Lemony Carrot Greens Pesto

carrot greens and curry pesto

The garden glows. Spring harvest past its prime with the last few peas the bunnies stole and the bolted radishes and arugula left behind, giving way to beans, tomatoes, squashes, peppers, and the heat of summer.

potted eggplant

The Union Station Farmers Market bustles. With growers from Boulder, Longmont, Hygiene, Larkspur and more towns I can’t even recall, and patrons eager to taste the local harvest. Carrots and beets from Cure Organic Farms, mushrooms from the Mile High Fungi, cherries from Ela Family Farms, are just a few of the goods I found.

garden lavender

This season I’m striving to try every vegetable I see and every new, to me, idea I’ve read, like using carrot greens, for example. I’m guilty of composting the tops of many vegetables, unaware of their delicious possibilities in the kitchen. It makes me wonder, what do Colombians do with all of those tops? Feed them to animals? I have never seen a beet or radish green in the markets there and it never occurred to me they could be used in cooking.

using carrot greens

Salad? sure. How about a sauce? Yes, that works, too. If you think about it, people make green sauces from just about any green leaf. I have seen garlic scape or spinach “pesto”, mustard green or carrot greens “chimichurri”, all loosely based on the originals, albeit different in flavor, they bring life to many dishes, like pastas, grilled meats and vegetables – as a marinate or as a sauce – great on pizza, grilled bread, and more.

beet and beet greens

I started using beet greens raw in salads, sautéed in everything from a pasta dish to a frittataadded to soups and stews on the last five minutes of cooking, or in pesto to bulk up the early-in-the-season herb harvest. Their flavor is that of chard, crunchy when raw and mild, almost undetected when cooked.

farmers market finds

Carrot greens frightened me, they looked so big, dusty and intimidating, What should i do with them? I wondered. I wasn’t sold on them, the texture seemed too rough and I enclosed myself in the idea that they were not for me. But farmers sell the whole carrot, a small root with a giant head of greens.

One day I got over my fear, took a few frond-like leaves and popped them in my mouth. I chewed, and chewed, and there it was, a complex flavor of carrots tossed with some kind of herb, parsley maybe? and maybe some coriander? Bright, yet delicate, with a hint of bitterness and almost refreshing celery notes. I converted. No surprise there, since they are all on the same botanical family.

using carrot greens for pesto

So when did we start tossing half of the vegetables, and with them all of those nutrients? A case of bad economics, one could argue, as the root we eat won’t grow without the greens.

Yes, I know, I know! For as long as we can remember we were told carrot greens were poisonous, so that’s a perfect excuse, but what about the broccoli stalks? or cauliflower leaves?

Soups, stocks, stews, salads, pastas, are just a few of the possible places we can use any and all of these underused parts of our produce basket. I find this liberating. Eye opening. To go outside my boundaries, to test new flavors, new vegetables, new possibilities.

Carrot Greens and Madras Curry “Pesto”
Makes 1 cup
Time: 10 minutes

These green leaves don’t last long after you cut them from the carrots, so use them to make this pesto within a day of purchase.

Plunge them in ice water as soon as you arrive from the market, especially if they were out in the sun, and bath them for at least 30 minutes. Wash them well as they tend to have lots of dirt at the base, near the root.

Use the fronds and tender part of the stem. The thicker stem below is a bit too fibrous and will give the pesto a coarse texture.

I took flavors with an affinity for carrots, like curry, ginger, and garlic, to enhance the mild carrot and parsley taste of the fresh carrot greens. Lemon juice, oregano and thyme, plus salt, pepper, oil, and water help round this pesto-like sauce. The sunflower seeds play with the light bitterness of the greens, balancing the sauce and giving a nutty, toasty undertone. None of the flavors in this sauce jump out or stand by itself, rather they complement each other and lend a punch of flavor.

I use it with pasta, on potatoes I steam and then grill, to marinate or top chicken,  lamb, and vegetables like eggplant or mushrooms. This recipe makes about 1 cup of sauce, so I separate it into small containers and freeze them until ready to use, for up to 6 months.

3 cups carrot greens
1/2 garlic clove, mashed
1/2 teaspoon ginger root, freshly grated
2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves
1 tablespoon fresh lemon thyme leaves {substitute for mother of thyme or more oregano}
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest {increase to 1/2 teaspoon if not using lemon thyme}
The juice of half a lemon
2 tablespoons of water
1/4 cup toasted sunflower seeds
1/4 teaspoon salt, or more based on your taste
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon Madras curry powder
1/4 cup olive oil

Put all of the ingredients in the food processor or blender, except the oil.

Pulse until the greens fully blend and become a paste, slowly drizzle the oil with the machine running, until well emulsified, about 2-3 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking.

Experiment with the flavors of these greens and let me know how it goes.

Heidi Swanson from 101 Cookbooks has put a good list of “pestos” on her site. Inspiring.

~ Paula

mixed herbs

2 thoughts on “Lemony Carrot Greens Pesto”

  1. Cheers to using all the goods! Whenever we crave a pesto I use whatever green tops we have in the fridge…usually carrot and beets or even greens that are not so fresh. Happy feasting!

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