my staples: junuary gingersnaps

IMG_2865Sometimes one just needs a reminder that one can snap back, whether it’s a tomato plant in rainy Junuary or a teacher in the last two weeks of school or a student on the other end of the stick or a dog who wants to lie in the sun or a voice that has gone flat.  These tried and true cookies, one of my first recipes thrown out on the internet a-many years ago, will help. They help keep you peppy with the triple snap of fresh, powdered, and crystallized ginger.

It occurs to me that these would be quite good with a substitution of teff flour.  The texture of my teffernutters (almond butter-teff flour-chocolate chip cookies) is rather similar, and the molasses would ease the march into Wholegrainsville.  If you experiment, please let me know.

Junuary Gingersnaps

(Adapted from recipe in Cookies Unlimited by Nick Malgieri)

Aim for 40 small cookies.

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 12 tablespoons (1.5 sticks) unsalted butter, softened (not melted)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup blackstrap molasses
  • 1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
  • 1/4 cup chopped preserved ginger (optional)
  • demerara (or other large-grain) sugar for rolling dough balls before baking

Set racks in upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Combine flour, baking soda, salt, ground ginger, cinnamon, and cloves. In a mixer bowl, beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy (~3 minutes). Add egg and beat until smooth.

Lower beater speed to the slowest setting, then add half of dry ingredients.  When combined, ratchet up the speed and add the molasses, grated ginger, and preserved ginger. Turn off the mixer, scrape down bowl, then repeat with second half of dry ingredients.

Set mixture in refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes.

Form 1- to 2-inch diameter balls of dough and roll in a small bowl containing demerara sugar. You can use regular sugar, but the bigger grains of demerara sugar make a pretty cookie.

Place balls on cookie sheets covered with foil or parchment, leaving about 2 inches between balls.

Bake about 15 minutes, or until cookies are crackled and darker in color and firm to the touch. (N.b. my light cookie sheet doesn’t allow them to crackle, but my dark one does, so you should not gauge doneness by crackle alone.) Cookies will crisp up as they cool.

respect your elders

IMG_4599If you still have elderflowers, and I suspect I will even with the rain and my ill-timed travel, consider making elderflower sugar this year.   Mine are Sambucus nigra ‘Black Beauty,’ one of the newish mahogany-leaved cultivars of the more common European elderberry.  I often use the flowers for strawberry jam, but am thinking of infusing sugar so I can use it for other preparations throughout the year if the sugar mutes the particular scent that some consider cat urine-like and others call lemony.  De gustibus non disputandum est.

Can’t quite commit to picking fluttery flowers?  Wait for the berries and make hedgerow jam or jelly, as I’m planning to do this spring with my already ripe haskapberries (!) and frozen elderberries, gooseberries, and bramble fruit that make up my various spindly hedges.

Most important with elderberries is to know that the plant stems, leaves, and roots are poisonous, and even the berries have toxins in them if eaten raw.  Don’t fret; if you cook the ripe berries of black or blue varieties (e.g., Sambucus canadensis or Sambucus nigra, but do check reliable sources for toxicity information on your variety because it’s a bit confusing) you’ll be ok.  Check out Hank Shaw’s posts on effective ways to remove the stems of flowers for elderflower fritters or effective removal of the stems of ripe berries by freezing them for such lovely delicacies as elderberry syrup.  You’ll also need to know that there are tiny seeds in the berries that are best strained out.

In other elder news, I recently had an excellent elderflower beer, Cazeau Saison, at San Francisco’s haut biergarten, The Abbot’s Cellar.  It had a big white head and an icy fresh green taste, something along the lines of crushed wet chervil.  The elderberry washed-rind English cheddar purchased at Corti Bros. in Sacramento was not nearly as good, with the berries just used as a pretty pink dye.

Hedgerow jam or jelly is a British autumn tradition, a delectable mixed fruit concoction made with fruits that can be gathered in the countryside or from your own hedges in an edible garden.  It often contains blackberries, sloes, rose hips, hawthorn and crabapples, sometimes even nuts.

For a traditional English recipe, try this link featuring hazelnuts.  I’d probably refrigerate this one or any recipe containing nuts or lower sugar than tested American ones either with or without pectin, both for safety and to keep the flavors as vibrant as possible.  When you’re combining fruits, you will have variable issues with gel set because of the natural pectin content in the fruits you choose, so don’t feel you need to be a perfectionist about this one.

I’ll post my hedgerow jelly recipe and method soon!

sour cherry revival

IMG_3055A reader on my Facebook page posted this link to a plea to revive sour cherries, the garnet little tart cherries that rise and fall like fortune on a single week, or maybe two if you’re lucky, in June.

I love NPR’s The Salt blog, and not just because I wrote a piece for it on Amsterdam pickles.  The blog features a collection of writers and radio producers who focus on a single, tiny connection or issue involving every aspect of food.  It’s not a paid gig, so the pieces are not overblown or forcing luxury or political hysteria on the reader.  It’s just about recovering many small stories that tie us to our daily bread.

And oh, let me tell you, author Dan Charles, I am absolutely all about the effort to revive sour cherries, one of my favorite foods.

I buy a 5-lb. bag each year, already pitted and freshly picked and already sitting it its own heavenly juice from Hentze Farm in Junction City.  I usually call for several weeks to find out when they’ll be ready.  I only have a couple of fresh sour cherries recipes on CE because, quite frankly, I drink the juice raw like a heathen and brandy the cherries to use throughout the year in desserts. I also dry the cherries after they’ve been brandied, and use them like raisins or dried cranberries.

One of the best uses for fresh sour cherries, without question, is a cold Hungarian sour cherry soup.

I use the brandied cherries in cocktails and desserts, folding them in to batters of cakes, most recently the Burmese coconut semolina cake featured in Naomi Duguid’s brilliant cookbook.  Not remotely authentic, but especially good when bathed in homemade crème fraîche, as above.

An important note about the pollination issue mentioned in the article — it’s another reminder that it is key to reintroduce genetic diversity into our food crops.  The stone fruits that blossom and set fruit early in the spring are particularly vulnerable when the weather can be brutally variable.  I’ve been watching Oregon plum and cherry crops with some anxiety for years, and sometimes a late cold snap can wipe out nearly all of the fruit in one variety.  So introducing various pollinator trees and a range of sour cherries helps ensure the bees will come back during the season and catch the little blossoms on a lucky sunny day.

Ayers Creek Farm now grows ‘Balaton’ sour cherries, and I’ve seen a few other varieties around.  I tried to do my part and plant a sour cherry tree a few years ago, but my yard just isn’t the best place for fruit trees, I’m afraid, so I’ll do my duty as a consumer instead.  Eat local, eat fragile, eat rare and fleeting and challenging.

the long way home

IMG_3318I’m in Ashland on an almost sunny morning, on my way to Michigan via San Francisco for my grandmother’s funeral. I had been planning to take a road trip south to have time away from the administrative onslaught, time to think, but life seems to be relegated lately to one of those car chase video games where the ills of modern civilization — flaming tires, the bodies of fallen comrades, police cars —  keep being flung in one’s path.   All we can do is swerve.

I have to write a eulogy, and it will probably involve food, for my grandmother was without question the earliest food influence in my life (well, besides my mother and breast-feeding, I suppose).  She was the only one in my family who really wanted to talk to me about cooking.  What are you making, she’d ask, and always listen eagerly as if I were a cooking show.  She bought me a wok for my wedding.  I don’t even think she knew what a wok was.  Our last conversation involved an oven and baking, my neighbor baking.  What’s baking, she asked.  And then I knew she was gone.

I think: I’m kind of too sad to write right now, though.  Then I think: if you can afford to be too sad right now to write, you should count your blessings and get to work, missy.  Chop chop.  Do you have to raise five kids?  Do you have to get up at the crack of dawn and go work at some shitty factory job?  Do you live in Detroit?  There are people who are too sad and there are people who just get it done. Something about the devil and idle hands, right?  Idol hands.  Chop chop.

I remember Polish rye bread and real butter.  Frozen strawberries.  Coconuts.  I begged for coconuts.  And, starved for carbs, we ate Liv-a-Snaps meant for the dog.  They were in the drawer with the paddle, the menacing paddle with pictures of naughty children on it.  I don’t think it was ever used, it was just a Foucauldian symbol, and an ineffective one if we saw it and still ate the dog biscuits.  Whole milk. Radish flowers. And always kielbasa, yards and yards of it.  My intestines are made of kielbasa.  Funny that I don’t remember many casual meals with her.  I think we ate lots of soup: either chicken or vegetable beef.  She accidentally burned me with a soup pot when I was very young and underfoot.  My first kitchen lesson, my initiation scar.  Oh yes, and fried bologna sandwiches and hard salami.  I still love hard salami.  And the cookies she spirited away from the Polish bakery.  Almondy sugar cookies in vague shapes and pointless powdery chrusciki, angel wings.

So here’s what I’ve got so far:

Leokadya “Lillian” Ann Kuznicki Mendrek, 1924-2013. A formidable presence, caretaker, cook, comedian, beloved mother of five, grandmother of seven, and great-grandmother of five. She’d take care of any baby anywhere, playing a major role raising me and my siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews. She sang in the kitchen and gave us butter and made lists for Grampa and mobilized the forces. And she never let rules stand in her way, hiding a few kids to convince the anti-Catholic real estate agent the family would fit perfectly into the new suburban development in Inkster; inventing plastic-wrapped diapers to minimize leaks (she had twins, no time for nonsense); baptizing my nephews in the bathtub herself so they wouldn’t linger in purgatory; pretending at reunions that she had attended high school and not worked in the factory across the street from St. Francis in Detroit. God only punished her when she smuggled the baked chicken from Sweden House in her purse for Uncle Dennis. A long life filled with love. We’ll miss you, Nanny.

duck, duck, goose, ice cream PARTY: food for thought today

IMG_3276Don’t forget to party with Boris and me today at noon on Food for Thought. We’ll be chatting with James Beard Award-winning author and wild foods expert Hank Shaw, who will discuss his new cookbook, Duck, Duck, Goose, morel season, and fishing in Depoe Bay.  And we’ll hear all the news downtown from Chief Churners Stuart and Emily Phillips from Red Wagon Creamery and Chef Mark Kosmicki from Party Downtown.

Coming your way fast and furious: Food for Thought on KLCC Sunday at noon (PST) on 89.7FM in Eugene, or its sister stations all across Oregon, or live on the web.

fermented mustard greens

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To prepare for my fermentation class on Saturday, I’ve been experimenting with fermented vegetables in small batches.  We’re making sauerkraut and red and white kimchi, and tasting a range of wonderful ferments, including fermented mustard greens.

Although “Sichuan pickled vegetable” and “preserved mustard greens” (among other names) are widely available in Asian markets, I wanted to make my own using my garden-grown fresh mustard greens.  My greens lack the fleshy stem of the Chinese mustard green called jie cai (芥菜) in Mandarin or gai choy in Cantonese, but they are still tasty and very flexible.  They have a nice slight bitterness and spicy flavor, a great foil for bland noodles, white fish, pork belly or other fatty pork, and soups.

I’ve also used this recipe for fermented green beans for the wonderful Sichuan dish chopped sour beans with pork.  I don’t care for the ginger and other spices when used with green or long beans, so I just use salt and a little sugar.  I successfully froze slightly sour beans in their brine last summer and used them in stirfry dishes this winter.  Much better than the weird spongy flavor of frozen chopped green beans.

Note: I adapted this recipe very loosely from Fuchsia Dunlop’s pickled vegetable recipe, which appears in various forms in her Sichuan and Hunan cookbooks. Dunlop calls for rice wine or vodka in her original recipe.  As this would inhibit the fermentation process, I’ve removed it.

Sichuan Fermented Mustard Greens

  • 2 large bunches mustard greens
  • 1/4 cup coarse sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 3-inch piece of peeled fresh ginger
  • 3-4 dried chiles (Facing Heaven variety, if you have them)
  • 1/2 star anise
  • 1/3 cinnamon stick
  • a tablespoon or two of live-culture sauerkraut (not processed) or fermented hot pepper juice or whey (optional, to speed fermentation)
  • a half-gallon or larger jar, two ziplock-style bags, and a piece of cheesecloth large enough to cover jar

Bring two cups of water, salt, and sugar to a boil; let salt dissolve and set aside to cool a bit.

Slice mustard greens into three or four big chunks.  Do not chop too finely or they will be harder to handle.

In a sterilized half-gallon sized (or larger) jar, add the chiles, star anise, cinnamon stick, and optional fermentation “starter” of sauerkraut or pepper juice or whey.  (Make sure this juice is from live-culture products with lacto-bacilli to inoculate the mixture or else it won’t work.) Then pack mustard greens into the jar, pressing down tightly.

Pour one cup of brine over the mustard greens, and the rest into a ziplock-style bag.  Place one bag into another bag and close both securely to ensure the brine won’t leak.  Use the bag as a weight in the jar to submerge the greens under the water.  If there isn’t enough brine to cover the greens, pour some of the brine in the bag into the jar.  You can use other methods (like a bowl or jar filled with water or river rock) as a weight, as well.

Cover jar with cheesecloth and let sit at room temperature for 3-7 days, testing daily after three days for your desired levels of sourness.  Skim any white film off the top of the water and remove green bits that have molded on top.

For storage, cover the jar with an airtight lid and refrigerate.  The quality will improve after another week or so in refrigeration, but will start to deteriorate after a month.

Before serving, chop into small pieces.  Great in soups, pork stir-fries, dumplings, fried rice, noodles, etc.

chile weather 2013

IMG_2980I don’t think I’ve ever planted cucumbers and peppers on the same day before, but call me behind the times and ahead of my time.

This year, I’m going loco and concentrating on Mexican chile varietals to play with molé. That’s me eating enchiladas molé at a restaurant in Las Vegas with some modernist studies colleagues, above.

I also bought a couple of Facing Heavens, the Sichuan chile that I use dried and fermented and chopped into a sauce.  Jeff’s Garden of Eaton has several hundred varieties of tomatoes and hot and sweet peppers, including many rare ones, so it’s always fun to go out River Road to look and pick up a few for $2 a plant.  They’re getting tall already, so you’ll want to go soon.

I am switching beds this year, so am hoping the peppers will be happy.  They grow remarkably well in the hottest, driest spot in the garden.

Here’s my lineup (clockwise from East end). What is yours?

  • Facing Heaven
  • Chiltepec
  • Sweet Pickle
  • Pimiento de Padron
  • Chile de Agua (tell your Mexican friends about this Oaxacan pepper, very rare)
  • Pasilla de Oaxaca
  • Mulato
  • Chilhuacle Negro
  • Costeno Amarillo
  • Another Facing Heaven

 

 

niblets: jack and the beanstalk edition

IMG_3223Niblets is an all-too-occasional feature on the ins and outs of the Eugene food scene. Syndicate me?  You know you want to.

Yes, I know I said I wouldn’t do another of these for a while, but it’s garden season and this town is just teeming with news.  Plant all day and enjoy one of our new restaurants at night.  Perhaps a new Southeast Asian (Malaysian?) restaurant, Kopi-O, across from Midtown Marketplace at 16th and Willamette?  I kid you not.

Adaptive Seeds reports that “Our very own Andrew Still will be teaching a workshop – Seed Saving & Seed Stewardship: The Path to Locally Adapted Seed and True Food Freedom – next Sunday, May 19th from 10am – 3pm at Sunbow Farm in Corvallis.”  This is special.  Andrew is a fantastic speaker and smart as a whip.  He co-leads one of the most radical new ventures in the valley, an “open source” PNW-appropriate, internationally gleaned, organic seed company that grows and collects open-pollinated seed crops from a small network of local farmers.  And it’s at another one of the coolest progressive farms in Oregon.  Don’t miss it.

And speaking of workshops, I’ll be appearing in a short segment on the Sustainable Table on KEZI 9 TV in Eugene (that’s our ABC channel, for those with fancy things like cable) on Wednesday on the 6 p.m. news.  I made some sauerkraut for reporter Brandi Smith and we chatted about upcoming Master Food Preserver preservation classes, like the fermentation class (now full) I’m offering on May 18.

Oregon Plant Fair sale at Alton Baker Park and the Hardy Plant Sale at the Fairgrounds are happening today from 9-2.  As in right now!

Spotted at Groundworks Organics last week at the farmers market: agretti! This unusual Italian green can be used raw in salads, cooked, or pickled. I grabbed the last one and only wish I could have bought a few more. Hope there will be more today. Please enjoy the visual delights of a white pizza I made (above) with Salumi fennel salami, topped with grass clippings of agretti, oregano, and wild arugula.

Growers of tomatoes and peppers (and aren’t we all?) will be relieved to know Jeff’s Garden of Eaton is open for another year.  Jeff works extremely long hours at a classical music non-profit, so it’s hard for him to manage the extensive work of cultivating nightshades, so please do support him.  He has the best selection of anyone in town — many unusual varieties.  He says:

Just a quick message to let you know that Garden of Eaton is once again offering a wide variety of mostly heirloom tomato and pepper starts for your garden.

We’re generally open every day between noon and 6PM at 2650 Summer Lane in Santa Clara. My assistant, Carolyn, will be here to answer any questions you might have about the different varieties available this year. You can reach Carolyn during the hours we’re open by calling (541) 607-1232 [ed: or email Jeff at jaeaton at clearwire dot net].

I hope to update my website sometime this week to include descriptions of the varieties available, but for now I invite you to drop by and see for yourself!

Have fun and be careful out there! (Bees.)

niblets: here comes the sun edition

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Niblets is an all-too-occasional feature on the ins and outs of the Eugene food scene.

In an inestimable loss for Eugene, Marché Provisions and wine expert Ryan Stotz have parted ways.  I can’t really express politely how I feel about this, since Ryan is my friend and co-host on the radio show, and more importantly he taught me and continues to teach me about wine.  But I will say this: as a literature professor, I know a natural writer when I see one, and I look everywhere for his kind of talent.

Why is he not writing a wine column in a national magazine?  I’ll even confess that I would occasionally — just occasionally — go and sneak photos of his signs in the shop.  For me, it was less about which wines were good, but more about the exuberance with which he expressed his love of the chase, the capture of weird flavors, and elusive bargains.  And he can tease out flavors and scents that you and I have only fantasized of tasting and smelling in the barnyard of meadow flowers set with a picnic table smorgasbord crowned with orange blossoms and Twizzlers of our dreams.  I always felt he was at his best, in fact, when he was waxing about the lime zest or blood or asphalt or cascading honeysuckle in a $12 bottle than in the $89 Austrian chardonnay, which he didn’t need to sell other than to say look, you need to buy this.  At Provisions, he fought the good fight to expand our palates — pick Chiroubles instead of that insipid Oregon Pinot Noir everyone else will bring to the potluck.  Chablis instead of Pinot Gris with our crab: just try it, give it a chance. Germany and Northern Italy and Portugal and weird Central European biodynamic producers!  See for yourself:

IMG_0750IMG_0748IMG_0757    IMG_0744 IMG_0741IMG_0745I suppose I should see this event, and Ryan’s inevitable departure, as one really must view the brain drain of Eugene’s Generation Xers.  Unfortunately, for the children of the Summer of Love, Eugene is a stopover, not a destination, and I’ve watched so many of my friends leave when they can’t make a living for themselves and their families here.  Joyce would have been paralyzed had he stayed in Dublin, right?  Change is good.  But it still hurts like hell.  Pass the wine.

If 5th Street is having some rocky moments, Downtown ascends.  I worry a little bit about the above, plus the long rollercoaster of downtown history and the boom-and-bust experiences of Eugene restaurants, so let’s make sure we support the emerging food venues downtown.  Among them, I’m particularly excited about Kamitori; Noisette Pastry Kitchen; Soubise (opening May 12 for Mother’s Day brunch, follow news on the former Rabbit Bistro page); and the Party Downtown/Red Wagon Creamery joint effort, opening WHAT?! TODAY!

IMG_3173Kamitori, which continues to provide the best Japanese-style sushi in the area, will be expanding its saké selection dramatically as of this week.  I counted 73 offerings on the new menu, with great descriptions and prices to match.  Many of the sakés are ones rarely available in the U.S.  Chef Masa also told me he’s planning to hold sushi-making classes, most likely on a Sunday or Monday evening.  I’d be happy enough just to eat his uni from Maine, which is sweeter and creamier, and somehow even fresher than the standard uni available from California.

IMG_3177I managed to shoot a single photo of the interior of Soubise (above) on First Friday, after they took down some of the paper covering the windows facing Broadway (just west of Willamette).  They’ll probably be mad at me, but I’m so excited for them and couldn’t help but spread the word.  Still finishing up the details, but it looks great so far, huh?

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IMG_3205Across the street from Soubise and next to the new Bijou and the already-crowded-and-weirdly-reminiscent-of-a-high-end Irish pub First National Brewery, Party Downtown and Red Wagon Creamery held an open house a few days ago.  I was off my photo game, but allow me to assure you that the interior in the ice cream parlour in the front, and the Party business in the back are gorgeous, unlike anything in town.  Visit yourself this week and see the already-famous penny floors in the Ladies and Gents.  Canners may enjoy the mason jar light fixtures at Red Wagon.  And you all better appreciate the cool old wood floors that the team refinished and installed in the hallway separating the two businesses.

The ceramic fixtures at Party Downtown were made by a local artist.  I especially like the one above the new bar, which is headed up by former Marché bartender James West.  (He made me promise not to write a review yet, so I will not tell you his white negroni is fabulous.  You will have to wait to hear that from me.)  But I also like the mid-century mis-matched dinnerware that the team dug up at a local restaurant supplier.

IMG_3210IMG_3206IMG_3193Surely, you need not listen to me go on yet again about how good I think chefs Tiffany Norton (below, with savory greens slab pie) and Mark Kosmicki’s food is, especially the savory donut with pickled spiced garlic dust filled with a pimento cheese-like spread, or the garlic chive custard spread with “wheat thins,” below.

IMG_3197IMG_3199IMG_3208But another matter altogether is the bar mix (below).  It’s dehydrated and deep-fried dent corn and beans, made salty and spicy and over the top good.  It was extremely difficult not to make off with the bowl and bury it in my yard like a squirrel.

IMG_3189Luckily, I am not a squirrel.  So I stayed for dessert, and had a mini pavlova with beet syrup and tarragon and dandelion wine-infused whipped cream.  It seems that Red Wagon will have a similar pavlova as an introductory special with the ice creams you’ve grown to love.  Aren’t they lovely?

IMG_3180In other downtown news, Davis has reopened, with the bar rather awkwardly moved to the side of the dining area to accommodate a band/DJ area where the old bar used to be.  I understand that they are trying to increase the late night club business, but I kind of wish they hadn’t dumbed down the menu.  Oh well.

Oakshire Brewing will be hosting Track Town brewmaster Christina Canto for an intimate class on malt with the women’s beer group Barley’s Angels.  Learn the process of malting, the different malt types and how it affects the overall flavor in beer. Sample 5 different Oakshire beers and enjoy food from Sammitch Food Truck. $15/person. For reservations email amanda@oakbrew.com.  Tuesday, May 21, 6:30pm until 8:00pm.

Missing your favorite local chefs Mike Meyer of the dearly departed Red Agave restaurant or Shane Tracey of Nib?  The great news is that you can have their food again: Chef Mike at Ox & Fin, and Chef Shane at Excelsior Inn, where he is the pastry chef.

Tokyo Tonkatsu, another downtown offering, needs improvement.  I found the ingredients extremely low quality, difficult to make evident in a restaurant that is basically all fried food.  And a lack of salt and lackluster service make it difficult to recommend.  Remind employees they shouldn’t be chatting loudly about their impressions of the restaurant trade while the dining room has customers in it, please.

Meanwhile, in Springfield…

Plank Town Brewing Company is off and running, and truly a reason to head out to the other downtown. The decor is inviting, showcasing wood grains in a slightly strange vast space formerly housing a rambling antiques store.  It’s probably the area’s only true “gastropub,” with a menu that is developing but trying to reach the gourmand and the burger lover at once.  This might prove too big a challenge, but it’s cool that the chef clearly takes pride in the food and I’m willing to support them as they play.

Whew, that was long!  No more of these for a while…

when the greens begin to bore you

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Even in our kale-besotted burg, there gets to be a point when our blood runs green and we start growing leafy fringes.  Maybe not this week, maybe not next week, but it will happen as it inevitably happens each year.  And then you’ll stop protesting and thank me for these, my go-to greens recipes.  Truth be told, you can them all year ’round, since mustard greens and collards overwinter, but after the first blush of green in April is when you’ll really appreciate a good Chinese, Indian, or Ethiopian treatment to spice things up a bit.

Looking for recipes for raab, or the tops of bolting greens?  Look no further.

For each of these recipes, they’re best using the greens specified, but feel free to substitute any green, keeping in mind collards and some kales need to cook longer than tender young Russian kale, mustard greens, or spinach.

IMG_3158Buttery Collard Greens with Anaheim Peppers (Ye’abesha Gomen)

Serves 4 as a side dish with another Ethiopian stew or two.  I use my fermented peppers all winter long as a substitute for local peppers, but you might try freezing Anaheims when they’re in season; the texture will change but they are fine in long-cooked dishes like this one.  Above: with split peas and lettuce salad.

  • 1 large bunch collard greens, cleaned
  • 1/2 cup chopped red onions
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 stick to 1 stick butter (let your conscience be your guide)
  • 2 Anaheim peppers, deseeded and chopped (or substitute fermented peppers)
  • handful of fenugreek leaves or a few shakes of powdered fenugreek (optional)

Remove the tough ribs from the collards and chop the greens well.  Bring a cup or two of salted water to the boil.  Boil collards until soft, about 15 minutes, with the lid on.  Meanwhile, in a frying pan, melt the butter and cook onions and garlic until soft and golden over medium low heat.  Add peppers and cook until soft, about 5 minutes, then add cooked greens and fenugreek leaves or powder.  Cook for another 10 minutes.  Serve with rice or injera.

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Sichuan Spicy Kale with Celery

This dish, wonderful with any pork preparation, is an adaptation of Fuchsia Dunlop’s Twice-Cooked Swiss Chard from her cookbook, Every Grain of Rice.  You might use chard, but do blanch it ahead of time (that’s the “twice-cooked”).  This makes a thoughtful dining experience, as munching on the juicy stems of chard and celery slows one down and turns even the most heathen glutton pensive.  You might think about this dish as poverty food: chard, Dunlop tells us, was until recently seen as pig fodder in China.  Or just use kale instead, as I do, since it adds a layer of sweetness and provides a more tender experience, and doesn’t need to be blanched. You can now find top-quality Sichuanese chili broad bean paste at Sunrise Market in little brown packages tied up with string.  It’s well worth having some on hand.

  • 2 bunches ruffled-type kale (I prefer ‘White Russian’)
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons Sichuanese chili bean paste
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 1 tablespoon green or spring onion bottoms (save tops for garnish)
  • 1 tablespoon fermented black bean paste (or substitute 2 tablespoons rinsed and drained fermented black beans, chopped)
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock
  • 1/3 cup minced celery
  • 2 tablespoons minced cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onion tops

Prepare all the ingredients ahead of time.  Clean and strip kale from its ribs.  Tear into bite-sized pieces.  Heat the oil on medium high in a wok but not until smoking or you’ll burn the spices.  Add chili bean paste, garlic, and ginger, stirring to break down the bean paste, then add the black bean paste and chicken stock and cook until it turns saucy, another 2-3 minutes.  Fold in the kale pieces and stirfry until wilted and soft, about 5 minutes, then add celery and cook for another minute.  Remove from heat, stir in cilantro and green onions, and serve.

IMG_3172Indian Mustard Greens with Paneer Yogurt Cheese (Saag Paneer)

There are roughly a gazillion versions of saag paneer, the ubiquitous creamed, pureéd greens with white, tofu-like yogurt cheese cubes that one sees on Indian restaurant menus.  Some are thickened with yogurt, some are more of a thick sauce in texture.  Needless to say, anything one makes at home with late-spring greens will be better than the frozen spinach preparations available on the buffet line.  As you can see in the first photo, I use tomato paste instead of the more usual tomato and throw a couple paneer cubes in the food processor with the greens to combat the dish’s tendency to be watery.

Paneer can be purchased frozen or fresh, or you can make your own easily if you have some time.  I like the color added when you brown the cubes, but browning tends to toughen them up, so you might just add them as is.  I’ve seen some recipes recommend soaking the cubes in hot water before browning and even after browning to prevent this issue. If you try that, let me know.

  • 2 bunches mustard greens
  • 6 – 8 oz. cubed paneer
  • 2 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 medium white onion, minced
  • 2 teaspoons grated ginger
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • salt to taste

Clean the greens and remove large stems, and cube the paneer.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Blanch greens in the boiling water for 2 minutes (in 3-4 batches) to make them easier to handle.  Plunge in a bowl of cold water, then allow them to drain well in a colander.  Add to a food processor with a couple of cubes of the paneer, puree until finely chopped.

Heat the oil in a large skillet using medium heat.  Brown paneer cubes on two sides, just until they have a nice golden-brown crust.  Remove paneer and set aside.

Using the same oil in the skillet, fry the cumin seeds until fragrant, then add onion, ginger, and garlic.  Cook until golden, then add tomato paste and garam masala, stirring constantly to break down the paste and ensure no burning.  If the burner seems too hot, add a little water.

Add greens mixture and cook for another 5 minutes or so, blending the flavors. Add paneer cubes and cream and lower heat to a simmer.  Salt generously to taste.  Cover skillet and cook for 5-15 minutes, stirring every few minutes, depending on how soft or fresh you want your greens.