Saturday, May 24, 2008

What color is your salad?

Dark leafy greens season has started! This week, the Lower East Side CSA gets its first shipment - all greens. We’re getting Swiss chard, kale, Asian greens, arugula, baby tatsoi, pea shoots and spinach.

Nutritionally, greens are very high in calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, phosphorous, zinc and vitamins A, C, E and K. They are crammed with fiber, folic acid, chlorophyll and many other micronutrients and phyto-chemicals.
Benefits of eating dark leafy greens include blood purification, cancer prevention, improved circulation, a strengthened immune system, promotion of healthy intestinal flora, promotion of subtle, light and flexible energy, lifted spirit and elimination of depression, improved liver, gall bladder and kidney function, and cleared congestion, especially in the lungs.

If you are part of the CSA and want to know more about each of the vegetables we’re getting and how to cook them, I’ve started an e-newsletter just for you; look on the right side of this blog for a sign-up box. You’ll also find great tips on cooking for kids and info on upcoming workshops in the neighborhood.

OK, back to greens… you should eat at least one cup, once a day, every day. I’m not kidding – this is the food group that is missing in most of our diets. In fact, the first recommendation I make to all of my clients is to add greens to their diet. So now you’re thinking, “I eat a salad for lunch now and then, so that counts as one cup.” Nope. Sorry. It’s great that you’re eating salads, but it’s dark greens I’m talking about; the kind you have to cook. And yes, you do have to cook them; otherwise, you lose more minerals than you gain, and that makes for a negative balance.

Steaming is the best, as it preserves most vitamins and minerals, as well as some enzymes. When I’m in a hurry, I just fill a huge pot with water, let it come to a boil, add sea salt, rip the kale right off the stem and let it swish for two or three minutes. You don’t even have to wash it - it washes as it cooks. After a few minutes, I just scoop it out, top it with some butter and eat. It’s that quick. The key is not to drain, but to pull the green out of the water; otherwise you’ll get all the sand and dirt back on it.

If you have thyroid issues, don’t overdo it with the kale (not that most people have an issue with overdoing it with kale) as it contains goitrogens. These are chemicals that block the production of thyroid hormones and could cause further problems, so you should research goitrogens before making food purchases.

Try these recipes, especially if you are a dark green newbie. They’re really good.

Kale And Potato Spanish Tortilla
Stir-Fried Baby Bok Choy With Garlic
Pear, Arugula, And Pancetta Salad
Chilled Sesame-Ginger Tatsoi

My friend Kira loves this Swiss Chard Recipe. I am going to try it this week.

The best cookbook I have ever seen on the subject is Greens Glorious Greensby Johnna Albi & Catherine Walthers. It has nutritional information, shopping tips, storage and preparation information, and lots of recipes. They tested each green side by side to learn which cooking techniques produced the best tasting greens.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Springtime and asparagus - can't have one without the other.

Asparagus. A culinary delicacy and medicinal marvel for over 2,000 years that is rich in folate, vitamins K, C, and A, several B vitamins, tryptophan, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, copper, iron and zinc. One cup gives you fifteen percent of your recommended daily intake of fiber, and if you’re like me, you can’t eat just one.

This is a detox vegetable; the abundant folate (almost 66% of RDV per one cup serving) assists with the methylation cycle. Folate is also important in reducing heart attacks and birth defects. Inulin, an indigestible sugar, feeds friendly bacteria in the digestive tract and helps with GI health. Asparagus has also been traditionally used to treat swelling associated with arthritis and rheumatism.

If you get to the market after 12, you won’t find it; it sells out quickly. As I unfortunately got there at 2 today, I’ll have to try again first thing tomorrow at the Tompkins Square Greenmarket. Why am I so fanatical? The delicate, satiny stalks proudly hold the plump, buttery heads – it’s quite unlike the squishy, wilted supermarket version. It is best eaten within a couple of days, as the nutrients and flavor will diminish if you spend too much time contemplating all the delicious ways you can cook it.

Asparagus actually doesn’t need much preparation - lightly steamed, sprinkled with sea salt and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, it bursts with flavor. Try the purple, as it is fruitier and sweeter than the green; for little ones with “green food” issues, this is a perfect alternative. The white is milder, but lacks chlorophyll, so I use it for aesthetic purposes only. Here are some links to my favorite recipes:

Asparagus Wrapped in Serrano Ham
Asparagus Soup with Lemon Crème Fraiche
Asparagus Omelet

This is a very important food for kids. Some love it just as it is, others need a little creative encouragement – which, as it turns out, is the case with both of my kids. So, I always serve steamed bright green stalks swimming in olive oil along with some other dish that doesn’t flaunt the vegetable so much. My younger son loves noodles with tiny purple disks of something “nutty.” Omelets provide a great hiding place, as long as you can chop up the asparagus super-fine. I also found a great recipe for an asparagus pancake that my kids love – I make it gluten-free, of course.

Easy Asparagus Pancakes

1 tbsp butter
2/3 cup asparagus, broken into 1-inch long pieces
3/4 cup milk
2/3 cup flour
2 eggs
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup cheese, shredded

1. Heat oven to 400F. Place butter in a 9-inch pie pan or casserole and place in oven to melt. Swirl pan to coat the bottom.
2. Lightly steam asparagus until not quite tender. Place into the bottom of the pan.
3. In a bowl, whisk together flour, milk, eggs, and salt until smooth. Pour over the asparagus. Bake until puffed and golden brown, 20-25 minutes.
4. Sprinkle cheese on top, cut into wedges and serve immediately.
From Simply in Season by Mary Beth Lind and Cathleen Hockman-Wert.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Quick, ramps are here for a week or two!

This is ramp season, so go out and get some! A native of North America, they are wild leeks with a flavor somewhere between onions and garlic.

Let them sit for ten minutes after you chop them. The sulfur-based compounds and the enzymes combine to create thiopropanal sulfoxide, the irritant that makes you cry. It also stabilizes the phytonutrients, the substances that strengthen the immune system, and help you fight many a degenerative disease.

In cooking, you can use them just like you use onions. I love leak soup, which has a delicate, sophisticated flavor that even my kids can appreciate. They are great sauteed with some Hawthorne Valley Farm bacon as a side dish to fish or chicken. Here are some links to my favorite ramp recipes:

Ramp soup
Roasted Chicken with ramps and potatoes
Sauteed ramps with bacon

Wild ramp season is short, so enjoy while they are still around.