Preparing beet greens is a simple matter of wilting them, if they are young and fresh, by stirring them quickly in a skillet in nothing but the water that clings to their leaves after washing. Older beet greens, however, become relatively tough and bitter and should be blanched before sauteing or including in a recipe. The youngest beet green thinnings can go in a mixed green salad, raw.
Cooked beet greens contribute a wonderful sweet flavor much like chard to any mixture, but they can also add a pink to red tint, so they should be left out of any combination you want to keep a clear color. Chop and add to borscht or minestrone instead. Beet greens hold few calories but contribute a sweet, mild flavor.
Buying beet greens
Beet greens are rare in supermarkets but do appear at the farmer's market. Sometimes markets have beets with their tops, which can supply a family with two separate tastes. In any case, greens that have wilted aren't recommended.
If circumstances force you to settle for limp beet tops, then wash them very thoroughly and store them damp, wrapped in a paper towel in a sealed plastic bag in the vegetable bin. This may revive them. Never buy beet greens if the leaves are discolored or slimy.
Preparing to cook
Wash beet greens thoroughly in at least three waters. They can be gritty. If you buy beets and greens together, cut off the tops a few inches above the root; otherwise they will bleed, making a mess and losing nutrition and flavor. The best way to cook a beet is whole, incidentally, gently scrubbed but not peeled. Once cooked, the skins virtually slide off.
Greens should be stored clean, wrapped in a paper towel and then in a plastic bag. If they were fresh when you got them, they may be good for a week in the refrigerator, but three days is a safer estimate.
To braise greens, chop them and cook in a covered saucepan with a small amount of water or broth for ten minutes or less, depending on the maturity of the greens.
To blanch greens, salt and boil a pot of water and drop in the greens. Boil one to two minutes, then rinse in a colander with very cold water to stop the cooking. This does not actually cook mature greens, but it improves their flavor and texture. After blanching, saute lightly in butter or olive oil and garlic to reheat, or add to mixed greens.
Steam beet greens for about six minutes, or mix with other greens in the steamer. Season them with lemon juice and perhaps a small amount of oil.
People who grow beets sow seeds thickly in the rows, then thin the beets as they grow so the roots have room to expand. These thinnings can be eaten raw in salads or roasted in foil after tossing in oil flavored with orange peel.
Beet greens are easy to grow and very productive. Some varieties, such as Green Top Bunching, were developed especially for greens, but any beet produces edible greens. Like all greens, beet tops are high in vitamins and minerals and low in calories. Cooked almost any way at all, they taste delicious.