Saturday, November 26, 2011

Garden to Table: Beet greens

I had assumed that I wouldn't be able to grow beets in containers, but after doing some research, I found out that I could grow beets even in fairly small containers, as long as I was okay with baby sized beet roots. Which is fine by me, I like the greens just as much as the beets, and decided it was worth the time to experiment with them in my garden.

I decided to plant these Assorted Beet Seeds in long narrow window box type plastic planters, six plants to a box, staggering them to maximize distance between plants. I had six boxes, so after thinning, it left me with 36 plants. I had them lined up along the sidewalk that runs up against the front of my house, between the main and side driveway. And that way they could get full sun as well as what little bit of rain we've been getting. They grew really well, and the dark red beets made plants with pretty burgundy stems and deep red veins in the dark green leaves. I will certainly use those as part of my edible landscaping in the future. Once they got to a size where the greens were just starting to be crowded together, the beet roots ranged from the size of a large gumball to a large chicken egg. I decided to go ahead and pull them so that I could plant some lettuce and radishes in the containers.

 Beet plants, in their containers this morning, just before I pulled them.

Beet tops and roots, after being pulled, before cleaning.

Beet tops/greens, after being separated and rinsed.

Beet roots, after being washed, tops removed.

I decided to hold onto the roots, and roast them later in the week, but the greens needed to be cooked right away. You can eat the baby ones in salads, the leaves taste (to me) like a cross between spinach and any other garden green like collards or turnip greens. Beet greens are more tender, like spinach, so they benefit from a quick saute, or a soft simmer. You don't want to overcook them, or they turn to mush. The stems are perfectly edible as well, so don't throw them away! 

To prepare the greens, I soaked and rinsed the leaves and stems very well, to make sure there was no dirt on them, or insects hitching a ride. Then I took the stems off, chopped them up fairly fine, and put them aside. The rest of the leaves, I stacked, sliced in half lengthwise, and then sliced into narrow strips. I like to cook my greens "Southern" style, or at least a take on it. I chopped up one and a half large onions, a couple good sized shallots, and six garlic cloves. I also diced up four thick slices of bacon for flavor and to provide fat for sauteeing the other vegetables.

Beet stems, chopped and ready to go into the pot

Beet greens, washed, trimmed, and sliced into strips.

Bacon, diced...along with chopped onion, shallot, and garlic.

To cook the dish, I rendered the fat out of the bacon over medium-high heat, and then sauteed the onion-shallot-garlic mixture until transparent. I added about ten good grinds of black pepper from the grinder, and a half-teaspoon of hot red pepper flakes. To that, I added a pint of stock (I had beef in the fridge, but you can use beef, vegetable, chicken, turkey, etc... whatever really. Or just plain water if you don't have stock. Dropped the heat to medium, and waited for it to come to a boil. Then I added the chopped up stems and simmered them for about five minutes until they were starting to get tender.

When it was time for the greens themselves, I had to add them a half at a time, because even my big stock pot wasn't room enough for that pile of greens (easily four gallons worth). I added about half, closed the lid, let them wilt for about a minute, then added the rest. Once they had wilted, I gave it all a good stir, dropped the heat to low, and let it simmer gently for ten minutes. Any longer and my greens would have cooked to mush.  Because of the dark burgundy stems, the liquid is a bright magenta color, and the stems turned a brilliant shade of purplish-burgundy. It tastes great, I didn't even need to add salt. I got about a gallon worth of finished cooked greens, which we will enjoy over the next week. Very fresh, very healthy, and very tasty! Later in the week, I will prepare the beet roots themselves, probably roasted because that's the way my husband prefers them, and I like them that way too.

Finished Southern style beet greens, still steaming!

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