Instead of Throwing Away Your Greens, Make Them into "Meatballs"

We're serious about keeping farmers market produce on the menu all year long. Alexandra Stafford of Alexandra Kitchen shows us how to store, prep, and make the most of it, without wasting a scrap.

Today: Hold onto your carrot tops! And onion tops! And turnip tops! And beet greens, too. You can turn all of those greens into a delicious snack. 

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A few months ago, I discovered a fritter recipe that both quelled my anxiety about the indundation of dark leafy greens and made me wish it would never end. 

The recipe comes from Twelve Recipes by Chez Panisse’s Cal Peternell, who, one evening as a snack for his family, fried little balls of sautéed greens mixed with stale bread and onions. His family devoured the balls, mistaking them for real meatballs and thus earning them the name “fried greens meatlessballs.” 

In early spring, I made the meatlessballs with chard and kale, the two greens Peternell suggests. When CSA season began, I used turnip and beet greens, then broccoli rabe and mustard greens. Every green I tried worked.

I soon found myself churning out meatlessballs every Tuesday evening, the day I pick up my farmshare. For once, I found myself using the roots' greens in their prime, not salvaging them from the vegetable bin at the end of the week. I discovered, too, I could make the mixture ahead of time and store it in the fridge until dinnertime. My family loves them and, as Peternell notes in Twelve Recipes, “the hot little balls make a nice snack or appetizer, but also are good later, to eat at room temperature out of hand on the go.” I like them cold, days later, straight from the fridge. 

Unfortunately, just as I found my meatlessballs rhythm, the weather turned, and in our weekly CSA newsletter, the farmers assured us we could look forward to heat-loving crops—cucumbers, zucchini, peppers, and tomatoes—in the weeks ahead. The season of greens was nearing its end. 

On Tuesday, I picked up my vegetable share to discover the worst had come true: not a leaf in site. Despite the warning from the farmer, I wasn’t ready for the change, for crunchy Greek salads, stewy zucchini gratins, dripping tomato tartines.

Could I somehow make the season of meatlessballs persist through the warmer months? I scanned my share. There were carrots, green tops intact, and lots of onions, pure white oblong bulbs goosenecking into stiff, bright green stalks. Perhaps the meatlessballs could have one last hurrah? 

I gave it a go, quickly pulsing the carrot and onion greens in the food processor—finely chopped greens, I have learned, help the balls hold their shape—before sautéing them with the onions, garlic, cumin, and cilantro. I folded in the feta, breadcrumbs, and egg, then fried them up as usual, in cherry-sized portions, using a fork to turn them every few minutes until they turned golden all around.

Once again, the recipe didn’t let me down. This batch tasted a little grassier, a little greener, but they were just as delicious and disappeared just as quickly. Meatlessballs? I’d say miraculousballs. 

But once you've made your fair share of fried greens meatlessballs, there's more to do with those carrot and onion greens:

For the carrots:

  • Remove the greens from the roots and store both parts in a bag in the refrigerator. Carrot greens will tire more quickly than their roots, so they should be used quickly.
  • Purée the greens into pesto, toss with roasted carrots, and drop dollops of burrata over top—call it a meal with a loaf of crusty bread.
  • Carrot greens can also be stuffed into chicken cavities, added to soups and stocks, or minced into chimichurri, salsa verde, and green harissa. Keep in mind that carrot greens can be bitter and adjust seasonings accordingly. 

For the onions: 

  • Assuming you are handling recently harvested onions that haven’t been cured for long-term storage, remove the greens from the bulbs and store both in the refrigerator.
  • The tender portions of the greens can be left attached to the onion bulb, which can be sliced and braised or grilled or sautéed.
  • The tender portions can also be removed completely and sautéed alone, as you would use an onion. or finely chopped and used like fresh scallions.
  • The tougher portions of the greens can be frozen and reserved for adding to meat and vegetable stocks. 

Fried Greens Meatlessballs

Serves 3 to 4 as an appetizer

1 bunch greens
3 tablespoons olive oil or grapeseed oil

1 small yellow onion, diced
Salt, to taste
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup cilantro
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1/4 cup crumbled feta
1 or 2 eggs
Oil for frying

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Alexandra Stafford

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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I write the blog alexandra's kitchen, a place for mostly simple, sometimes fussy, and always seasonal recipes. My cookbook, Bread Toast Crumbs is available everywhere books are sold.


Charity January 15, 2021
Could you take this a step further and make this vegan? Replace egg and cheese with nuts and nutritional yeast? I'd like the recipe!
Thana F. April 4, 2016
Does anyone know if these work with vegan cheese? thanks!
lucy August 29, 2015
I have saved my celery tops in the hope i can create these. Do not like celery but it felt wrong to disregard them after reading this recipe.
Anonymous F. August 15, 2015
You will find these in season in restaurants all over Greece as meze dishes--generally with spinach, wild greens or zucchini. They are indeed delicious! :)
Alexandra S. August 15, 2015
No wonder why I love them! Would love to try these with zucchini.
Emily J. July 23, 2015
Oops I hit enter too quickly. If those veggies work well with jeon, I'm thinking they should be successful here too. I'll definitely try these out soon!!
Alexandra S. July 23, 2015
I am sure you are right! This is definitely a recipe you can tweak and adjust with more breadcrumbs, more eggs, etc, depending on the texture of the "batter." I really think any vegetable could work.
Emily J. July 23, 2015
I'm guessing you can use shredded zucchini, shredded carrot, and or scallions including the green parts, potato, etc. I'm thinking of Korean "jeon" aka pancakes that use scallions or zucchini or potatoes.
Jean D. July 18, 2015
Why does the picture in recipe have parsley & green onion bulb in it? They're not ingredients in this recipe.
Alexandra S. July 19, 2015
I think the photo you are referring to actually is of carrot greens and onion greens — those were the only greens that arrived in my CSA this week, and I used them in this recipe in place of other greens (turnip, beet, chard, kale, etc.), and it worked! This recipe is amazing that way — any green will work.
Lurchie July 20, 2015
@Jean, are you referring to the picture with the cilantro? It kinda looks like parsley, but it's definitely cilantro.
ChefJune July 17, 2015
This is a super idea! When I saw the headline, I immediately thought of my Spinach Balls, and forward to "Why not?"
Just one thought for you Alexandra... I'll bet these little yummies would freeze every bit as well as my Spinach Balls do -- meaning the bounty of the market right now could be preserved for the leaner months ahead.
Alexandra S. July 18, 2015
Thank you ChefJune! So smart. I am absolutely going to try freezing these — I find them irresistible. Is your spinach balls recipe in the Food52 archives? Would love to try.
Alexandra S. July 21, 2015

Question: do you freeze your spinach balls before or after you freeze them?