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.