Don’t Toss the Vegetable Greens!
I absolutely love fresh vegetables. I’m talking straight-out-of-the-garden fresh. I grew up with blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries in my backyard, so fresh fruit played a key role in my childhood. Fresh veggies, however, didn’t come along until the first grade. As a science project, the entire first grade class was tasked with the responsibility of planting a garden and maintaining it until harvest. I remember being absolutely amazed as the tiny seeds began to sprout and grow into the tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, etc.
I had previously only seen the mature produce in the aisles of the grocery store. Their origin/growth process was foreign to me. The day that the vegetables were ready for harvest, our teachers planned a huge celebration feast. I had never been so excited to eat vegetables in my life. I remember building my salad and piling on fresh greens, tomatoes, peppers, on and on I piled. Do you know what sticks out most in my memories of this day? Fresh PEAS. I previously detested peas because the only kind that I had eaten was the frozen mix with carrots bits. Disgusting. This experience changed my views of peas entirely. They were crunchy and sweet not mealy and bland as I had always thought.
From that day on, I decided that when I had my own place, I was going to have a garden and feast off the fruit (or veggies) of my land ☺
My vision didn’t actually happen until this summer. My husband and I just bought a house in Alaska and what’s the first thing we did? Why, plant a garden, of course. We planted many of the traditional garden veggies: carrots, lettuce, celery, radishes, broccoli, beets, a variety of herbs, cilantro and squash. In the Alaska sun, these veggies sprouted up so quickly! My husband and I were taken by surprise by the abundance of greens from all of these veggies. It seemed wasteful to just eat the root and toss the rest. I decided that since I spend a lot of money on salad mix from the grocery store, I would save by making salads from the greens of my plants- not just the lettuce that I had grown.
Since radishes and carrots came up first, we started cultivating the tops for our dinner salads. I was surprised that I actually preferred them to the mixed greens that had previously been the base of any salad I made. Now, the radish greens can sometimes be “hairy” but the younger leaves tend to be less so. I personally don’t mind the exterior. When you chop them up in combination with other greens, they provide a nice texture and peppery flavor. Carrot tops provide a mildly sweet taste –like carrots (who knew)! As my broccoli grew, I began chopping up its leaves and adding them to my salad as well. They’re tougher, like collard greens, so they are best sliced thin and also work well in sautés.
With gardens come weeds and here in Alaska, dandelions reign supreme. For about 2 weeks, dandelions blew around in the air like snow. Seriously. Of course they landed all over my garden and began to sprout. As I weeded, do you know what I did? I ate them. Yes. Dandelion greens are actually extremely nutritious, and can be found in the organic produce section of most grocery stores for quite a pretty penny. Isn’t that kind of ridiculous? People do pay the $3.99 (that’s what it is here) for weeds that permeate my back yard. I’ll save my money and weed my yard thank you very much. I encourage you to do the same!☺
So, what is the point of my little story?
Don’t waste! Salads and veggies become boring because we eat the same things prepared the same way over and over and over. By tossing the tops (and the weeds) we’re missing out on quality nutrients and exciting flavors!
Here’s a run-down of the nutrients you might be missing out on and clever ways to prepare vegetable tops.
Radishes greens are an excellent source of calcium with 200mg (20% RDA) in just a 3 ounce serving. Additionally, a 3-oz serving provides 2 grams of protein, 13% of your RDA of iron as well as vitamins A and C! All greens are naturally a rich source of vitamin K and magnesium as well as other vitamins and minerals. I love the greens raw, but Food and Wine Magazine has a delicious recipe using both the root and the greens. Click here to try it.
Greens? High in protein? Yes, these too will provide 3g for a 3oz serving. Broccoli leaves also provide Thiamin, Niacin, Pantothenic Acid, Calcium, Iron and Selenium, and a very good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium and Manganese. Moreover, they contain plant compounds called glucosinolates that aid in detoxification and cancer prevention. Grocery stores are catching on and are beginning to sell them. Eat up!
As I said earlier, I love them sliced thinly in my salads as well as sautéed with a little olive oil, garlic and onion!
These too, contain a fair amount of protein as well as other vitamins and minerals. We all knew that carrots were a great source of Vitamin C, but the tops actually contain 6 times more! If that wasn’t enough, they are a great source of potassium and calcium. Use them in salads, or in this tasty pesto recipe from Bonappetit.com
Roasted Carrots With Carrot-Top Pesto
This pesto is an inventive way to use every part of the vegetable. The tender tops are fresh and clean-tasting and mimic the flavor of the carrot itself.
- 3 pounds small carrots with tops (any color)
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
- 1 garlic clove
- 3 tablespoons macadamia nuts or pine nuts
- 1/2 cup (packed) fresh basil leaves
- 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Preheat oven to 400°. Trim carrot tops, leaving some stem attached. Measure out 2 cups carrot tops and set aside; reserve any remaining carrot tops for another use.
- Toss carrots and vegetable oil on a rimmed baking sheet; season with salt and pepper. Roast, tossing occasionally, until carrots are golden brown and tender, 25–35 minutes. Let cool.
- Pulse garlic and nuts in a food processor until a coarse paste forms. Add basil, Parmesan, and reserved carrot tops; process until blended. Add olive oil and pulse until combined; season with salt and pepper. Serve carrots with pesto.
- DO AHEAD: Pesto can be made 1 day ahead. Press plastic wrap directly onto surface; chill. Carrots can be roasted 4 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.
Let’s end with the weeds.
Dandelions, though “weeds” are actually some of the most nutritious greens you can find. Dandelion greens provide 535 percent of the recommended daily value of vitamin K, which may be the most important source of any other plant-based food to strengthen bones, but may also play a role in fighting Alzheimer’s disease by limiting neuron damage in the brain.
They also pack 112 % of the daily minimum requirement of vitamin A, which is beneficial for the skin, mucus membranes and vision. In the greens, you’ll also find flavonoids such as zeaxanthin, which(protects the retina from UV rays), as well as carotene, lutein, and cryptoxanthin, which may protect the body from lung and mouth cancers.
If those aren’t reasons enough to weed your garden (or yard), Dandelion greens are high in fiber, which helps your detoxify. These greens also contain vitamins C and B6, thiamin, riboflavin, calcium, iron potassium (to help regulate heart rate and blood pressure), and manganese. Other nutrients present in dandelion greens include folate, magnesium, phosphorus, and copper.