Do you like beets? Because I do. They’re versatile. They’re sweet. They’re earthy. And you can let them wallow in your crisper, forget about them, pick them up a week later and still make them work. They get soft, but you can bring them back to life with a quick sauté in olive oil or butter with some garlic and pepper. (I do believe you can breathe life into most anything with butter and garlic.)
Most of the beets that come my way are just the root, with the stems and greens cut off. But I’ve read that beets and carrots and radishes with their tops are basically the BOGO of the veggie world – you can use the stems and greens for soups and sautés and a whole bunch of other things. Why waste what you can eat? And I’m on a mission to embrace root to tip eating.
I have this image in my mind of me being all farmers’ market phancy, walking back home with a haul of veggies and crisp beets with their long, elegant stems and leaves peeking out from the top of my tote.
But we’re in quarantine and there’s no farmers market happening any time soon, so I had to settle for what came my way – beets, with their stems and leaves, but not in the best shape. A little wilty and rather soft, in fact. But it’s what the sabziwalla down the road had and I took it. (I have been stepping out to buy essentials like most of us.)
In spite of my not-so-hot beets, I was undeterred: I looked up an article on The Kitchn by vegetable butcher Cara Mangini on how to revive vegetables that are a little past their prime. One of the tips included shocking greens in ice water, so I did that. And it did perk up the beet greens a little. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with the leaves – I didn’t have a whole lot so it wouldn’t make enough for a sauté/sabzi for the whole family. I needed to come up with something else.
I took a bite of the leaves. I wasn’t completely put off – but my taste buds weren’t dancing, either. The leaves tasted… well, a little bitter and grassy. But I wasn’t willing to give up, no. I was on a mission to eat from root to tip! Epicurious gave me confidence. Real confidence. To quote them,
Think twice before you toss the leaves growing from your beets. Beet greens are sweet, mild, and cook up into the silkiest, most tender greens you’ll ever eat. And the stems? They’re far more delicious than those of kale and collards.
The article went on to detail how beet greens stack up in terms of nutrition, “containing more antioxidants and other phytonutrients than the bulbous roots themselves, according to Jo Robinson, author of Eating On The Wild Side. In terms of general health benefits, beet greens are right up there with kale.”
Doesn’t that instil confidence? Beets greens taste great! They’re better than kale! They are a powerhouse of nutrition! I couldn’t back down now.
Like I was saying, I didn’t have enough to make a soup or a sabzi like thoran (a Kerala vegetable stir fry with coconut) so I turned to the internet and searched for beet greens pesto. Once I saw that it was a legit condiment, I went about making it myself.
I couldn’t blend these greens up like basil – they were too bitter, remember? So I took another tip from Epicurious and sautéed the greens in a little olive oil to soften them and (hopefully) get them a little sweeter. On tasting, the greens were a little less bitter but not exactly sweet. I soldiered on.
I took out my blender and mixed the one cup of sautéed beet greens with a quarter cup of raw almonds, quarter cup of olive oil and some salt and pepper.
The result was something that tasted like a bitter olive tapenade, with none of its briny depth of flavour. It tasted…well, just bitter and unpleasantly grassy.
I think it could be in large part because these beets and their greens weren’t the freshest and had seen better days. Maybe it would pair better with walnuts or pine nuts. Maybe I need to stick to raw greens that are young and tender and not old and bendy. Or maybe beet greens pesto isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
As for the jar of beet greens pesto that is in my fridge, I will reluctantly put it on my toast… but I certainly won’t put it on Instagram.