Have you ever wondered what to do with the leafy greens protruding from your root vegetables? I must admit, I used to throw them away; I wasn’t sure if they were edible, much less how to prepare them. To me, a carrot was the orange root. Recipes instructed me to “discard tops,” and I assumed there must be a good reason that my local superstore often did the same, and topless veggies lined the produce aisle. (Had I been more educated about food waste, I wouldn’t have been so trusting.)
When I started my home garden, I suddenly found myself thinking differently. Now, a carrot was the bundle of parsley-shaped leaves that I could see and tend to above ground. Beets looked so much like the Swiss chard growing next to them that I couldn’t tell the seedlings apart. After I’d watched those leaves grow and defended them from caterpillars and aphids, I couldn’t imagine throwing them out and just eating the roots, which amounted to only half of my hard-earned harvest.
But what was I supposed to do with the leaves? It was an echo of the question Dan and Jordan asked themselves about the grain leftover from brewing beer, and I got answers from Chef Phil, VP of Product and resident culinary expert at ReGrained. Don’t throw them out, he agreed: Cut the tops off immediately to preserve them (otherwise, the root will leech nutrients out of the greens while sitting in the fridge). From there, your options in the kitchen are nearly limitless.
Veggie tops are not only perfectly edible and massively nutritious; their flavors are fun to play with, exotic yet reminiscent of the familiar root. Just find the leaves’ more traditional look-a-like (think: spinach, cabbage, or herbs), and try preparing them in similar ways. I’ve enjoyed pairing tops with their roots for an enterprising and balanced side dish: carrot salad garnished with chopped carrot greens, or beet leaves sauteed in garlic alongside roasted beets.
These days, you won’t find me throwing out tops. In fact, I seek out whole root vegetables at the market, knowing I can use the leaves to make a positive impact on my palate, my wallet, and our planet.
You don’t need a garden to see vegetables differently—all you need is an open mind, a willingness to experiment, and these useful tips from Chef Phil.
Beets are closely related to Swiss chard and spinach, and their leaves are similar in flavor, with a hint of sweetness (beets supply about one third of the world’s sugar). Think of using them in salads, sauteing, or blanching. If you blanch—this goes for all leafy greens—add a touch of baking soda to the water to lower the pH. This will preserve the leaves’ bright green color, along with helpful nutrients, like magnesium for lower blood pressure.
Chef Phil’s Top Tip: When beet greens are fried, they become more evenly crispy than other greens, due to their sugar content. I like to completely submerge the whole beet leaves to make veggie chips.
Since carrots are in the parsley family, their often-discarded greens have versatile cooking applications. When simply blanched and then blended, carrot tops can be the primary herb for a pesto or chimichurri. As a raw ingredient, try chopping and incorporating them into salsas and salads.
Chef Phil’s Top Tip: One of the most unique ways to eat carrot tops is to roast them until they get crispy—they’ll taste seasoned, as their natural sodium is drawn out by applying heat without moisture.
Just like radishes themselves, radish tops have an aromatic peppery flavor that’s similar to watercress, but more subtle than nettles. When sautéed, radish tops become tart, and make a tasty stir fry when combined with any other vegetables in your kitchen.
Chef Phil’s Top Tip: Pureed radishes are a traditional ingredient in kimchi, so when I make kimchi, I like to ferment radish tops instead of cabbage.
Kohlrabi is part of the cabbage family, and its thicker leaves can be eaten in salads, boiled or steamed, and fermented into a tasty kimchi. For a heartier meal, consider enjoying kohlrabi root-to-stem: simply wrap the bulbs and greens in foil with a sprinkle of salt and olive oil, then roast them like you would other root vegetables.
Chef Phil’s Top Tip: Since the kohlrabi bulb has a similar texture to jicama, I like to chop up the bulb and its leaves into a raw kohlrabi slaw, utilizing the whole ingredient for a side dish.
A traditional favorite in Southern cooking, turnip greens can be used interchangeably with collard greens, kale, and spinach. Turnips tops have a uniquely juicy, citrusy finish, similar to sorrel, and they are delicious raw when cut into strips for a garnish. Because turnips greens are surprisingly light, they can even be blanched, pureed, and then kneaded into a dough to make a green (eco-friendly) pasta.