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Monday, October 19, 2009

eat the greens!

it was about two years ago that i began to learn that the tops of root vegetables are edible. i grew up eating turnip greens, but as my mother recently pointed out we didn't eat the turnip. so the idea that both the roots and the tops are food came as a bit of a surprise. it started when i got a box of vegetables from a farmer who would bring his goods to our office. there were beets with greens attached in the box, and when i questioned their usefulness two of my colleagues insisted "yes! yes!" and then talked excitedly over each other about how best to enjoy them. i had to experiment for a while before i found my favorite beet greens recipe, which turns out to be roasted beets sliced over the greens which have been wilted in olive oil and a little water, served warm with a lemon vinaigrette and crumbled blue cheese. absolutely delicious.

this past spring i tried radishes for the first time. i'd only really experienced them on salads and was not impressed, but they were one of the first things available in the farmers markets so i decided to give them a go. when i asked the guy working the full circle farm booth what i should be looking for, he mentioned that the greens were edible so i should be checking for healthy looking radishes as well as their tops.

given that my experiences with "the tops are edible" were mounting, i'm not sure why it was such a shock for me to overhear at the market a couple of weeks ago that carrot greens are edible as well. farmers at the market are always asking if they can remove the tops for their carrot-buying customers, and have a huge pile behind them overflowing from a cardboard box. one farmer even asked if i wanted to donate the tops to her chickens. i suppose i assumed, based on those experiences, that the greens are good for chickens or for compost back on the farm, but not for eating. i was wrong! and now, in the interest of my "use the whole beast" sensibilities, i'm looking for ways to use carrot greens in my menus.

i got started by pinching off bits of the greens and tasting them, finding the raw flavor familiar but not quite able to place it. i remembered that i have a rainbow chard plant in the backyard that was never able to produce enough to use before the critters would get to it, but which has steadily had 3-5 small leaves on it since june. i snapped off a leaf of chard and tasted it along with the raw carrot greens-- that was it! they taste like chard, only a little bit milder. if that's the case, they can be used anyplace chard is, or any other green as far as i'm concerned.

my first try was a simple preparation i sometimes use with kale. i wilted them in olive oil with a little salt, a splash of red wine vinegar, and a dash of red pepper flakes. they were okay, but the stems are pretty tough and chewy, and i realized that i need to be more careful with the prep and pull off just the feathery leaves. i also noted that they are hearty and don't cook down and disappear like some greens do.

now that i had the basic texture and flavor down, i wanted to see if i could turn them into a reasonable side dish. i removed more of the stemmy material this time and sauted them with caramelized onions, then added some golden raisins and port. i thought it was delicious, and though rob went for the flavor, he noted that the texture was still chewy. i'll try and remove even more stems on the next go-round.

carrot greens with onions and raisins
(2 servings)

2 cups carrot greens, leaves only, washed and still a little wet
1/2 cup thin sliced onion
2 small garlic cloves
olive oil
1/3 cup golden raisins
1 Tbsp port
1 Tbsp hot water
salt and pepper

saute onions in olive oil over medium low heat until very soft and beginning to caramelize, without browning, about 15 minutes. add garlic and cook about 1 minute. add carrot greens and a pinch of salt and cook until wilted. add a bit of water if necessary.

meanwhile, put raisins in a bowl and add port and hot water. allow to plump up for 5 minutes or so.

add raisins and soak liquid to the carrot greens and onions and cook over medium heat, stirring, until the liquid is reduced. adjust seasonings and serve warm.

i really liked the carrot greens and raisins dish, but wanted to find more ways to get use out of these carrot tops.

i decided to make a soup i'd been curious about, adding a carrot and substituting carrot greens for spinach. between the tahini, cumin and cream, this soup had some curry-like qualities and a really interesting flavor that we both liked a lot.

garlic, chickpea, and carrot green soup
(serves 4)

modified from linda fraser's garlic, chickpea, and spinach soup from the great encyclopedia of vegetarian cooking

1 cup dried chickpeas
olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
3 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp paprika
4 cups stock (chicken or vegetable)
2 medium waxy potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 large carrot, chopped
1 1/2 cups carrot greens, stems removed
1 Tbsp cornstarch
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 Tbsp tahini (sesame seed paste)
salt and pepper

sort chickpeas and throw out any foreign matter. rinse, and soak overnight in fridge in large pot of water. cook in soak water at a low boil for 45 minutes to an hour, until cooked but not mushy. pour off cooking water and set chickpeas aside.

in soup pot, saute onion and garlic in olive oil over medium heat until soft and translucent. stir in cumin and paprika and cook for a minute longer.

pour in stock, and add chopped potatoes and carrots. bring to a boil and simmer 10 minutes. add chickpeas and simmer 5-10 minutes more until vegetables and chickpeas are tender.

in separate bowl, blend together cornstarch, cream, and tahini. add salt and pepper to mixture to make sure it is well seasoned. stir mixture into soup, and add carrot greens. bring to a boil, stirring, and simmer a few minutes until soup thickens and carrot greens are wilted. taste and season with salt and pepper, adjusting other seasonings as necessary. serve with crusty bread, or perhaps even try with basmati rice?

i'll continue to experiment, but it seems the take-away for now is that carrot greens are a reasonable substitute for others. this is welcome news now that i can save my carrot tops from the compost bin, and even save a few bucks here and there on chasing down some other kind of leafy green. i think they'll be especially useful in soups where their stemmier parts are able to cook down and soften. let me know if you have any ideas!

note: i read in a few places that some people are allergic to the greens of carrots, so anyone who has bad reactions should obviously steer clear!

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