Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Vitality... Eat Your Greens Every Day!

By Chef Andrea Yoder

Rainbow Chard
Farmer Richard says “Eat your greens every day!”  Yes, this is a direct quote and a message we try to follow in our own lives for our own health and well-being.  “Greens” is a general term we use to refer to a wide category of vegetables that includes leafy vegetables such as kale, collards and Swiss chard.   This group also includes “salad” type greens such as lettuce, arugula, baby kale mix, and spinach.  Of course, we can’t forget the Asian greens including bok choi, tat soi, hon tsai tai, mizuna, komatsuna, and the list goes on!  I’ve already listed twelve different vegetables and I didn’t even mention some of the unique greens we grow such as the pea vine in this week’s box, sorrel, amaranth greens, Egyptian spinach, nettles and Portuguese kale.  Of course we can’t forget the bonus greens we get when we harvest root crops with their green tops still attached.  This would include things such as turnip greens, radish tops, carrot tops and beet greens.  In this short paragraph alone I’ve listed over twenty different vegetables that could be loosely categorized as “greens.”  Oh man, I totally forgot to mention sweetheart cabbage, kohlrabi leaves, mustard, mibuna, broccoli raab, escarole, radicchio, and endive!  If you’re eating out of a CSA box, you can see that it’s actually very easy to follow Farmer Richard’s advice to eat greens every day!  I’ve listed thirty different greens and this list still isn’t all-inclusive!

Amaranth thriving in the summer heat
Greens are not just something we grow as a “box filler.”  We believe they are an important part of a seasonal diet and we try to provide a minimum of a salad green and a cooking green in most boxes over the course of the season.  Of course there are some challenging times of the year when we are more limited in what’s available.  For example, spinach and lettuce are challenging crops to grow in the heat of the summer.  The seeds are difficult to germinate in hot soil and the product often looks tough and doesn’t taste very good when grown in this season.  These crops are much happier when grown in the cool of spring and fall and actually taste much better!  During these times of the season, there are other greens we can rely on, such as amaranth which actually thrives in the heat of summer, tastes good and is more nutritious than even spinach!  Later in the season as winter approaches, we look for different greens that will be able to survive a frost and actually thrive when grown in colder conditions.  This is why we grow vegetables such as escarole and radicchio.  So, from a growing perspective, there is some strategy involved in selecting different greens for different parts of the season. 

Red Curly Kale
The other reason we grow greens is because they are so nutritious and they are good for us!  Food provides us with nourishment and vitality.  What is vitality?  Vitality refers to a feeling or state of aliveness when you are full of life and energy.  The food we choose to eat is a big part of building vitality.  When you choose fresh vegetables eaten as close to the point of harvest as possible, you are feeding your body living foods brimming with vitality.  The nutrients and plant compounds that we ingest become part of our bodies and give us energy, nourishment, strength and health.  Who doesn’t want to feel better!  Greens in particular are powerhouses of vitality and nutrition.  When we make an effort to include a variety of greens in our diet and commit to eating some kind of “green” every day, we provide our body with a diverse profile of nutrients to work with.  Of course every green does not have the same nutritional profile.  Iceberg lettuce does not contain the same nutrients as amaranth or kale.  Nonetheless, greens contribute a whole host of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other beneficial phytochemicals to our diet that impact our health and well-being in many positive ways.  Greens contribute nutrients to our diets that are important to many body systems including our skin, immunity, detoxification pathways, skeletal health and our circulatory system. 
CSA Box contents from June 15, 2017

Do you realize how fortunate you are to be a CSA member and have the opportunity to eat
such a wide variety of foods, greens included?  Greens have not always been a big part of my personal diet.  My exposure to greens as a kid included a little bit of spinach, lettuce and cabbage.  I remember seeing collard and turnip greens in the grocery store on occasion, but we never bought them.  We didn’t know what to do with them!  I admit, I’m envious of CSA kids and families who have the opportunity to be exposed to these greens and they just become part of the “normal” diet.  It wasn’t until I became an adult, went to culinary school, ventured out of the Midwest and then landed on a vegetable farm that I even knew many of these green leafy vegetables even existed! 

Have I convinced you yet that you should eat your greens every day?  If you’re still teetering on the fence, here are a few more points to consider.  We all like convenience and there are days when we just don’t have a lot of time to cook and prepare food.  When you find yourself in this position, remember that many greens are actually nature’s version of “fast food!”  Most greens don’t take long to cook or can be eaten raw.  I like to fill my kitchen sink with water, get my salad spinner out and wash all of my greens for the week at one time.  I put them in bags or containers in the refrigerator so they are ready for me to use.  Then, throughout the week I can very easily incorporate greens into our meals with minimal prep time.  Add some greens to your smoothie or scrambled eggs in the morning.  Make a quick salad for lunch or make a quick wrap with a tortilla spread with cream cheese and packed with some greens.  One of my go-to quick dinners is a seared pork chop or piece of salmon with sautéed greens.  Salmon and pork chops are pretty fast cooking and you can add the greens to the same pan just before they are finished.  You can have dinner on the table in less than 15 minutes!

Baby White Turnip and Yogurt Dressing Salad
Do you have bad memories of overcooked, boring, tasteless or bad tasting greens from prior experiences or your childhood?  I understand.  I can still smell that disgusting, overcooked spinach they tried to serve us as part of our elementary school lunch.  Please understand, it doesn’t have to be that way!  There are so many delicious ways to enjoy greens.  Sometimes I like to keep it simple and just season greens with salt, pepper and maybe a splash of vinegar or lemon juice.  You could also do something as easy as adding some sautéed garlic, onion or ginger to the pan and then drizzle a little bit of toasted sesame oil on the greens once they are cooked.  Soy sauce, mushrooms, dried fruit, nuts, olives, pepper flakes, cream, cheese…these are all simple, complementary ways to dress up some simple greens. 
Red treviso radicchio

I want to mention that some greens have a stronger flavor or sometimes bitterness (as in the case of escarole and radicchio) when eaten raw.  If you taste a little piece of green and find the flavor to be too strong or pungent, don’t automatically eliminate it as a possibility of something you might like.  Other ingredients help to balance the flavors of greens, making them more enjoyable.  For example, I do not care to just eat a handful of arugula leaves on their own.  I do, however, enjoy eating an arugula salad that has a light citrus vinaigrette, some shredded Parmesan, a few slices of sweet apple and some toasted almonds.  The acidity from the vinaigrette, fat from the cheese and nuts and the sweetness of the apple all come together to create a harmonious flavor along with the arugula.  Cooking also mellows out the flavors of greens.  For example, mustard greens are pretty pungent when they are raw, but are very palatable and enjoyable when wilted into dishes along with beans, rice, etc.

Curried Nettle Stew with Chickpeas & Chicken
Intimidated by cooking greens?  Don’t fact, let me just say you should never feel intimidated by a vegetable.  It’s just a vegetable!  Plus, we’re here to help you learn how to enjoy the vegetables in your box, greens included.  Cooking greens is actually pretty simple when you consider a few basic things.  Some greens are more delicate and tender, such as spinach, arugula, tat soi, saute greens, hon tsai tai, etc.  These greens generally may be eaten either raw or cooked.  If you’re cooking them, they are going to wilt down very quickly so you just need a quick-cooking method such as pan-steaming, stir-frying or sauteeing.  These greens can usually be cooked in 5-10 minutes at most.  Some greens, such as green curly kale, lacinato kale and collards, have a thicker leaf and will require a little longer cooking time to soften and tenderize the leaves.  These greens are also often cooked with liquid, either braised on their own or incorporated into a soup, stew or other braised dish.  It may take 15-20 minutes or more to cook these greens, depending on your preferences.  If it’s your first time cooking a green that is new to you, just take a minute to consider its characteristics and that can help you decide the best way to prepare it.  Don’t be afraid to experiment with different ways of cooking greens and figure out your preferred methods.

Farmer Richard eating a Nettle Cupcake
Historically our CSA members have been somewhat divided regarding greens.  Half of the membership loves greens and wants more and the other half says “too many greens” and in some cases, “no more greens!”  We try to strike a healthy balance and encourage everyone to approach these vegetables with an open mind and a willingness to at least try them.  I truly hope you enjoy or learn to enjoy eating your greens and exploring ways to incorporate them into your meals each week.  We do our best to grow nutritious food for you and hope you experience health, well-being and a greater sense of vitality when you eat vegetables from your farm.  So, let's all make Farmer Richard proud…eat your greens today!

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