How to Use Turnip Greens and Beet Greens
Additional reporting and updates by Katherine Sacks.
Beets and turnips are beloved for their sweet, earthy roots. But for far too long, the long leafy greens that crown them have been tossed in the trash, not appreciated for their own star vegetable status. We are here to say, their greens are equally dinner-worthy. Similar to other hearty greens, turnip greens have a spicy bite, much like mustard greens, while beet greens are reminiscent of Swiss Chard, with a slightly sweeter flavor. They can both be eaten either raw or cooked, and are featured in traditional recipes all over the globe. So, if you are using beet and turnip roots for other recipes, don’t let their tops go to waste.
Questions To Ask
Whether you’re buying turnips and beets at the farmers’ market or at the grocery store, there are questions you can ask to learn more about how they were grown to make the most sustainable choice possible.
Shopping for Beet and Turnip Greens
Farmers’ markets usually sell beets and turnips with their leaves attached and we’re happy to see that many grocery stores are now following suit. Fresh greens are a sign of a recent harvest and a short trip from field to fork. When shopping for them, look for plants that have vibrant green leaves, without a lot of yellowing or wilting. Pass slimy greens by. If you are fortunate enough to have beets or turnips growing in your garden, you can cut a few leaves and the root will regenerate new ones. (FYI: You may find turnip greens at the store without any root at all. Such greens are grown specifically for their greens and are cooked in a different manner than described here.)
Prepping Beet and Turnip Greens
Trim leaves from their roots at the base of the stalk and wash them thoroughly. Dry in a salad spinner or pat dry with a clean towel. For larger, more mature leaves, cut out the center rib and separate stalk from leaves. You can use the ribs and stalks in your recipes; chop and cook these firmer pieces before the leaves, or use them in recipes designed to make the most of stalks. With the ribs removed, the more tender leaves can be used in a wide variety of recipes.
Using Beet and Turnip Greens Raw
The tenderest beet and turnip greens can be eaten raw. Tuck them into a sandwich or wrap or make them a salad centerpiece. You can also use either beet or turnip greens instead of or in addition to basil for a more vegetal take on pesto; this version uses a combination of both greens. Packed with vitamins A and C, beet greens (the sweeter, less bitter of the two greens) also make a healthy addition to juice and smoothies.
Cooking with Beet and Turnip Greens
Beet and turnip greens are also used in many cooked preparations, similar to kale and mustard greens. They can be steamed, sauteed, braised, roasted and stewed in all sorts of recipes.
The easiest way to cook beet and turnip greens is with a simple saute. Cooking them this way makes it easy to use the greens as a quick side dish, an easy add-in to a casserole or risotto, a star ingredient for pasta for an easy weekday meal or a savory tart, like the recipe below.
COOK THEM WITH EGGS
Rich, creamy eggs offer a perfect backdrop for the slightly tannic flavor of beet and turnip greens. Try them in an omelet, frittata or quiche. You can also cook them with pasta, either in a saute or by tossing a green sauce (such as a pesto or salsa verde) with noodles and topping with a poached egg.
COMBINE THE ROOTS AND GREENS
They say what grows together, goes together for a reason. There are many ways to use both the roots and greens, such as in a stovetop saute, boiling the roots and then adding the greens to the mix, or serving roasted beets or turnips topped with a sauce made from their greens.
Combine some canned or cooked beans with the sauteed greens, then use the mixture to top toasted baguette slices. Drizzle with olive oil and a few gratings of hard cheese, such as Parmigiano Reggiano, and enjoy the dish as an app or meatless meal.
A classic Southern approach to hearty greens such as collards and mustard greens is to cook them low and slow. Use the same method with beet and turnip greens, especially if you have older, heartier greens, as the slow cooking time can help break them down into silky, flavor-filled vegetables. The greens are often cooked down, as in this recipe, with a flavorful broth, smoked meats and some chile or hot sauce to help reduce the bitterness.
Preserving Beet and Turnip Greens
If you don’t have a use for beet or turnip greens immediately, or you don’t have time to cook or eat them right away, there are a few ways to preserve their flavor for later consumption.
One great way to use the ribs and stalks of beet and turnip greens is by making pickles. You can quick pickle, which will last about a month refrigerated, or use a water bath canner to process the pickles for long term, room temperature storage. Pickled stems are wonderful eaten solo as a snack, served with crudite, chopped into salads, and diced into salsa verde or other sauces and served with roast vegetables and meats.
Kale chips have gained commercial popularity, but you can dry out many different greens to make “chips.” To prepare beet or turnips greens: clean the greens, dry, toss in oil, salt, pepper, and other preferred spices, and roast at 350 F for about 8 minutes, until crisp. Store in an airtight container for 3-5 days.
Freezing Beet and Turnip Greens
For long term preservation of the beet and turnip greens, you can turn to your freezer. The process is fairly simple: blanch the greens by boiling them for 1-2 minutes, then transfer to ice water to stop the cooking process and cool. Place the greens in cheesecloth or a clean dishcloth and squeeze out all excess water. Transfer to airtight containers and freeze for up to 12 months. Add frozen beet and turnip greens to soups, stews, frittata, casseroles, smoothies and more.
Recipe: Goat Cheese Tart with Beet and Turnip Greens
Sherri Brooks Vinton, FoodPrint
This tart is a shapeshifter. It can be the centerpiece of a weekend brunch. You can serve it alongside a salad for a light lunch. Or it can be cut into bite-size squares and passed as an hors d’oeuvre.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more
Freshly ground black pepper
4 cups chopped beet or turnip greens
7 ounces fresh goat cheese
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 tablespoons heavy cream or yogurt
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme, plus additional sprigs for garnish
1 1/ 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more
4 ounces butter (8 tablespoons butter), cubed
1/4 cup iced water
- Preheat oven to 425 F.
- Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a medium heavy-duty saucepan. Add the onions, a pinch of salt and pepper, and cook until translucent, 5-7 minutes. Add the greens and cook until tender 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
- In a medium bowl, blend the goat cheese, garlic, cream or yogurt, and thyme with a fork until mixture is smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
- If using a food processor, add the flour, butter and 1/2 teaspoon salt to the working bowl and pulse until the mixture looks like wet sand with pea-sized pieces of butter mixed in. Add the water in a slow drizzle, and continue to pulse until the dough forms a ball. If you are not using a food processor, combine the flour, butter and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Use a pastry blender or two knives to cut the butter into the flour until it reaches the texture described above. Slowly drizzle in the water and mix just until a ball forms.
- Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and roll it out to a 1/4″ thick circle or oval. Transfer the dough to a parchment paper-lined baking tray. Spread the goat cheese mixture over the dough using the back of a spoon or small offset spatula, leaving a 1/4” perimeter around the edge. Place the greens on top.
- Bake tart until the crust is golden brown, 20-25 minutes. Garnish with fresh thyme sprigs. Tart can be served warm or at room temperature.
Top photo by murziknata/ Adobe Stock.