Waste Not is a collaboration with my friend, Carrie King. The premise is simple: Carrie, a food writer and editor, shares a recipe highlighting at least one particular way that we can curb food waste. I make it at home, take a bunch of pictures, and share it with everyone here.
This week I made Carrie’s Carrot Ginger Soup with Carrot Top-Herb Pesto, which encourages would-be carrot-top composters to make better use of their leafy greens. And, if you ask me, just in time. Over the weekend I found the most beautiful bunches of springtime baby carrots at the farmers’ market. They were topped with beautiful, lush, leafy greens—a mind-bogglingly far cry from the withered and curled up carrot tops I’d left behind in the grocery store earlier in the week. But, as predicted by Carrie, when I paid the farmer for his goods, he immediately asked me if I wanted him to compost the greens. No! I practically yelled it.
Thank goodness. Carrie’s use of roasted cashews, cilantro, and Thai basil in this pesto recipe is ridiculously genius. I left the cashews pretty chunky here and stirred overflowing tablespoonfuls of the pesto into my soup bowl.
Erin’s husband, James, and I used to spend Saturdays helping a pretty cool farmer sell his wares at a Brooklyn greenmarket. Among other edible treasures, were his carrots—delectable, with big lush greens sprouting from the top. Like most of his other stuff, they’d sell out pretty fast. After 8 hours of chin wagging, sucking back cold brews, and far more mental math than I ever thought my own brain capable of, it would be time to break it all down and send Hector on his way back upstate. We’d stack and load container after container, all of them completely bare. Except for one, which absolutely overflowed in a sea of green.
I learned two important things that summer: Two cold brews is my absolute limit before heart palpitations set in. And people view carrot tops as utterly worthless.
I don’t know if this is just a matter of bad PR or what. Maybe it’s partially that they have the great misfortune of sharing a name with a pretty irritating comedian. If we tended to know them as carrot “greens” rather than carrot “tops,” would they get more respect? Who knows. But somewhere along the line, we stopped expecting our carrots to even have tops on them. So, I’d ask people at the greenmarket, “Tops on or off?” Then I’d twist and rip and toss because the bottom line is that most people view carrot tops as a throw-away. The select few that would ask us to keep them attached had the idea that intact carrots made for a longer fridge life. I have no idea whether that’s true. In fact, I think it might actually be the opposite of what’s true. But, right or not, there was no intention of eating said carrot tops.
And I don’t know why because they are completely edible and nutritious, and full of vitamins and minerals! (I’m not a nutritionist, so I’m not going to tell you which vitamins and minerals exactly, but word on the street is that they’re some pretty good ones.) And greens and tops are not only added value, but also a great indicator of freshness for lots of veggies. Carrots are no exception. Vibrant, good-looking carrot tops are a sign of fresh carrots, so even if they weren’t also edible, I’d always prefer to grab carrots with perky greens over a stifled bag of carrots that had their greens lobbed off a million days ago.
As for the greens we would collect throughout the market day, they weren’t a total waste—at least they headed straight to a compost pile, which is marginally better than simply tossing them. But, since it requires lots of water and energy and resources to grow food, and there’s a whole lotta people without nearly enough of it, I’m of the opinion that it’s better for the maximum amount of the nutritious and edible stuff to end up in our bellies. Because of their strong flavor, reminiscent of parsley and, well, carrots, and hearty texture, I tend to think of carrot tops less as a stand-alone option and more as an herb or flavor enhancer. In other words, I don’t think I could throw down on a whole salad of just carrot greens, but I could definitely devour a salad that had some strewn throughout. This pesto, or any kind of variation on a pesto, are a pretty perfect application for carrot tops. (I also make a mean chimichurri sauce with carrot tops and that’s equally scrumptious.)
Carrot Ginger Soup with Carrot Top-Herb Pesto
For the soup:
Coconut oil (or neutral oil, like grapeseed)
1 large shallot, peeled and roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
2 oz ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
7-8 large carrots with tops (about 2 lbs), scrubbed and roughly chopped
Coarse kosher salt
1 tsp coconut sugar (optional)
1 cup coconut milk
For the pesto:
2 cups carrot tops, washed really thoroughly
½ cup packed Thai basil leaves
¼ cup packed cilantro leaves/stems
¼ cup toasted cashews (unsalted)
Coarse kosher salt
Neutral oil, like grapeseed
For the soup:
In a large pot, heat 1 tablespoon coconut oil over medium. Add the roughly chopped shallot, garlic, and ginger. Sauté for 3-4 minutes – reduce the heat if it starts to brown.
Add the carrots and 1½ teaspoons salt (and, depending on sweetness of your carrots, you might want to add 1 teaspoon of coconut sugar). Stir to combine. Sauté 4-6 minutes, until the carrots start to sweat a little.
Add just enough water to cover the carrots, about 1 quart. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook until the carrots are very tender, about 20 minutes (depending on the size of the carrot pieces).
Once the carrots are soft enough to easily pierce with a fork, use a handheld or regular blender to puree the soup completely until smooth. Return the soup to the pot over medium heat and stir in the coconut milk. Let it come back up to temperature, but not boiling. Taste for salt and add more if necessary.
Stir in a splash of rice vinegar.
For the pesto:
On a cutting board, very finely chop the carrot tops along with the herbs.
Once finely chopped and combined, transfer the greens and herbs to a mortar, adding the cashews and a generous pinch of coarse salt. Use the pestle to mash and combine the nuts and greens until the cashews are very finely chopped and scattered throughout the pesto, and the greens and herbs are a bit broken down. Taste and add a bit more salt if necessary. Drizzle just enough oil so that the pesto comes together – it should not be sitting in a pool of oil.
In a food processor or blender/smoother texture:
Pulse the cashews to get them coarsely ground. Add the carrot tops and herbs and pulse to finely chop. Add 2-3 Tbsp neutral oil and pulse to combine, until you’ve reached your desired consistency, adding more oil if necessary.
Serve soup in bowls, with a garnish of any extra coconut milk and a generous dollop/drizzle of pesto.
+ Send even less to the compost bin! No need to peel all these carrots, just give ‘em a good scrubbing!
+ Make the pesto in advance. As with all pesto-type preparations, it will only get more flavorful with a bit of time!
+ Put the lime in the coconut! This soup benefits from a good acidic lift before serving. Here, I use a splash of rice vinegar. If you don’t have rice vinegar, hit it with a squeeze of fresh lime juice.
+ If you only want to invest in one herb, choose either Thai basil or cilantro and use it for all of the herb measurements.
+ Extra pesto? Put it on morning eggs, drizzle it on sandwiches, or spoon it onto hodgepodge-style grain bowls with rice and veggies. Ed. note: We put our extras on panko-crusted tofu and roasted carrots and served both on a bed of tender greens. Spring in a bowl.
Thanks to Carrie King for writing this post and developing the recipe. When Carrie’s not encouraging me in tiny-apartment cooking adventures, she’s a food writer and editor. Her cookbook work includes Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner….Life with Missy Robbins and The Chef Next Door with Amanda Freitag. She has contributed to Gather Journal and Life & Thyme and works as recipe editor at Marley Spoon and Dinnerly. Thanks to culinary school and lots of time spent in kitchens, both professional and home, she can cook just about anything, but usually just wants a
few couple few slices of pizza.
I just love this series! Last week I accidentally bought vanilla flavored yogurt instead of my standard plain yogurt and didn’t realize it until I’d opened the container, but I folded it into your French Yogurt Cake recipe (and halved the sugar) and it turned out beautifully. Hooray for reducing food waste!
So glad on all fronts!
Long time reader. Love this new series!
Carrot top pesto was my go-to when I was volunteering at the farmer’s market. (We got a discount on our CSA if we could spare a few hours a week when it was busy.)
A lot of people would ask us to remove green tops from veggies (carrots, beets, radishes). I would take home three bunches of carrot tops every week and turn them into pesto – with walnuts instead of pine nuts. I froze the leftover pesto in jars and we had it through December.
We had a lovely older couple who came at the end of the market and asked for the beet leaves. That’s my fondest memory of that summer’s farmer’s market, just chatting with them and exchanging recipes. They had traveled the world and were a treasure trove of recipes.
Going straight on my grocery list!
This is great! I’ve been making pesto lately as a way to use up odds and ends, especially stems. It’s still mostly storage carrots at our market, but I will keep this in mind!
thanks for making this bad boy vegan <3 <3
Food waste prevention is actually my day job. Needless to say, having been a reader for a few years, I’m thrilled with the new series. Eat those greens, people!
Have you read “An everlasting meal” by Tamar Adler? It’s exactly that same concept, to use as much as possible of what you already have and it’s a lovely read! . Following my reading of her book I have used carrot tops in omelets, and it was delicious. Will try the pesto!
I have to say I love her book so much and my favorite concept from it is the pasta frittata…even just a half serving of leftover pasta gets a new life and it’s SO TASTY!
Yes! I really enjoyed that book. I looked at dried beans in a whole different way after reading it, and the pasta frittata is very tasty!
Yes! Read years ago and reread last winter while Silas was tiny! It’s a good one.
Love this. I’m trying to reduce waste & grocery spending + optimize nutrient density…so the carrots I buy are bag-less and with green tops. Planning on adding these recipes into this weekend’s cook-up. Thank you, Erin and Carrie!
Love, love LOVE this series!!! THANK YOU!
I went through a use-every-edible-bit-of-my-veggies period, during which I found all sorts of using for carrot, beet and radish tops. I still mostly eat the beet and radish tops, but I I got out of the habit with the carrots. This post has me excited to try again, and I have two lovely bunches in my fridge now, along with some cilantro. I think pesto is getting made here tomorrow. 🙂
This looks amazing! I don’t have a blender but maybe I will try this out when I have one!
And totally agree on the merits of a splash of acidity to a soup!
I love this series! I will definitely try making the pesto with my carrot tops!
I also love making tabouleh with carrot tops. It’s super easy, and you can get the bulghur at Sahadi.
I just made this recipe for tonight’s light (sorta) Spring dinner and it was DELCIOUS!! I added scallions and cayenne pepper for an extra kick!!! Gracias!!!
yay! so glad!
Will try! Radish top pesto is my favorite. Also a low waste and low cost meal we are having is nettle soup. From the garden in our case, but most forests have them, just wash them well.
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