If you’ve bought beets with their leaves still attached, don’t toss them without giving cooking them a try. Vendors at my local farmers market usually tear them off, but the leaves of this root vegetable are often edible, and frequently overlooked—they either get thrown away or composted. I used to walk away with a big bag of beet greens—for free! Now, some of these sales-minded folks offer them separately as “magenta spinach,” or with similar names, and charge a premium price. Beet greens look similar to chard, and if you never tried them there is a good chance you’ll really like them. They have a savory taste profile that I like to describe as earthy and tangy with pleasant, chewy texture.
Beet greens are great for a side dish simple sautéed along with some slivers of garlic, but they’re also a nice addition to a colorful leafy salad. I like them shredded in rustic vegetable soups or wilted into a home-y pasta dish.
Lately I’ve even tasted beet greens in smoothies. As a rule of thumb I swap them in place of spinach, kale or collard greens in a recipe.
Beet top cooking
Next time you get your hands on a bunch of beet tops, try the following recipe.
Rigatoni with Beet Tops, Tomatoes and Crushed Walnuts
(recipe makes four portions)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, such as safflower
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
4 plum tomatoes, chopped
8 cups beet greens, ribs removed, rinsed and chopped into ½”-wide strips
black pepper from the mill
1 tablespoon sea salt and more for seasoning
1 pound rigatoni pasta
½ cup walnut pieces, browned in a skillet until toasty smelling
- In a gallon-sized pot, cook the chopped onion and garlic for 10 minutes on medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon frequently. Season with pepper and salt. Add the tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes longer. Add the beet greens and continue to cook for 5 minutes. Transfer the mixture onto a plate.
- Rinse the pot and heat 3 quarts of water with a tablespoon of salt.
- Cook the rigatoni pasta for 8–10 minutes, or check the box for specific cooking instructions. Pasta should be cooked “al dente.” Strain the pasta in a colander, retaining 1 cup of the pasta cooking water.
- In the same pot, reheat the beet green veggie mixture, then add the walnuts. Take the pot off the heat and add the warm pasta, olive oil and 3-5 tablespoons of the pasta cooking liquid. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
Chef’s Note: “Al dente” refers to food that is cooked so it is still “firm to the bite,” but not soft. This is important in that pasta should be removed from the cooking liquid just before it has fully cooked through. You can actually see the uncooked inner layer (a thin white line) if you slice one rigatoni in half with a knife.
Chef’s Tip: Instead of piling the pasta high into bowls, I recommend plating the pasta in a one-inch layer on a wide plate and grating Parmesan cheese over the top.
Good to know…
While beet greens can be eaten raw, they’re better eaten in moderation because they contain a phytochemical called oxalic acid. Oxalic acid (oxalate) binds to calcium, making it hard for calcium to get absorbed. My preferred way to prepare beet tops is in their cooked state.
Dark leafy beet tops are full of many nutrients. Think calcium, iron, zinc, vitamins A, C and K, chlorophyll and folic acid. Adding a source of vitamin C, such as squeezing some lemon juice over your raw greens or at the end of cooking, helps to absorb the