The silky green leaves and vibrant stems are nutritious and versatile.

May 03, 2021
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Credit: Richard Banks

Who buys a bunch of beets with greens attached just to use those leaves? We do! (And then we have to find a way to use the beets themselves, but luckily that's easy). Beet greens are the surprisingly under-appreciated treasure attached to those big magenta bulbs, and their texture is so luscious. And once you know what to do with them, you'll never think of tossing beet greens into your compost pile again.

First, let's talk texture: Beet leaves have a distinct silkiness when cooked in moist heat (that's where the lusciousness comes in), but they also offer some bite. Once cooked, they define the sometimes baffling description "meaty" green thanks to their body and bulk. While they reduce in the same way that spinach does, beet leaves retain more substance than their better-known vegetable cousin. Steaming, boiling, or quickly blanching the leaves yields this voluptuous texture. In terms of flavor, we think that beet greens fall somewhere between spinach and collard greens. What's not to like?

Recipes That Use Beet Greens and Stems

Cooking and serving beets with their greens makes a beautiful vegan entrée, as does adding them to the filling for stuffed summer tomatoes creates a vegetarian feast. The greens alone are ideal for a nourishing green gumbo, but if we're talking soup we can't not mention borscht: Including the greens in this already-comforting bowlful makes it even better (add the leaves 15 minutes before the end of the cooking-time, so they retain some vivid color). The leaves of beets make an outstanding filling for spanokopita (add to the spinach or substitute entirely), but their large size also makes them excellent wrappers for dolmades, which are filled with meat, herbs, or rice. Just be sure to blanch them first to soften, and then use them as you would the more traditional grape leaves. We also suggest you reserve some beet leaves to eat raw: In our crunchy slaw, their firm texture allows them to hold up well to acid (unlike tender salad leaves that wilt fast in the presence of vinegar).

If you like roasted kale, we know you'll love roasted beet leaves—once exposed to dry heat, the leaves turn crisp: some good olive oil and salt, a sheet pan in a hot oven, and soon you have beet leaf chips.

Beet stems are a very interesting ingredient, too. They can either be cooked along with the leaves or used separately. Chopped and cooked gently they are very similar to the delicious midribs of Swiss chard, and add substance and gentle crunch to sauces, and soups, and also to vegetable stews and risotto. Raw, they are wonderful added to the brine for quick pickles. You can even use them as an edible garnish—trust us when we say they turn a basic Bloody Mary into something distinctly interesting.

What to Look for and How to Store Beet Greens

What should you look for when buying beet greens? The leaves and stems should be in good condition, standing upright, and not bruised, darkly creased, or deteriorating into slime. While the beets attached to degrading leaves are fine to eat, the leaves are much more perishable. Wilted greens can be revived easily by being submerged in a large bowl of cool water (just soak them for a couple of hours until they have perked up), but know that leaves with slime cannot be saved.

Because beet leaves can be sandy, always wash them well in a large basin or bowl of water, swirling vigorously to dislodge any soil. Rinse them and then swirl them again in clean water. Now they are ready to use. At this stage you can also save them for a few days, wrapped well and kept cold in the refrigerator.

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