Genius Recipes

The Genius Salad Green You're Probably Throwing Away (No, It's Not Poisonous!)

Plus, the best vinaigrette.

February 27, 2019

Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Creative Director and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.

Photo by James Ransom

I make the same damn salad every night. Even though I’ve gathered many far more delicious and interesting ones over the years, night after night I toss together arugula, lemon, olive oil, and salt with one hand and claw it onto our plates—only because it fills the green gap in any dinner, and I don’t have to fire up a single extra brain cell.

Given my requirements, it took this forcefully simple green salad to shove me out of my workday rut. And even though the recipe comes from the other side of the world, I’ve found it fits just as neatly into my routine as my snoozy pile of arugula.

Shop the Story

As Georgia Freedman was gathering recipes and stories in the Yunnan province of China for her recent cookbook Cooking South of the Clouds, she encountered many salads in this style, but learned this particularly gripping one from Tusheng Shiguan (Native Foods) restaurant, founded by Yang Lifen to support the farmers surrounding Kunming, the province’s capital city. The resulting recipe solves at least two major salad problems, and takes precious little effort to get there.

Photo by James Ransom

The first major salad problem (MSP1) is the sad lettuce impasse, when you get to the market and every last head of red leaf and sack of spinach is looking limp and uninspiring. At Tusheng Shiguan, the kitchen uses a rotating cast of locally foraged greens, including one that’s a close cousin of the carrot (without the sweet, carrot-y root)—so Freedman adapted the recipe to work with the bushy carrot tops that so many of us throw away. (No, despite what you may have heard, the greens are not poisonous.)

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“A wad of this salad, topped with some smoked shredded pork, wrapped in a simple rice wrapper, flour tortilla, or a thin egg omelet can be a quick meal. I fantasize about some dim sum place making me a Chinese bbq bun (char sui?) With a layer of this salad tucked in. If you try mizuna greens, tone down the chili and up the Umami with red hatch chili,which is milder than Thai chilies, and shallots vs garlic. Works rather nicely with a seared Ahi tuna steak. ”
— Christine S.

All you have to do to take carrot tops from unruly to proper salad is to give them a blanch—aka a dunk in boiling water, rinse, squeeze, and chop. This trick works well with other hardier leafy greens too, or other cold, cooked vegetables, tofu, or meats in the genre of salads known as liang ban. With decent lettuce no longer a prerequisite, this breaks our green salad options on any old night wide open. MSP1, overcome.

The second major salad problem (MSP2) is our desire to make a balanced, just-right vinaigrette—fast—that will inspire us to eat heaps of otherwise plain vegetables. You might have your favorite ratio of vinegar to oil (and I have my lemon), but this dressing offers another, more exciting path.

Photo by James Ransom

It’s just four ingredients with far more personality than straight oil and acid: the funky-sweet pow of black vinegar, the salty umami of soy sauce, the heat of garlic and fresh chile. Though this style of salad is common across China, the garlicky, tangy dressing specific to this region is Freedman’s favorite. I can see why—once it burrows into the cooling, parsley-like flavor of the greens, you could easily eat a whole bushel.

For the best moments to serve this salad, Freedman recommends richer meals that need a bright pick-me-up, in a similar spirit to the vinegary slaws that lift up the weight of barbecue. She mentioned roast chicken and, from one memorable visit to a local ham-maker in Eastern Yunnan, stir-fried ham with fried potatoes and garlic chives. But I’d also recommend it any time you’re resenting your own every-night salad and ready make the break.

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Perhaps something perfect for beginners? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

Listen & Subscribe

From our new podcast network, The Genius Recipe Tapes is lifelong Genius hunter Kristen Miglore’s 10-year-strong column in audio form, featuring all the uncut gems from the weekly column and video series. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts so you don’t miss out.

Listen & Subscribe

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Delbert Homrich
    Delbert Homrich
  • Lauren B
    Lauren B
  • Pat
  • Posie (Harwood) Brien
    Posie (Harwood) Brien
  • Stephanie B.
    Stephanie B.
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Delbert H. January 12, 2020
What other greens can be eaten, I will try the carrot tops I love beet greens. Can radish greens be eaten? Anything else I can try?
Lauren B. April 9, 2019
This sounds really good since we are currently building raised beds and I will be trying to grow rainbow carrots there. Looking forward to using the tops too. Please tell me a less exotic kind of vinegar that I could something from the US.
Pat March 3, 2019
Love, love Food 52 and this salad was mind-blowing for me! I will shop for the ingredients and start this food adventure. Thanks for spotlighting this recipe! I will get back with a review.
Kristen M. March 6, 2019
Please do!
Posie (. February 28, 2019
Love this! The Bar Room at the Modern once had this amazing dish with carrots where they left a few inches of the greens on the top, then roasted them in oil with spices. The greens got sort of crisp and crunchy, almost like a kale chip situation. SO GOOD. I always leave some of the greens on now when I roast carrots!
Kristen M. March 6, 2019
Love this, Posie!
Stephanie B. February 27, 2019
I love carrot greens! The farmers market near me offers to cut them off for people, and then just tosses them in a compost, the horror!
Kristen M. March 6, 2019
More for us smartypantses!
M February 27, 2019
This is something I'd love to do, but I can't think of one time I've bought carrots with tops that were in the proper condition (outside of fresh-from-the-farm). There's always dark/black gooey bits and other rotting mixed in.
Kristen M. March 6, 2019
I hate when that happens (with radish tops, too). Don't let that stop you from trying this vinaigrette with other sturdy greens, though. And hopefully your carrot vendors will start taking better care soon!
Dana February 27, 2019
This looks so good, but so many of your recipes look great! I really enjoy reading what you write and best of luck with the new person you are bringing into this world. Here's advice from the mom of the best eater ever! Never make a meal for your child that you are not eating yourself. My son ate whatever was on the dinner table - never anything special - and I constantly exposed him to new foods. He also grew up helping me in my vegetable garden and veggies are still probably his favorite food. It killed me when I would go to friends houses and they would have the "kids meal" of Mac and cheese and hot dogs.
Millie G. March 1, 2019
I agree completely! Our daughter, who always ate "grown up" food now thanks me for exposing her to a wide variety of ingredients. She says she has been able to eat fearlessly anywhere in the world, never struggling to find something good to eat!
Kristen M. March 6, 2019
Thank you both for the ideas and the kind words.
Christine S. February 27, 2019
I've been shopping local Chinese markets for a long time, to save $$$ on food expenses. I often buy tong ho, or chrysthanemum leaves, and it's quite nice with the black vinegarette. Try some sesame oil with it as an option. Or chili oil, if you want a change in the heat level. A wad of this salad, topped with some smoked shredded pork, wrapped in a simple rice wrapper, flour tortilla, or a thin egg omelet can be a quick meal.
I fantasize about some dim sum place making me a Chinese bbq bun (char sui?) With a layer of this salad tucked in.
If you try mizuna greens, tone down the chili and up the Umami with red hatch chili,which is milder than Thai chilies, and shallots vs garlic. Works rather nicely with a seared Ahi tuna steak.
Darian February 27, 2019
Sounds good, but also begs the question...where do I get the recipe for the "stir-fried ham with fried potatoes and garlic chives"?? THAT sounds fabulous!
Kristen M. February 27, 2019
I know, right? The whole meal sounds incredible. Recipes for those are in Georgia's book!
Darian February 27, 2019
Thank you!
Blork February 27, 2019
This is brilliant if you have access to fresh carrots like that. But I think most of us buy carrots in a bag where a two-pounder is only a buck or two. When I see "fresh" carrots with greens in the store, they are typically four or five times the price, plus the greens look sad and dirty. However, I will keep this recipe in my back pocket for that rare event where I'm at a farmer's market and the carrots look good and the greens are fresh. :-)
Kristen M. February 27, 2019
Thanks, Blork—check out Elena's excellent tip below about getting them for free at the farmers market, since other people ask to have them lopped off (with spring coming, probably a good time to try that). Also, if you can't find the carrot tops, don't let that stop you from trying the idea with other greens. The vinaigrette is too good.
Robin L. February 27, 2019
I always hate throwing away the carrot greens. That is a great thing to do with them.
Kristen M. February 27, 2019
Me too! Sometimes they're so huge and bushy, they take up my whole compost bag—better to eat them :) Thanks, Robin.
bowensoap April 9, 2019
I add them to green smoothies too. Just don't use the whole bunch at once and make sure you have a really good blender, like a Vitamix.
Lukshen February 27, 2019
Best wishes!!
Kristen M. February 27, 2019
Thank you!
Zozo February 27, 2019
Oo an excellent way to temper the assertive grassiness of carrot greens! Would be great with a stronger choy sum too. Coincidentally the dressing is essentially the ideal dumpling dipping sauce!
Kristen M. February 27, 2019
Love—thanks for the tips, Zozo!
fmclellan February 27, 2019
I'm sure I'm not the only person who wonders about the feasibility of gathering 6 cups of carrot tops!
Elena February 27, 2019
If you have a favorite local farmers market you’ll find plenty of carrot tops. Most people have their carrot tops taken off by the farmer who then just throws them in a pile. I’m sure they’ll be happy to give you some of those.
Kristen M. February 27, 2019
Fantastic tip, Elena—thank you! I love the hack of getting things for free at the farmers market just because other people don't want them—other greens like radish and turnip tops can be good for that, too. And fmclellan, when you can't find the carrot tops, don't let that stop you from trying the idea with other hardy greens, like collards or kale. The vinaigrette is too good.