At this time of year, many root vegetables come with a bonus: edible, leafy tops. Greens on turnips, beets and even carrots are particularly nutritious and belong on the stovetop, not the compost heap. While the roots will keep for months, the greens themselves will only be available shortly after they’ve been harvested.
“The greens are definitely perishable,” said Chef Erice Wides, host of the Heritage Radio Network show "Let’s Get Real: The Cooking Show about Finding, Preparing and Eating Food." “If you’re buying your turnips with greens attached to them, as soon get home, you want to cut them off and store them separately.” She advises smothering the greens in a plastic bag to preserve freshness.
There’s a dual benefit to cutting the greens off.
“You never want to leave the greens attached to the root because the greens kind of suck the life out of the root,” explained Wides.
In addition to being a cost-saving twofer, turnip greens are particularly healthful.
“[They] are off-the-charts super nutritious — super high in vitamin A, folate, vitamin C, vitamin K and especially calcium and lutein,” she said. “Lutein’s that stuff that’s really good for your eyes.”
Wides added that in many Asian cultures that traditionally do not eat very much dairy, leafy greens, like those that come with turnips, are a primary source of calcium.
There is one potential downside to turnip greens for some people, though. Turnips, like rutabagas, contain cyanoglucosides.
“It’s a compound that people are either genetically sensitive to or not,” said Wides. “If you have that gene, you find them unbearably bitter.”
Basically, she adds, the root vegetables contain a small, harmless amount of cyanide. That’s a fun fact for the dinner table that may give some guests pause.
As for preparation of the greens, Wides recommends cooking them lightly, though they can be prepared raw in the manner of kale.
“Certain plants are more nutritious when they’re cooked, and turnip greens are way more nutritious when they’re cooked,” she said. “I like them kind of wilted, and I like to put eggs on top of them.”
Wides also has another easy method of preparation: sautéing turnip greens with garlic and anchovies. The recipe is below.
Sauteed Turnip Greens with Garlic and Anchovies
by Erica Wides
- 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 anchovy fillets, rinsed and minced
- 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 large bunch leafy green, such as turnip greens or dandelions, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-wide ribbons, washed and spun dry
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 lemon
Heat a 10- to 12-inch sauté pan over medium-high heat until hot. Add the olive oil, anchovies, and garlic and cook just until the garlic is light golden brown, about 30 seconds. Add the greens and cook, stirring constantly, until wilted, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, squeeze the lemon juice over, and serve.