Fresh vegetables are always prettier with their greenery attached, whether you buy them at the farmer's market or pick them from your own garden. Even better, a lot of the time you're actually getting two vegetables in one. The tops of beets, turnips and radishes are all excellent greens in their own right. Beet greens and turnip greens are pretty well know, but it's rarer to see people cook radish greens. They have a pleasantly peppery bite whether they're raw or cooked, and they're especially enjoyable in spring when they're the first greens to shop up in your garden.
Working with Greens
If you grow your own radishes, feel free to snip a few leaves here and there, while the roots are still growing. But the real bounty comes when the roots are mature. Once radishes are harvested – either by you, or for the market where you buy them – all of the leafy tops can be used at one time. When you store radishes, slice the greens away from the radishes, then wash the greens and place them, in plastic bags, in the refrigerator for a day or two. The radishes themselves keep best if left unwashed until use.
Fresh radish greens can go most places that traditional salad greens do. Replace some of the lettuce in green salads with radish tops that have been thoroughly rinsed and dried. It's generally better to combine the peppery tops with milder greens, because too many radish greens can overwhelm a salad – especially if you're also including sliced radishes. Alternatively, add chopped, fresh radish greens to wrap or pita sandwiches for extra crunch and flavor. Choose the youngest and tenderest radish greens for salads. They get "fuzzier" as they mature, which isn't a problem when they're cooked but it can be a distraction when they're raw.
When you have an abundance of radish greens, turn them into soup for a crowd, or for freezing. If pureed with milder ingredients, radish greens make an intriguing twist on cream of spinach soup. Use roughly 2 parts peeled potato chunks to 1 part radish greens for this soup, as well as an onion or two. After sauteing the radish greens and other vegetables in butter, simmer them in water until they are tender. An immersion blender comes in handy to liquefy these ingredients, after adding a few splashes of milk or cream. Buttermilk adds a pleasant tang and a lot less fat than cream, or if you don't do dairy you can use a non-dairy milk substitute. If you don't have an immersion blender, puree the mixture in your food processor or blender, in batches.
For pesto, food writer Lauren Rothman starts by briefly boiling both radish and beet greens, then plunging them in ice water. Because radish greens have such an intense flavor, it's best to use about three times the amount of beet greens to radish greens. After all of the greens are blanched, they can be pureed with such traditional pesto ingredients as walnuts or pine nuts, along with olive oil and Parmesan cheese.
Like spinach, chopped radish greens can be sauteed in oil over medium heat, for a simple side dish. Garlic or bacon pieces add extra flavor. Or use radish greens as just one ingredient in a saute or stir-fry with other vegetables, and perhaps sliced chicken or seafood chunks. In addition, the tops make interesting "chips" when roasted whole the way you would for kale chips. Chopped into strips, the roasted pieces garnish baked or roasted root vegetable dishes. If you're cooking kale, spinach, chard or other greens, you can just throw the radish greens right in with the others.
With a focus on food, nutrition, cocktails and the latest dining trends, Melissa J. has been a freelance writer for more than 15 years. Her specialties include articles for such publications as SF Chronicle and National Geographic Green Living, as well as blog posts for the hospitality industry. Her previous positions include newspaper staff reporter and communications specialist for a nonprofit agency.