Painting of beet greens, cumin seeds, peanut oil.

Beet Greens with Cumin 8″x8″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn DImmick

Wednesday I was reminded of why I like to eat fresh and seasonal food. Wednesday is vegetable box day for me and I went down to Berkeley in the rain to pick up my vegetables. Among the other things I got were bunches of turnips and beets with their greens attached. I twisted the greens free and bagged them separately since I have been told that otherwise the greens draw nutrition from the roots. I knew I was going to cook some kind of oven dinner — I had leftover delicata squash to eat, for one thing. On the way home I decided we would eat mixed turnip and beet greens tonight to get them at their freshest and most nutritious. I also decided to cook the beets, remembering a wonderful sauce in my Joyce Goldstein Kitchen Conversations cookbook made from butter, honey, dry mustard, cinnamon and black pepper.

I consulted Mom about what else we could have. She suggested baking two large red potatoes and serving them with sour cream. Fine. We would have squash with brown sugar and butter, the potatoes, beets in a hot and sweet sauce. I would put in a rice pudding for a high protein dessert so that we did not get hungry after all those vegetables for dinner, utilizing some cooked brown rice we already had.

That left the greens. Because two of the vegetables had a sweet profile I knew the greens needed to be savory, so I discarded the idea of making them with raisins and walnuts  or with peanut sauce: these would have to be greens as greens. As I chopped the beet and turnip stems I suddenly thought, “What if I cook them with roasted cumin seeds?” Maybe that would tame the bitterness.

I pricked the potatoes and put them in a 350 oven with the whole kabocha squash (the farm newsletter recommended roasting it whole before splitting it open to remove the seeds and strings) and a Pyrex bowl of brown rice pudding, made with raisins, milk, sugar, a couple of eggs and enough butter to keep it from sticking. Then I peeled beets and put them in a saucepan on the stove (the oven was crowded, due to the giant squash, or I could have roasted them). While they cooked I made Goldstein’s marvelous sauce.

Then I got out the peanut oil and filmed a hot skillet with just a touch (under a tablespoon). After a minute, I added a couple teaspoonfuls of cumin seeds and let them pop before bringing the skillet to my cutting board for the beet and turnip stems. While they began to cook over medium heat I chopped the greens and put them into the skillet with all of the water that clung to them and popped a lid on. When they were done, I assembled a plate of one potato, half a delicata squash, one beet and a large serving of greens, to which I added a small squeeze of Meyer lemon.

I am happy to report that these were the best greens I ever tasted. The cumin worked its magic, giving off its fragrance and mellowing the greens’ strong flavors. If you are not a greens lover but are fond of cumin, I urge you to try it. It is beyond simple and yet the results are sublime. Yes, I did say sublime — the acid test will be tomorrow when I see how they are reheated.* There’s got to be something to eating your greens the day they are picked — but the cumin didn’t hurt either.

Non-Recipe Greens Recipe: Greens with Cumin Seeds

Wash whatever greens you’ve got — I used turnip and beet greens.

Separate stems from leaves.

Chop stems into small pieces. Chop greens separately.

Heat a skillet over medium high heat.

Add 2 tsp to 1 Tablespoon of peanut oil, depending on your oil tolerance.

When oil shimmers, add 2 tsp cumin seeds and let them pop.

Remove skillet from heat long enough to add chopped stems.

Return skillet to heat. Add chopped greens.

Cover and cook over medium heat to desired done-ness — I cook them until the liquid has evaporated — about five minutes.

Add a squeeze of lemon and eat while hot.

* I ate the leftover greens for dinner Thursday night. They were still wonderful, tasting of cumin.

P.S Forgot to say: I’m heading up to Portland for a long weekend and I, unlike most modern people, have no mobile devices. This may cause a delay in my approving comments, but I want to hear from you and I’ll approve them all when I get back. — Sharyn

Painting Note: For information about Beet Greens with Cumin or any other painting, please contact me here.