Posts Tagged ‘green vegetables’

The greens of spring: scapes

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Garlics of the hardneck type have a wonderful array of flavors and are easy to grow. Separate cloves and plant them in early fall. Earlier in spring, green garlic could be harvested if you planted extra for that purpose, and it certainly is delicious. Please see my earlier post on alliums for more on green garlic. Now, though, the underground cloves are swelling and forming fibrous skin between divisions and aren’t good to eat as green garlic. But your garlic plants have sent up scapes, thoughtfully providing you with a pleasant garlicky green vegetable to tide you over until the “heads” are ready to harvest. You need to cut off the scapes, since they take energy from bulb formation, so this harvest is guilt-free pure bonus.

The scapes may have coiled into fantastical seaweedy coils. Make sure that you harvest them while the entire stem is still green, with no withering or yellowing. There may be a small touch of yellow around the blossom-sheath at the tip, but the stem should be all green. Cut them at the base of the highest leaf on the plant. Now wash well and cut each scape into one inch pieces, including the bulging part of the blossom sheath but discarding the long skinny tip above it. Now you are ready to cook them. See below for recipes and suggestions.

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Onion scapes, shown above, are also a nice kitchen bonus. When green onions (see my last post) start to go to seed, this is what you get. Pick them while the blossom-sheath is still the size of the tip of your finger or smaller. Wash them and cut in segments as for garlic scapes, above. They need different handling at the stove. Click here for recipes and suggestions

The Greens of Spring: Scorzonera and Chicories

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If all the greens you grow are sweet mild greens, your greens dishes will be bland. You need some vigor and some bitterness to make a hortapita or other mixed greens dish come alive. Chicories are a large, drought-tolerant, highly adaptable family well worth getting to know. Our local company Gourmet Seeds in Tatum, New Mexico has the most comprehensive selection I’ve come across. I bought my seed from them last year, and haven’t had to replant. Above, you can see what radicchio looks like in early life. I plant mine in late summer, harvest a small but usable head in late fall, ands take care not to harm the crown of the plant when I cut it for use. If the root and crown are left in place, next April they will look like “earth roses” as you see above. Cut the outer leaves for cooking. Taste before use, and if they’re very bitter blanch them in boiling water for 1-2 minutes and drain well before cooking further in whatever way you choose. Otherwise, when concentrated by cooking, they will be more bitter than you want. Some people like even the outer leaves in salads. Taste before serving. See my “greens” and “recipe” categories for some dishes made with mixed blanched greens, including the hortapita post, which is a great way to eat a lot of greens and enjoy it.
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This is the chicory usually sold as “dandelion” in grocery stores. Cut the leaves until May or June; keep taking nibbles raw befre cutting, and when they go from pleasantly bitter to unpleasantly bitter, stop cutting or blanch before use. When very young, they’re good in salads. If allowed to go to seed, they’ll get 4 feet tall and seed themselves all over your garden. If this is not what you want, keep cutting back the stalks before they flower.
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I planted scorzonera for the roots, but found that I wasn’t wowed by them. I left the remaining plants in place, and harvest a nice bunch of mild cooking greens from each plant every spring. After one good cutting, I leave them alone for the year. I’ve read that they can be used in salads, but to my tooth they’re  too tough to use uncooked. They require no care and are very drought-tolerant. I prefer to mix them with stronger-flavored greens like chicories, and providentially, they’re harvestable at the same time. Vegetables that come up perennially with no fuss are too good to ignore.
For more about greens, see my “greens” and “herbs” pages on my website.

The Greens of Spring: Hortapitas

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We’re eating meatless until Easter, and with an active vegetable garden that’s no hardship. This is a great time of year for greens, and one of my favorite ways to eat a lot of greens is in a hortapita, or borek, a wild-greens pie found under various names throughout the Mediterranean. For a complete and scholarly exploration of the borek, see Paula Wolfert’s Mediterranean Grains and Greens, which is full of delicious recipes. My own method is rough and unscholarly (surprise!) , but produces tasty greens pies thoughout the season with a minimum of fuss.
First, catch your greens. You need somewhere between 1.5 and 2 pounds of them. My most recent borek was made with chard, nettles, bolted arugula, mustard greens, chicory, green onions, and herbs because that’s what I had a lot of at the moment. I try for a ratio of about half strong-flavored and half mild-flavored greens, but many people may prefer more mild greens. Chard and nettles are mild, while mustard, chicory, and bolted arugula are strong-tasting, so I was careful not to let strong exceed mild in bulk. If you’re buying your greens, a bunch each of chard, dandelion (which is actually chicory) and some zippy green like aruguloa or watercress should come out to the right amount. For flavoring, fennel fronds are a necessity in my book. A handful of the nonbulbing kind, or two handfuls of the relatively weak-flavored fronds of bulb fennel, plus a handful of parsley is always a good start. If you can’t get fennel fronds, use a small handful of dill. Then add other herbs to taste. A tablespoon each of thyme leaves and oregano leaves is my go-to addition, but savory, marjoram, shallot greens, sage (in very small quantities) and tarragon are all possibilities. Just make sure to taste the finished greens mixture carefully for any needed adjustments.
First, chop 2-4 cloves of garlic depending on your taste for garlic, and the white parts of 6-7 green onions (chop the green parts separately and reserve them for later.) Saute the garlic and onion bottoms over low/medium heat in olive oil (about a quarter cup) in a very large skillet or a large flat-bottomed saucepan. Meanwhile, lay all your well-washed greens on a cutting board, one bundle or large handful at a time, and slice them crosswise into thin strips. When the garlic is cooked but not colored at all, add the greens. It will make a huge pile, and this is why you need a big skillet. Continue to cook, turning every few minutes, until the greens are thoroughly wilted. Now add the herbs, finely chopped, and the chopped onion greens. Cook and stir for another few minutes. Now remove from the heat, and either proceed with your borek or refrigerate until later. You can keep the greens mixture for up to two days refrigerated.
When you’re ready to proceed, thaw a package of phyllo pastry and put some olive oil in a bowl at your workspace. Keep the phyllo covered with a barely-damp towel when you aren’t working with it. Taste your greens mixture, salt to taste, add a few more herbs if needed, and decide whether you want to add cheese. Crumbled feta is good, as is nearly any grated cheese if it has no added flavorings. Consult Ms. Wolfert if you are a stickler for authenticity. If not, think about what would taste good to you. Some grated Parmesan is a completely inauthentic addition, but quite delicious. The amount to be added depends on the flavor of the cheese. Add a little to the greens, mix in well, taste, add a little more, taste again. No set amount will work, since you’ll be using a different greens mixture every time you make this dish. If you prefer not to add cheese, a handful of toasted pine nuts is very tasty.
Lay out one sheet on a large baking sheet, brush it lightly with olive oil, lay another sheet on top, brush with oil, repeat. When you have six sheets in place, put the greens mixture in the center and spread it out until it’s about an inch thick. Turn the excess phyllo around the sides over the top. Now brush another sheet with oil, roughly fold it in half, and layer it over the top. Continue until your top “crust” is six layers thick, and tuck the overhang under the edges of the borek. Bake at 350 degrees until gold and crisp on top. Eat hot, warm, or at room temperature. A little bowl of Lemon Oregano Jam, which will be posted soon on my recipe page, is a lovely addition and freshens the flavor wonderfully.
The variations are endless: bread dough crust rather than pastry, different greens, different herbs, different cheeses, and additions of cooked grains like bulgur are all possibilities. I recommend against adding very strong-flavored greens like kale or turnip greens, but if you’re very fond of those greens, be my guest. Green leafy vegetables are among the very healthiest foods that you can eat, packed full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and anything that induces you to eat more of them is on the side of the angels.
For more about greens for hortapitas, click here!

The Greens of Spring: Stinging Nettles

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Stinging nettles are a pernicious weed in damp parts of the country. The sting is painful and the plant is weedy-looking. So why did I make an effort to have them here in New Mexico? Well, because the greens are delicious and extremely nutritious and they come up with no effort once established.
I had no luck starting from seed, and bought plants from Richter’s in Canada. They are a wonderful source for rare herbs, and well worth knowing about. The plants arrived last spring. I put them in a piece of waste ground where nothing much would grow and where they would be prevented from excessive spreading by walls and mown paths . This is very important, because once established, they turn their forces toward world domination. I watered them deeply once a week and mulched them heavily.
This spring, each little plant from last year is surrounded by dozens of offspring. They sting fiercely, so don’t go near them without gloves and long pants. When they’re about six inches high, use heavy gloves and a pair of scissors to harvest them. Wash in a few changes of water, using wooden spoons to swirl them in the water and lift them out to avoid the thousand tiny painful injections of formic acid that they are trying to give you. Until they are cooked well, they can sting. Now cook them any way you like. My favorite way to cook the first batch of spring is to put them in a hot skillet with some water still clinging to them, add a knob of good butter and a little salt, turn the heat down, and saute’ until cooked. Turn out on a cutting board, chop well (I hate long stringy stems in greens, and since nettles have stringy stems, I strongly recommend that you don’t skip this step) and serve with a little more butter on top. They are a startling deep iron-green and very, very good. Later in the season, I use them in greens mixtures and boreks and all the ways I love to eat greens. For more of my favorite greens recipes, visit my website’s recipe page.
Within six weeks of the first picking, they will be coarse and no longer taste good, and their texture will become gritty and unpleasant. This is why you want them in an obscure spot. Control their spread, avoid being stung, let them do their weedy thing, and turn your attention to other vegetables. Early next spring, when you’re sick of cold winds and desperate to reconnect with the awakening earth,they’ll be there.

Foraging: wild mustard

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Right now, the wild mustard is free for the picking in our region. I find it in unexpected places in my yard, including the middle of the lawn, and along acequias closer to the river. Needless to say, you don’t want to pick any that’s growing where it’s exposed to walking dogs, or where chemical spraying may have taken place.
When the weather is still very cold and the wild mustard is still young, it’s a great green to spice up a salad, adding a wasabi-like heat when combined with milder greens. Taste it, and if it’s too hot for salads cook it, which lowers the heat. I love to mix it with spinach, chard, or other mild greens about half and half: saute’ some chopped garlic in olive oil in a skillet, add the well-washed greens and a couple of tablespoons of raisins, and braise over medium heat until done. Garnish with toasted pine nuts, and eat.
These potent, highly flavorful greens were the “spring tonic” of our ancesters, and today we still need those vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. We may not be recovering from a winter without fresh vegetables, but we still need the connection with the awakening earth that its first green shoots can provide. If you were thinking ahead last fall, you made sure to have plenty of herbs, and now you can sprinkle your cooked greens with the shoots of parsley and fennel that are coming up from last year’s plants. They’ll shoot to seed soon, so use them up now.
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