It’s mid-July and farmer’s markets and gardens are brimming with gorgeous produce. You don’t have to look far to find interesting ingredients for a summer meal — some of them are already a part of your everyday veggies. Instead of throwing away veggie leaves or discarding what are typically thought of as weeds (like dandelions and purslane), a slight change in perspective will reveal an even wider array of summer produce right in front of your eyes.
This week’s featured CSA veggie is beets. Often the leafy beet greens are discarded in favor of the rich root which is commonly baked, boiled, or made into soup. But beet greens are also a delicious and versatile summer veggie, and by putting the greens in a pan, rather than in the bin, you will gain a delicious and nutritious addition on your plate. Beet greens are actually so tasty that whole varieties have been cultivated so that the plants produce copious amounts of tender, sweet leaves and only the suggestion of a red beet.
While working on a farm in Normandy, France, I was introduced to an incredible, quick, and easy beet green soup. Now, whether I intentionally buy a bunch of beet greens or just save my beet tops, this is always my go-to recipe; it can be served hot or cold and I invite you to play around with the spices and ratios to suit your taste — and perspective. Here are some suggestions and ideas for how to make a delicious beet green soup.
• Rinse the beet greens (2 large bunches are usually enough). Using a large soup pot, sauté the greens with a chopped onion and clove of garlic in butter (for more than two bunches of beet greens, use two onions) until the onions become translucent and the beet greens reduce.
• Add one peeled and chopped potato, salt and pepper (I also like to add a pinch of dill), and stir together. Let all the ingredients cook for a few minutes.
• Add enough add water or vegetable stock to cover the ingredients plus a little extra, keeping in mind that the vegetables will absorb some of the liquid.
• Let the soup come to a boil and cook at a simmer until the potatoes are soft.
• Add ½ cup of whole milk and then blend the soup in a mixer, adding milk as needed to create a light green purée. Add salt and pepper to taste and enjoy!
With a slight change in perspective, beet greens can become the main ingredient in a delicious soup rather than being destined for the compost pile. They can even be a delicious side dish on their own. Just as food availability changes with the seasons, it seems that food preferences also vary with phases of life and worldviews. Becoming aware of our subconscious approach to what ‘is’ and ‘isn’t food can be a freeing way to experiment with our dietary frameworks. Sometimes dandelions are just weeds, and sometimes they’re a tangy salad. There are times when we have the ability to process fresh veggies and use all their edible parts, making vegetable stocks, and drying herbs for the winter. Other times, our perspective of food is limited to what we can eat right away. Similarly, sometimes we can be so focused on achieving a traditional, conventional goal that we may throw away (or compost) additional benefits and experiences of the process. So, perhaps this summer you’ll have the time and space of mind to make a beet green soup or a dandelion and purslane salad — and let your frameworks of edible vegetables, and life, be slightly rearranged.
Ilana Cohen is a senior in the Joint Program between Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary where she studies anthropology and Judaism through a Women and Gender Studies lens. A native Vermonter, she has worked on farms on three different continents and now lives on the Upper West Side.