Running a CSA program for the last few years in Maryland, one of the things I have heard most from customers are complaints about too many greens. Of course, there are always those customers who can’t get enough kale, but even the crunchiest, most hardened kale eater sometimes balks at a large bunch of spicy mustard greens or a big bag of tatsoi.
But there are good reasons your friendly local CSA farmer will most likely overwhelm you with greens this spring. For one, that’s pretty much all you can grow in our climate during the first part of the season; for another, greens are incredibly good for you and, with a little knowledge, easy to prepare in ways your whole family will appreciate. In fact, the more you experiment and cook with these green garden friends, the more you just might butt up against the biggest challenge associated with them: where to get more!
While a good Asian market may offer vegetable amaranth, and a gourmet farmer will grow fresh sorrel, most farmers stick to better-known vegetables like spinach and arugula for their farmers market stands.
The best way to access rare and delicious greens is, of course, to grow them yourself. Greens are incredibly versatile and can grow in just about anything; a simple window box, an aesthetically pleasing wall garden on your balcony or a few rows in your veggie patch will enrich your salads, sautés and casseroles to no end.
Until you do that, however, make sure to check out your local farmers market and see what’s available in the big baskets of leaves.
Joanna Linkler of the Cherry Hill Urban Garden was staffing the table at the Farm Alliance in Baltimore on a recent rainy Saturday and shared, “A lot of people think of the winter and early spring months as a time when no fresh produce is available, but early season greens are just precious, and the spicy ones build great internal heat during a cold time of the year.”
Pesach is a perfect opportunity to cherish the greens in our life, including, as it does, the traditions associated with karpas. Technically, karpas can be any vegetable over which we can say the “fruit of the earth” blessing (borei pri ha’adamah). My family has been known to put things like steamed artichokes and cold boiled potatoes on the platter to stave off those pre-Seder-meal hunger pangs. Along with the traditional Italian parsley and spring onions, however, there are a myriad of alternative healthy greens to explore:
Vegetable amaranth greens are great to stir fry, mellowing as they cook. Though younger leaves can be eaten raw in salads, the mature plants that you’re likely to find in ethnic markets need to be cooked. Amaranth is often seasoned with cumin, hot peppers and onions; however, the vegetable’s unique flavor is most highlighted when sautéed with some crushed garlic.
Sorrel is a hardy perennial that can also be grown in light shade. It adds a tangy, sour zing to salads and is particularly good in salads that include fruit or have a sweet dressing.
Mustard greens: Try any mustard greens fresh, and you will most likely spit them out in horror…they are spicy! (On the other hand, they make for great maror.) But sauté or steam those leaves with some cream and a dash of nutmeg, and you are talking a whole different story. The spiciness fades, leaving a humble, delicate flavor that fits perfectly in a gratin or creamed as a side dish.
Mizuna: Even farmers have lesser-loved greens, and for me, mizuna is one of them. The best thing I do with mizuna is include it in small increments in a mesclun mix. It is incredibly easy to grow and can be counted on to add bulk and its own special zest to a diverse farmers market salad.
Mâche, also known as corn salad and vit, is a native of France. A very delicate salad green, it goes best with citrus, fennel or fresh herbs to create an appetizer or side salad.
Purslane: Sometimes known as a weed, purslane is actually a specialty green with a unique texture and flavor. It is slightly more succulent then other greens and adds a sour, salty nuance to salads. Low in calories and fats, it is very rich in fiber and vitamins including lots of vitamin A, C and B complex vitamins as well as minerals.
Tatsoi is really best either fresh, adding a delicate crunch to salads with apples and almond slivers, or wilted and served as a bed beneath fish or another protein.
Swiss chard is one of the healthiest vegetables around and is an excellent source of vitamins K, A, C, E, B2, B6 as well as minerals, like magnesium, copper, manganese, potassium, choline, calcium, phosphorus and iron. It is also a good source of dietary fiber and protein. Chard is best boiled briefly to help remove its metallic texture before enjoying.