Eat Shoots and Leaves: A Case for the Whole Vegetable

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Carol Ann Sayle


Risking sounding like "a broken record"—and I do remember the click click click of a 1950s phonograph needle repeatedly hitting the inevitable scratch mark on a well-loved record—I find myself suggesting to just about anyone who buys a vegetable that is connected to its greens to eat the leaves. Please.

That is my mantra, along with "eat the skins, the roots, and the stems," as I converse with customers in our farm stand. Generally most folks respond with disbelief. "You mean these are edible?"

Yes, and typically, they are just as, or more, nutritious as the vegetable they grew. Throwing the "extras" away, or even composting them, is a waste of potential health and money. Of course, if they are being shared with backyard hens, then that's okay ... But I want the customers to get the most nutrition and value from their purchases, and if they discard the stems and greens they won't.

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Carol Ann Sayle

A lady will pick up a kohlrabi, asking, What in the world is this?, and then think, Well this is a lot to pay for just that cabbagey, alien hardball thing. But then I'll suggest that the greens, looking a lot like kale, are wonderful themselves, and suddenly, she is receiving a lot of food for her money.

Recently we harvested kohlrabies, and fortunately for us there were two with small defects that permitted us to enjoy the first of the season for lunch.

I'm a simple cook, so I just sliced the hardballs into rounds about a quarter-inch thick, chopped up the stems, and cut the greens into ribbons. Into a skillet slicked with coconut oil went the rounds, and with them, small meatballs made from grass-fed lamb. These cooked over medium low heat—getting flipped over to brown each side—and when they were nearly done, I added the stems, the leaves, and some leftover short-grain brown rice. A little salt, and a bit of stirring, and the main course was set.

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Carol Ann Sayle

Meanwhile I took some pink and purple radishes—those from the morning's harvest that were deemed family fare, which means that like the kohlrabies they had some cosmetic defects—sliced them up, and cut up the attached greens. This became our salad. With the addition of some feta goat cheese, a dash of olive oil, and a sprinkle of vinegar, it satisfied our need for something raw. The leaves of these radishes are a little prickly, but the oil/vinegar soon tames them.

And that was lunch. Tomorrow is market day and I'll be in the farm stand advising people to eat the beet greens and the turnip greens. I'm almost over being surprised when they say, "You mean these greens ..."

But you know, they don't usually see turnips and beets attached to their greens in a grocery store—those leaves died long ago. And kohlrabi? Well, what is that?

It's all right. When they come to the farm, I'll work on them, like a broken record, and soon they'll sing, I know! I believe you!

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Carol Ann Sayle is co-founder and co-owner of Boggy Creek Farm, a five-acre urban, organic farm in Austin, Texas.

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