The Milkweed Diaries

Monday, September 29, 2008

Five Things to do with Beet Thinnings

Young beet leaves, various lettuce varieties, and baby chard

The fall beets that we planted are growing every day, and the time for thinning has arrived.

If you want your beets to make big, juicy roots, thinning is critical. This is because beet seeds, which look like little asteroids, are actually seed clusters of several seeds fused together. If all or most of the seeds in the cluster germinate, you'll end up with a little clump of beet plants growing closely together everywhere that you planted one seed. This is all well and good for the beet plants--the plants will survive just fine growing in little clumps, but it is not so good for those of us who want to eat beet roots. The roots of all of the plants in the cluster would compete for nutrients and space without thinning.

Some say you can break up the beet seed clusters by rolling them with a rolling pin before planting, but I prefer to just plant them and thin.

Even though I have grown vegetables for many years, I still experience a twinge of sadness pulling a tiny, plucky, baby vegetable seedling up by the roots and tossing it in the compost pile. So whenever possible, I try to come up with ways to use the thinnings.

Here are my suggestions for ways to use your beet thinnings so that you can avoid that twinge --and because it really is a shame to waste even a few sweet, young, nutritious greens!

1. Mix them in with salads. Young beet greens, or "beet reds" as a friend of mine calls them, add beautiful color to spring and fall salads (see photo above).

2. Add them to pestos. Raw beet greens add gorgeous color and nutrition to pestos made with basil or other greens. Just throw them in the food processor with the other greens of your choice, lemon juice, olive oil, and nuts or seeds. For more on making pesto out of leaves other than basil, see my previous post on pesto.

3. Throw them in the skillet with your cooked greens. Add beet thinnings to kale, collards, or chard and steam or saute with a little vinegar, lemon juice, or tamari.

4. Ferment them. Add young beet leaves to the mix when you make sauerkraut or kimchee.

5. Juice them. Beet tops of any age can be juiced with other veggies. My favorite juice combination is beets, beet greens, carrots, ginger, and apples.

*Extra Credit*
For hardcore beetgreen lovers only:
My favorite recent discovery in the world of beet-thinnings is eating them just straight up, raw, dipped in plain yogurt. This way you really get to taste the flavor, and the creamy tartness of the yogurt is a fabulous foil for the strong, slightly bitter, buttery-crisp beet leaves.

Let me know if you have other uses for young beet greens...we have a lot of thinnings to find uses for these days!

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