Confession: I have always thrown my carrot tops away. Radish tops, too. I guess I just thought they were unusable.
Yes. Carrots are good for you. But so many incredible nutrients are stored in the greens of fruiting vegetables, and we are missing out on valuable nutrition when we discard them- not to mention contributing to the saddening epidemic of wasted food in America. On average, America throws away HALF of their fruits, vegetables, and seafood- and a quarter of grains, meat, and dairy. This is an abomination when millions of our fellow americans are starving or living in food deserts. Nutrition is about optimizing our intake of health promoting foods, healing and supporting our bodies, but it can also be a radically political act. This includes shopping locally, eating seasonally, supporting small farmers and companies who do business with integrity, and most importantly- utilizing as much of our food as possible with minimal waste.
I think that most of us throw things like this away simply because we don't know what to do with them. I've taken to throwing greens into sautees, juicing or blending them- and my favorite, PESTO. You can pretty much mix anything into herbs, garlic, lemon, and olive oil and turn it into something delicious.
A little bit about why you should be saving these babies in the first place:
Contrary to what some people mistakenly believe, carrot tops are not poisonous! Carrots are far relatives of Queen Anne's Lace, and it's true that those greens are extremely high in nitrites and alkaloids that are dangerous in excess. That plant in particular is extremely high in those substances, and can be very toxic. Modern variants of carrots have far less levels of these alkaloids and nitrites, and comparable numbers to other raw greens like kale, swiss chard, etc. If you know you are sensitive to either of these compounds, start small with the ratio of carrot tops to herbs and see how you feel. A majority of people are absolutely fine! I always suggest using organic produce to minimize exposure to hazardous substances and compounds.
Carrot tops are rich sources of Vitamin C- with SIX times more than the root, and large amounts of chlorophyll, potassium, calcium and even plant-based protein. I love to combine them with a few of my favorite herbs and superfoods to make a pesto with serious nutritional content and flavor. If you are avoiding dairy, this is a great alternative- hempseeds do double duty here by adding a creaminess reminiscent of cheese, and also substitute for the pine nuts used in the traditional- adding far more complete protein, minerals and vitamins. hemp seeds are one of my favorite superfoods- this pesto has over 30 grams of complete plant based protein!
1 bunch carrot top leaves, washed and dried
1 cup coursely packed basil leaves, washed and dried
1/3 cup hemp seeds
1/2 cup olive oil + more if needed
juice of 1 lemon
3-4 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
3 tsp sea salt
cracked black pepper
- separate the leaves of the carrot tops from the stems.
- combine all ingredients except hemp seeds in a medium sized food processor or small blender
- pulse until well combined, about 1-2 minutes
- add hemp seeds and pulse lightly until they are slightly chopped but not creamed- otherwise it gets diluted and loses the pesto texture!
- add more lemon if it needs acidity, or more oil if it is too thick- I always add a bit more garlic for spice.
- salt and pepper to taste
- store tightly sealed in the refrigerator for up to 5 days
- you can also freeze the extras in ice cube trays and defrost as needed. I love this as a sauce for zucchini noodles, on top of salmon, tossed into a salad dressing, or as a dip for flax crackers.