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Greens: Cooked or raw? August 30, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. I’m mostly an equal-opportunity greens fan; I love them raw (in salads and sandwiches), semi-cooked (in hot sandwiches like cheese panini with tomatoes and arugula), and cooked (in pasta, soups, dal, sauteed, or steamed). Pretty much the only greens I won’t eat are the ones that taste like dirt (beet greens, Swiss chard), the ones that are prickly (radish greens, turnip greens), and the ones that come from cans. (Just give me the beets and radishes and Japanese turnips and let me enjoy the colorful chard as an ornamental.) If I knew how to grill, I’d doubtless love the grilled halved Romaine lettuces and halved radicchio that have become popular.

I love to make a big pot of greens, including the “supergreens” kale and collards, along with spinach, arugula, and methi (fenugreek greens), cooking them down with a tiny bit of water clinging to the leaves, and then make saag paneer, the delicious, Indian dish that uses their equivalent of farmer’s cheese/fresh mozzarella, paneer, with a simply luscious mix of sauteed onion, spices, and cream. Served over basmati rice, which soaks up the sauce, it’s pure heaven.

Greens prepared this way are also a great base for soups and a great filling layer for lasagna. (You can tuck them in between the lasagna pasta and the ricotta or Greek yogurt, then top with sauce and shredded cheese.) So are greens that are added to dishes like pastas at the last moment. I love sauteing diced sweet onions and minced garlic in extra-virgin olive oil, perhaps with sliced mushrooms and diced red, orange or yellow bell pepper, a dash of crushed red pepper, Italian herbs (a mix of basil, oregano, rosemary and thyme), salt (we love RealSalt and Trocomare, hot herbed salt), and fresh-cracked black pepper. Then I add arugula when everything else has cooked down, use pasta tongs to immediately add cooked spaghetti to the sauteed veggies, and toss the pasta with the veggies and my choice of shredded cheese before serving it up. Yum!

But I’d still want to serve my pasta with a crunchy green salad. I really love salad, from a Caesar (yes to hard-boiled eggs, no to croutons and anchovies) to the famous iceberg wedge (I like mine with chopped sweet or purple onion, diced tomato, crumbled blue or Gorgonzola cheese, and an olive oil-lemon dressing, with plenty of salt and fresh-cracked black pepper).

There are so many salad variations that I can’t understand why everyone doesn’t love salad. One of my favorites has a crunchy Romaine base with arugula, radicchio, Boston (Bibb, butter) lettuce, watercress and frisee giving texture, flavor and color, with shredded carrots, diced bell pepper (red, yellow, and/or orange), diced red onion, cherry tomatoes (my favorites are the orange Sungold tomatoes), cucumbers, red cabbage, shredded white sharp Cheddar and/or blue or Gorgonzola cheese, sliced hard-boiled eggs, black olives, scallions (green onions), and pepitas (roasted pumpkinseeds) for nutritional value and crunch. I’ll add avocado and/or jarred artichoke hearts in oil for an especially decadent salad. With so much going on in the salad—especially if I mix in fresh basil, mint, cilantro, or another fresh herb—I like to keep the dressing simple: good olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

But not all is well in the raw greens world. I had a very sad revelation a few months ago when I read that eating raw kale was damaging to people with thyroid issues. I love raw kale in salads, but I guess I’ll be eating all my kale cooked from now on. A dear friend reminded me that the oxalic acid in spinach is bad for people with arthritis, and can not just accumulate in the joints but contribute to the formation of kidney stones. And if, like my father, you’re on blood thinners to prevent heart attack or stroke, your doctor will probably tell you to avoid all greens and salads, since leafy greens are rich in vitamin K, a natural blood thinner. Bummer!!! Not to mention that you need to eat some oil with your greens to release their nutrients in the body, preferably a healthy oil like olive oil.

The real divider in our household, though, is spinach. Our friend Ben likes it raw in salads, I like it cooked. I find the texture of raw spinach both limp and dusty—no crunch, and this dreadful musty, felted texture. (I feel the same way about raw mushrooms, and won’t eat them in a salad, either, although I love cooked mushrooms.) I, on the other hand, love cooked spinach (again, cooked down with just a few drops of water) with balsamic vinegar. OFB hates it. His exception is spanakopita, the Greek phyllo pockets filled with spinach and feta. We’ve finally found common ground with spinach sauteed in olive oil with minced garlic or onion. OFB will eat it if I add crushed red pepper, and I can discreetly add a splash of balsamic vinegar to my serving. And yes, I do buy baby spinach for his salads when I remember!

‘Til next time,

Silence

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Kale: quick, easy, delicious. June 19, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. For me, kale was love at first sight (and bite). I loved the look of the curly leaves, and the taste and texture had me hooked. Even kale’s rise to stardom hasn’t made me abandon it for other greens people aren’t constantly raving about (though I love you too, mustard greens and arugula). But one thing drives me crazy about the kale fad: the idea that if you don’t fuss endlessly with the poor kale leaves, they’re not worth eating.

Okay, I love sauteed kale with minced garlic as much as the next girl. I love kale mixed in with other nutritious greens in a classic saag paneer, or wilted with spinach and served up with a good splash of balsamic vinegar and a dash of mineral salt (RealSalt, Himalayan salt, and the various sea salts all work for me). But spare me the kale chips, green smoothies (omg), and hand-rubbed salads, or the shredded kale salads smothered in gloppy dressing and coated with dried fruit, presumably to mask the taste.

Hey, guys, the taste and texture of raw kale are great. No need to fuss, fuss, fuss. My favorite kale salad is so easy, and so good. All you need to do is get some of that fresh curly-leaf kale and some greens that can stand up to it, like romaine lettuce and radicchio. Wash, dry, and rip the greens into bite-size pieces, then toss them in a big bowl.

If you can find those scallions (green onions) with fat onion bulbs on the bottom, cut up a bunch, slice the onions, and toss them into the bowl; otherwise, add half a diced red or sweet onion (such as Vidalia or WallaWalla). Add a diced red, yellow or orange bell pepper, some yellow, red, and orange cherry tomatoes (if you can find them, otherwise, use the color or colors you can find), and a heaping handful of pepitas (roasted, salted pumpkinseeds).

Mix or toss it all together, and top your salad off with sliced hard-boiled eggs and shredded sharp white Cheddar or crumbled Gorgonzola cheese. Then all you need is some salt, fresh-cracked black pepper, extra-virgin olive oil, and balsamic vinegar to make the salad sing. Protein, vitamins and minerals, fiber, and great flavor all in one colorful package! No kale-leaf rubbing required.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Reviving wilted kale. October 7, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I love kale. I love kale raw in salads and cooked, sauteed in olive oil with garlic and onions, steam-cooked in the drops of water from rinsing the leaves and splashed with balsamic vinegar just before serving, added to pasta dishes or soups, or tucked into phyllo pastry spanakopita-style. Yum!

Admittedly, I wasn’t always a kale fan. Where I grew up in the South, kale was unheard of. I was the best speller in my elementary school, able to spell “chandelier” by age six. I always looked forward to spelling bees. But when my Northern teacher gave me “kale” to spell at one bee (something I’m sure she thought was a no-brainer), I was totally stumped. After pondering this for some time and deciding that it must be a Celtic word (think ceilidh, pronounced “caylee”), I ventured “cail.” Fail! “Don’t you know what kale is?!” my horrified teacher asked. Well, no, as a matter of fact.

But now I do. And kale is the perfect fall/winter green, so I was crushed this past weekend to see a big bin marked “Kale” at a local Mennonite farm stand with just two wilted leaf remnants. Rats! Foiled again.

Then I saw a guy at the checkout stand with a giant armful of gorgeous kale. “Ah, so you’re the one who got all the kale!” I blurted out. “Well, there was a big bunch outside last time I looked,” he said. Outside? I was out the door before you could spell “kale,” and sure enough, there was a big bunch in an outside bin. A bunch with impressive curly leaves and long stems. A bunch that was still attached to its base, something I’d never before seen.

The problem was, it looked tired. It had clearly been harvested the same day that I visited the stand, but had been sitting in an open (though shaded) bin all day. But I had an idea for a way to revive those still-scrumptious-looking leaves, so seizing the bunch, I returned to the checkout stand. I thanked the guy, who was still there, and said I’d just need to revive the kale a bit. “Oh,” he said, “I just wrap the stems in damp paper towels and they stay fresh for days.”

This is, in fact, a great technique for herbs and stemmed greens like kale and chard that are already hydrated and plump. But my kale needed more than a damp paper towel or two to return to full, fresh life. Sort of the difference between a breather and CPR.

When I got my bunch of kale home, I reluctantly cut it off at the base and plunged the stems into a deep bowl of room-temperature water (I used the bowl from my rice cooker), just as you’d cut the bottoms off flower stems and then plunge them into a vase of water. I set the bowl in the sink and made sure all the kale stems were in the water and were propped up so they wouldn’t fall out of the bowl.

I knew my technique was working when our friend Ben, who had seen the initial bunch of kale, wandered into my office a couple of hours later and demanded to know what on earth I’d done to the kale. “Have you seen it?! It’s taking over the sink! It’s going to be coming for us at any moment!!!”

Heading to the kitchen, I saw what OFB meant. The formerly lackluster kale was now fully expanded, glossy, hydrated, happy. The transformation was incredible. And all it took was to create a cut-kale arrangement!

Now I’m ready to make all those salads and sautees and other scrumptious dishes. And I know my kale will be the best money can buy. Should you end up with a bunch of less-than-fresh kale, keep this technique in mind. And if your kale (or chard or whatever) looks great but you’re not going to use it for a day or two, wrapping the stem ends in damp paper towels is an excellent method to keep the leaves fresh and hydrated.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Learning to love cooked greens. March 12, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. In the part of the South where I grew up (Nashville), cooked greens pretty much meant collards, turnip greens, or mustard greens, boiled to a sludgelike consistency with fatback or bacon grease. They were bitter and slimy. Beet greens and Swiss chard tasted like dirt. Eeewwww! The only cooked greens I could bear were spinach leaves, still boiled into sludge (usually from a frozen box) but served up with vinegar, salt and pepper, rather than pork fat. Spinach never became bitter, and the vinegar (and good old S&P) perked it up nicely.*

What about kale (now my favorite green), you ask? It was unknown in the South of my childhood. The only time in my school years when I misspelled a word in a spelling bee was when my fourth-grade teacher (a Northern transplant) gave me the word “kale.” She was incredulous when I told her that my spelling, “cail,” was based on the sound, since I’d never heard of the word, much less the plant. I thought it must be a Scottish or Irish word (think “ceilidh,” pronounced caylee).

Once I was out on my own, I read about the huge health benefits of greens, releasing megadoses of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other super-healthy stuff, along with fiber and very few calories. I also found out that all these nutritional goodies were most readily available if cooked.

I was lucky to love kale, mustard greens, cabbage, arugula, watercress, endive, sprouts, matchstick broccoli stems, and many another green raw in salads. I could eat a mixed-green salad packed with nutrients every day. But yikes, I realized, those nutrients would be even more available if I cooked the greens before eating them.

Clearly, it was time to rethink cooked greens. I started with my favorite, cooked spinach. I abandoned my mother’s time-tested technique of boiling a box of frozen chopped spinach to death. Instead, I bought bags of organic fresh spinach. I prepared this two ways: I added the washed leaves to a heavy pan, in which sweet onion and mushrooms had already been sauteed, covering the pan and letting the spinach wilt. Or I dry-steamed the spinach in a heavy covered pan with just the wash-water clinging to the leaves and/or a bit of veggie stock, with added black pepper, salt (we like RealSalt and sea salt), gomashio/gomasio, a Japanese seasoning that combines sesame seeds and sea salt, and balsamic vinegar (instead of Mama’s ubiquitous white vinegar).

Okay, what about the heartier greens, like kale and collards? I found a wonderful recipe for those in Alicia Silverstone’s The Kind Diet (Rodale, 2009). Thanks, Alicia!

To make her recipe my way, you saute 3 minced garlic cloves in extra-virgin olive oil. Meanwhile, wash a bunch of collards and cut out the stems, then chop them (the stems), set them aside, and tear the greens into salad-size pieces. Add the stems to the garlic pan with 3 tablespoons of raisins, sea salt (or RealSalt or Trocomare), black pepper, and red pepper flakes or a splash of your favorite hot sauce (optional). (I like Frank’s Red Hot Sweet Chili Sauce in this.) If the pan starts to dry out, add a splash of veggie stock or broth.

When the stems start looking translucent, add the damp collard greens to the pan, stir well to coat with the saute mix. Add 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (or more to taste), add another splash of veggie stock/broth if needed, stir well, turn the heat to low, and cover the pan. When the greens are heated through but still have a bright green color and retain their shape, serve. Top each serving with a sprinkling of roasted pumpkin seeds. (Alicia uses toasted pine nuts on hers.)

Yum! These are good greens, people. I plan to try a variation tonight using kale and subbing diced sweet onion for the garlic, adding a handful of chopped mushrooms with the onion, and using gomasio instead of the pumpkin seeds.

Other ideas: You could use peanut oil and chopped peanuts instead of olive oil and pumpkin seeds for a richer taste, maybe subbing shoyu (Japanese soy sauce) or tamari and rice wine or ume vinegar for the balsamic vinegar. For a decadent taste, try subbing toasted sesame oil, black sesame seeds (usually available in health food stores), shoyu/tamari and rice wine/ume vinegar. Or for a very mild taste, use canola oil instead of the olive oil and fresh-squeezed lemon juice instead of the vinegar, swap out the dark raisins for golden raisins, and top your greens with almond pieces or slivered almonds. (If you can find Meyer lemons, as I did recently at Wegman’s, they’ll add a delicious sweet-tart taste.) Hmmm, I’ll bet diced dried apricot would taste really good in this, too…

I also need to consider the more conservative tastes of our friend Ben, who enjoys balsamic vinaigrette on his salads but refuses any cooked greens with even a whiff of vinegar, and is no fan of Brussels sprouts, collards, and kale. What to do? Hide those greens in stir-fries, bean dishes (even refried beans and dal), soups, lasagna, and the like. (I’ll share my ultimate soup recipe tomorrow.) Fortunately, OFB loves spinach in his salads, and he obliviously eats kale and mustard greens when they’re tucked into a big, crunchy salad as well.

I’m still working on a cooked-greens recipe that is healthy enough to suit me and still is tasty enough for Ben. (Any ideas?) ‘Til then, I guess I’ll be having my cooked greens for lunch.

                   ‘Til next time,

                           Silence

* I don’t know why WordPress changed the font on the first paragraph, but I apologize. Hopefully it’s just a fluke and not their latest style.