Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a single plant could yield more than one crop? Not just multiple pickings of the same vegetable, as with a productive zucchini plant, but rather two completely different vegetable varieties from a single plant. It turns out that there are several plants that offer exactly that sort of versatility.
These are invariably vegetables that are harvested for their roots. In many cases the leaves of these plants or greens as they are commonly known are also a tasty vegetable in their own right. All vegetables listed do very well in New Jersey gardens.
Probably the best known of these are turnips which are generally grown for their round, pool ball sized roots that may be pure white, white with purple tops or even yellow in color. While harvesting the root destroys the plant the bright green leaves may be harvested several times without harm as the root develops by taking only one or two leaves per plant per picking.
Turnip greens are famous in southern cooking and combined with chicken are a Sunday staple. But turnip leaves, especially the young and tender ones are increasingly used as a component in tangy fresh garden salads. Their versatility is remarkable and recipes for soups, casseroles, dip and even chips based on turnip greens are readily available.
As with the turnip, so with its larger cousin, the rutabaga or swede turnip as it is often known. A far bigger vegetable than the turnip the leaves are in proportion and may be used in many of the same ways.
Beets and beet greens are gaining popularity as powerhouses of nutrition and antioxidants and there is an explosion of beet based recipes available as a result. Beets may be red, golden colored, white or striped with subtly varying flavors but all carry very similar leaf structures. These leaves may be served cooked in a variety of ways or cold in salads and contain even more beneficial compounds than do the roots.
Radishes are familiar veggies in the home garden. Easy to grow, tangy and crunchy they are eaten alone as snacks or featured in salads. The greens are all too often overlooked and this is unfortunate. The taste is different and difficult to describe but quite palatable and a simple sauté in olive oil provides a tasty treat. All too often radish tops are discarded; this is a waste of a perfectly good vegetable resource.
Another dual purpose vegetable that tends to fly under the radar is kohlrabi. While the tubers are used for slaws and cooked in a number of different ways the greens are seldom utilized. In fact, Kohlrabi leaves are like a milder, sweeter collard and can be used in exactly the same way, but with a different and quite pleasant taste.
Finally, a vegetable which many people have never seen, tasted or in many cases heard about is salsify. This peculiar looking, carrot shaped white or black root crop is also known as the vegetable oyster because of its mild but unusual taste. It is often used in soups and specialty side dishes. The greens resemble chicory in both appearance and flavor and can be used much in the same way.
And so, it appears that there are numerous dual purpose vegetables available to the gardener who wishes to bring variety to the table. Of interest is the fact that in the case of the six examples mentioned here, as nutritious as the root crop might be in its own right the bulk of the vitamins, minerals, nutrients, antioxidants and other beneficial compounds are always present in higher concentration in the leaves or greens.
So by all means, when preparing the roots for cooking save those valuable leaves for another meal, you will be glad that you did.
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