Eating Vegetable Tops and Leaves

Take a little off the top: don't neglect the delicious greens that come naturally with a lot of vegetables. Greens you may have been tossing on the compost pile deserve another look.

Interest in backyard vegetable gardening, the stem-to-root cooking movement, and the proliferation of farmers' markets have all stimulated curiosity about getting the most out of every crop. Gardeners pick pea shoots for early spring salads, toss spicy radish tops into stir-fry dishes, and mix sweet-potato greens with kale. The green leaves of beets and turnips are ready to eat long before the roots themselves are mature. You can double your harvest of these cold-tolerant crops by eating the tops, too.

Here are some ways to harvest and prepare greens you may not have thought about:

Beets and turnips: Pick tender leaves just a few weeks after seeds are sown. If you plant a long row, you can pick a few leaves off every plant; you'll have lots of greens through the season and a healthy crop of beets or turnips, too. Even picky eaters who don't care for beets will discover that beet greens are really delicious.

Carrots: Carrot tops have a feathery texture and a slightly bitter flavor. Toss them in salads or chop them up and add them to stock or soup.

Broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts: Their greens are delicious, with a mild flavor reminiscent of the crop. Remove the ribs from bigger leaves and chop before sautéing or adding to soup.

Radishes: Spicy radish tops have a rough texture but they are delicious sautéed or tossed in salads. Try making pesto with radish leaves instead of basil; it's good on sandwiches and in pasta dishes. Pesto has many surprising variations: you can make pesto with parsley, bean leaves, spinach, or just about any leafy green.

Fennel: Fine, feathery fennel leaves have the delicious bite of licorice and are very nice chopped on salads or used as a garnish with mild cheese in hors d'oeuvres.

Kohlrabi: Strip the leaves from the stems and sauté the leaves as you would collards or kale.

Sweet potatoes: Sweet potato greens have a mild taste and cook down like spinach. The leaves are more delicious sautéed or tossed into a soup than they are in a salad.

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