Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Truth About Beet Greens

If you've spent any time at all reading recipes you haven't escaped the standard admonition when preparing beets to be sure to use the beet greens. Not only tasty, are these greens we're told, but so darned good for you as well.

To which I respond: Have you ever tried actually cooking the greens that typically come with a bunch of beets at the grocery store?

First, the beet greens you usually find in the grocery store aren't very appetizing at all. They look old and ragged, probably because the average beets in the average grocery store have been in transit and in storage for a week or more.

Secondly, after you separate the good leaves from the bad and trim them and wash them, what you get after turning them over a couple of times in your cook pot is a whole lot of nothing. Even if the leaves had a fair amount of life to them when you bought them, they cook down to such a small amount that you question why you bothered at all.

How many beet greens do you need--really--to make a meal?

Finally, there's the matter of flavor. Try as I might to actually consume the beet greens from the supermarket, I can hardly swallow them. The flavor's not there. I don't see the point.

All of these things were playing at the back of my mind last night as I prepared a quick and easy dinner for a couple of friends. Since these were gardening friends, I wanted to show off the produce we have growing in our yard. The menu soon consisted of tomatoes with basil and fresh mozzarella, carrot salad, beet salad and some sort of protein--oh, what the heck: a frittata. But what to put in the eggs? Onions for sure, but it needed more....

The solution hit me like a flash as I was preparing the beets. After removing the stems what lay before me on my cutting board was a pile of the most gorgeous beet greens you've ever seen. Big, strapping, luxuriant greens. These were the antidote to every bad experience I'd ever had with beet greens. And why not? They'd just been plucked out the garden. They couldn't have been fresher.

I didn't have time to search for a fancy treatment for these greens. Somehow, they had to make their way into a six-egg frittata. So I did the easiest thing I know of, which is to heat some extra-virgin olive oil in the bottom of my cast-iron skillet. I washed the greens, then tossed them a handful at a time into the skillet, turning them as they wilted to make room for more.

As I said, beet greens will cook down quite a lot and these greens did shrink as well. But when all was said and done, these greens were meaty. These greens had muscle. And the flavor? Oh, mama! I could have eaten these greens all night, seasoned with just a shake of course salt and some freshly-ground black pepper.

But there was no time to dilly-dally. When the beet greens were cooked through, I used my tongs to squeeze the excess moisture out of them right there in the skillet, then gave them a quick chop and transferred them to my fittata pan. Sauteed onions, beet greens, parmesan cheese--that was some frittata.

This morning I went out to the garden with a new mission: find more beet greens.


Great Big Veg Challenge said...

Do you or your family fancy having a bit of fun making vegetable faces? We are trying to get people to send us their photographs.
I knnow it sounds weird, but...
Charlotte and Freddie

DownHome Girl said...

My absolute favorite borscht is quick and uses all the greens too (from Roy Walford's 120-Yr. Diet):

3 med beets - raw, grated
1 veg. bouillion cube (Veg-it)
2 Tbsp. tamari
-- Combine all and simmer 10 mins.
then add:
1-2 cups beet greens - chopped coursely
2 Tbsp. fresh dill - chopped
1 scallion - chopped
-- Simmer another 5 mins. DONE!

Eat warm or chilled - and stir in plain yogurt or sour cream if desired. It is the best I've ever had and takes only minutes to prepare. Hot pink and delicious - our kids love it too!


Tana said...

I just sauté them up until just wilted, and make a warm salad with the cooked beets, toasted pine nuts, some kind of citrus vinaigrette, and goat cheese.

I could eat that every single day.

Joanna said...

Do you grow chard? It's a close cousin, and is great in your frittata or Tanna's salad. The rainbow chard is also worth growing just to look at - beautiful brightly coloured stalks, not quite all the colours of the rainbow.


Ed Bruske said...

Shannon, thanks for the recipe. I wonder if it would work as well with vegetable stock...

Tana, I like your preparation for the greens. That does indeed sound like something we could eat on a daily basis...

Joanna, we love chard. It's one of our favorite vegetables and I don't understand why more people aren't in love with it. I cook the stems and the leaves together, season with pomegranate molasses...

Anonymous said...

Hello, I'm seeing the beet leaf photos and reading the comments about grocery store beet greens and then tender greens directly out of the garden. I don't have beets in a garden and can only get store bought beets and greens. In fact I just happened to buy them today and they look very fresh and quite large. Can I use Shannon's recipe and have the same tasty results? Or would I need to cook them much longer to break down the larger leaves? If I need to, can I cook them in a pressure cooker or slow cooker?

Ed Bruske said...

Cook your beet greens just like spinach and you'll be fine.