My friend Dori Fern is one of those food friends I can’t really remember meeting. It seems like she and I have always been running into each other at the green market, standing and chatting about what looks good, what we’re buying, and what we’re going to do with it. (Dori is a generous font of great food tips—thanks to her I now know to add a touch of water to my homemade mayo.) I love market conversations. They’re spontaneous, and they capture the spirit of whatever season. Strangers chat with strangers—gourd gossip, rutabaga repartee, carrot confabs, daikon debates…ok. I’ll stop. But often these conversations can be a bit whacky. Green market people are curious, adventurous, and frugal—not because they’re cheap, but because when you’re looking a grower in the eye, somehow that produce takes on a greater value.
As a lover of nose-to-tail cooking, it stands to reason that I’d be into eating every part of a veggie too. You get a gorgeous green market bunch of Rainbow Swiss Chard, and it seems a real shame to throw away those beautifully pigmented stems. They’re easy to use—slice them up, sauté them, and then toss into pastas, soups, etc. Turnip and beet greens? Saute them like collard or kale. But carrot tops? Their culinary use has pretty much eluded me. I’ve used them here and there in odd-ball herb applications (chopped into a salad or slaw but more for bragging rights about nose-to-tail veggie cookery than because of their flavor).
All this changed recently when I bumped into Dori at Ray Bradley’s stand, collecting people’s carrot tops (I’ve seen people doing this with beet greens too.)
Naturally I grilled her about it. And Dori told me about a carrot green recipe, based on goma ae, she’d discovered from “Good Food From a Japanese Temple” by Soei Yoneda. Written in the 80’s by a Buddhist Abbess, it sounded like a fascinating book full of Zen (vegan) recipes. And there is absolutely something very Zen about this recipe. With all the changes of water (to eliminate the bitterness) it’s almost devotional.
You have to be devoted to the notion of stem-to-root eating; you have to want to use your carrot tops. It’s quite a good amount of work for not a lot of yield (double the recipe while you’re at it, and only use organic carrot greens.) But the result is absolutely delicious: savory like a seaweed salad, with a crisp, juicy texture, and a haunting, compelling flavor. After toasting the sesame seeds, I remembered that my spice grinder was broken so I just pulsed them up in my blender. Once I dressed the greens, I gave them a taste and could tell they needed to sit. This dish is one of those things that really gets better with a bit of marinating (meditation.)
I had planned on saving some of the carrot greens to share and show off my new discovery, but I wolfed them down, standing at the counter. Which is really no surprise. For someone like me, who’s pretty much stuffed just about everything under the sun into her mouth, an entirely new flavor is seriously exciting stuff. I did my best Buddhist “be here now”, trying to savor the moment in the present. But I felt my mind drift back to Dori, amassing carrot greens at the market. The Buddha was right: “A jug fills drop by drop.”
Carrot Greens with Sesame Dressing
1 bunch carrot greens, washed and stemmed
3 tablespoons toasted and ground white sesame seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sake
1/8 teaspoon sugar
1. In a large pot of lightly salted boiling water, parboil carrot greens for 2 minutes then shock in ice water drain and squeeze dry. Place in a new bowl of cold water and refrigerate overnight, changing water 2-3 times to eliminate bitter flavor. Drain and squeeze again, then cut into 1/2 inch lengths.
2. In a medium bowl, dress carrot greens with sesame seeds, soy sauce, sake, and sugar. Allow greens to sit and marinate at least 1 hour before serving.