Posts Tagged ‘spinach’

A Glory of Greens, and notes on Turkish greens soup

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There is nothing more vibrant than a garden full of greens in the spring, all growing like mad, offering you a million healthy possibilities. During the two unfortunate years that I couldn’t garden, I did at least rogue out all the weeds that weren’t edible, and now nearly everything that sprouts in my beds is delicious, whether I planted them intentionally or not. And everybody, every one of us, would do well to eat more greens. Our health would improve and we would feel so damn good. Remember, the REAL Mediterranean diet, the one that was originally studied on Crete and that produced a long-lived and healthy population, was based on a huge variety of cultivated and wild greens.

Today I noticed nettles, spinach, and lambs-quarters that needed to be harvested pronto. I also had lively green garlic ready to harvest. I picked a three-gallon pail to the brim, but loosely filled as I threw the bounty in, not packed down. I washed them ( it goes without saying that when nettles are in the mixture, you use gloves whenever handling them and stir in the washing water with a big wooden spoon, not your hand,) and decided to make a Turkish greens soup for dinner.
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This is a soup that I have been making variations of since a lovely trip to Turkey nearly thirty years ago. It is based roughly on a soup that my guide described his wife making, but it’s interpreted by me and changes every time I make it, so I don’t vouch for its authenticity. This time it was a thick velouté; other times it’s a rough potage, and sometimes it resembles gumbo z’heirbes. So here’s how this one happened:
Prepare and wash three gallons, loosely packed, of assorted greens. No bland store-bought baby spinach! If you don’t have a garden, consider chard, adult spinach, and Tuscan kale, one bunch each.
Pull a quart of good rich chicken stock out of the freezer (it is in there, isn’t it?)or procure a quart of good chicken stock from somewhere.
Set the chicken stock to melting over medium heat in a gallon pot.
Chop three large stalks of green garlic, stems, leaves, and all, and sauté them in a quarter cup or so of excellent olive oil in a sauté pan. OR use a small onion and two cloves of garlic, chopped, for the sauté step. Make sure they are cooked through, and soft but not colored, before proceeding.
When the garlic mixture is ready and the stock is boiling, begin adding the greens to the stock, stirring, and remembering not to touch those nettles. Boil for about a minute after the last of the greens is added. Now add the garlic mixture to the soup pot and simmer for five minutes.
Now purée with a stick blender. Add salt to taste (I think it needs to be on the salty side)and add a teaspoon of Urfa pepper flakes, Aleppo pepper flakes, or mild red pepper flakes. I like a bit of oregano and thyme. Taste and correct the seasoning carefully.
Mix some full-fat Greek yogurt with salt to taste and have it ready.
Put six egg yolks in a bowl, whisk them up, and slowly add a cup of the hot soup, whisking furiously all the time. Slowly pour the egg mixture into the soup over lowest heat, and whisk another minute or two until it’s lightly thickened and smooth.
Serve into bowls, pile a half cup of salted yogurt in each bowl, drizzle lavishly with your best olive oil, and sprinkle heavily with more Urfa or red pepper flakes. Eat, and flourish.
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My Favorite Spinach


For some reason, probably simple curiosity, I tried an old spinach variety called Giant of Viroflay this spring. It was a hot, early spring with lots of wind and duststorms, and I didn’t think that this European antique would survive our high-desert climate, but in fact I have never had such a good crop of spinach. The leaves are smooth and about 10″ long,and in the current June heat I’m still picking from the row that I started harvesting in early May. The particular strain that you have can make a big difference. I got mine from Nichols Garden Nursery. I have seen seeds around labeled “Giant Noble,” which may or may not be the same thing. The maintenance of a good line of seed takes a lot of attention, and it pays to get your seed from the best source that you can find.
The flavor is wonderful, full of the richness that good spinach has, with no metallic or bitter flavors. The texture is smooth and melting when cooked properly, and wonderful in salads too. When I have spinach this good, I like plain creamed spinach more than any other way of cooking it. I think that the French method of blanching first produces the best flavor, and I make up for any diminishment of water-soluble vitamins by eating a great deal of it.
Pick a lot of spinach, since it shrinks greatly when cooked. I use a 5-gallon food-grade pail to pick into, and pick it 2/3 full (loosely filled) to serve 4. Wash very well three times in sinkfuls or pailfuls of cold water. Don’t neglect the washing step. Any bit of grit will spoil your perfect spinach. Then bring a gallon of water to a rolling boil in your big stockpot, toss in the spinach, DON’T cover the pot, and stir with a wooden spoon to get all the leaves exposed to boiling water. When the water returns to a full boil, stir and boil for another minute, then drain in a colander and press ALL the excess moisture out. Turn out on a clean cutting board, chop rapidly with your big chef’s knife, and put in a saucepan with a few tablespoons of butter, half a cup of heavy cream, and salt to taste. Cook over high heat, turning regularly, until the cream is reduced and there’s no drippy liquid. Serve forth promptly, with a little more butter on top. If you know someone who has a Jersey cow, your cream can be thick raw Jersey cream, which is the best cream there is. Shave a few shreds of fresh nutmeg on top just before it goes to the table (I do mean a few, 1/8 teaspoon or thereabouts.) Some fresh pepper is nice too. Sometimes I add some sauteed shallot or green onion, and sometimes I feel that alliums impair the delicacy of the thing.
I like to eat this as a meal all by itself, with a few slices of good baguette alongside. It also makes a great base for poached eggs, and accompanies delicately seasoned chicken and fish dishes beautifully. It is one of the joys of late spring, to be enjoyed lavishly in its season.

Vegetable dinners: add an egg! and notes on feeding chickens


Like the British cookbook writer Nigella Lawson, I am both greedy and lazy, so I’m full of timesaving tricks for making real food in a hurry. Now if I also looked like her, that would be nice, but two out of three isn’t bad. One of my favorite time-saving tricks is to make a small batch of yeast dough and stick it in the refrigerator with no clear idea what I’ll use it for. Most recently, I used it to make a variation on a hortapita, filled with mixed greens. Since my chickens have started to lay, I decided to incorporate eggs. This isn’t really a recipe. This is the sort of thing you throw together by instinct on days when you need the comfort of the kitchen but if you think too much more, your brain will break.

If you don’t happen to keep dough hanging around, you can use ready-made pizza dough from the Co-op, but making your own is a cinch. My basic recipe is 2 cups water, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon dry yeast, and 2 teaspoons salt. Mix together, knead on a floured surface for five minutes, form into a ball, pop it into an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap, and set in the refrigerator for 1-2 days. On the second or third day, take the bowl out before you leave for work and leave it at room temp for the day. When you come home, it will be ready to use for a homemade pizza or hortapita.
Besides the dough, you will need:
about a pound of mixed greens OR a pound of frozen organic spinach and a handful or two of stronger-flavored greens or herbs to give flavor.
an onion and a couple of cloves of garlic
a packed cup of crumbled feta or shredded parmesan or some flavorful but not stinky cheese. Idiazabal, mild cheddar, or mild gouda would all be reasonable. I used Idiazabal because I usually have some around.
3-4 eggs
some olive oil

Preheat the oven to 425.
For the filling, I took a major shortcut and started with a pound of frozen organic spinach. Then I picked some very mature arugula from the yard to give it that wild strong flavor, but since 6 or 7 big leaves will do the trick, the cleaning time was about 5 minutes for the greens. If I didn’t have arugula in my yard, I’d just chop up a small bunch of parsley or the tops of a few green onions for a different but equally “green” flavor. Chop and saute an onion in olive oil, remembering to stir frequently. Between stirs, shred the arugula or whatever you have into chiffonade and put it in a nonmetal mixing bowl with the frozen spinach. Microwave the mixture on high for two minutes. There may still be some frozen chunks of spinach. Ignore them. Squeeze the mixture over the sink, handful by handful, to get out as much moisture as you can, and return the dry greens to the bowl. At this point the onion should be cooked. Add a couple of cloves of chopped garlic, saute until the garlic is cooked, and add to the greens in the bowl. Add the cheese, toss all together with your hands, and taste. It may need some salt, will surely need some freshly ground pepper, and may cry out for a little thyme (to me, most foods cry out for a little thyme, and so there should always be some in a pot somewhere or in the refrigerator.)
On a large baking sheet, smear around some olive oil and dump the dough on top. Pat it out with your hands, using vigorous stroking motions to spread it out into a big oval without tearing it. When it is about 1/4 inch thick and nearly as large as the pan, pile the greens mixture on half of it and make 3 or 4 depressions in the greens. Crack an egg into each depression, salt the eggs lightly, and fold the other half of the dough over the top and pinch the edges together. Smear a little more olive oil over the surface and stick in the hot oven until done, somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes. Eat with the knowledge that a tough day didn’t get you down. A glass of good strong red wine will help give you the wherewithal to face tomorrow. If you have just a little more energy and half a bunch of parsley, pound a clove of garlic, the parsley chopped, and the juice of half a lemon in your faithful big mortar and pestle. When somewhat pulverized, add enough of your best olive oil to make a chunky puree and salt to taste. I love this simple sauce/dressing/relish beside almost any vegetable or egg dish, but it’s especially good for bringing a makeshift hortapita to life. If you don’t have a big mortar and pestle yet, a food processor is okay.

My eggs come out of my back yard now, and I give a fair amount of thought to feeding my chickens. If you want your eggs to be highly nutritious, you have to give the chickens the nutrients to make good eggs. For maximum security from predators my coop is fixed and nonmobile, so I cut grass and clover from the yard daily to supplement the laying mash. All the vegetable trimmings from garden and kitchen prep go to them, too. Any pumpkin or squash “innards” go to them so that they can eat the seeds. The chickens get oystershell for calcium, and they get any nutritious table scraps that would otherwise be wasted. For example, they will happily devour leftover salad, for which there is no other use, and rice or stale bread or bulgur are right up their alley. If I have leftover oatmeal or yogurt, they wolf it down. Now that we’ve had several frosts there aren’t many green things left in the yard, so I give the chickens some flaxseed every day to keep the omega-3 content of their eggs up (this is how the commercial high-omega 3 eggs are produced.) Flaxseed is expensive, so rather than give it to them dry and permit it to be scratched around and wasted, I mix it into yogurt or chopped vegetable scraps to make a slurry that they can eat out of a small dish.
I also feed their own eggshells back to them for calcium, but I never just throw the shells into the coop, because this trains them to eat their own eggs (yes, healthy chickens with lots of room and food will eat their own eggs if they learn how, and once a flock has learned to eat eggs there’s no good way to stop them.) I set the shells on a plate and microwave them for one minute to dry them thoroughly, then let them cool and set them aside in a bag. When I’ve accumulated a dozen or so, I crumble them roughly by hand and then put them in the blender and grind them to a coarse powder. The powder is added to yogurt or leftover oatmeal and stirred in well. The chickens gobble it up and it helps them make strong eggshells.