I am always encouraging you to use the beautiful green tops of your beets. They are healthy, fresh and can be treated similar to Swiss chard or kale or spinach. When I acquire a beautiful bunch of beets with healthy tops, I immediately cut off the tops and use them for dinner that very night or the next. The reason for this seemingly impatient act, is that beet greens go bad very quickly but can be prepared very fast. Beets, however, take between 1.5 to 2 hours to roast, which can be challenging on a weeknight.
This dish using beet greens and barley is new to me for two reasons. First, I wanted to use the beet stems as well as the leafy greens. The stems are tough, much tougher than Swiss chard stems, but if you blanch in salted boiling water for a few minutes, beet stems are just perfect. Second, most often, barely is used in a soup but this time I wanted to use barley in a "dry" dish and bring out the nuttiness of the barley by cooking it at a high temperature. Simply cook 1 part barley in 3 times as much salted boiling water, drain, and use. You can use whichever grain you like in this dish, like farro, quinoa, or bulgur. When sauteeing the beet greens, stems, and cooked barley, increase the temperature to high to rid of excess liquid. The barley should start to stick to the bottom of the pan, use a heavy spatula to scrape and toss.
You'll notice that I added caraway seeds to the onions in this dish; caraway seeds perfectly compliment beets, so why not beet greens and stems? Trust me, caraway seeds add a depth and complexity to the dish that you don't want to miss.
1 bunch of beet greens (tops of beets) including stems, washed thoroughly
1/2 cup barley (or farro, quinoa, or bulgur), rinsed
1 medium onion, diced
4 fat cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 tsp caraway seeds
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
1/4 cup finely grated parmesan
Bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan, salt, then add barley and cook for 20-25 minutes, until tender. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, separate the green leaf from the stem and chop stem crosswise into 1/4 inch pieces. In the same saucepan or another, bring water to a boil, salt, add stems and cook for 4 minutes, until tender but still retains a bite. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain. Add green leafs to same boiling water and blanch for 2 minutes, remove with a slotted spoon, squeeze out all of the excess water. Coarsely chop leaves into ribbons.
In a large heavy bottomed skillet, heat 2 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and a generous pinch of salt, cook until soft, 5-6 minutes. Then add garlic, crushed red pepper, and caraway seeds, cook until fragrant, 1 minute. Add stems, season with salt and pepper, increase heat to high and cook for a few minutes. Add barley, stir to mix well, and cook for 1 minute. Stir in chopped green leafs, season with salt and pepper, and continue to cook over high heat for a few minutes. The barley should start to stick to the bottom of the pan, use a heavy spatula to scrape and stir. The idea is to cook off all the liquid and bring out the nuttiness of the barley. Stir in parmesan, taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Serve hot or at room temperature.