Whenever I buy beets at the Farmers Market I am faced with a predicament. Do I take the nutritious (albeit sandy and crumpled) beet greens home with me and try to cook them or do I ask the farmer to lop the greens off, knowing he’ll toss them into a crate under the table along with the rotten apples, ending up who knows where?
The last time I asked the farmer to cut the greens off, he teased me, saying it would cost an extra dollar. I smiled as he handed back my freshly-trimmed bunch of beets. Next time, I thought, Next time I’ll take the beet greens home.
Fast forward to this week: on Sunday we bought beets (with greens); on Monday I cooked the beets and we ate them on spring greens with goat cheese. And today I opened the crisper drawer in the refrigerator to find four Yukon Gold potatoes, 3 scraggly artichokes and that familiar bunch of beet greens, held together with a rubber band, shedding little clods of soil onto the crisper drawer. The time for beet greens had come.
Since this was only the second time I’d cooked beet greens, I decided to cook them as I would Swiss Chard. Beet greens must be cousins of Swiss Chard: both have thick, dark green leaves and colorful stems that stain onions or whatever else they are cooked with red, pink or orange. Patterning my beet greens dish off my favorite Swiss Chard recipe, I decided to sauté the beet greens with onions, garlic and beans. And to add a crunch to the dish (and use up some more vegetables), I would brown potatoes in a skillet and sprinkle them on top of the wilted greens and hot chickpeas.
The wilted beet greens turned almost black in color and leeched their pink dye onto the chickpeas, turning them bright pink. The vibrant chickpeas reminded me of cranberries and Christmastime, while the delicate dusting of parmesan looked liked freshly fallen snow. I suppose these wintery images are apt—hot beans and wilted greens crowned with aromatic parmesan and crispy potatoes are a wondrous solution for cool days when the usual turkey on whole wheat won’t cut it for lunch.
Somewhere I hear a voice saying, “There now; that wasn’t so hard, was it?” I laugh and say, No, it wasn’t hard at all. I don’t know why it seemed like a chore to cook the beet greens in the first place. Well, there’s no looking back now. I’ll keep my beet greens, thank you very much.
Serves 2-3 (crack a soft-boiled egg on top to turn this into a more substantial meal)
2 small to medium Yukon Gold potatoes, diced into ¾-inch pieces
2 teaspoons flour (more or less)
2 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
½ medium onion, diced
1 bunch beet greens, washed and sliced
1 can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed
4 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and pepper
Make the Sautéed Beet Greens with Chickpeas and Potatoes
1. Heat a cast iron or heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil.
2. Dry any excess water from the diced potatoes with a paper towel. Sprinkle the potatoes with just enough flour to lightly coat the potatoes. (The idea is to dredge the potatoes as you would meat. Removing excess water on the potatoes ensures they will brown well.)
3. Place the potatoes in the heated pan and cook until browned. Do not move around the potatoes too much or they won’t brown. Once the potatoes are sufficiently browned and cooked through, remove from the heat and set aside.
4. Meanwhile, in another pan, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add the diced onions and cook until soft, about 6 minutes. Add the beet greens and stir into the onions. Once the beet greens have wilted and the stalks start becoming tender, another 6 minutes, add the chickpeas. When the chickpeas are hot, add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Turn off the heat, squeeze in the juice of the lemon half and add salt and pepper to taste.
5. Divide the beet greens among the plates and top with the browned potatoes. Grate Parmesan over each plate to taste.