Posts Tagged ‘greens’

Eating seasonally: winter

January 31, 2010

Eating seasonally has been less local this year, because of pregnancy.  Which foods are appealing has changed, and that at least somewhat correlates with my different nutritional needs.  The biggest change from past years is that I fully succumbed to the citrus fruit cravings that I get every winter.  The only local fruit available over the winter is homemade applesauce.  While I’ve been eating some of that almost every day, it’s no substitute for raw, whole fruit. 

Citrus is in season now, not locally, but in season.  Relative to California, Florida isn’t so far away.  I’ve been buying Florida grapefruits and minneolas, although I also bought long-distance clementines while they were fully in season in December.  As long as I’m buying fruit at the supermarket, I figure I may as well get things that I can only get at the supermarket, so we’ve been enjoying a variety of tropical fruits:  mangoes (while they’re 50 cents each), papaya, and bananas. 

We’ve been eating greens from our freezer, and roots from our fridge.  Tonight it was pasta with broccoli rabe, veggie sausage, parmesan and mozzarella cheeses, and Italian spices.  Yesterday, chard went into soup that started with a can of tomato bisque, but also included canned tomatoes (the blight this summer meant we couldn’t freeze enough local tomatoes).  Earlier this week, turnip greens from the freezer joined turnips from the fridge in a tofu stir-fry.  Turnips and parsnips made a lovely pureed soup a couple of weeks ago, with caraway seeds, salt, and pepper, and served with a pat of butter in each bowl. 

The most exciting of our local foods this winter has been sprouts that my husband grows in a jar on our kitchen windowsill.  When nothing else green, fresh, and crunchy is local, we can have nutritious, delicious sprouts that have traveled no distance at all.  Commercially grown sprouts are more likely than other vegetables to harbor bacteria, and are therefore off-limits to pregnant women.  Homegrown sprouts, though, seem perfectly safe.   Now I just need to figure out where to get sprout seeds locally.

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Traveling and Coming Home

September 10, 2009

I think I’ve been away more than usual this summer.  I like traveling, and I was away doing things that I enjoyed or at least valued.  The food from a week at a camp and a week at a conference center, however, left me feeling lousy.  Dairy and eggs left this vegetarian craving beans.  Processed starches left me wanting whole grains.  And I acutely missed the abundance of fresh, local, delicious vegetables and fruits that I would have had at home.

At the end of the summer, I had the opposite travel experience.  We visited friends in Seattle and enjoyed plums and blackberries that grow on their property.  Then we went to a farmers market that was about 5 times the size of the larger of my local markets.  The variety of produce, cheeses, baked goods, and meat was overwhelming, in a good way.  The prices of fruits were much lower than what I’m used to paying.  I’ll admit a bit of climate envy.

At home, food this week has been about combinations.  A ratatouille included tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, green pepper, and fresh garlic along with garbanzos, dried oregano, salt, and of course lots of  olive oil.  It would have included fresh basil, too,  if we’d had energy to pick some from out back.

A stir-fry included green beans, broccoli, turnips, turnip greens, radishes, radish greens, and some cilantro.  As has become usual, we firmed up the tofu by heating it without oil in a single layer on a nonstick skillet, flipping it when the first side browned.  To work with the cilantro’s sweetness, the sauce used a generous amount of jarred hoisin sauce along with rice vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame oil.

We brought back a salad we particularly enjoyed last fall:  arugula with cheddar and apples, with a balsamic vinaigrette.  We’ve started to get apples from our CSA, and the rainy summer means this should be a particularly good apple season.  Flashback: last year I posted a catalogue of apples.  So far, we’ve gotten Ginger Gold.

Eat your Greens

July 12, 2009

If you’re used to getting your vegetables at the grocery store, then you’re used to getting only the most sought-after or unique parts.  Or that’s all that survives the journey from wherever-far-away to the produce isle.  When you get farm-direct vegetables, either from a CSA or at a farmers market, you get much more of the plant.  Including those unfamiliar parts.  Most often, those unfamiliar plants are the leaves or greens.

Which are edible?  And how do you eat them?

The short answer is you can (and should) eat greens sold with pretty much everything except carrots.

Okay, the longer answer:  Radish, kohlrabi, and broccoli leaves are not only edible but nutritious.  Beet and turnip greens are not only edible and nutritious, but sought-after.  While you’re selecting beets or turnips for the best roots, the person shopping next to you may be selecting for the greens, with the roots as an afterthought.  Fennel fronds get used as an herb, although the stems are completely discarded (possibly after being used to flavor broth).

I’m told that radish greens can be added to the same salad as the radishes themselves, as a flavorful lettuce.  Their texture seems wrong for that, so I’ve never done so.  I simply toss the radish, kohlrabi, or broccoli leaves in with any other greens I’m cooking.  Radish greens are very much like turnip greens, while kohlrabi greens and broccoli greens are very much like kale.  Discard stems that are too tough.

Many vegetables just aren’t sold with their leaves.  Rhubarb leaves are poisonous, so the leaves are cut off before they’re sold.  Corn, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash, and the like are picked off of plants and won’t come with leaves.  Turning over the earth to dig potatoes seems to separate them from their leaves.

Freezing Greens

June 24, 2009

This week’s CSA haul was 14 greens, and  carrots: 4 heads of lettuce (red leaf and romaine), 1 bunch of arugula, 1 head of bok choy, 1 head of broccoli, 1 bag of snap peas, 2 heads of chicory, 1 bunch of mustard greens, 1 bunch of red chard, 1 bunch of turnips with greens, 1 bunch of radishes with greens, and 1 bunch of carrots (with greens, but their greens are inedible).

Our refrigerator was still overflowing with greens from last week, so it was time to do a large batch of freezing.  We ended up freezing 2 bunches of kale from last week, both of the 2 heads of chicory from this week, the 1 bunch of mustard from this week, and this week’s turnip and radish greens together (because together they were roughly the quantity of one bunch of other greens).

I was initially leery of freezing anything that I wasn’t used to buying frozen at the grocery store.  I had it all backwards.  We rarely get peas, so we’ve never tried freezing them.  Green beans sometimes freeze well but sometimes end up stringy.  Broccoli that we freeze ourselves loses most of its texture and appeal.  Spinach doesn’t seem sturdy enough for home freezing.

On the other hand, we’ve had great success freezing kale, collards, mustard greens, eggplant, peppers, beets, corn, zucchini, and butternut squash.  We’ve had moderate success with tatsoi (leaves are good, stems get even more difficult to chew) and green beans (as I said before, sometimes they’re excellent, sometimes they’re stringy).  I gave general directions for freezing stuff last year, but I think it’s time to give directions more specific to greens.  If you really want to know what you’re doing, and in a form easy to have in the kitchen, invest in a copy of Putting Food By for which you can find bibliographical information on my References and Resources page.

Directions for Freezing Cooking Greens

  1. Wash the greens thoroughly.
  2. Cut them into whatever size you’ll want later.
  3. Immerse the greens in a pot of boiling water for 2 minutes (except for collards, which get 3 minutes).
  4. Immerse the greens in ice water for 2 minutes or longer, to stop the cooking process.
  5. Drain the greens as well as possible.
  6. Freeze.  For easier defrosting, freeze one bunch in a gallon bag, spread flat, so the greens form one thin layer.

Tips:  A deep-fry basket or metal colander works well for holding the greens.  Metal tongs work well for moving the colander from boiling water to ice water.  Use the tongs to pick up the greens and put them into a bag for freezing, too.  It’s important to keep everything sterile, because anything that gets into the greens could cause them to go bad sooner.

What do you do with escarole?

June 18, 2009

This week brought more greens from our CSA.  Amazingly, there were no repeats from last week, although many of the items were similar:  bibb lettuce instead of romaine and red leaf, Napa cabbage instead of bok choy, Swiss chard instead of spinach, escarole instead of chicory, and cilantro and collard greeens, both of which are not remotely replacements for the pea tendrils we got last week.

Escarole is related to chicory but the with big, broad leaves, more like bok choy.  It’s much less bitter than chicory, however.  Cookbooks suggested it as a salad green, but, while the stems are pleasantly crisp, the leaves are not.  They’re thicker, and have a sort of leathery quality, much like dandelion greens, although not nearly as bitter.  Escarole seems most often to be a soup green, but summer is the wrong time for soup.  If we freeze the other bunch, I’ll make soup with it in the winter.

I think of escarole as being an Italian food, or at least having an affinity for them.  I tried sauteeing it with garlic, olive oil, and  crushed red pepper flakes, then sprinkling with parmesan cheese, the way I would for chicory or broccoli rabe.  The escarole just tasted mild to the point of blandness.  The texture was lovely, though, with wilted greens and stems still a bit crunchy.  So I played around, adding some red wine vinegar, oregano, basil, and salt.  It works.  My seasonings were essentially an Italian vinaigrette:  olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic, oregano, basil, salt, and parmesan, so I can now say that escarole makes a lovely cooked salad.  To make a meal, add cannelini or mozzarella and serve over pasta or rice.

CSA starts and Apple Bread

June 10, 2009

Our CSA began this week with greens, greens, greens, greens, and some more greens.  Specifically, we got two bunches each of red leaf lettuce, romaine lettuce, pea tendrils, spinach, chicory, and bok choy.  The bunches were so big that they wouldn’t all fit in our refrigerator without difficulty.

That gave us the push we needed to start right away saving for winter.  My husband washed, chopped, blanched, shocked, and froze one of the heads of chicory.  It will be good over pasta with cheese and mushrooms.  Between the time they were first cultivated and the time air conditioning was introduced, mushrooms were a winter crop.

We also cooked the spinach, both bunches, because it takes up so much less space that way. It ended up in a pasta sauce that is basically bechamel sauce with chopped spinach and parmesan cheese.  It made a lot of sauce.  When we have the leftovers, I think we’ll puree the sauce so that it spreads over the pasta better.   I hope that pureeing it doesn’t take away its fresh, green, spinach-y flavor.

We can almost defrost our chest freezer for the summer.  Everything but a few tubs of soup fits easily into the freezer attached to our refrigerator.  I could probably make it all fit, with some time and effort.  We’re reducing what’s in the freezer, still.  The night before our first CSA drop-off, we enjoyed a stir-fry of tofu with tatsoi and Asian eggplant, both from the freezer.  I am pleased to report that both froze satisfactorily.  The tatsoi stems became even tougher and harder to chew than when they’re fresh, and the eggplant was on the softer side but it did still have texture.  I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well just about everything freezes.  Putting Food By seems to get it right, every time.

The apple bread I wrote about in my last post turned out pretty well, so here’s the recipe.  If you didn’t save a glut of apples this year, come back to this recipe in October when there are lots and they’re cheap.

Apple Quickbread or Muffins (vegan)

Most quantities are guesses.
2 1/2 cups flour, white or whole wheat (dark spices make it brown anyway)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cloves, nutmeg, ginger
2 tsp cinnamon
2 or 3 tsp salt
3 apples, diced small
1 cup water, or less
1 1/2 cup applesauce

Mix dry ingredients.
Mix apple pieces in to coat with flour mixture.
Add half of water and then applesauce, stirring to mix evenly. If dough is too dry, add the remaining water.
Oil and flour a 9×9 baking dish (or a dozen muffin tins).
Pour in batter.
Bake at 400 degrees for 50 minutes.

Farmers markets are open

June 7, 2009

Since I last posted, both of most-nearby farmers markets have opened.  There’s a market I can get to easily by bicycle almost every day of the week, but only two are easy to walk to.  Our CSA will start drop-offs this week.  This is the beginning of the season when I can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t eat locally.

This spring was an unusually good growing season.  Unlike last year when the farmers market had only radishes and rhubarb (and a bit of arugula) on opening day, this year there were all kinds of greens available, and turnips in addition to radishes. My husband brought home spinach (to enjoy as a raw salad), chard (which was my favorite green for a few years – I don’t think I have a favorite currently), collards, and rhubarb.  He could easily have bought enough things for us to eat a different vegetable every day all week, but we still have a lot of freezer stores to eat down.

We ate the spinach with beet wedges thawed from the freezer, under balsamic vinaigrette.  Blue cheese would have been nice but we didn’t have any.  The collards we enjoyed, as usual, cooked with black beans in olive oil, garlic, basil, cumin, cayenne, and salt, served over brown rice.  The chard joined white beans in olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, sage, salt and pepper, served over pasta.  The rhubarb is probably going to become ice cream sauce and go into our freezer until we make ice cream to put it over.  Sauces freeze very well.

Our CSA farmer is concerned about losing some crops that matured too quickly for his drop-off schedule.  As I said, it was a weirdly good spring for growing greens and their roots.  I hope he was able to sell them at farmers markets instead.  When we saw him on Saturday, we asked the same question we ask all summer, “Is there anything here that we won’t get in our share this week?”  His answer was broccoli rabe so we bought some of that and then stopped at an Italian grocery on our way home to buy parmesan to use with it over pasta.

In anticipation of a glut of vegetables, I did a lot of cooking this weekend to get us eating down last year’s stores.  I roasted two full cookie sheets of root vegetables.  One of them was all carrots, an interesting mix of colors (yellow, orange, and purple) and sizes.  While they were still warm, I tossed them with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and parsley (the good part of what was left over from Passover – a lot of leftover parsley went into the compost).  We also had parsley in our freezer, and that went into a salad of bulghur and cooked lentils in a tabbouleh dressing.  The other cookie sheet was a rainbow mix of beets (one red, one yellow, and one red-and-white striped Chioggia), turnips, celeriac, parsnips, and more carrots.  Roasted in olive oil, salt, and pepper, they’ll be an easy side dish for some meal this week.

We didn’t make as many batches of applesauce last fall as I’d expected, and then we got more apples (local storage apples) through our winter CSA, so there are still lots of apples in our fridge.  Three of them went into an apples and spices sodabread that used a mix of applesauce and water as its binding liquid.  I don’t know yet how it came out.  A few others had to go directly into compost.  If the bread works, I still have enough apples to make many more loaves.

Weeks 50-51: May 6 – 19

May 19, 2009

The first local farmers market (Copley Square, Boston) opened today for the season.  I wasn’t there.  I’ll wait another two weeks until farmers markets open that are close enough to walk to, followed about a week later by our first CSA drop-off.

I remember last year at this time that I eagerly anticipated a bounty at the farmers market.  I know better.  Harvest season starts slowly.  So, while I feel entitled to stop hoarding and eat whatever vegetables are still in our freezer, I know that we’ll need some of them for a few weeks longer.

Frozen mustard greens and frozen diced-and-stewed tomatoes joined chickpeas, lots of curry powder, a bit each of cumin, coriander, cayenne, ginger, and of course salt, in a curried mustard greens recipe based on one in Joy of Cooking.  The tomatoes can be thawed, microwaved, or simply cooked with the spices and chickpeas before the greens are added.  The mustard greens are finnicky, in that they need to thaw before cooking.  I left mine (in thin layers in ziplock bags) thaw at room temperature for a couple of hours, then cooked with them as if they were fresh.  It worked, and they didn’t overcook.  I don’t think I could tell the difference between cooking with frozen verus fresh, although it’s been many months since I’ve had the opportunity to taste it with truly fresh mustard greens.

Some frozen green beans went with a pasta and sauce meal.  Some were a bit mushy, most were sort of generic frozen green beans, but a few still had crunch!

Frozen broccoli and frozen pepper strips joined tofu in a stir-fry.  The peppers held up well, the broccoli not so well.  That might mean that the broccoli was already a bit old when we got around to freezing it.

Apple sauce came out of the freezer to go into lunch bags.  Tomatillo sauce came out of the freezer to go on top of tortillas with black beans and cheese.

In a demi-miracle of proper handling, we still had two happy, healthy butternut squash.  One of them joined cannelini beans and sage to make a topping for pasta.  Sage, a perennial, is up in our yard, but we didn’t notice until after cooking with stuff out of a spice jar.  It was a missed opportunity, but we’ll have others.

The end, I mean the beginning, is in sight!

Weeks 48-49: April 22 – May 5

May 9, 2009

Spring is my favorite season.  I watch the plants in my neighborhood and on my walk to work to see how every day there are new shoots, new buds, new flowers, new leaves.  In my own yard, I watch the progression from crocuses, to daffodils and tulips, to phlox, and then on to everything else.  I watch the way that people, normally content in their bubbles of temperature-controlled homes, cars, and offices, open the windows or even come outside and notice it’s spring, temperatures are warming, things are growing.  In New England, spring is so short.  Maybe that’s why I treasure it all the more.

It’s now less than a month from the start of farmers markets in my area.  We still have plenty of frozen vegetables (and two butternut squashes) to get us through.  Especially if we’re as uninspired to cook as we have been.  All through the CSA season, fresh vegetables coming in ever week inspire us to prepare them into meals.  Because the vegetables are  so fresh and so good, the meals can be quite simple and still delicious.

That all breaks down in the winter.  I no longer know how to say “what I want for dinner tonight is…” and go out and assemble ingredients.  I can, of course, reach into my freezer, pull out a baggie of vegetables at random, and prepare it however I normally prepare that vegetable.  Somehow, though, I just haven’t been.  Which isn’t to say we haven’t been cooking.  It’s just that the vegetables are the frills, not the center, of our meals.

Some carrots from the veggie drawers and anaheim peppers (moderately spicy, frozen in week 19) from our freezer went into a huge batch of chili made from a mix of dried black, kidney, and pinto beans.  The canned tomatoes that went in were from one agri-business or another, slightly better for being organic.

A small head of green cabbage, stored in our refrigerator from our winter CSA, became a stir-fry with some carrots and tofu.  (Cabbages  seem to store only about 2 1/2 months, not the 5 or 6 months it would have had to last from summer CSA or farmers market)

A bag of greens whose label had fallen off went into the skillet with cannelini, garlic, oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and sage, in what has become my husband’s signature dish for serving next to or over pasta.  In a fun little challenge, we tried to identify the greens.  We’ll never know if we’re right, but our conclusion was collard greens.  When we froze them, we expected to use them in my usual way, the recipe given in week 30.

Sweet potatoes from our winter CSA with grocery store parsley left over from Passover became a batch of sweet potato salad in honey-mustard dressing, using the recipe in Moosewood Cooks at Home (photo in weeks 40-41).

My only really creative cooking recently was a quinoa dish.  We hadn’t eaten quinoa in quite a while.  It’s a seed that only sort of counts as a grain, very light, high in protein.  I made a sort of pilaf.  I toasted the quinoa with garlic and olive oil in the bottom of my saucepan briefly before adding water, dried basil and oregano, and chopped dried tomatoes (from Turkey, but bought at Rivermede Farm in week 31).  After about 2/3 of the cooking time, I stirred in cut green beans from our freezer and some salt.  I should have added pepper, too.  It came out the wonderful trifecta of colorful, tasty, and healthy.

Week 28: December 1 – 7

December 6, 2008

This was the first week of our winter CSA.  We’ve done a summer CSA for years with the same farm, so we know pretty much what to expect for that.  The winter CSA is new to us.  What we got was kind of what I was expecting.  Amazingly, there was no squash this week! 

We’re splitting a large share with another couple who did a different summer CSA.  Some of their end-of-season surplus is different from ours, and that helped to determine who got what this week.  For example, they still have lots of sweet potatoes left, but our summer CSA doesn’t grow them at all.  So, we got all of the sweet potatoes in this week’s winter share.  Conversely, we still have lots of carrots, so the other couple got all of the carrots in this week’s share.  I can’t eat onions, so the other couple got all the onions, which I guess is why we got the one large turnip, because both couples still have turnips from our summer CSAs.  We also got the only cabbage.     Other things were split more obviously:  there were two kinds of kale so we got one and they got one.  They got the arugula and we got the mustard greens.  We split the apples and oranges, and also the thyme

Yes, we got oranges because they have some relationship with organic growers in Florida.  Some of them had stickers on them, which felt very odd coming from a CSA.  It’s less farm-direct than I’m accustomed to.  Also odd, the thyme was in a plastic box. 

Some of the produce is from their own farm (the greens), and, aside from the oranges, everything else was from farms in our region.  I wonder if they’d tell us where?  Maybe they’re getting odds and ends from lots of farms that are done for the season, and amassing enough to give some to all CSA members. 

What does one do with thyme?  It’s an herb I almost never cook with.  I’ve certainly never used it fresh.  Even splitting it with another couple, there’s an awful lot of it. 

Of the new CSA items, all we’ve eaten so far was some of the fruit and the mustard greens.  As usual, the mustard greens became curried mustard greens and chickpeas from Joy of Cooking.  We used a two-cup-lump of stewed tomatoes from our freezer.  We also added carrots because we have lots.  They worked well, adding a nice bit of color and a sweet flavor.  The key was to not over-cook them.

I noticed that some moisture was accumulating in the crisper drawer that has all the root vegetables we saved from summer.  That meant it was time to sort through and cull the ones that were soft, damp, or a bit moldy.  They got cleaned up (well trimmed), cut up, and oven roasted.  Before roasting I cut them into bite-sized pieces of varying shapes – wedges of beets and turnips, rounds of carrots and parsnips, and halves of radishes.  I tossed them with oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and a blend of herbs de provence from the Herb Lyceum in Groton, MA.  The result was a colorful and tasty accompaniment to Thanksgiving leftovers.