Beets and tops

Cynthia Stone
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A recent visit to a local vegetable market just about broke my heart. “Tops off?” the clerk asked me, ready to twist and toss what I believe is the tastiest of all the leafy greens. I guess my horrified look answered her question, because she handed me not only the beets, tops intact, but a small bag of discards from previous customers who weren’t as interested.

I took them home and roasted the beets with a quartered orange and lots of freshly ground black pepper to serve with a roast beef dinner. Then, a day or so later, I sautéed the tops with onions and garlic and ate them all by themselves with bread and butter. Then I thought about all the other ways I love beets and beet tops, and thought you might like to hear about some of them.

Warm beet and beet top salad

Here’s a dish that uses the whole vegetable. This salad is delicious and light as a first course, but add some leftover sliced beef or some rinsed and drained canned kidney beans and make it a satisfying meal for 4. Substitute basil or any fresh herb you like for the tarragon.

To toast the almonds, put them in a dry frying pan and cook over medium heat until fragrant and golden. Serve warm or at room temperature.

3 or 4 large beets with greens attached

1 large carrot, thinly sliced

1 medium onion, diced

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

1 green onion, chopped

2 tbsp. chopped fresh tarragon

1/4 cup toasted sliced almonds


3 tbsp. olive oil

1 tbsp. red wine vinegar

1 tsp. grainy, hot or Dijon mustard

1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Cut tops off beets, leaving about 1/2 inch attached. Boil (or wrap in foil and roast) beets about an hour, until tender. Cool a few minutes and rub the peels off. If you don’t want red fingers, rubber gloves make the job neater.

Halve beets, then cut into bite-sized wedges; set aside. While beets are cooking, fry carrot and onion in oil until they start to soften. Wash beet tops thoroughly then chop into manageable pieces. You can discard the toughest part of the stalks or chop finely.

Add to pan along with garlic. Cook 5 minutes, until just wilted. Combine beets, greens mixture, green onion, tarragon and sliced almonds.

For the dressing, whisk together oil, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper and pour over beet mixture. Stir gently to prevent the beets’ colour from bleeding and serve.

Polenta with beet tops

If you haven’t discovered the joy of polenta you really are missing something wonderful. This is served in Italian homes much looser (by doubling or tripling the liquid) as a thick fall or winter soup, usually with spinach instead of beet tops.

I like it this way as a creamy side dish, with the beet tops giving up their rich reddish-green colour to make this a spectacular mixture. You can often get different grinds of cornmeal in grocery or bulk food stores. The medium type is perfect for this, but coarse ground is OK, too. This amount serves four to six.

2 cups chicken broth

1-1/2 cups water

3/4 cup medium-grind cornmeal

1 bay leaf

1 large bunch beet tops, coarsely chopped (stems more finely chopped if using)

2 tbsp. unsalted soft butter

1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

2 tbsp. best quality olive oil

Bring chicken broth and water to a boil in a heavy-bottomed pot. Slowly whisk in cornmeal then add bay leaf.  Bring back to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, half-covered, about 30 minutes, stirring from time to time. Be careful not to let the mixture scorch on the bottom, so the lowest heat possible is important. Stir in beet tops and cook, stirring often, another 10 minutes. If mixture becomes very thick add a little more broth or water. Remove from heat and add butter; stir until melted and mixture is smooth. Stir in pepper and taste — add a little more salt if needed, but be careful because the broth can be salty. Pour into a serving dish and drizzle olive oil on top.

Pork chops with beet top stuffing

Serve this to discriminating diners and reap the oohs and aahs, or to your family on a Saturday night when everyone is starving for comfort food. Roast or boil the beets and serve as a side dish along with mashed potatoes and maybe some diced turnip or carrot.

The fresh herbs make a huge difference in this recipe, so don’t be tempted to substitute dried. Cooking the stuffing while not drying out the pork is challenging, and you probably won’t get it all into the chops, anyway, so baking it on the side is perfectly fine.

1 large celery stalk, finely chopped

1 medium onion, finely diced

4 tbsp. butter

1 clove garlic, minced

1 large bunch beet tops, washed, drained and coarsely chopped

2 tsp. dried savoury

3 tbsp. chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley

1 tsp. minced fresh rosemary

3 cups small dry bread cubes

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

3/4 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper (divided)

1 egg, lightly beaten

6 thick-cut pork chops

2 tbsp. vegetable oil

Fry celery and onion in butter until soft but not brown. Add garlic, beet tops and savoury and cook until fragrant. Cool and stir in parsley, rosemary, bread cubes, Parmesan cheese and about half the salt and pepper. Toss with beaten egg. Cut a deep pocket into each pork chop, leaving two sides intact. Poke stuffing into each chop — don’t pack too tightly. Press the opening shut — a small skewer works well. Sprinkle on remaining salt and pepper and brown on both sides in oil.

Place chops in a single layer in a baking dish and bake at 325 F for about one hour, or until cooked through.


Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John’s, N.L., A1E 4N1.

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