Every once in a while, you meet a vegetable and just draw a blank. No ideas ~ you can’t imagine what it will taste like or how you can use it. It might happen on the afternoon when you open your CSA (community supported agriculture) share and find a broad, fan-shaped green leaf that looks more suited to shading one’s self from the sun (collard greens), or it might be an ungainly handful of squirrely green stalks (garlic scapes) that you find at the farmer's market. Or it could be a couple of big white knobs that kind of hang out at the bottom of the CSA box, looking lost and more useful for batting practice (kohlrabi).
Here’s my suggestion: try eating them. The why is obvious, right? They’re all incredibly good for you. Collard greens are one of the very best vegetable sources of calcium, protein, and vitamins A, K, B6 and folate. When you remove the stem, they’re incredibly sweet tasting raw, which makes them a great tool for wraps - stuffed with hummus, avocado, cucumbers and red peppers. They’re equally delicious cooked: try braising them (again, cut off the center rib) in a little olive oil, water, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper, slowly, for about 45 minutes. Add some smoked turkey to make this even more traditional and to add a smoky flavor.
What about those ungainly garlic scapes? Trimmed off of springtime garlic, they are great tasting - like mild garlic - and like all allium family members, a useful cancer preventative. Use them interchangeably with garlic or scallions: slice them thinly (once you get them under control) and toss them into scrambled eggs, stir-fried vegetables or fried rice, or make them into a delicious pesto.
And lastly, those lovable kohlrabi. Use them just like you would a radish or jicamas: just peel the tough outer skin and thinly slice to use as a vegetable dipper for guacamole or hummus, chop up and throw into that stir-fried vegetable rice, or spritz with lime juice and add right into your salad. Kohlrabi are a part of the notoriously good-for-you group of vegetables called crucifers - rockstars in the antioxident world - protecting us from cancer, contributing to a healthy cardiovascular system, and just generally boosting our immunity.
So, get down to the bottom of the box, and enjoy!
Garlic Scape-Tarragon Pesto
large handful garlic scapes, rinsed and chopped (about 1 cup)
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons tarragon, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup pine nuts, walnuts or almonds
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shredded ~ optional
freshly ground black pepper
Add the chopped garlic scapes to the bowl of a food processor along with tarragon, sea salt and pine nuts. Pulse several times until it becomes finely chopped. Add the olive oil and purée for 30 seconds or until it becomes a nicely blended sauce. Add cheese (if using) and pulse to combine. Finish by tasting for salt and adding more if necessary and adding several grindings of black pepper.
Use to fill omelets, spread on bruschetta, toss with freshly boiled new potatoes or served with grilled fish.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
Spinach has dominated my day so far - in a good way. A few of us talked about it during class this morning at Alotapilates; we bought some from an overflowing box just picked and delivered from the Hjele farm to Local D’Lish this morning which we ate as a salad with brunch; and it will be on our table tomorrow at lunch, wilted and stuffed into crepes with sautéed cremini mushrooms and a little bit of locally made havarti from Morning Star Farm in Cokato, MN.
Spinach is an easy entry into eating dark leafy green vegetables since it is mild tasting and delicious, whether served raw or lightly cooked. In the spring, it is usually one of the first local greens to make an appearance at the markets since it prefers cool growing conditions and doesn't mind spring rains.
For being so delicate, spinach packs a big nutritional punch: it is extremely high in vitamins A, K, C folic acid and B2, as well as the minerals manganese, magnesium, calcium (yes, really!) and iron. Spinach is also loaded with antioxident-rich phytochemicals that are especially good for eye health - age related macular degeneration in particular and cancer protection, especially stomach, skin and breast cancers.
In order to get the most nutritional benefit out of your beautiful, local spinach, eat it both raw and cooked to maximize vitamin absorption and phytochemical benefits (raw to get the vitamins, minerals and enzymes; cooked to get the phytochemicals). Either way, be sure to prepare it with a good healthy fat, such as cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil and raw almonds or walnuts in a salad, or by cooking it in a little coconut oil or organic butter to access the fat-soluble nutrients.
Buy fresh spinach when it looks bright green and fresh; store it loosely packed in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator where it should last for about four days. Wash fresh spinach by swishing in a bowl of cold water to removed trapped sand particles and dry in salad spinner or by wrapping in clean cotton towel and refrigerated until ready to use that day.
Visit Mark Bittman’s article from last week’s NYTimes Magazine to find a whole matrix of recipes for eating cooked spinach, or try this salad below which totally simple and truly delicious.
Spinach Salad with Grapefruit, Avocado and Walnuts
Four large handfuls (about 8 loose cups) of fresh organic spinach (tender stems are fine to include), washed and dried
2 tablespoons top quality extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 wedge of a fresh organic lemon
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 ripe avocado, pitted and flesh cubed into 1/2” pieces
1 ruby red grapefruit, peeled and sections cut into bite-sized pieces, preferably organic
1/2 cup walnuts (halves or pieces, preferably raw but toasted if you like. Can substitute raw pecans or almonds.)
Place spinach leaves in a large bowl; drizzle with olive oil, squeeze the fresh lemon juice all over and sprinkle a large pinch sea salt evenly on top (about 1/4 teaspoon). Add a generous grinding of black pepper. Toss well to evenly coat the spinach leaves, then top with the avocado pieces and grapefruit chunks, sprinkle with the walnuts and serve.
Ever heard of a sunchoke? You’re not alone if you haven’t: it’s not a common vegetable for many of us, but it’s a vegetable that is worth finding it’s way into our diet.
Also known as a Jerusalem artichoke, sunchokes are the tuberous root of the sunchoke plant, a relative of sunflowers. Sunchokes are knobby and misshapen, with a papery skin and flesh the texture of a radish when eaten raw, and creamy like a potato when cooked.
So why bother learning about this funny little tuber and consider adding it into your diet? Gut health. Our digestive systems need all the help they can get from foods that contribute to a finely operating gut, especially if we have trouble with blood sugar imbalance, have received antibiotic treatment, or suffer from digestive distress including stomach upset or IBS, Crohn's or colitis. Jerusalem artichokes - like other inulin-rich sources such as chicory root (most often consumed as an herbal tea or coffee substitute), asparagus, artichokes, dandelion root, onions and garlic - can help.
Inulin is a carbohydrate that acts as a soluble dietary fiber: whole foods inulin sources are considered natural prebiotics, which help establish a healthy intestinal environment by stimulating the growth of beneficial intestinal bacteria. A healthy intestinal environment prepares us to access the benefits of probiotic foods such as unsweetened yogurt and kefir, unpasteurized sauerkraut, kimchee, miso and other fermented foods that contain beneficial bacteria.
So if you’re willing to give a sunchoke a try, there are very simple ways to get them into your diet. Buy a small amount, scrub them well with a vegetable brush, and slice them thinly to eat them raw with a healthy dip like hummus or white bean dip, or substitute them where canned water chestnuts are typically called for. To cook, clean them the same way, then slice them into 1/4” crosswise pieces, cover with salted water and gently boil until tender. Then mash with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and eat as a vegetable side with your dinner. (You could also go half and half with potatoes on that one). To roast, prep them as above, then toss with coconut oil, salt and pepper and roast for 30 minutes - alone or as part of a big pan of roasted vegetables - until tender and caramelized.
Or try this simple soup, put together in 10 minutes with a few other basic ingredients and simmered for less than an hour.
Jerusalem Artichoke (Sunchoke) Soup
2 medium leeks, white parts and pale green parts only (save dark greens of leeks for soup stock)
3-5 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons coconut oil or olive oil
1 bulb fennel, rinsed, tops removed and bulb sliced crosswise (optional)
1 lb Jerusalem Artichokes (sunchokes); scrubbed, quartered the long way and sliced into 1/8” pieces
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon oregano, crushed
1 teaspoon cumin
pinch red pepper flakes
2 small branches rosemary (optional)
2 bay leaves
filtered water to cover by 1 inch
freshly ground black pepper
Heat a medium soup pot over medium heat. When it is warm to the touch, add the coconut oil, leeks and garlic and sauté until softened but not brown, about 5 minutes. Add the fennel (if using) and Jerusalem Artichokes and continue to sauté about 5 minutes longer. Season with the salt, oregano and cumin, add the rosemary and bay leaves, and cover by 1 inch with filtered water. Increase heat to bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium low and simmer for 40 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Add salt, if necessary, season with freshly ground black pepper and serve.
* Add cooked wild rice for a more substantial soup. Purée in a blender for a smooth soup.
This is the time of year when thinking about fresh local foods in Minnesota can be a little dismal, so I’m going in the other direction and embracing citrus from the southern US - and WOW - are they glorious right now.
Murcott tangerines, pixie tangerines, ruby red grapefruit, Meyer lemons, Cara Cara oranges, Valencia and navel oranges: all juicy and delicious, all very opposite of a grey Minnesota day.
Citrus fruits are a fantastic way to get your daily Vitamin C, and are an excellent source of flavonoids as well as B vitamins, carotenes, pectin and potassium. When we eat the whole citrus fruit - which is much preferable to drinking the fruit in a juice version, we’re getting a good source of fiber, too. Even the membranes surrounding the juicy flesh as well as the pith (the pale white inner peel) are loaded with good things for us: it’s where the highest concentration of flavonoids are located, which are plant-based compounds that provide a broad array of antioxident and positive biochemical benefits. Flavonoids work in conjunction with Vitamin C, an antioxident vitamin that is essential for tissue growth and repair, maintaining the immune system, keeping our skin, joints, gums and connective tissues healthy, and contributing to our overall health, especially in times of stress.
It doesn’t really seem like an accident that citrus fruits hold so much allure in the winter - and not just because of their vitamin content. How about the vibrant colors and that incredible aroma released when you peel or cut into the skin of an orange? Doesn’t it just make you think of sunshine and positive thoughts? In fact, the essential oil of sweet orange and other citrus is proven to improve mood and decrease anxiety, and is finding widespread use in palliative care programs in mainstream medical institutions, including the Penny George Institute at Abbott Northwestern Hospital here in Minneapolis.
When you’re buying citrus, pick the fruits that have a sweet fragrance and seem heavy for their size, which is the best measure of a juicy, sweet insides instead of dried out flesh. Opt for organic whenever possible - citrus fruits are one of the most heavily sprayed fruit crops - especially if you plan on using the zest, or the brightly colored outer skin. Pesticide residues on conventional oranges can transfer to the flesh when cutting or peeling, and the peel can contain artificial orange color, Citrus Red No. 2 which is a possible carcinogenic and can cause allergic reactions.
Whether it’s an orange, grapefruit, tangerine or mandarin, make sure to enjoy plenty of citrus this season - in the year of Tangerine (as determined by Pantone, the color experts) - to stay healthy, look young, and to feel better all the way around!
If you’re like most of us, this cozy holiday season is filled - to the top - with busyness. We have so many plans - for gatherings, for holiday activities, photo shoots and Santa visits, shopping, parties and more.
But how do you plan to stay well?
I’d like to suggest a few things:
Keep moving. Make at least 20 minutes of activity a priority every day: a quick walk outside, a simple yoga or stretching series, or any moderate form of exercise to stimulate the immune system.
Schedule sleep. Make a plan for the same bedtime every night and try to keep to it. Keeping sleep patterns as regular as possible – and with the number of hours per night that are right for you – is a key to a healthy immune system.
Stick to a well-balanced, whole foods diet during the meals that are in your control.
• Aim for plenty of good proteins from plants, fatty fish and organic and/or humanely-raised animals.
• Eat whole grains in their natural, minimally-processed form. Wild rice, quinoa, millet, brown rice make a great base for a quick stir-fry, stirred into soup for a satisfying whole meal, and eaten on fresh salads.
• Choose lots of vegetables – especially green veggies such as broccoli, greens (spinach, chard, kale, romaine), orange veggies like squash and sweet potatoes, red veggies – red peppers and beets, and good fruits, such as apples, berries (frozen is the best winter option), and mangos (in season right now!).
Go easy on sugar, alcohol and refined white starches. It takes your immune system 5 hours to recover from each dose of sugar from any of these sources, which is important to keep in mind during the time of year when you most want to resist catching a bug.
Remember to breathe. Take regular, deep, cleansing breaths throughout the day. Practice when you’re in your car at a stop light, practice when you’re in line at the store, practice when you’re in the elevator. It is calming and naturally stress-relieving.
Schedule downtime. Plan at least a couple of nights at home each week. Block the time, and make plans to do next to nothing – but with intention. Keep the television off and the computer closed and eat a good meal. Practice calming techniques that feel the best to you: take a long soak in a warm bath, cozy up with a book or magazine, listen to music or make a pot of soothing herbal tea.
Laugh often. Practice gratitude. Remember your blessings. Spend time with a good friend.
The basic idea is to allow for the excesses, within a framework of general good, healthy practices that sustain us. With awareness and attention to our health, we can arrive in the new year - not trying to spend months to undo, but to return with relative ease to our natural state of balance.
I wish you joy, balance, and a happy, healthy holiday season!
No matter which end of the trend you fall on when it comes to choosing to eat more local and seasonal foods, I think more of all of all good - in fact, I think more talk and action around all of it is great. Local foods are fresher, having traveled fewer distances to arrive on our tables, have higher nutrient values having spent less time in transit, they come from local growers who live and work in our economic region and contribute to the health of our communities, and most of all - they taste better. Taking a step toward choosing more foods from local sources couldn't be easier or more delicious than right now.
At the heart of it, eating seasonally means preparing vegetables picked at their prime in way that makes the most of their flavor and freshness by simply elaborating on the perfection that’s already there.
Lately the corn has been so good - both in Minnesota and in Colorado. Sweet, juice-filled and loaded with flavor, local sweet corn is still without any starchiness or toughness to the kernels. As part of a healthful diet that is loaded with a wide variety of colorful vegetables, corn is a delicious addition to celebrate the height of summer flavors.
To find the best sweet corn from a local stand or at the farmer’s market, ask the farmer when it was picked - you'll ideally want corn that was harvested within the past 24 hours for maximum sweetness and tender kernels. You don’t need to peel back every cob to get the best pickings - rather, gently squeeze the cob through the husks to feel for bruising or denting in the middle of the cob. I don’t worry about imperfections at the top of the cobs - once peeled back those can easily be cut off before preparing.
Once you get your sweet corn home, one of the easiest ways to prepare it is to simply pan-fry the freshly cut kernels in the best organic butter you can find, seasoned with a little sea salt and some fresh basil: it couldn’t be easier or more delicious. Enjoy it alongside your meal along with a big, fresh green salad and a plate of perfectly ripe locally-grown tomatoes drizzled with great olive oil and you’ve got the makings of a fantastic, seasonally-maximized dinner. Enjoy!
Fresh Summer Sweet Corn in Butter with Basil
kernels from 5 ears of sweet corn, preferably organic
3 tablespoons best-quality organic butter
several pinches of fine sea salt
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
freshly ground black pepper
Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat and add butter. Allow the butter to melt and brown slightly. Add corn kernels and sauté for 4 minutes, or just until warmed through and hot. Season with sea salt, fresh basil and black pepper. Serve immediately or at room temperature.