Posts Tagged ‘collards’

Red-cooked Winter Greens

Any regular reader of my blog knows my nutritional obsession: nobody really eats enough leafy greens, including me. But I do make regular efforts to correct this.

In my last post  I wrote about grassfed short ribs red-cooked in Chinese fashion, and tonight I wanted that soft succulent meat again  but with a strong vegetable component, not the pure meatfest that I had last time. I am also conducting an ongoing experiment to see what greens can produce in winter in my garden with no protection. This sounds simple, given that I am down in zone seven and vegetables like kale are famous for holding all winter up in zones four and five, but it’s a little more complicated than that. Our desert winters are not as cold as further north, but they are absolutely dry with no protective snow cover and have occasional windstorms that will wipe the moisture out of almost anything but a cactus. Kale is invariably withered by early December. I have been trying to breed my own desert-hardy greens but have learned this year that collards, the common green of my southern Louisiana childhood,  are remarkably cold-tolerant and resist drying out better than anything else. I picked the last plant today, and the lower leaves are a little desiccated but the whole upper half of the plant is still in excellent condition.

I still had a cup of Master Sauce left over from cooking the short ribs. This is not the very concentrated sauce  that was used to finish the ribs, but the original cooking liquid. If you don’t have any Master Sauce, combine a cup of water or preferably good broth, a full “star” of star anise, a teaspoon of five-spice powder, a smashed cloves of garlic, a tablespoon of sugar or the equivalent in artificial sweetener of your choice, and a few “coin” slices of fresh ginger. Bring  to a boil in your smallest saucepan, simmer 15 minutes, remove the solid star anise and garlic and ginger, and use. If you have a cup of this juice in a jar in your refrigerator, you are ready to red-cook veggies at any time. Just use within a week. You may like it a little more or less sweet. Suit yourself.

All I did with the collards was wash them, remove the tough center ribs, slice them about a quarter inch wide, bring the master sauce to a boil, and drop the leaves in. I would estimate that there were 8 to 10 whole leaves and maybe about 2 quarts very loosely packed when they were sliced up. This would be the equivalent of one bunch of supermarket collard greens.

Bring the Master Sauce to a boil and throw in the greens. Stir frequently and watch

I cooked over medium-high heat for a bit over fifteen minutes, stirring very frequently toward the end, until the greens were fairly soft and the liquid almost gone.  At this point they are dark and very intensely flavored and delicious. If you want them a brighter color but a little less flavorful, you can stop at the stage above, before the greens start to darken,  but be aware that they are definitely somewhat tougher  at this bright green stage.  Some people like the extra chewiness, but most do not, and often your thick-leaved winter greens will be better accepted by others if they are cooked a little more. In fact, as I keep saying, this is true of greens in general. Cook them until they taste good, and don’t stop sooner.  As long as you are using the cooking liquid, or in this case evaporating away most of it, there is little nutrient loss, and the greens will taste better so that you eat more of them, and also will probably suit your GI tract better.  In the picture below, you can see the finished dark greens underneath the short rib meat. What you can’t see is that there is quite a pile of them, and really only several bites of meat.    Add ginger and green onion relish, or not, as you choose.  But the greens are serving as the bulk of the meal, and you avoid any use of starches, and you will be full for hours and hours afterwards because of all the soluble fiber in the greens. I added a couple of roasted carrot slices for more color, and of course for flavor.

Incidentally, if any greens are left over, they are delicious the next day and can be just brought to room temperature and eaten as a sort of cooked salad.

Snacking Greens

Probably everybody has made kale chips, the delectable snack made by oiling and seasoning pieces of curly kale and baking them at 375 or 400 until they are crisp. They are delicate, and not much good for dipping in anything, but they are quite wonderful by themselves. Recently I was making a batch and began to wonder about using some of my other available greens. Ultimately I used both green and scarlet curly kale,  carrot leaves, and torn sections of collard leaf because that was what was left in the garden.  The leaves were washed, allowed to drain, and 12 mid ribs removed from the larger leaves. In the case of the small carrot leaves, the stem was snapped off just below the lowest leaflet. I drizzle them with olive oil and seasoned with salt, finally grated Parmesan, nutritional yeast flakes, and a sprinkling of roasted ground garlic. If you want an exact recipe, there are dozens on the Internet. This is something you can do in a very improvisational way as long as you don’t oversalt.

Lesson learned:  don’t put them all on the tray at the same time, no matter how pretty it looks. The three greens finished at very different times.  Collards needed the least time, and despite several experiments I never did get them quite right. They go from olive-green and ready to eat to brown and burnt-tasting  in under a minute. Also, they don’t cook very evenly despite your best efforts, so ultimately what I ended up doing was just picking out the brown leaves, which taste burnt, and throwing them away. I still think there are real possibilities here but I did not get them to work as a satisfactory chip.

The carrot leaves were astoundingly good, with a perfect delicate crunch and a mild flavor. Even the stems had a good texture, lost their toughness, and tasted just fine.  I wish I had discovered this earlier in the year when I had more carrot leaves. But this is a good reason to keep a blog, or a written record of some kind, because if you don’t you end up “discovering” the same things every few years.  I am recording it so that I won’t have to discover this again. It’s a handy thing to know if you buy carrots with the leaves on. Remove the leaves as soon as possible before storing in the refrigerator, because they seem to go limp more quickly if still attached to the roots.

Curly kale was delicious, as it always is when baked this way.  I just love the stuff, and have no idea how large a bowl of kale chips I could eat, but I guarantee that it would be a big one.  If you live in a snowy climate, it is very likely that you can keep curly kale in good shape through much of the winner in your garden. Here in the high desert it does not get all that cold but we don’t have any snow cover and we have a lot of drying winds,  so by this time of year the curly kale that is growing uncovered looks pretty tattered. Also, for reasons I don’t know, there is an invasion of aphids in early December, and they are hard to wash off. But this year I did plant a row of curly kale and put frost blankets over it in early November, and that row is looking great and has no aphids.  So I have at least a few more batches of homegrown kale chips coming.

Incidentally, if you are cooking a meal and have the oven at 375 or so for something else, a few kale leaves out of the garden in a little pan make a great cook’s treat to tide you over until the meal is ready.

Breeding Your Own Landrace

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A plant variety is carefully selected to be as uniform as possible, so that each plant you grow of that variety will resemble the others fairly closely, with allowances for growing conditions.A landrace is a different and more chaotic and vibrant thing. A landrace is expected to have a high degree of variability, with the idea that you can plant it in a variety of different conditions and at least some of the plants will grow under those conditions. One way to look at a landrace is that it’s the widely varied genetic material from which varieties can be selected. So why would you want a non uniform seed stock? Well, does your weather change from one growing season to the next? Some members of your landrace will take the changes in stride. If you move, your landrace will go with you, and you will get some plants that adapt well to your new location. Hardcore survivalist types want landraces that can adapt to the challenges of a post-catastrophe area. Those of us who think in terms of smaller catastrophes still want to know that in a bad or atypical growing year our garden food supply will come shining through, or at least some of it will.

Currently I am trying to create my own overwintering brassica landrace. Overwintering doesn’t sound like a big deal among the brassicas, because many of them will overwinter in very cold climates, but our desert climate is a little different. Our winters are very dry and windy, and we have no snow cover, and so many plants like kale that overwinter well under snow will desiccate to death in our conditions.

I started my project last year, by planting four different brassicas and leaving them in place over winter to see which ones survived. I chose to start with collards, Portuguese kale, Tuscan kale,and sprouting broccoli. Selection this spring was easy, because only one of the four survived. The Portuguese kale (also known as Tronchuda) came through the winter and put out a very nice crop of leaves during the late February and March “hunger gap.” I cooked some of the leaves to make sure that they were tasty, and they were sweet, mild, and very good.I let the plants go to flower, and found that bees mobbed the light yellow flowers. The buds were also a good addition to vegetable stir-fries, although they have to be picked small because they toughen quickly, and of course you have to leave a lot of them on the plant to get your seeds. The plants get huge as they set seed, and I trained them into the paths so as not to lose too much bed space. I let a spring planted broccoli go to flower at the same time, to try to introduce more genetic variability, and let the bees do the cross pollination. The plants set thousands of seedpods each, and I found that when the seedpods are about 2 inches long and very slender, they make a very nice stir-fry, with much the same flavor as the leaves but a different texture. Currently the seeds are ripening on the plants, and when they are dry I will plant some for fall eating and send them through the winter to see how they fare.

I hope to end up with plants with at least some variability. We do have a number of wild brassicas that grow in the area, so a little bit of outbreeding could occur even if I had not let the broccoli into the mix, and variability is what I’m after. Selection comes later; right now my interest is in having brassicas that overwinter in our difficult climate but aren’t uniform, and might even provide specimens that I want to select and stabilize for different purposes, maybe one type for hunger gap leaves and one type for masses of buds, for example. I have already spent happy hours researching the possibilities, and happy time is among the benefits that my garden provides.

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The Offbeat “Broccolis:” brocolettas in the spring garden

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Broccoli is widely touted for its nutritional content and culinary versatility, and my garden beds are full of broccoli-in-waiting, but there is also “broccoli” to be had right now. All the common garden crucifers produce bud clusters when they shoot to seed, and all of them are good to eat when snapped off before the flowers open. Some go to seed the first year, and some have to go through a winter before they bolt. I try to use cover crops that will be edible as greens and also offer me a “second harvest” of bud clusters. Currently I am harvesting bud clusters from arugula, daikon, and the collards that I over-wintered for seed production (they make a huge amount of buds, and a few clusters will never be missed). Arugula is especially good for this purpose, because first you get those exquisite nutty-peppery salad greens, second the top-bud harvest with its wild, unimproved, bitter-edged flavor, then the remaining buds open and are wildly attractive to bees, and finally the remainder of the plant enriches your soil when chopped and dug in, all in the span of a few months. I buy the seed in bulk and cover-crop it whenever a piece of garden bed is going to be empty for a little while. You can also harvest buds from bolted radishes and wintered-over kale, and probably a lot of things that I haven’t tried yet. Be aware that they are tiny, and you need a lot of plants to have enough to cook. I have heard these offbeat buds referred to as “broccolini” or “brocoletta.” I call them brocolettas, because “broccolini” really refers to a form of domestic broccoli with long, small stems.

When I call the flavor “unimproved,” I am referring to the fact that our common domestic vegetables are bred for the mildest flavor possible. The things that I grow and forage for are not. They have very pronounced flavors from their protective phytochemicals, and can stand assertive seasoning. Think garlic, red pepper, thyme, and other strong flavors.

My favorite way of cooking the washed bud clusters is to throw them in a hot pan of very good olive oil with a little washing water still clinging to them, salt them, turn frequently and keep the heat fairly high, and serve them when the green parts are crisp-tender and there are crisp brown areas but no blackened spots, and eat them in their feral glory with some extra olive oil on top and a twist or two of the pepper-mill. They can be a “hot salad” on their own, or complement a flavorful entree. Take that, flavorless baby spinach!

Nose-to-tail vegetable eating stretches over each vegetable’s growing season, in my view, rather than meaning that every single part of the vegetable is edible and choice. Arugula’s leaves and buds are very desirable eating, the flowers are excellent bee forage, and then the remaining plant offers biomass for mulch and compost, or you can let them self-seed first and have your next crop planted. Now that’s multi-purpose.