Eat your (beet) greens
I came home from the farmers market the other day with a large round loaf of sourdough bread, tiny potatoes, a few onions and a bulb of fresh garlic. Oh, and a big bag of beet greens.
Vendors at the market were just closing up shop when one of the farmers asked me if I'd like some beet greens. I might have hesitated for just a moment as a few thoughts quickly raced through my mind. I love beets. My favorite dining partner does not. Do the leafy tops of beets taste like beets? I've never cooked beet greens. What would I do with them?
"Sure. I'd love some beet greens," I answered with forced enthusiasm.
I asked the generous farmer to tell me about his favorite way to prepare the thin green leaves. He explained how he fries up some bacon and onions, adds the leaves, and when they wilt, they are ready to eat. Sounded easy enough to me.
The next day, as my husband left for a few hours of fishing, he asked what we would be having for dinner. Very timidly, I told him. "Beet greens."
Silence. Then, "What else?"
How could I possibly tell him we'd be eating the greens with tofu? "It's a surprise!"
If storm clouds had not blown in, I think the guy might never have come home for dinner.
We were both in for a huge shock when, believe it or not, he loved the dish I had prepared with beet greens and tofu served over brown rice.
It's a little unusual to be able to purchase beet greens that are not attached to the beets. So, you can imagine how full my market bag was with three pounds of leaves attached only to thin red stems. That's a lot of beet greens to eat.
Similar in taste to spinach and Swiss chard, beet greens are a rich source of nutrients, providing a hefty dose of vitamins A and C.
I discovered that when stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, the greens stayed fresh for about four days. When I was ready to cook them, I rinsed the leaves in my sink filled with cold water. I lifted the leaves out of the water and put them in a large bowl, allowing some moisture to remain. Thin red stems are sweet and tender and can be cooked along with the leaves. Thicker stems should be removed.
I thought I might be pushing my luck when I wilted another pound of beet greens in bacon fat with onions, garlic and fresh herbs snipped from my garden. I formed a nest of beet greens on slices of sourdough bread that had been brushed with olive oil and grilled. Ever so carefully, I nestled a poached egg in the shallow nest of greens. A generous scattering of crisp bacon and a sprinkling of freshly grated Parmesan cheese and dinner was on the table.
Guess what? The guy who has always winced at the idea of eating dark green leaves thought he was eating spinach. He ate it right up.
Spinach or Swiss chard are perfect substitutes for beet greens in this Brunchschetta, a meal on toast. And, as its name implies, it's just right for breakfast or lunch. It's also a simple supper.
Beet greens do not taste like beets. Beet greens are easy to prepare. So don't throw away the beet greens when preparing beets. Eat your greens.
1 pound fresh dark leafy greens, such as spinach, beet greens or Swiss chard
3 slices (about 3 ounces) bacon, chopped
1 cup finely chopped onions
1 chubby clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
1/4 teaspoon minced thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 slices sourdough bread
Parmesan cheese, for serving
Wash the greens in a sink filled with cold water. Drain greens and wash a second time. Drain greens, leaving water clinging to the leaves, and cut away any heavy stems. Chop leaves into bite-sized pieces. Set aside.
Fry bacon in a large deep skillet or saucepan until crisp. Remove from skillet with slotted spoon and place on paper-towel-lined plate to drain.
Sauté chopped onions in bacon fat remaining in skillet (about 2 tablespoons) until tender. Add garlic and sauté for another minute or two. Add chopped greens and mix to coat with onions and garlic. Cover skillet or saucepan with tight-fitting lid. Cook over medium heat until greens wilt and become tender, about five minutes. Stir in fresh basil, parsley and thyme and cook for another minute. Remove from heat. Add cider vinegar and hot sauce. Cover and set aside to keep warm.
Toast bread and cook egg as desired.
Top toasted bread with mixture of wilted greens. Carefully place cooked egg on greens. Crush bacon bits and scatter over Brunchschetta. Sprinkle grated Parmesan over all. Serve immediately. Makes 2 servings.
Tips from the cook
--If you'd rather not have bacon in this recipe, just heat up 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the skillet.
--The number of portions you produce from the wilted greens will depend on how much you use for each serving. I get two servings, but you might get up to four servings.
--The wilted greens make a delicious side served with your favorite entrée.