greening breakfast

IMG_5583I’ve finally found the perfect breakfast for me, and it’s easy being green.  It lends itself well to overwintering hardy greens in the Willamette Valley, although we may have to search for them in the snow today.  It’s a perfect farm meal, since kale lingers in the garden, and leeks can store well for a while.  Until my rosemary unceremoniously gave up the ghost, I could harvest the herbs fresh each day.

Contrary to what a hundred years of breakfast cereal propaganda will have you believe, protein in the morning is a good idea since it doesn’t burn through you like empty carbs and sugar.  After leaving my bagel habit behind, I’ve tried every kind of breakfast imaginable, including hot cereal, poached eggs, yogurt with fruit, and a ham sandwich.

But the Breakfast of Champions — a bowl of kale, ground beef, and leeks — is without doubt the best thing I’ve eaten for breakfast, and I eat it almost every day. It instantly makes me happier, not sleepy, and if I wait long enough in the morning, I can skip lunch.  I’ll often make enough for two days and reheat a serving.

IMG_5587You’ll probably guess that with these ingredients and the paleo/gluten-free/nutritionist slant, I did not come up with this breakfast on my own.  It’s the work of my friend and kayak-builder Brian Schulz, with whom I (mostly goodnaturedly) quarrel almost daily about diet.  He’s often right, but I know how to cook, so it’s a pretty even match.  (Incidentally, if you want to make your own traditional skin-on-frame kayak in one of the most beautiful places on the Oregon Coast, take one of his classes in Manzanita or other locations on the road.)

Anyway, he insisted on making me this breakfast one day when I was visiting his farm, and I got hooked on the flavor combination of coconut oil and kale.  Who knew?  For someone that pretty much follows the if-it-grows-together-it-goes-together principle of food combinations, and eschews fad oils altogether, I believe I have the necessary street cred to say it tastes good; try it.  And yes, they’re paleo-friendly.

Charred chard with an egg is another green breakfast I eat when I’m out of hamburger meat.  I really like the contrast of well browned leaves, crispy on the edges, and the silky softness of sautéed chard with the sunnyside up egg nesting in it.  In early spring, try mixing your chard with another and punchier green mixed in during the last few moments, preferably wild nettles or arugula.  I developed the recipe as I was writing my next column for Eugene Magazine, which will show you how to use the stems in a delicious chard stem pickle.  Stay tuned!

Breakfast of Champions

Serves 2.

  • 6-8 cups torn kale or kale/chard mix
  • one large leek
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mixed herbs: rosemary, sage, and thyme
  • 2/3 lb. lean ground beef (about 7% fat)
  • 2 tablespons of coconut oil
  • salt to taste

Rinse and drain dry kale and chard (if using).  Tear up greens into bite-sized pieces.

Clean leek by removing the tough green tops (save these for soup stock), slitting the leek lenthwise partially through the stalk, then rinse well under cold water, making sure to get any sand trapped in the outer layers.

In a large skillet or wok, melt coconut oil on medium heat, then add leeks and saute until golden.

Add herbs and ground beef, crumbling up the large pieces.  Once no longer pink, allow the beef to sit without stirring to acquire a bit of browning, about 2-3 minutes.  Turn beef over and let sit again for the same amount of time, then add greens.  If your wok or skillet is too small, you may need to add in batches.  Be careful, as the water clinging to the leaves may splatter.  Cook greens down until tender.

Charred Chard with An Egg

Serves 2.

  • 4-5 cups chard leaves, washed, patted dry, and torn into pieces
  • optional: 1 cup of spring nettles (be careful!) or dandelion greens, washed, patted dry, and torn to pieces
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tablespoons butter or coconut oil
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 2 eggs

Preheat a well-seasoned cast iron skillet on medium-high heat.  Add greens and stir until any water on leaves has steamed away.

Add butter or coconut oil and minced garlic, and stir to coat leaves well. Sprinkle on salt and pepper to taste.  Smooth out the greens into one layer, and let cook, without stirring, until the bottom is crispy.  The goal is to mark the chard with little near-burned bits.

When chard is crispy on bottom, separate into two piles in the skillet with a spatula.  Create a divot in the middle of each pie for the raw egg.

Crack an egg into each divot, and add salt and pepper to taste.  Cover the skillet with a lid and let egg cook through until the yolks are done to your liking.

Carefully scoop out the kale and egg servings, and present on a plate with toast.

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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.

eats weeds and leaves: edible spring pruning

IMG_3152Hello!  Long time no see.  It’s planning season in academia, and I’ve been scrambling to pull together grants and reports and abstracts and introductions and applications.  Like so many young(ish) scholars working in adjunct positions, I’ve also been struggling with job instability and will be moving to a joint position teaching in English and Comparative Literature at the university in the fall.  Although I’m excited to work with colleagues I know and respect already (don’t forget Eugene is a small town, so this is like moving down the street), it will shift priorities for me as the new classes and structure will take up more time.  Some additional family financial pressures mean I will need to start prioritizing stability and writing much more, both for academic journals and professional food publications to make ends meet.  Having to move is a very real possibility.

Unfortunately, this will mean fewer events and volunteer projects for the community starting next year, and I’m deeply sorry about this.  It’s important to give back, and the pleasures of the volunteer work I do, including the radio show, this blog, the preservation classes, the events I host at the UO through my research group, the promotion of others’ work, and volunteering at festivals and reporting on my travels and such make life worth living in Eugene.  Don’t worry, I still have a few things planned for next year that are pretty fabulous.  But I need to “lean out,” as they say.

So the prospect of eating from the garden is suddenly even more appealing.  And it’s culling time, so here are some ideas.

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  • Fresh oregano salad, substituting oregano for fresh parsley in any tabbouli recipe, supposedly helps young people study in the Middle East.  And who doesn’t need to sharpen up the memory?  With the tender spring leaves tempered by spring onions and a lemon and olive oil dressing, you won’t be overwhelmed by the dark, musky flavor and woody stems.
  • Common snails. Yes, escargot.  I felt my gorge rise when I realized in France our garden pests — yes, the exact same variety — were one of the species used for escargot.  But Molly Watson has published a piece in Edible San Francisco that lays out how to prepare and cook them in a rather appetizing way.  And what with the foraging all around town making its way into local bistros…new business, anyone?
  • Any basket-weavers who are pruning?  Consider a traditional grilled fish basket made of Mediterranean bay branches (above image).  We lunched on delicious salmon prepared this way on our tour of Sunset magazine a few weeks back as part of the International Association of Culinary Professionals conference.  You might be able to do something similar with rosemary branches, if that’s your unruly hedge issue.
  • Dandelion greens can be wilted and used as a deeply flavorful green in a stirfry or potato curry, or try my fellow Oregon blogger Dr. Fugawe’s adaptation of Duguid’s Spiced Burmese New Potatoes with dandelion greens and shallot oil.

But where it’s really at is RAAB.  These are the tops of cruciferous vegetables that sweetly greenly provided iron-rich leaves all winter long, now bolting in the lovely sun.  The market gives us a bunch of them, all tasting basically the same once cooked, but some sharper, some darker when raw.  Try brussels sprouts raab or collards raab, my favorite (pictured first against tree — a very timely delivery by my beloved neighbor), or the lovely purple cabbage raab.

Easiest recipe?  Chop up a bunch of raab with its pretty yellow flowers and throw atop fried meat, like the utterly succulent chunks of bo ssam Biancalana pork shoulder I made the other day, before wrapping morsels in butter lettuce leaves.  But then there’s also

Pasta.  Try it chopped and sauteed in olive oil that has been warmed up with a little chopped garlic or culled green garlic from the garden, lemon zest, and red pepper flakes (add a little anchovy if you’re adventurous and/or wise).  Throw the cooked raab into a bowl of fresh pasta, something chunky like rotini, and grate fresh parmesano all over it.

You might also sample it steamed or fried with a little oyster sauce, just like the gai lan you see in dim sum houses.

Or little green potstickers, anyone?  Finely minced raab works especially well with ground pork as a filling.

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But best of all is this recipe for stir-fried chopped raab with pork and fermented red chili (above, photographed by the paparazzi).  It’s an adaptation of Fuchsia Dunlop’s Bo Bo Cai Xin, or Stir-fried Chopped Choy Sum, from her cookbook, Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking, that just came out in an American edition.  It’s a wonderful cookbook, with a big chapter on leafy greens that I’ve already explored extensively.

My palate is a bit duller than Dunlop’s so I usually use more spice and salt than she does.  You might decide on your own.  But either way, definitely use the pork if you’re a meat eater.  Although we sliced it thickly because of gluttony for Laughing Stock Farm pork and its delicious fat, I’d recommend mincing finely next time.  Another difference is that with raab, you don’t need to blanch ahead of time.  It’s much thinner and more tender than choy sum.  I also substituted my own fermented red ‘Facing Heaven’ chilis for plain red jalapenos, so the recipe reflects that.

Stir-fried Chopped Raab with Pork and Fermented Red Chili

Serves 2 with rice and Chinese pickles, but make several dishes and turn it into a party.

  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil, divided
  • 3 cups of chopped raab
  • 1 tablespoon chopped Sichuan fermented red chiles, or substitute finely chopped fresh red jalapeno or even red bell peppers
  • 1/2 pound ground pork or finely chopped pork shoulder meat, best quality
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 2 tablespoons spring onions (good use for culled onions from garden)
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons chili oil (optional)

Do all your chopping and measuring ahead of time, and set aside each ingredient in little bowls.  Heat wok to sizzling, then add a tablespoon of the peanut oil to heat, then quickly add the chopped raab and cook until bright green and still crunchy, just two minutes or so, then stir in red chiles.  Set aside in a serving dish.

Add rest of peanut oil, then add chopped or ground pork and a little salt.  As the pork loses its pink but is not yet completely cooked, add ginger and garlic.  When everything is nicely browned, add back the raab, stir to blend flavors and cook for a couple minutes more, then remove from heat, stir in sesame and chili oil, then serve with rice.

ethiopian spiced greens

We finally dove into our T-bone steaks from the quarter-cow share, and they were wonderful.  Let no one tell you that grass-fed beef is tough or tastes bad; ours is flavorful and perfectly juicy.  It is leaner, but the lack of marbled fat doesn’t seem to be a problem.  I’m not thrilled by the butchery, I have to admit. One of the T-bones lacked most of the pretty little tenderloin nugget that defines this cut, a condition I’m pretty sure is related to a slip of a knife (or saw?).

But I won’t go on about the wonders of the steak, marinated in whole-grain mustard and topped with Walla-walla onions and tarragon butter.  Instead, instead!  The star of the T-bone show wasn’t the T-bone at all.

It was the side of Ethiopian greens.

Retrogrouch had purchased a giant bag full of hearty greens after reading that they were good for healing broken bones.  We hadn’t been cooking them, though, so I suggested we make the Ethiopian greens that I love.  We still had some quick-frozen injera in our deep freeze, so I pulled that out and nuked it, as per the instructions from the woman who sold it to me in Portland.  (But if you like, make your own from one of my most popular posts, thanks to guest blogger Ceri — good luck!)

Candid photo of the uninvited guest at our intimate supper, courtesy of Retrogrouch

This recipe was adapted from several Ethiopian greens recipes — one a simple, non-spiced treatment for boiled kale, and another recipe using niter kibbeh, the spiced ghee or clarified butter used frequently in Ethiopian cooking, to jazz up collard greens.  It’s delicious just plain or with injera as a scoop.

By the way, if you’re looking for a fantastic appetizer that uses a similar preparation, try my Ethiopian greens bruschetta, a lovely preamble to a barbecue.

Ethiopian Spiced Greens

  • 1 lb. mixed hearty greens (I used purple and lacinato kale with some beet greens; try any kale, mustard green, collards), cleaned well
  • 3 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter available in Indian markets) or regular butter
  • Spices: about 1/2 teaspoon each of garlic powder and onion powder, and 1/4 teaspoon each of cumin, fenugreek powder, cardamom powder
  • 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
  • 1 cup chopped red onion
  • 2-3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup stock or water (I used beef bone stock)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano (or mix in 1/2 teaspoon dried to the spices above)
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions

Chop and mince vegetables and herbs, as noted, and grate ginger.  Mix together spices.  Strip the leaves from the stems of the cleaned greens; discard stems.

Blanch the hearty greens by plunging them into boiling water for about 30 seconds, then dropping them into a bowl of ice water.  Squeeze the water from the greens as best as possible (I grab pieces that are softball-sized and squeeze), then set aside in large bowl to be chopped.

Chop all the greens into pieces no larger than one inch square.

In a pot large enough to hold the greens, melt the butter and add spices, ginger, red onion, and garlic; cook on low heat for about 20 minutes to soften the aromatics.

Add the stock or water and bring to a boil, then add the greens, oregano, and green onions.  Mix well and taste.  Add salt as necessary, perhaps more than you think you might need.

Here is where your preference comes in.  Cook the greens until they are just right for you.  It will depend, also, on the greens you’ve chosen. The tradeoff for softer greens is a loss of nutrients.  I like mine dark green but not olive drab; others may like theirs emerald green.  Add more stock if the greens seem dry.  You don’t want them to be dripping wet, but moist is good.

Serve with injera and another dish.  Lentils is a good choice, as is (trust me) a lovely T-bone steak.

oxtail and colcannon: luck o’ the irish

Edited to add:  Want to hear me discuss this dish on the radio?  Listen in to today’s Food for Thought on KLCC program by downloading the archived show here.

Warning: gruesome tail image below. Vegetarians avert your eyes.  No, really.  I’m not joking.

I’ve been doing so little cooking lately that I consider my kitchen time sacred.  I miss playing with my food.  Our freezer is still 3/4 full of the 1/4 grass-fed cow we bought from a local farmer last fall, thanks to my crushing schedule and my husband’s sudden decision not to eat much meat anymore after the order was made.

St. Patrick’s Day seemed like the perfect time to change all that.  I had a package of oxtails, so thought I’d make a traditional Irish oxtail braise.  Oxtails used to be a cheap cut of meat — a leftover part for the poor.  But now that the wealthy have figured out that it’s rich and delicious, you see it on chi-chi restaurants on both sides of the Atlantic.

What better time to experiment with a wild green colcannon that wild foods expert Hank Shaw posted on his blog the other day? Colcannon is fancy mashed potatoes, usually made with spring onions and kale or cabbage, that the Irish serve with a pat of melty butter.  Hank brilliantly realized this humble side dish would be enhanced with wild greens like cow parsnip or nettles.

As for me, I used the wild onions that spring up in the grass in March in Oregon, and some arugula that had gone feral in my garden.

If I were to change anything in his recipe, I’d blanch the greens first before sauteing them in butter alone, and I’d emphasize strongly that they should be chopped very finely.  No one wants a tough tongue of limp arugula in their mashed potatoes.  And I know from personal experience.

As for the oxtail, well, it’s a good thing I’m not squeamish, because they included the whole damn tail, not just the lovely meaty chunks up higher toward the business end.  (One more chance to avert your eyes)

Holy snakes, St. Pat!  And not cutting through the thing…that was just cruel.  So into the soup bone bag in my freezer the wiggler went, and the meaty part became my braise.

When making any kind of tough, collagen-rich meat braise, you really don’t need a recipe, since they’re all basically the same.  You can’t really mess up as long as you go low and slow.  Preheat the oven to 300, then cut the meat in chunks, salt and pepper it, then sear it on all sides in vegetable oil or lard (I often save bacon fat for this task), then place it in a dutch oven. While the searing pan is still hot, sweat down chopped onions, carrots, celery and parsley, then add it to the meat in the dutch oven.  Lacking a carrot and celery, I used parsnips, rutabagas, and cutting celery instead this time.)  Add liquid and a bay leaf almost to cover the meat.  I often use half red wine and half chicken stock, but beef stock is better.  Cook for several hours, or until the meat falls off the bone. During cooking, taste for salt and pepper.

When it’s ready, remove it from the stock.  You have a couple of choices, based on time.  You can strain the juices and put them in the freezer until the fat rises to the top and you can remove it.  You can scoop the fat off the top with a spoon and then strain.  But either way, you’ll want to return the juices to the pan and cook them down and taste for seasoning.  As I do this, I whisk a couple of teaspoons of flour into the reducing sauce to thicken it and add a bit more red wine to brighten up the flavors, but that’s not necessary.  All you need to do is have a lovely, concentrated sauce to go with your braise.

And that’s it!

It’s even better the next day.  I suggest turning the leftover colcannon into colcannon latkes. As James Joyce would say, contransmagnificandjewbangtantiality!

niblets: wearing o’ the green edition

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  Plant at least one potato for good luck, tradition tells us.  Then again, tradition tells us it doesn’t snow in March.  Forecast for Monday: low 42 degrees, snow showers.  That doesn’t even make SENSE.  Sheesh.

So I will ignore it, just as I ignored hail hailing on my head on my way to class at least eight days a week this term.

For there are springy things a-springing, and great news for us.

Springfield, for example, has a building — with the help of the Neighborhood Economic Development Corporation (NEDCO) nonprofit organization — for a new indoor, year-round farmers market. Housed in a former church at 4th and A Street, the future market recently hosted an open house to show plans for Sprout!.  The celebration was fun, with music and raffle drawings.  The gentleman above in the hat presided, and there was a visit from Samba Ja and free nibbles from a range of eateries.  The place was packed.

Sprout! will have two anchor café spaces and seventeen indoor stalls to expand and augment the existing outdoor farmers market.  The indoor stalls will be about 10×6′, and will be placed along the windows and down the nave and transcepts, as pictured here:

“It seems small,” groused one attendee while looking at the plans.

“That’s because it is small,” replied the patient man from the architecture team.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.  The place is big enough for a commercial kitchen and event space, plus the outdoor area for food carts and market vendors.  And we need to keep in mind that the winter markets usually don’t host as many vendors as the summer ones do.

All in all, I’m thrilled this space is being made possible as a reuse and recycle for Springfield.  NEDCO is really doing fantastic work.  I do hope the ‘!’ falls off the Sprout!, though.  People are going to find that exhausting and gimmicky.  You can follow the progress of Sprout! and the Springfield farmers market on their Facebook page.

And it’s wild greens season.  If you are tired of the little western bittercress popping its seeds in your eye, eat it!  Perfectly edible. Or you can pick some stinging nettles or buy them already de-stung at one of our local markets.

For more ideas about how to prepare more green things, like stinging nettles, wild onions, and dandelions, listen to Food for Thought on KLCC tomorrow, Sunday, March 18, at noon. Join me and Ryan at noon, with special guests Heather Arndt Anderson of the fantastic food blog Voodoo & Sauce, Ben Jacobsen of Portland’s first local salt company, Jacobsen Salt Co., and our very own Izakaya Meiji‘s Quinn Brown.

dark days #20: southern greens and soft red wheat

I was in a Southern greens type of mood, so I thought I’d cook up some fresh collards in a smoked hambone stock for the very last Dark Days winter local cooking challenge.  And it’s good timing, too.  Spring is here!  We’ve been hit by a spring storm with some wild weather all week: sunshine, rain, hail, wind, and then it started all over again.  We managed to get the grill going, however, and Retrogrouch grilled up a couple of Biancalana Pork Growers shoulder chops seasoned with a peppery rub.  Frumento, soft red wheat berries grown by Ayers Creek, were simmered until split and plump with bay leaves and carrot, then turned into a pilaf with local carrots, filberts, onions, and barberries.  Farmer Anthony Boutard has this to say about frumento:

Most varieties of bread wheat have a tough skin and are not particularly flavorful as whole grains for soups, stews and salads. A couple years ago, we purchased a package of frumento from a grocery store in Rome. It was sold as a breakfast cereal. The grain appears to be a soft red winter wheat of some sort. It is very tasty and tender for wheat. It is a true winter variety in that it forms a low growing tuft over the winter, and then shifts its growth pattern in the spring. The heads are large, productive and easy to thresh.

I liked this meal, because I was able to turn the leftovers of two hardy bunches of collards and the smoky, porkulent stock into a wheat berry soup for the next day’s lunch.  A twofer!  It was just what I needed.

Today was the first day of our annual farmer’s market, running now until Christmas.  We’ve turned a corner.  I’ll post the gloriously un-dark day’s pictures later today.  Bright green spring greens, red and pink radishes, garnet beets, orange carrots, creamy white turnips, o my!