By Analiese Paik
This is the fifth in a series of articles about cooking with cast-offs, the edible vegetable parts we commonly throw away.
It’s beet season in Connecticut, and that spells lots of opportunities to cook with freshly harvested beet greens. My CSA farmer, Patti Popp of Sport Hill Farm in Easton, taught me that you either harvest tender young leaves for salads in the spring and sacrifice the beet root crop (they just won’t grow or will be stunted after losing all their leaves), or let the plant grow to maturity and harvest both the beet root and beet greens by yanking the whole plant out of the ground. Greens from a mature beet plant are edible, and so are the stems, but they need to be cooked to tenderize them. (I’ll cover the stems in another post.)
When cooked, beet greens turn a deep dark green and taste similar to spinach. I decided to make my favorite cold Korean spinach salad using beet greens instead, which required lengthening the cooking time to tenderize the greens and the fibrous, red rib that runs through them. The result was better than I imagined.
My oldest took one look at the bowl on the dining room table and said “Namul?”, which means cold vegetable salad in Korean. I didn’t tell him what the vegetable was, and he couldn’t guess, but he loved it. I think it’s pretty, as well as delicious, and would make an excellent side dish for any meal and a fantastic picnic vegetable. Serve it alongside a bowl of kimchi, a bowl of steamed rice, and some steamed tofu or a fried egg and you have the makings of a quick meal Koreans called bibimbap.
Beet Green Namul (Cold Korean-style Salad)
15 minutes, plus time for chilling (optional)
Serves 4 as one of several side dishes (double or triple the recipe if serving as the only vegetable)
- fresh greens from 4 mature beet plants (preferably organic), cut into thirds lengthwise (center red rib intact)
- 1 1/2 teaspoon organic or non-GMO soy sauce
- 3/4 teaspoons toasted organic Asian sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds (buy them toasted or toast in a toaster oven while keeping a close eye to avoid burning)
- Wash the beet greens well in several changes of cold water until no grit remains. Heat a heavy saute pan over medium heat, add half an inch of water and bring to the boil. Add the beet greens, then cook for about 10 minutes, letting the water evaporate while stirring frequently with tongs to cook evenly. Another option is to steam the greens. Cook until they’re deep green and the red center ribs are tender. Pick a piece up with the tongs and if it bends easily, they’re ready.
- Once the greens are tender (I always do the limpness and taste test), remove them from the saute pan into a bowl. Use the tongs to squeeze out any excess liquid from the greens. The flavor of the seasoning will be diluted if you skip this step.
- Mix together the soy sauce and sesame oil, the pour them over the spinach and mix well. If doubling or tripling, just maintain the 2:1 ratio of soy sauce to sesame oil. Top with toasted sesame seeds and refrigerate until chilled or serve at room temperature.