There’s a lot of things that we know we should do and likely don’t. Exercise. Volunteer more. Hydrate. Eat more leafy green vegetables. Stop watching crap reality TV. It doesn’t always work out how we want it. Let’s take those leafy green vegetables, for example. They’re typically low in calories and fat, high in dietary fiber, iron and calcium, and very high in phytochemicals such as vitamin C, carotenoids, lutein and folic acid. We know this. Doesn’t mean they make it on the table. (OK, I’ll admit I don’t know what a carotenoid or lutein is but it must be good for me.)
Fact is, I love bitter greens and it’s the perfect time of year to enjoy them. They’ve always been more of a fall/winter kind of thing for me anyway. Cooking greens is unbelievably easy too – a quick sauté or braise and there you have it. Pick one, any one – collards, swiss chard, kale, mustard, turnip, spinach, broccoli rabe or one of my favorites, beet greens.
Yeah, beet greens. Last week I posted a roasted beet recipe and said I’d tell you what to do with the tops. Now, you probably won’t see the tops unless you have a garden or hit up the farmers market but I encourage you to seek them out. Since they’re prone to wilting the greens are usually removed if the beets are to be stored but in the fall, when the beets are freshly picked, you’ll be rewarded with big, healthy, leafy stalks. Because of this, I’ve never seen them sold separately from the beetroot but it’s a very practical and economical proposition. Two meals in one! Buy the beetroot and get the greens for free.
A lot of people immediately rip the greens from the root and toss them aside. At my farmers market, there’s usually a big box under the beet tables where customers have tossed them. This always makes me sad. Don’t these people know how good those greens are? What a bunch of dolts. But then again, I lean down and take their discards for free so I guess I shouldn’t complain too much. Yeah, you just keep ripping those greens off lady. Thank you ever so.
Beet greens have a wonderful flavor and are tenderer than many other varieties. I’d say they fall somewhere in the middle, stronger in flavor than spinach but not as sharp as collards. Consider it a gateway green – a good starting point if you’re hesitant to venture into the catagory. You have to act fast though; they don’t hold well once lopped off the roots and wilt rather quickly. For best storage, leave them attached to the beetroot and store in the produce drawer anywhere from a few days up to a week or so until you’re ready.
The best bet, especially since the roots will keep forever, is to sauté those greens right away. With classic flavors like garlic, onion, bacon and a pinch of hot pepper, they’re delicious. But then again, isn’t everything with bacon and garlic just a little delicious? I used a bit of pancetta I had stashed away in my freezer but a good bacon would work too. The sautéed greens are great as a side dish, stirred into some pasta or a soup, folded into a quiche or as a filling main dish over a little polenta. If you’re not quite ready to eat them once cooked, they’ll store well in the fridge for a few days and reheat rather nicely.
So eat your greens. Because I told you to.
UPDATE 10/28/10: There’s a nice little bit in the New York Times today about using the whole beet. Told you it was a good idea.
STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: A SOLID GOOD-FOR-YOU KIND OF GOOD. Bonus points for using something that normally gets thrown away. This kind of makes you a little bit of an urban forager. As much as a forager can emerge from a grocery store or farmers market. Whatever. You get the point. And these are good for you, full of vitamins and minerals and things that make you strong. Besides, they’re tasty.
SAUTEED BEET GREENS
This isn’t a recipe so much as a guide as it’s hard to know how big your bunch of greens will be. It works well with all greens though you may need to adapt the cooking time for the particular green you’re using.
3 strips of bacon or a small chunk of pancetta, diced
1 small onion, diced
1 bunch of beet greens
3-5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
pinch of red pepper flakes
olive oil (if needed)
kosher salt and pepper to taste
½ cup chicken stock
- Rinse the greens well in several changes of water. Dirt clings to these things like you wouldn’t believe.
- Gather the greens in a bunch and chop off the stems then chop those into 1” pieces.
- Roughly chop the leafy portion and keep separate from the stems.
- In a large sauté pan over medium high, sauté the bacon or pancetta until crisp (you may need to add a little olive oil when cooking up the pancetta if the pan is too dry.)
- Remove the cooked bacon (or pancetta) and let drain on a paper towel until needed.
- In the remaining bacon fat, sauté the onion until translucent.
- Add the beet stems and sauté for 2-3 minutes to give them a head start.
- Add the garlic to the stems and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Add the leafy greens and pepper flakes and give the mixture a good toss to combine.
- Add the chicken stock, bring to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer.
- Cover and cook over low until the greens are tender, about 7-10 minutes.
- Stir in the bacon (or pancetta) then taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.
- Serve the greens as a side dish, on top of polenta, toss with pasta or add to a quiche filling.