At The Chef’s Garden, we work hard to grow unique and extraordinary vegetables. In any given year, we plant six to eight hundred individual varieties! By considering color, size, flavor—and, of course, nutrient density, we can curate the very best of what Mother Nature has to offer. Over the past thirty-plus years, our farmers have experimented, failed, and succeeded. From their collective wisdom, we’ve learned the lessons that allow us to do what we do today.
As a regenerative farm that has long grown vegetables for the world’s best chefs, we constantly strive for maximum flavor. On our quest, we’ve found that vegetables that taste the best are also the best for you! This was about as good of news as could be given to caring farmers, but the lessons did not stop there.
Eat the Greens
One example comes from the nutrient testing we did in our onsite laboratory. Our team scientists found that the greens of our root vegetable contained a higher density of essential minerals than the roots. This was the case for beets, carrots, radishes, turnips, and more. The greens of these and other root crops have been enjoyed by people for ages. It is only recently that our food system, for which we are very grateful, has separated us from the full botany of our favorite vegetables.
There is a saying on the farm: “Every part of a plant’s life offers something new and unique to the plate.” This is intuitive for anyone that has had the benefit of living with a garden, but it may not always be so obvious to the rest of us.
The leafy greens of root vegetables can easily be incorporated into your cooking. Once you’re equipped with a few techniques to prepare them, as well as a broad understanding of how they cook, you will be well on your way. To acquire this, we can happily suggest doing as we did: trying things until you find what works for you.
The simplest of cooking methods is to simply sauté the greens and serve them alongside any other components of your meal.
Consider this recipe for swiss chard. The same technique can be applied to almost any leafy green. If you give this a whirl and would prefer a more tender preparation, add a splash of water and continue cooking until the tops are done to your liking. Repeat if necessary.
For the quickest of meals, you can use the cooking technique supplied in the recipe but omit the aromatics and seasoning. Instead, opt for your favorite pre-made sauce. Stewed tomato, stir-fry sauce, and curry are all excellent options.
For a richer, meatier approach, use this recipe for braised greens as inspiration.
The world of vegetable tops does not always have to mean hearty comfort food.
Carrots are a great example. Here we’ve provided a recipe for carrot-top pesto, but they could just as easily make a fabulous chimichurri.
Naturally, a pesto like this is wonderful when used to dress roasted carrots, but its uses don't stop there.
A spoonful brings vibrancy to a simple vegetable soup, and this flavor bomb quickly emulsifies when added to a homemade vinaigrette or salad dressing.
Even something simple like toasted bread welcomes a spread of carrot top pesto and a fresh grating of aged cheese.
For omnivores, just add a splash of lemon juice or vinegar and it works wonderfully as both a marinade and as a sauce.
Freshly harvested carrots with their dark green tops are brimming full of nutrients. When compared with the already nutritious roots, carrot tops contain additional phytonutrients. They also have higher concentrations of some key vitamins and minerals: Vitamin C (6x more than the carrot), potassium, and calcium.
Flavor at Every Stage: From Microgreens to Flavorful Flowers
Just as we experience a progression through life stages, so do plants. At The Chef’s Garden, we love finding ways to enjoy vegetables across this continuum, starting with microgreens. Microgreens or “micros” for short are harvested just seven to fourteen days after planting. Being fresh from seed, microgreens are more nutrient-dense than their full-grown counterparts and bring incredible flavor to almost any dish you can imagine.
These tiny leafy greens require no cooking and can be added to just about anything. Chefs often use them as a garnish, but they are even more functional than they are visually pleasing. While we think vegetables and microgreens are the best combos, we know that their culinary contributions have many homes. Salads, of course, do well with mixed greens and herbs, but so do most sandwiches. A peppery, herbaceous microgreen is sometimes the perfect contrast to a takeout pizza. Talk about an upgrade!
As plants develop, they often take familiar forms. Root vegetables construct their distinctive shapes as they search for and store water. Celery develops robust stalks, and lettuces are given character by the elements, rewarding us with texture and crunch. The herbs we rely upon become bushy and broad as they strive for ever more light from the sun. All of these plants have the same goal in mind. Seeds!
On their way to making seeds, plants will gift us with flowers. Like tops, edible blooms have a permanent place in many historical cuisines, and it is only recently that they have become an oddity. With flavors ranging from vegetal to floral, edible flowers are as diverse an ingredient category as any other.
Not all flowers are edible, but many are. The best ones are full of phytonutrients, add color and excitement, and present a small burst of flavor. The farm has tested many varieties over the years, and we’re proud to offer some of the best that we’ve found.
It is eye-opening to consider that roughly 40% of all food is wasted in the United States, and the average family of four throws out $1,600 worth of produce.
Sometimes food waste comes from an accident like a power outage or an overly ambitious shopping spree. Other times we may have the best intentions, but simply do not know how to use food that we normally throw away. One thing is for sure: we cannot bring about positive change if we don’t assume some form of responsibility. Eating root-to-leaf is one way to address food waste while simultaneously increasing the nutrient density of our cooking.
Vegetable peels are commonly tossed when vegetables are prepared, and that's quite unfortunate. Not only are they flavorful as can be, but the highest fiber and antioxidant levels of the root are also typically located in the skin. If you don't already use one, a simple addition of a vegetable brush may transform the way you see vegetable skins. By cleaning the surface of vegetables instead of peeling them, you achieve a higher yield and a more nutritious meal. If you find that you truly prefer to eat peeled vegetables, clean the peels and trimmed bits and save them for soup or homemade broth. All the better if you’re making a puréed soup as the blender will do most of the work for you!
Here are a few additional strategies to minimize food waste in your kitchen:
- Plan Ahead. When your vegetables arrive at your doorstep, you finish a visit to the farmers market, or you arrive home from the grocery store, it’s important to think ahead. Take ten minutes to sit down and create a plan for the week of how you can utilize everything you purchased. At the end of the day, your plan is like a calendar. You don’t have to follow it, but it sure is helpful to have.
- Preparation is Key. Having vegetables washed, sliced, and ready to eat is one way to ensure that they will disappear quickly. Consider creating a routine where each week you are scheduling time to do full or partial food prep in bulk. Preparing fresh vegetables that are ready to add to meals and enjoy as grab-and-go snacks will facilitate their consumption and minimize waste.
- Growth. Try to utilize something new each week. Maybe this week it's beet tops and next week it’s carrot tops. As the seasons change, that may evolve into broccoli stems or cabbage cores. It is easily overwhelming to try to learn everything at once. Take a few moments to research if the plant parts you have on hand are edible as well as possible ways to enjoy them. If you don't find enough information online, let us know. The question you have may be a key to changing the way people eat in kitchens across the world! At first, you will slowly add to your repertoire. As you gain confidence, things will be easier. When this happens, feel free to use your judgment and experiment. After all, the discovery of a new dish has been said to do more for human happiness than the discovery of a new star.
Attitude of Gratitude
Simply be grateful for the food we have at our disposal. It takes an immense amount of energy on any farm on behalf of both Mother Nature to produce quality vegetables. The right combination of fertility, attention, and care that goes into growing these vegetables is not easily found, and so often we take for granted what shows up on our plate.
Just as nose-to-tail butchery respects the life of the animal, root-to-leaf eating respects the life of the plant. It pays tribute to the artisans that had a hand in production—and, ultimately, is an act of self-appreciation and self-respect. With all of the flavorful, nutritious food afforded to us by these plants, it would be indecent to not work towards making the most of them.
“If You Change the Way You Look at Things, the Things You Look at Change.” Wayne Dyer
There are loads more reasons to eat root-to-leaf but, hopefully, we’ve highlighted a few that you can take with you. Use the provided recipes as well as your own imagination to see the opportunity in the parts so often left behind.