Sometimes, whether at the grocery store or the farmer's market, we are lucky enough to get vegetables in their most whole form, with the leaves and stalks still in tact. While it may seem like an inconvenience because it takes up more space in the shopping cart and your bags, it weighs more, and it ultimately costs more, if you know how to utilize all of these parts, then you can actually get more bang for your buck! Instead of throwing away some money and perfectly good ingredients because you had no idea what to do with these large and in-the-way features or just did not feel like figuring it out, you should treat them as an essential component of your cooking - they also have a ton of flavor and nutrients and can be utilized in so many ways!
Though today's recipe features turnip greens, I do want to highlight a few other popular vegetables so that you can take these ideas with you right away, whether or not you have the same exact vegetables. We will start with fennel. Primarily, we purchase fennel bulbs on their own, but their stalks and fronds have great anise intensity too. My favorite choice for the fronds is to save them for a finishing touch or include them in a salad, and for the stalks, I almost always pickle them with coriander. Just slice them into thin ringlets 1/8-inch thick, bring your pickling liquid to a boil, pour it over the fennel stalk pieces, and let it infuse. With that, you will end up with your pickled fennel, which is a lovely garnish on soups and salads, and you also have pickling liquid which can be mixed into dressings, sauces, and even cocktails. These fennel preparations are like the gift that keeps on giving!
Beet greens are another vegetable that can come with their tops. Typically, I will twist the stalks off, hold them by the bottom, and zip the leaves off to separate them. The beet greens can be treated like kale or collard greens - chopped and used in salad, sautéed like spinach, cooked in soups to soften up their hearty texture, or blended into a pesto. The stalks can be sliced fine (they are stringy, so you must cut them small and thin) and pickled, or you can collect them in your freezer with other vegetable scraps to make a vegetable stock.
Next, we will talk about radish top leaves. My go-to option for these is pesto - a radish bunch only yields a small amount of leaves, and they can turn bad pretty quickly, so the most reliable cooking method is blending them into a dip or spread. They contribute a mild spicy flavor and are delicious on their own, but feel free to blend them with another green for more complexity.
Spring garlic might look like scallions, and it has a very similar stem structure, but the tops are not as crisp and firm. While with scallions, you can cut all the way up and still get nice pieces with the same crunch, the spring garlic tops are thin leaves and have a slightly more subtle flavor. These can be treated like an herb and finely chopped to sprinkle on top of a dish, or they can be blended into a pesto in place of garlic. Rough chopped, they can be added to soups as well to add a touch of earthy spice.
And finally, we have our vegetable for today, turnips! This week at Closter Farm, they had some lovely Hakurei turnips, which are sweet and juicy when raw and thus perfect for salads or crudités. With these tender leaves (very much like radish leaves), I knew that I wanted to make some sort of dip or spread, but not a pesto as I had just done so with my ramps from last week. After separating them from their stalks and saving those for vegetable stock (just like with the beet greens), I decided that I would amp up a hummus, turning it so verdant that you wouldn't even realize what the base was! This is a wonderful option for any of the green leaves above as well!
With cannellini beans to start (I wanted a more muted flavor for the bean since turnip greens are delicate in taste), I blended in these leaves and the tops from my spring garlic, along with some lemon and nutritional yeast. This combination yielded a very clean and simple hummus-style dip that was so brilliant in color and eye-catching thanks to the turnip greens. It tasted even better when I let it sit for a few hours - the flavors came through more and better melded together, making for a very memorable and satisfying spoonful.
Having lots of mini vegetables around, I figured I would use this hummus as part of a quick crudité plate, serving it with baby carrots, baby bell peppers, the turnips themselves, breakfast radishes, cherry tomatoes, Castelvetrano olives, and quinoa crackers. It would also be yummy on a sandwich, mixed into potato salad, in a grain bowl, or on a flatbread pizza! However you choose to use it, if you still have some left over, make certain to eat it up in the next two to three days or freeze it - otherwise, the green color will loose its vibrancy, and you will not look forward to enjoying it anymore.
One other thing to note - the leaves of the Hakurei turnip are milder in taste and not as sturdy as those of a common white turnip, which are spicier and more along the lines of beet greens. So, if you wanted to use those tougher greens in a dip like this, make certain to blanch them first to help break them down. Otherwise, their fibers will make the hummus difficult to swallow. Also, you might want to add a little less than the amount called for so it does not become too overpowering. Feel free to substitute winter greens too - though the recipe is called 'Spring Greens Cannellini Bean Dip,' it can be prepared with greens from any season.
I hope this post helps to reinforce the idea that if a part of a vegetable is edible, you should find a way to cook with it. Even if you do not want to come up with a fun or technical way to break it down, you can still save it to add flavor to your stocks and soups (and then you will not have to use the actual vegetable itself and 'waste' that when you could have eaten it in a more appealing and substantial manner). Turnip greens alone are rich in vitamins and minerals like calcium, iron, dietary nitrate, choline, and vitamins A, C, and K, providing significant protection to the cardiovascular system, strengthening bones, bolstering skin and hair cells, enhancing sleep, mood, and exercise achievements, and eliminating risks for anemia, just to name a few of the benefits. So the next time you are out shopping, even if you find the broken down version of the vegetable out front, ask an associate to see if it might be in its original form in the back. Once you start cooking with this whole-foods mindset, your world will be opened up to so many more culinary possibilities!