Those feathery carrot tops you just tossed? Edible. Ditto goes for the green leafy tops of beets and radishes and the stalks and leaves of broccoli.
All too often perfectly edible vegetable parts are tossed in the garbage. With farmers market season in full swing, it’s time to reconsider how we use the veggies we buy.
When it comes to wasted food, the amount is mounting. Each year, Americans waste some 40 percent of all edible food, according to the National Resources Defense Council, a New York City-based environmental watchdog agency. Contributing food waste factors include unharvested fields, quality and appearance standards, mishandling and improper storage, the council says.
Add to that not knowing how to prepare whole vegetables. Using an entire vegetable can yield more value and variation. Not only are stalks, stems and leaves tasty, but some have entirely different flavors than their bulbous base or floret.
Broccoli stalks have a sweeter taste compared with their florets. Feathery carrot tops taste like herbs and can be used as such. And beet greens mellow when sautéed and can add a peppery flavor when added raw to salads.
Mark Nowak, owner of Seeley Farm in Ann Arbor, Mich., estimates that only half the people who buy vegetables from his stand at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market know they can use the whole plant. “Radishes, their flavor, can get spiky, and beet greens can get coarse,” Nowak says. “Anything younger is more edible and a lot of times more nutritious.”
Savvy shoppers like Nathalie Lambrecht and Elliot Jackson are among those in the know. They love beets, including the leafy green tops. Recently, at a farmers market, they were buying golden beets, a favorite that they usually steam or roast.
“We eat [the green tops] raw in salads or sauté them with olive oil and spices,” Lambrecht says.
Not being wasteful, the two reap as much as they can from the whole plant.
“We cut a thin slice off the top and sprout more greens,” Jackson says. “We’ve even roasted the beet greens in the oven — they are more like chips.”
When it comes to vegetables, Sally Brandtneris believes how people eat is coming full circle. In the past, she says, “you had to use everything.”
Brandtneris cooks a lot of cauliflower and broccoli and has found recipes for using the stalks.
“We use beet tops and lots of chopped herbs in salads and the green parts of young garlic,” she says. “What I don’t use, I usually compost.”
Make the Most of It
Here are some ways to get the most out of veggies and herbs.
- Cut into thin coins, place on a sided baking sheet and toss with some olive oil, salt, pepper and crushed red pepper flakes. Roast at 400 degrees until edges are brown and crispy, about 20 minutes.
- Stir chopped tops into soups before serving or add to salads. Add coarsely chopped carrot tops to sautéed greens or other vegetables during the last 2 minutes of cooking.
Fennel fronds and stalks
- Finely chop celery-like fennel stalks and sauté in olive oil and garlic, until stalks are tender, about 5 minutes. Add chopped fronds before serving as a side dish.
Cilantro or parsley stems
- In a large saucepan, combine 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro stems with 2 tablespoons salt, 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, 2 garlic cloves (peeled and crushed) and 1 small white onion (peeled and cut in half) and add about 8 cups water. Bring to a boil. Add four boneless chicken breast halves, reduce heat to a simmer and cook uncovered for 20 minutes until chicken is cooked through and tender. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let chicken cool in mixture. When cool, remove the chicken and shred it for another use.
Leafy green tops of radishes and beets
- Wash green tops thoroughly in big bowl or clean sink of cool water. Swish them around to remove any dirt. Heat about 2 tablespoons olive oil and crushed garlic over medium heat and sauté tops until tender, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve as a side dish.
- Keep a plastic bag in the freezer to add vegetable scraps or unused pieces (broccoli stalks, onion pieces, asparagus ends, carrots, celery ribs and leaves) to make stock.
One should consult a Rav regarding checking of problematic vegetables for infestation.