Beet greens in agrodolce

Beet Greens in Agrodolce

I love beets but I have never been a fan of their greens. I find their taste muddy, with the same earthy notes present in beets but lacking the rich sweetness and dense, tender texture of the roots. Eating them has always been a duty rather than a pleasure, something you do because greens are good for you and food shouldn’t be wasted (something I learned from Mom, who used to sweep bread crumbs from the table and throw them to the sparrows rather than in the trash).

So I typically cook the beets (Check out my recipe for Beet Confit), put the greens in the crisper until later, and half the time they end up in the compost.

 Time to solve the beet greens challenge. What did they need?

Cooked beet greens turn limp and a little acrid. I figured they wanted an acid balance, some sweetness, and a crunchy contrast.

I first tore off the leaves and chopped the stems finely. They can be fibrous and no one likes that texture. The leaves cook faster, so it made sense to separate the two. I gave them a rough chop.

I poured olive oil in the sauté pan and added the stems, cooking them over medium heat until just short of al dente. I then added the leaves and some chopped spring garlic, stirring to coat the leaves with olive oil. Once the leaves wilted, I splashed lemon juice and a little sugar. Salt, pepper, taste. The lemon had worked its magic. The muddiness was gone, the leaves and stems equally tender, the sugar adding a little body to the cooking juices. We had a good base. Now we needed color and texture.

I mounded the greens in a shallow bowl, added crushed hazelnuts, crumbled fresh chevre, and sprinkled threads of orange zest. The result was spot on, rich, complex, yet simple and economical  enough to cook on a busy week night. No waste. Mom would have approved.  

Ingredients – Serves 4

  • Fresh beet greens and stems from one large bunch
  • 3 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbs. chopped spring garlic
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 Tbs. sugar
  • ½ cup crumbled fresh chevre
  • 1/3 cup roasted hazelnuts, coarsely crushed
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Fresh zest from 1 orange (use a bartender zester for pretty threads of zest)


  • Wash the beet greens thoroughly to remove any grit, and discard any wilted leaves.
  • Holding the stem end in one hand, move your other hand in the opposite direction to rip the leaves off the stem. Repeat until all stems and leaves have been separated.
  • Chop the stems into bite size pieces.
  • Chop or tear the leaves coarsely.
  • Heat up a sauté pan over medium high heat.
  • Add the olive oil, and sauté the stems for 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Add the leaves and the spring garlic, and sauté for another 2 to 3 minutes, until the leaves are wilted and the stems tender.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
  • Sprinkle the sugar over the greens, and deglaze with the lemon juice.
  • Turn off the heat.
  • Serve the greens warm or cold, topped with crumbled chevre, crushed hazelnuts, and orange zest.
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