Thursday, May 26, 2016

Featured Vegetables of the Week: Pea Vine & Hon Tsai Tai

by Andrea Yoder

This week’s box features two greens that we’ve specifically selected to fill our spring slots for interesting & unique vegetables that are ready to go early in the season, ahead of other crops that require more time to mature. They bridge the gap between overwintered and perennial greens and other spring planted vegetables.

Pea Vine in the field.

 Pea Vine is an immature pea plant that is harvested before the vine starts to develop blossoms. It has a mild, sweet pea flavor and reminds us that sugar snap and snow peas are just around the corner! Pea vine can be eaten raw in salads or can be lightly sautéed, wilted into soups and sauces or stir-fried. While the tendrils and leaves are tender, the main stem can sometimes get tough depending on how mature the plant is at harvest. One way to handle this vegetable is to pick the tender leaves and tendrils off the main stem, but the problem with this is that there is a lot of flavor and value in the main stem! I must admit that I don’t like to spend a lot of time sorting through a bunch of pea vine and I prefer to use as much of the bunch as I can. Thus, I like to use pea vine in ways that allow me to blend it in a blender or food processor to make things such as pea vine pesto or pea vine cream cheese (both recipes may be found in the searchable recipe database on our website). The other way I like to use pea vine is in sauces, soups or broth. I generally chop the pea vine into smaller pieces and add it to hot broth or a sauce base. Let the pea vine simmer briefly, you don’t want to overcook this vegetable or you’ll lose the bright pea flavor. Once you’ve infused the flavor of the pea vine into the sauce or broth, you can strain it out to remove it. If you’d like to extract just a little more flavor, blend the mixture before straining it.
Hon Tsai Tai is a Chinese green.  It is related to bok choi and is in a group of plants often called the “flowering brassicas.”  Hon Tsai Tai has purple stems and green leaves. We intentionally wait to
Hon Tsai Tai in the field.
harvest this vegetable until it starts to produce a flower stalk with tender yellow flowers. The stems, flowers and green leaves are all edible. Sometimes the lower portion of the stem can be a little tough.  Just discard the lower portion of the bunch—usually no more than an inch or so, and use the remainder.
Hon Tsai Tai has a mild mustard flavor and can be eaten raw or cooked. It is delicious in stir-fries or lightly steamed, but also makes a stunning addition to raw salads. The greens are very tender, so they only need to be cooked briefly, for no more than a couple of minutes at most. A common preparation in Chinese cuisine is to quickly stir fry Hon Tsai Tai with garlic, onions and ginger, then add oyster sauce. Store Hon Tsai Tai loosely wrapped in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator until ready for use.

Hon Tsai Tai Salad “To Go” with Miso Honey Dressing

Yield:  2 large salads or 4 small salads

1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil plus an additional ½ cup
1 clove garlic, minced
2-3 Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp white miso
4 Tbsp brown rice vinegar
½ cup water

**Dressing recipe borrowed from Heidi Swanson’s 
on-line store website,**

3-4 cups thinly sliced hon tsai tai, stems and leaves 
½ to ¾ cup French breakfast or red radishes, small diced
¾ to 1 cup thinly sliced scallions 
½ cup thinly sliced asparagus
1 cup “protein” of your choice (chickpeas, diced cooked chicken 
   or salmon, thinly sliced grilled steak, etc)
4 to 6 Tbsp seeds of your choice (pumpkin seeds, sunflower 
    seeds, sesame seeds, etc)
2 quart sized canning jars or 4 pint sized canning jars, with lids

  1. First, prepare the dressing.  In a small saucepan, heat 1 Tbsp of oil over medium heat.  Stir in the garlic and gently sauté for a minute or so.  Whisk in the honey, miso and vinegar.  Simmer for a minute or two, and remove from heat.  Whisk in the sesame oil and then the water, gradually, to taste.  Let cool a bit, and then put the dressing in a small jar.  Refrigerate until you are ready to eat the salad.
  2. Once all of the vegetables are prepared, assemble the salad in the jars (instructions to follow are for filling 2 quart jars).  Start by putting a handful of hon tsai tai in the bottom of each jar.  Next add about a quarter of the radishes and scallions to each jar.  Add a quarter of the “protein” of your choosing and then top it off with half of the asparagus in each jar.  Repeat the layers to bring the contents of the jar to the top.  Put a lid on the jar and refrigerate until you are ready to eat the salad.
  3. When you are ready to eat the salad, add a few tablespoons of dressing to each jar.  Put the lid back on the jar and shake the salad to distribute the dressing throughout the jar.  Empty the salad into a bowl and garnish with seeds.
This is an easy way to make a salad in advance and conveniently package it for transport.  Take it to work with you for lunch, pack it for a picnic, or just make it in advance and keep it in the refrigerator so it’s ready for you to enjoy for dinner on a busy evening.

Spring Noodle Bowl with Pea Vine Broth
by Chef Andrea Yoder

Yield: 2 servings
1 quart chicken broth
4 oz pea vine (1 bunch)
4 oz cooked pasta, at room temperature                                                                                                     (choose something that is long such as soba noodles, angel hair pasta, fettucine, etc)
1 cup green onion tops, thinly sliced
¼ cup green garlic, minced
½ cup asparagus, sliced very thinly
Salt & Black Pepper, to taste
Parmesan cheese, to garnish
Fresh lemon juice, to taste

  1. Put the chicken broth in a saucepot and heat it to a gentle simmer over medium heat.  Roughly chop the pea vine. When the broth is at a gentle simmer, add the pea vine and simmer for 2-3 minutes.  
  2. After 2-3 minutes, remove the pan from the heat and let rest for a few minutes.  Carefully transfer the broth with the pea vine to a blender.  You may need to blend the broth in two batches if you have a small blender container.  Blend the broth until the pea vine is blended into very small pieces.  Strain the broth to remove the solids and put the broth back in the saucepot.  Return the broth to a gentle simmer over medium heat.  Season to taste with salt and black pepper.  
  3. When the broth is ready, prepare two medium soup bowls for serving.  Divide the pasta evenly between the two bowls. Top each bowl of pasta with the green onions, green garlic and asparagus, dividing each ingredient evenly between the two bowls. Sprinkle a pinch of salt on top of each bowl.  
  4. Ladle about 12 ounces of hot broth over each bowl of noodles.  Garnish as desired with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

Spring Farm Update

by Farmer Richard
Crew transplanting onions.

This has been a weird and unpredictable spring!  It warmed up in late February and March. The snow melted, the maple sap started to run….perhaps a bit too early? The ramps came up in early April and by the second week of April we started harvesting them.  All indications pointed towards an early, warm, dry spring! We planted our first salad greens, radishes, beets and carrots on April 14. Early?  Yes, but we love it!

We had fairly dry weather early in April which allowed us to get the overwintered parsnips and sunchokes out of the cold winter ground. The overwintered spinach looked pretty good and by the end of April we started to see signs of the asparagus starting to come up. We were thinking “Yes!  We’re going to have nice early season boxes for our members!” ….and then our fortunes changed.  Cold, damp weather going into the first of May slowed all growth to a crawl!  Some crops did continue to grow, despite the cold temperatures. The garlic, rhubarb, and spring onions looked good, until we had an unsuspected and freakish hail/slush storm with strong north winds. It was quite a
Jose Manuel and Alvaro laying plastic for sweet potatoes.
storm! It moved through quickly but managed to dump about two inches of hail and sleet balls on us in just about 15-20 minutes! Unfortunately the rhubarb and overwintered onions took a beating as the hail hit the tops of the onions and the rhubarb stalks. The wind was coming from the north, so one side of the plant looked pretty bad while the other side of the plant was virtually untouched!  Whoa here, what happened to our early spring?!

After the storm, it was on the dry side so we continued to plant on schedule, even early sweet corn and green beans. The first 24 hours after a seed is planted are probably the most important.  If we plant on a warm day and plant shallow, we can usually germinate the seed. Voila!  Our first planting of beans germinated, pushed through the ground and were looking good. They were just coming up and then on May 15, our average last light frost date, we had a freeze!  27-28°F was our low temperature that set in for about 6-8 hours overnight and into the morning. The green bean sprouts that were still under the ground froze!  The sweet corn froze too, but recovered with new shoots. Most of the beans, however, did not survive.  Despite the fact that we had a cover over the strawberries, some of the blossoms were damaged. It looks like about 40% of the blossoms were damaged, but still a lot of smaller strawberries are ok and coming.
The zucchini and cucumbers were under a cover as well.  While the zucchini toughed it out and had a pretty good survival rate, the cucumbers in the same field didn’t fare so well.  They had about an 1% survival rate. So sad. On a brighter note, the beets, carrots, chard, burdock, broccoli, fennel, cauliflower, cabbage, etc are all alive and just waiting for warm weather to grow!

We picked the asparagus hard before the frost on May 15, but some asparagus still froze off and we lost 5 days of production.  That’s why there was such a small bunch of asparagus in last week’s box!  We were very happy to see larger harvest numbers this week when the crew picked on Monday.
Captain Jack supervising.
 No, the asparagus season is not over!
 With some extra time on our hands, we turned our attention to that which we always turn to when we have a free moment during the growing season….weed control! Can you believe it has been so cool that even the weeds haven’t been growing!! While we’ve been waiting for the vegetables to grow, our crew has been busy trimming around fields, has done a lot of landscaping, painted our barn and the nursery greenhouse, cultivated and cleaned every small weed from the plantings.
Finally, this week the warm weather came and we have been busy transplanting some of our warm weather plants including eggplant, tomato, pepper, squash and melons. While it has been a challenge to manage things this spring and provide a nice box, the tide is turning. The crops…and the weeds will grow!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Featured Vegetable of the Week: Burdock Root!

   By Andrea Yoder

We are one of only a handful of burdock growers in the country and it is a very important crop for our farm from an economic perspective.  Beyond its economic value, we also hold this vegetable in high regard for its nutritional value and the positive impacts it has on our own health.  Despite the fact that we grow burdock root every year, we’ve only included it in our CSA boxes one time in the last seven years as, historically, it has been under appreciated by members.  But something odd has been happening over the past year.   We’ve been selling more burdock at our market stand last fall and this spring than I’ve ever seen before.  Most of our market crew members have even become burdock eaters after realizing they had been talking about the vegetable but hadn’t tried it themselves. When they did give it a try they found they really liked it!  So this year we thought maybe we should reconsider where burdock fits into our CSA box plans and  decided to give this modest vegetable another opportunity to shine.  Please read on with an open mind and embrace this opportunity to try something different.

Burdock is the long, slender brown root vegetable that is packaged in a plastic bag with a red background.   It has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries where it is thought to have important health benefits as a blood and liver purifier in addition to use as a digestive aid and it’s beneficial for treating skin disorders.  It is found quite frequently as an ingredient in tonics used in non-traditional treatments for cancer among other health maladies.

 The Japanese are thought to have been the first culture to include burdock in their diets as an edible plant in addition to its medicinal uses.  You’ll find burdock to have a subtle, unique, earthy flavor with a crisp carrot-like texture and a slight sweetness.  Burdock pairs well with foods such as mushrooms, onions, garlic, beef, brown rice, barley and other root vegetables.  It may be eaten raw, cooked or dried and used in teas.  Before using, scrub the root with a vegetable brush.  You may peel the root if you desire, however the skin is thin and can eaten as well.  Burdock root stores well for months as long as it is stored in the refrigerator in a plastic bag.
There are also two more recipes printed on the back of the burdock bag including one for Kinpira, a traditional Japanese preparation for burdock.  I hope you will approach this vegetable with an open mind and give it a try.  It has a lot to offer and you’ll reap the health benefits even if consumed in small quantities….as you’re learning to like it.

Burdock and Mushroom Risotto
Serves 4

5 to 6 cups vegetable broth
1 Tbsp olive oil
3 Tbsp butter, divided
½ cup finely chopped scallions or onions
2 Tbsps garlic or green garlic, minced
1 cup burdock, chopped (peeling is optional)
1 lb assorted mushrooms of your choice, wiped clean and thinly sliced
2 cups arborio rice
1 tsp fresh thyme, minced
1 cup dry white wine
½ tsp salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tsp fresh parsley, minced

  1.  In a medium saucepan, bring the stock to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce the heat to very  low to keep the stock warm while you are making the risotto.
  2.  In a large, heavy bottom saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of  butter and heat until melted.  Add the onions and garlic and saute, stirring until fragrant and soft, about 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and burdock. Continue to saute for about 4 to 5 minutes or until the mushrooms are softened and most of their liquid has evaporated. Remove the vegetable mixture from the pan and set aside.  
  3. Return the pan to the stovetop and add the remaining tablespoon of butter to the pan. Once the   butter is melted, add the rice and stir to coat with the butter.  Toast the rice until the grains are   opaque, about 1 minute. Add the wine and thyme.Stir to combine and then simmer until nearly all the liquid has evaporated.  Add ½-¾ cup of stock along with the salt, black pepper, and burdock mixture. Continue to simmer the rice, stirring periodically.  When nearly all the liquid has evaporated, add another ½ cup of stock. Continue to add more stock in ½ cup increments as needed until the rice is tender and the risotto is creamy. Stir in ½ cup of Parmesan cheese and the parsley. Stir well to combine. Serve immediately, topping each portion with a sprinkling of the remaining cheese.  

This recipe was shared with us by Kyle Lindemer, a Madison CSA member and one of our market crew members.  Thanks Kyle!

Shoe String Burdock Fries

By Chef Andrea Yoder

Serves 4-6 as a garnish 

4 oz burdock root (2 medium size pieces, 10-12” in length)
3-4 cups sunflower or vegetable oil (appropriate for high heat cooking)
Raw Burdock Shavings

Fine sea salt

  1. Pour oil into a 3-4 quart pot.  You want the oil to be about 1 ½” deep.  You need to make sure the pan has tall sides as the  oil will expand when you fry the burdock. Make sure there is an additional 3 inches of clearance between the top of the oil and the top of the pan.
  2. Heat the oil on the stovetop over medium-high heat.  While the oil is warming up, prepare the burdock.
  3. Scrub the surface of the burdock with a vegetable brush, then blot the surface with a towel to remove excess moisture.  Using a vegetable peeler, shave thin pieces of burdock by running the vegetable peeler down half of the root.  Rotate the root slightly after each shaving to try and keep the shavings thin.  Once you are down to a skinny piece in the middle, turn the root around and repeat on the other end.  You should have about 3 cups of shavings when you are done.
  4. Test the oil temperature by dropping one piece of burdock into the oil.  It should sizzle and bubble immediately and rise to the top of the oil surface.  If it does not sizzle and/or drops to the bottom of the pan, the oil is not hot enough.  If the oil is bubbling and or smoking before you add the burdock to the pan, it is too hot and you should carefully remove it from the heat source immediately.
  5. When the oil is ready, start frying the burdock in small batches.  Do not put more than a small handful of burdock shavings into the pan at one time.  If you put too much burdock into the oil at one time, you risk boiling over.  Using tongs, gently stir the burdock in the oil to separate the strands.  Fry until the strands are lightly browned.  Use the tongs to gather the burdock together and lift it from the oil. Place the burdock on a plate lined with paper towels.  Use the tongs to gather the pieces into a little pile like a haystack. Sprinkle the pile lightly with fine sea salt while still hot.  
  6. Now you can repeat the process with the next handful of burdock.
  7. Once all the burdock is fried, remove the oil from the heat and set aside in a safe location to cool.  
  8. It is best to serve the burdock fries the same day you fry them.  Use them as a garnish for soups, grilled steak, chicken, pork or fish dishes.  You can also add the fries to a burger or other sandwich for a little added crunch.  And finally, you can just eat them as is because they are that delicious!

This is a preparation I made several years ago for a benefit dinner I cooked for in the spring.  The guests at the dinner couldn’t believe they were eating burdock and loved it!  

Pollinator Packs Coming Next Week! Time to Get Your Garden Ready!

by Andrea Yoder
Pollinator Packs

Last summer we published a series of articles in our vegetable newsletters entitled “The Silent Spring Series.”  We were prompted by the White House’s release of the National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators, a move that has been regarded by many as a ground breaking step towards acknowledging and mobilizing action around rapidly declining pollinator populations within North America.  This document was created by the Pollinator Health Task Force which was formed in response to a Presidential Memorandum issued by President Obama to create a national strategy to address the issue of declining pollinator populations.

Pollinators are an important part of what we do at Harmony Valley Farm and we rely on birds, bees, bats, butterflies and more to pollinate crops and help keep pest populations under control. We enjoy having these creatures on our farm and in our fields.  Sadly, a very large part of the problem with declining pollinator populations is being caused by the extensive use of glyphosate, neonicotinoids and other pesticides across our nation.
At the end of our Silent Spring Series of articles, we found ourselves asking… “But what can we do to help?”  Well, one of the things we’ve done on our farm is plant wildflowers and prairie grasses in the areas around our fields and roadsides to provide appropriate habitat to support pollinators.

We’ve really enjoyed watching these areas grow and develop over the past few years and are in awe at the variety of pollinating creatures that are attracted to these plants.  But is this enough?  NO!  Inspired by the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge, we decided we could take it one step further and encourage all of our members to participate in planting pollinator habitats as well!

The Million Pollinator Garden Challenge is a campaign to register a million public and private gardens and landscapes to support pollinators.  Right now they have registered 187,842 gardens, but we need to do our part to help them reach their goal.                                                                                                                                                                        Join the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge

So, here’s what we’ve done.  We have put together pollinator garden packs that contain a variety of wildflowers and prairie grasses.  They are growing nicely and are ready to be delivered to your CSA sites starting next week on Thursday, May 26.  We’ll deliver any remaining packs the following week on Thursday, June 2.  We wanted to give you a week or two to prepare your garden space so you are ready to plant your packs when you pick them up.

 As you consider your garden space, keep in mind that anything counts.  The plants contained in the pack are appropriate to plant in a space approximately 8’ x 10’.  All of the plants are perennial plants which means they will come back year after year.  You might want to consider putting a marker next to each plant so you know where you planted it and can watch for its return next spring.  If you don’t have garden space at your home or apartment, consider planting them in a community garden space or perhaps there’s a space at your workplace that you could use to establish a pollinator garden.  You can also plant each plant in an individual pot or planter box and keep them in a patio space or even on your balcony.  Once you’ve planted your garden space, don’t forget to register your garden with the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge.  (

The bottom line is planting a pollinator pack is a simple act that can have a big impact.  All of our simple acts can add up to be a great benefit in the end.  As Farmer Richard always says…. “I can’t change the world, but I can change my little corner of the world.

Here are pictures and descriptions of the different plants we included in the Pollinator Packs.  All of the plants we selected are native species grown from seed we purchased from Prairie Moon Nursery. These are some of the varieties that have done the best for us on our farm and have been very attractive to birds, bees and butterflies.  Each pack may vary a bit and may not include all of the plant varieties.

ANISE HYSSOP (Agastache foeniculum):  Grows to an average height of 3’ and produces long purple flowers from June through September.  It self-seeds readily and will often bloom in the first year.  You’ll be amazed at how many critters are attracted to this plant!  Best in areas with full sun or partially shaded.

WILD BERGAMOT (Monarda fistulosa):  Grows to an average height of 4’ and produces purple blossoms from July through September.  Best in areas with full sun or partially shaded.

LANCE-LEAF COREOPSIS (Coreopsis lanceolate):  Grows to an average height of 2’ and produces bright yellow, daisy-like flowers from May-August.  This flower is easy to grow and can form a large colony in a short period of time.  Best in full sun.

PURPLE CONEFLOWER (Echinacea purpurea):  Grows to an average height of 4’ and produces golden red to purple flowers July through September.  Will attract bees and butterflies.  Best in areas with full sun or partially shaded.

SWEET BLACK-EYED SUSAN (Rudebeckia subtomentosa):  Grows to an average height of 5’ and produces profuse, anise-scented yellow flowers from August through October.  Best in areas with full sun or partially shaded.

BUTTERFLY WEED (Asclepias tuberosa):  Grows to an average height of 2’ and produces orange blossoms from June through August.  Best in areas with full sun or partially shaded.

LITTLE BLUE STEM (Schizachyrium scoparium):  Grows to an average height of 3’ and develops a blue hue in summer and coppery-pink color after the first frost.  Does well in medium-dry gardens.

PURPLE LOVE GRASS (Eragrostis spectabilis):  Grows to an average height of 2’ and develops seedheads which bloom July through September in shades of light to bright purple.  Does well in a dry location.

We hope you have fun with this project and enjoy the experience of planting and caring for these special plants.  We’d like to do  a follow-up story next year to report on all of the successful pollinator gardens you have created. Let us know how things are going and send your pictures our way!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Overwintered Sunchokes...A Vegetable With Unique Characteristics

by Andrea Yoder

I admit, I didn’t have a clue what a sunchoke was when I first started cooking at Harmony Valley Farm.  I only knew I was hungry for the exploration of new vegetables and embraced the challenge of cooking with the seasons.  Within the first few weeks I was here, I made a delicious sunchoke chive soup and crispy roasted sunchokes with chili & lime that I served for crew lunch (both recipes are on our website).  It didn’t take long for Richard to pull me aside and gently request that I lay off on the sunchokes for crew lunches.  That’s when he explained the beauty of a sunchoke to me.  Some people love them and others are not quite as fond of them for reasons I’ll explain in just a bit.  But first, let’s explore the basic of sunchokes.

Sunchokes are a tuber that grows underground on a plant in the sunflower family.  They are native to North America and were actually an important food for our early ancestors who called them sun roots.  In fact the Effigy Mound Builders who lived on our land 1500 years ago grew and ate sunchokes!  The other name they are most commonly known by is Jerusalem Artichoke.  This is a bit misleading as sunchokes don’t have anything to do with Jerusalem or globe artichokes!
The sunchoke field in full bloom

Richard started growing sunchokes in his quest to grow as many seasonal vegetables as possible in a Wisconsin growing season.  Sunchokes help us push the limits on our season both as a late fall harvested crop as well as a spring-dug crop.   The stalks of the plant grow to an impressive 10-12 feet tall and when in bloom with yellow sunflowers, the field is a work of art.  Most varieties of sunchokes don’t even start developing much for tubers until after the first frost in late fall.  After the first frost they are able to translocate the energy stored in the stalk to the base of the plant for the purpose of developing the tubers.  Sunchokes are cold hardy and, as long as the ground isn’t frozen, can be harvested very late into the fall.  In fact, last year we did our final harvest in December!  Sunchokes are one of a handful of crops we are able to overwinter in the ground and harvest in the spring.   In fact they continue to grow slowly and are actually larger in the spring.  Sunchokes also store very well throughout the winter which is just one more reason why sunchokes are a good fit for a seasonal Midwestern locavore’s diet.

Sunchokes are a tasty vegetable with a crisp, crunchy texture and a thin skin.  They have a mild, pleasant, slightly sweet and nutty flavor.  They can be eaten raw or cooked, and peeling is a matter of choice.  When cooked, keep in mind that anything you can do with a potato you can do with a sunchoke.  Sunchokes make excellent smooth soups and are delicious when roasted.  Because of their high water content, roasting makes them fluffy on the inside and crisp on the outside.  Sunchokes can also be stir-fried, pan-fried, added to stews and eaten raw in salads.

Sunchokes are really a pretty cool vegetable that are quite tasty.  Now, here’s where I need to interject an important point.  Sunchokes contain a non-digestible fiber called inulin.  Some people may experience abdominal discomfort, gas and bloating if they eat too many sunchokes at a time.  There are some individuals who have a bad impression of sunchokes because no one ever told them that they may be best consumed in small quantities.  As a result they may have eaten too much and experienced some digestive discomfort that they have not yet forgotten.  In fact, Richard and I have our own sunchoke stories that led us to form a pact upon which we agreed that despite the fact that we grow them, we never have to feel obligated to eat sunchokes.  Within the last year I’ve noticed their popularity amongst chefs really opening up.  I started to think maybe I was missing out on something by choosing not to eat sunchokes.  So, after many years of not eating them, I cooked them again and realized how much I really do like their taste!  I also did a little more research about inulin and realized I am missing out on some important health benefits by choosing to exclude sunchokes from my diet.

Ok, so lets talk a little bit about inulin and why it’s good for our bodies.  Inulin is a non-digestible fiber known as a prebiotic nutrient.  Many of you are probably familiar with probiotics which are beneficial bacteria that live in our digestive tract and contribute in positive ways to our health and well-being.  Probiotic bacteria are found in fermented foods such as sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, etc.  They help maintain good digestive health by keeping our digestive bacterial populations in check and preventing the overgrowth of bad bacteria that can make us ill and inhibit proper digestion.  Probiotic bacteria do many other amazing things for our body, so don’t be misled by this very simple explanation of their function.  Prebiotics, such as inulin, actually serve as an important food source for probiotic bacteria with most of their work taking place in our large intestines.  Essentially, prebiotics are fertilizer for beneficial bacteria in our gut.  There are many benefits that stem from the synergistic effects of consuming prebiotics and supporting healthy bacterial populations throughout the digestive tract.  Some of the benefits include improved nutrient absorption, enhanced immunity, and better digestion which is important as a basis for our overall health and well-being.  The bacteria in our large intestines in particular use inulin as a food source which helps them thrive and keep healthy populations.  Unfortunately the good bacteria produce gas as a product of their digestion and that is where we have the potential to develop symptoms of gas and bloating if we eat too many at one time.

So after learning more about the health benefits of sunchokes, I decided to change my tune and figure out what an appropriate serving size is for my body.  I’ve learned that I can comfortably consume about a ¼ cup portion.  So that led me to rethink how I’m using sunchokes in my cooking.  For those of us who need to consume them in smaller quantities, we have to find ways to eat them more like a condiment instead of the main ingredient.  By approaching sunchokes this way, we get to enjoy the taste of the sunchoke as well as their health benefits without experiencing any discomfort.  The good news is that sunchokes do store very well, so if it takes you a month or two to eat a pound of sunchokes it’s no big deal.

Here are a few ideas to get you started.  First, check out the recipe for Chile & Lime Sunchoke Salsa in this week’s newsletter.  It’s super-simple to make and very tasty.  It can be eaten in small quantities as a condiment to top off tacos, seared fish, chicken and pork, or added to salads or sandwiches in quantities of just 1-2 tablespoons at a time.  Here’s another idea, the next time you are cooking a burger, add a few slices of thinly sliced sunchokes to the pan and fry them until golden and slightly crispy and add them to your sandwich.   One of my favorite ways to eat sunchokes is by simply roasting them.  A portion of roasted sunchokes may not be a good idea, but why not mix them in with other root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips and potatoes?  You can spin-off on the idea of roasted vegetables by making sunchoke croutons to eat on a green salad.  Cut the sunchokes into small cubes, toss with olive oil and season to your liking with salt, pepper and maybe a few pinches of smoked paprika or garlic powder.  Roast until golden and crispy.  You can also shred sunchokes and mix them with potatoes or sweet potatoes to make potato pancakes or hash browns.  I mentioned earlier that you can stir-fry sunchokes as well.  If you add a small handful to a stir-fry near the end of cooking, they’ll retain their crispiness and will taste similar to a water chestnut.  Lastly, add diced or shredded sunchokes to quiche, frittatas or egg casseroles.

For those of you who may be trying sunchokes for the first time, I hope you enjoy your first taste of them and find simple ways to include them in your meals.  If you have tried sunchokes previously and (like me) have been avoiding them, I hope you’ll reconsider ways you might include sunchokes in your diet again.  And as a side note…..Farmer Richard has also reconsidered his avoidance of sunchokes and has willingly been eating and enjoying sunchokes again with no negative recourse.

Chile and Lime Sunchoke Salsa

by Chef Andrea Yoder
Yield: 1 Cup
8 oz sunchokes (about 4 medium tubers)
4 green onions
3 Tbsp lime juice
¼ tsp chili powder
2 tsp honey
Salt and black pepper, to taste

  1. Shred the sunchokes using a food processor or a grater.  Place shredded sunchokes in a medium mixing bowl.
  2. Separate the green tops from the base of the onion.  Finely mince the white portion of the onion.  Thinly slice the green portion.  Add both the green and white of the onion to the sunchokes.
  3. Add the lime juice, chili powder and honey.  Season with salt and pepper and stir to combine.  Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes before serving.  Prior to serving, adjust seasoning as needed with lime juice, salt and pepper.

Serving Suggestions for Chile & Lime Sunchoke Salsa:
  • This salsa is an excellent topping for tacos or quesadillas.  
  • Serve on top of seared fish and grilled chicken or pork.  
  • To make a quick salad, toss a few tablespoons of the salsa with spinach and chunks of avocado.  Top with cooked chicken or fish if desired.  
  • Use this salsa as a garnish for creamy soups such as corn chowder.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Ramps & Nettles...Welcome To Spring

Ramps In The Woods
by Andrea Yoder

I find it rather ironic that we ship food in from faraway lands when we have so much available to us….literally in our back yard!  Springtime in our region brings forth a variety of plants that are the first to break free from their winter hibernation and remind us that there is hope for warm days and green food to nourish us.  Ramps and nettles are two of our favorite “Wild” spring foods that help us transition from winter to spring.

It’s funny to see how both of these vegetables have become more well-known and familiar to many over the past 10-20 years.  It is no longer uncommon to see features about ramps and nettles in major culinary magazines such as Saveur, Bon Appetit and Food & Wine.  But how did so many people come to know and appreciate the culinary value in both of these “wild” foods?  Well, in the Midwest part of the credit goes to our own Farmer Richard who originally gave ramps away at the farmers’ market!  That’s right, he couldn’t sell them so he gave them away with hopes that people would give them a try!

Harvested Ramp Bunches
Ramps are the onion-like vegetable in your box that has a bright green, rounded leaf that resembles a lily leaf.  The base of the ramp is similar to a green onion, although it becomes more bulb-like as it matures.  They are sometimes referred to as “wild leeks” and are found growing on North-facing hillsides early in the spring.  They have a short season of availability ranging from 3-4 weeks on average, hence the necessity to get your fill and eat as many as you can when they are in season.  When people ask me what a ramp tastes like, I usually just tell them the taste is, well, RAMPY!  While they can be used in ways similar to a green onion, they are special in their own way.  Some of the most common ways to use ramps include making pesto or incorporating them into pasta and egg dishes.  Ramps do pair well with other spring vegetables and foods such as spinach, mushrooms, sorrel and nettles.  They also pair well with eggs, cream, cheese, bacon, roasted & grilled meats to name just a few.

Ramps, and the leaves in particular, are delicate and should be eaten sooner than later.  Store ramps in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.  If you are going to keep ramps for several days, it’s a good idea to wrap the leaves in a paper towel to absorb excess moisture.  You can use the entire ramp with the exception of the small root end which should be trimmed away.  The leaves can be used to make pesto, added to salads, wilted into eggs, pasta, soup, etc.  If you do a quick internet search you’ll find a plethora of recipes to fit your fancy including ramp gravy to serve over biscuits, bacon & ramp vinaigrette, dumplings, potstickers and more!

Antonio Harvesting Nettles
So now on to nettles.  Lets get the uncomfortable part of this conversation out of the way first.  Yes they are the stinging kind, which is why we put them in a plastic bag for you.  Nettles are the bunched green that has pointy leaves, is dark green in color and is packaged in a plastic bag.  Nettles have little fibers on the stems that contain formic acid which will give you a “stinging” sensation if you touch them before they are cooked.  This is their own built-in defense mechanism which helps them survive in the wild.  We wash them vigorously before we pack them in your box and did put them in a plastic bag so you can handle them pain-free until you cook them.  Vigorous washing helps take some of the sting away, but we still recommend you only eat them after cooking.  You only need to cook them in boiling water for a 1-2 minutes to remove the sting.  After that you can handle them with your bare hands without a problem.  When I prepare nettles, I first put on a pot of water, cover it and bring the water to a boil.  Next, I prepare a sink of cold, clean water.  Using the bag to hold onto the stems of the bunch, I carefully remove the twist tie and drop the nettles in a sink of water.  I use a pair of tongs to swish the nettles for a final washing.   When the water is boiling, use the tongs to transfer the nettles from the sink to the pot of boiling water.  Boil for 1-2 minutes.  You’ll notice the color will change from a bright green color to a gorgeous emerald color.  Carefully remove the nettles from the pot of water, put in a colander and run cold water over them to stop the cooking.  Note, do not discard the cooking water.  Once cooled, squeeze the nettles to remove excess water.  Now they are ready for use.  You can remove the leaves from the main stem, or chop the stem finely and use everything.

Once cooked, you can do many things with nettles.  You can use them anywhere you might use cooked spinach in dishes such as lasagna, scrambled eggs, quiche, etc.  They are often enjoyed in soup, but can also be blended to make a delicious pesto or a puree that can be incorporated into pasta dough to make a gorgeous green pasta!  You’ll find them to taste similar to spinach…..but much better!

Remember I told you to save the cooking water?  The reason I suggested this is because that cooking water can be consumed as a tea!  Now is the perfect time to mention that nettles are a very nutrient-dense vegetable that is often used medicinally because of its excellent contributions to health.  They are high in calcium, magnesium, potassium, boron, carotenoids, iron and more.  They are also reported to be anti-inflammatory, relieve eczema and decrease the histamine response associated with allergic reactions.  What is there not to love?!

Nettle and Ramp Pesto

1 bunch nettles
2 cups ramps, packed
⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ tsp salt
2+½ Tbsp nutritional yeast or Parmesan cheese
¼ cup soaked walnuts

  1. Blanch the nettles in boiling water for 1-2 minutes.  Drain and rinse with cold water. 
  2. Squeeze the water out of the nettles (you’ll be left with maybe ½ cup).
  3. Place all ingredients except walnuts in a food processor, blend until smooth. Add walnuts (or other desired nut) and pulse until nuts are in small pieces. Have a spoon handy to relish this wild pesto!

Author’s Note:  “You can use pesto on pasta, in sandwiches and burgers, pizza or mini vegetable-pizza, in salad dressings, in soups or sauces, or, of course, by itself.”

Recipe borrowed from Naomi and her blog, AlmostBananas.

Creamy Nettles Dip with Roasted Garlic

1 cup blanched nettles
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
5 cloves roasted garlic or a few green garlic leaves
¼ cup fresh mint leaves
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
Cayenne pepper, a dash or to taste (optional)
1 tsp sea salt, plus more to taste
¾ cup Greek yogurt (creme fraiche or sour cream will also work)

  1. Put the nettles into a food processor and blend until roughly chopped.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend until smooth.  
  3. Taste and adjust seasoning.  You may need to add a little more lemon juice, salt or an extra dash of cayenne pepper.

Author’s Note:  “This is so quick to make, and tastes fantastic……there are so many uses for this nettles dip once you make it.  I have even made a thinned-out version into a nice, cool soup.”

Recipe borrowed from Ariana Mullins blog, And Here We Are…..tasting and discovering this beautiful world.