Just the Tops

Tips for Eating and Loving It All

by Susan Able

Photo by Hannah Hudson Photography 

Photo by Hannah Hudson Photography 

Join the root-to-stem cooking movement and don’t waste a bit of what you’ve just paid for or lovingly harvested. Traditionally, most recipes for carrots, beets and other underground treasures focus on the root end and it’s been easy to overlook using the tops. But you’re missing out if you send those leafy leftovers to the compost rather than using them creatively—and deliciously. Here are some tips for those tops and some go-to recipes that can accommodate most of what you bring home from the farm market. 


No time? Save those tops for later use by blanching them in hot water for a minute and then freezing them. Or start a “stock bag” and collect veggie tops and other vegetable trimmings in a resealable freezer bag, great to pull out when you are ready to make homemade stock. In addition to leafy greens, save your fennel tops, broccoli and cauliflower leaves and the trimmings off Brussels sprouts. Not only are you making every cent work for the price you paid for your produce—you’re also maximizing that nutrient-rich greenery.  


Most leafy greens can be used interchangeably in recipes; clearly onion tops will have an oniony flavor, while radish and carrot tops have a bit of pleasant bitterness. Fennel tops taste a little like licorice and are great as garnish or chopped fine for salads. Roasting the tops is a fun alternative to a kale chip. Our home experiments with roasting spring onion tops and serving them as toppings and bar snacks was revelatory. Fried onion rings in a can are a dim cousin in flavor to the crispy onions you can create from fresh onion tops. 


Pesto is your friend. It’s simply the most wonderful way to capture the pure essence of a vegetable, going beyond the traditional basil to make pesto from garlic scapes, parsley, radish or carrot tops. The wonderful thing about the recipes here is that the greens they call for are interchangeable. Let the tops in your market bag be your muse for becoming a zero-waste cook.