broccoli stalks, onion pieces, asparagus ends, carrots, celery ribs and leaves) to make stock.
Roasted Carrots with Burrata Cheese and Carrot Top Pesto
FOR THE PESTO:
4 cups lightly packed washed carrot tops, stems discarded and roughly chopped, a small handful reserved
1/3 cup packed basil leaves
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
2 to 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 to 2 medium garlic cloves, peeled, halved lengthwise
1 teaspoon Maldon or other flaky sea salt
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
FOR THE CARROTS:
20 small carrots, scrubbed and tops trimmed but stems left on
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 teaspoon plus a few pinches flaky salt
1/2 pound burrata, drained and at room temperature
3 tablespoons carrot top pesto, plus more to taste
Small handful basil leaves
Half a lemon
Bread, for serving (optional)
Serves four to six.
To make the pesto: In a food processor, combine the carrot tops and basil. Pulse a few times, then add the nuts, cheese, garlic and salt. Pulse again, and then with the machine continuously running, add the oil in a thin stream. (You’ll have to stop to scrape down the sides a few times.) Taste and adjust for seasoning. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap until ready to use.
Make the carrots: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees with a rack in the center. Pour 2 tablespoons of the oil into an ovenproof pan large enough to hold the carrots in a single layer (or do this step in two pans). Let the oil come to barely smoking over high heat, then add the carrots and stir to coat them in the oil.
Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of salt. Cook, turning occasionally, until the carrots are browning in spots -- about 6 to 8 minutes, but not yet cooked through. Once they’re nicely browned in spots, place the whole pan in the hot oven and roast, stirring occasionally, until carrots are tender and cooked through, about 8 to 12 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool slightly.
Toss the cooked carrots very gently, as they’ll be soft, with the prepared pesto, using more or less based on your taste. Transfer the coated carrots to a platter, and top with the burrata. (You may want to halve or quarter your burrata, depending on its size, but that part is up to you.)
Add a few more dollops of pesto to the carrots, and sprinkle each piece of burrata with a bit of flaky salt. Dress the reserved handful of carrot top sprigs with a squeeze of lemon, a drizzle of olive oil and a small pinch of salt, then top the carrots and burrata with the greens.
Serve with toast for mopping up the cheese and bread, if you like.
Mixed Greens and Leaves Salad
Leafy green tops from 2 bunches of radishes, well rinsed and patted dry
Leafy tops from beet greens, well rinsed and patted dry
Celery leaves from the inner ribs
Fresh herb leaves of choice (parsley, tarragon, carrot tops)
6 radishes, cut in half, thinly sliced
3 asparagus spears, thinly sliced
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a large bowl combine all the ingredients, sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss lightly.
Drizzle a small amount of the vinaigrette around the sides of the bowl and toss the salad again working from the sides to the center. You want to just coat the leaves with vinaigrette, not drench them.
Serve as a side salad with a crusty baguette.
Beet Greens with Pine Nuts and Garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled, chopped or sliced
1/3 cup pine nuts
2 bunches beet greens, torn into pieces, or substitute Swiss chard (rainbow chard, if available), rinsed well
1/4 cup water
Salt and pepper to taste
Dash lemon juice
In a large saute pan, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add garlic, and cook until it just begins to lightly color. Add pine nuts, and saute until golden brown. Remove garlic and pine nuts, and set aside.
If using, trim stems from Swiss chard, and cut into 1-inch pieces; chop the leaves. Add chard stems or beet greens to pan with water, and simmer until water has evaporated.
Season lightly and toss to wilt.
Add back garlic and pine nuts, and sprinkle with lemon juice. Adjust seasoning and serve.
Broccoli Stalk Stir-Fry with Leek Greens and Beef
1/2 pound steak, sliced into thin, 2- to 3-inch pieces
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons peanut oil, divided
3 cups broccoli stalks cut into bite-size pieces (see note)
1 large leek, white, light green and dark green leaves, sliced
Noodles or white or brown rice for serving
In a small bowl, combine steak, soy sauce, oyster sauce, cornstarch and sugar. Cover, and let marinate for several minutes. If you have time, refrigerate and marinate 4-8 hours.
Heat a large wok over medium-high heat for several minutes. Add 1 tablespoon of peanut oil, and heat for several minutes. Add broccoli, and cook for 1 minute, stirring occasionally. Add leeks, and stir-fry a few more minutes. Season with salt, and cook for 1 minute more. Add 1-2 tablespoons of water to create a steaming effect. Cook for 2-3 minutes more, until water is absorbed and broccoli is bright green and tender. Remove from heat, and pour broccoli and leek mixture into a large serving dish. Set aside.
Return wok to stove. Add 1/2 tablespoon of peanut oil, and heat for several minutes. Add marinated steak, and cook, stirring occasionally, until steak is brown and no pink remains on the outside. For a well-done steak, cook for about 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat, and pour steak and sauce over broccoli.
Serve immediately over noodles or rice.
Note: Peel the stalks of the broccoli using a vegetable peeler. It makes the broccoli cook faster, plus the stalks become tender and easy to chew.
Pickled Chard Stems
FOR THE CHARD STEMS:
1 pound chard stems (from about 4 bunches), cut into 4-inch pieces
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1/4 cup kosher salt
2 tablespoons brown mustard seeds
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
FOR THE BRINE:
1 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
For chard stems and seasoning: Toss chard stems, shallot and salt in a colander set in the sink. Let stand 1 hour. Rinse, and drain well. Pack into jars.
Meanwhile, toast mustard and caraway seeds in a small skillet over medium heat, stirring often, until mustard seeds begin to pop, about 2 minutes. Let seeds cool.
For brine: Bring vinegar, sugar and 1 cup water to a boil in a small saucepan; let cool slightly. Pour brine into jars. Let cool slightly, then cover and chill.
Pickles can be made 2 weeks ahead. Keep chilled.