Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Week of Greens

I really should have thinned my greens weeks ago.  Yet I am amazed by the sheer quantity of fresh food that I am harvesting from my garden, simply in the process of thinning the overcrowded rows.  It's becoming increasingly difficult to encourage my future self to thin more promptly when I see how productive this season's procrastination has been.  Sure, the remaining plants, many of which have contorted lower stems that twist away from their roots, look a bit shell-shocked and droopy after I remove their less-vigorous neighbors, but they quickly re-anchor themselves and grow into their new space. Meanwhile their less vigorous neighbors, the many of them, are providing the raw materials for many meals.

This is my routine of the past few weeks: thin, trim, rinse, repeat.  At least every other day I find myself in the garden with the intention of picking some greens, maybe enough for a few salads, or maybe just enough to make a sandwich.  No matter my intention, I always end up with more greens than I meant to pick, which is where the trim-rinse-repeat cycle comes into play.  Luckily, having too many greens is a problem that is easily solved by cooking and eating.

For the fortunate gardeners, or overzealous farmer's market shoppers, who have realized that greens have taken over every mixing bowl, storage bag, and refrigerator drawer in the house, I offer a week's worth of solutions from my kitchen.   

Monday: Green Pizza

The greenest part of this pizza was the sauce, a cilantro and parsley pesto that I made from the thinnings of those two rows of baby herbs.  I topped the pizza with sautéed mushrooms and wilted Tat Soi greens, and a mix of feta and mozzarella cheeses.  This pizza could have been taken to the next level with a homemade crust, but, in the interest of time (spent thinning-trimming-rinsing-repeating), I used a store-bought crust.  Which didn't matter much to me because the cilantro pesto was the star of the show, reminding me with each bite that the cilantro season had just begun.  In the next few months, I look forward to perfecting cilantro pesto, parsley pesto, and cilantro-and-parsley pesto recipes.

Tuesday: Beet Greens Omelet

I love beet greens.  They are my favorite of all of the greens.  The beets themselves are also delicious but the plants rarely live long enough under my care to make large roots.  This year I've tried to plant enough beets, and enough other delicious greens, so that I can refrain from eating all of my beet plants before they make beets.  Beets can't grow thick roots, though, until their row is properly thinned.  Oh, what a chore to thin the beets.  The thinnings, cooked in olive oil and seasoned with salt, pepper, and nutritional yeast, are rich tasting and remind me of eggs.  Maybe that is why I also like to cook beet greens and sliced onion into eggs, frittata-style, creating an omelet to be filled with cheddar cheese and eaten with toast.

Wednesday: Mixed Greens Salad

The most obvious solution to the too-many-greens problem, and an especially tasty solution if the greens are young and tender, is to eat a few salads.  In a baby greens salad, spicy mustard leaves blend with chewy kale leaves, earthy chard leaves, and sweet lettuce leaves.  It's a combination that only lasts until the the kale, mustards, and Asian greens mature into adult plants, becoming too spicy and too leathery for eating raw.  By then, salads will be limited to lettuces, spinach, and the smaller of the beet and chard leaves.  So, now, while the leaves are still young, and the salad variety is at its peak, is the peak of the salad season.  I mix in alfalfa sprouts, carrot shavings, tomato slices, chopped celery, sliced olives, sliced bell pepper, cracked black pepper, and grated Parmesan cheese, before coating the whole lot of it with flax oil and Mother's Cashew-Tamari Dressing.

Thursday: Bok Choi Stir Fry

Lee gets credit for the stir fry.  He fried loads of minced garlic and ginger in sesame oil, then added sliced onion and bell pepper, then added, in batches, a whole bucketful of baby Bok Choy.  Lee earned boyfriend points for cooking a stir fry that was ready to eat when I got home from work, and we both earned health points for eating so many baby Bok Choi leaves.  In a video game, our health meters would be maxed out from a week of eating so many greens.  Too bad life is not so simple.

Friday: Shells and Cheddar with Tat Soi

Homemade is best, but sometimes, here in reality, I have thirty minutes to cook and eat and get my butt out the door.  In those moments, washed greens can be melted into just about anything to add some flavor, texture, and nutrition.  I have melted greens into ramen, rice, pasta, scrambled eggs, and soups.  Technically, the greens don't melt but actually wilt as they release water, but the effect is of melting, as a whole pile of greens disappears into an otherwise starchy meal.  One trusty need-to-eat-quickly solution is to cook a box of Shells and Cheddar and melt a bowlful of greens into the mix.  Dark green but mild-tasting spinach or Tat Soi leaves are especially good with the cheese sauce.

Saturday: Chard and Cheese Sandwich

One of my favorite ways to eat a few greens, and also the easiest, is to make a sandwich and add a handful of greens.  Large leaves work best because they can be layered across the bread, but an unruly mix of salad greens also tastes good.  For best results, layer the leaves onto the bread, then drop the "meat" (or cheese, etc.) of the sandwich onto the greens, weighing them down.  I am especially fond of chard leaves, sharp cheddar, and thinly sliced onion on wheat bread.  I have found that, packed the night before or morning of, a chard-and-cheese sandwich travels well and makes a satisfying lunch for work.

Sunday: Kale and Mushroom Lasagna 

I finished thinning the row of Lacinato Kale and picked a few Red Russian Kale plants from the packed row of stir-fry greens that still needs to be thinned.  The next step, of course, was to trim, rinse, and repeat.  I cooked a sliced onion in olive oil, added minced garlic, then wilted the greens into the mixture.  In a separate pan, I cooked a pound of sliced mushrooms until they had released their water and begun to brown.  I built the lasagna in four layers - two of ricotta and mushrooms and two of the kale-onion mixture and mozzarella/cheddar cheese - sandwiched between five layers of noodles and tomato sauce.  I sprinkled Parmesan cheese over the top of the dish.  The lasagna took a couple hours to make, baking time included, but will provide meals for Lee and I well into the upcoming week.

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