Many root vegetables, such as beets, when first discovered by humans, didn’t really have any beet root at all—the leaves were just eaten. After time, humans selected for plants that yielded larger, starchier roots and –voila- today we grow beets and other root vegetables primarily for their starchy root and not necessarily their greens. However, the greens are incredibly nutritious with vitamins A, C and K, folic acid, calcium and iron present. Root vegetables that are still attached to their greens are fresher because the greens only stay fresh for a week or two once picked. That being said, root vegetables store very well when the greens are removed, hence why beets, turnips and rutabagas are popular in northern climates where the winters are harsh and food is preserved in root cellars. Here are some tips to get the most bang for your buck and veggies!
- Whenever possible, choose root vegetables that still have their greens attached. Look for greens that are still green and intact, not yellowing.
- If you do not plan to prepare the root vegetables as soon as you buy them/harvest them, separate the root and the greens. Wrap the greens in a moist cotton towel or paper towel, put in an open plastic bag and store in the crisper. When the towel is kept slightly moist, the greens will keep for at least a week, perhaps more if they’re extremely fresh.
- Store the roots in a dry, cool place or in the crisper of the refrigerator.
- The stems are also edible! They can be chopped up and cooked first, before the greens, to help them soften. While they will never be as soft as the greens, they add more texture to the dish.
- Chop up the stems, greens, some onion and garlic. Heat olive oil in a pan and then add stems and sauté for about 4-5 minutes on medium heat. Add onions and sauté for another 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for a few minutes more, careful not to burn the garlic. Add a bit more oil or turn the heat down if too hot. Add the greens and let cook for one or two minutes, or until bright green. Most turnip and beet greens are tender, so they do not need to cook long! Serve the greens as a side dish, or throw into an omelet or frittata.