Springtime is in full swing in Tennessee. The dogwoods, irises and tulips are blooming, and last week I was privy to an early edition of my CSA share: parsnips, watercress, chickweed and kale. I’m still trying to decide what to make with the parsnips (besides drying them for soup this fall), but the greens made their way into salads and stir-frys.
The freshness of the greens got me thinking about what I have in easy garden access: parsley, mint, spinach, arugula and chard. The last of these was the most inspiring, and I’d love to share some of that, and a great dish with you!
I did the most stereotypical thing one can do after the New Year. I went on a juice cleanse. Three full days existing on nothing but sludgy, vitamin and mineral-laden juice. I’ve experienced a variety of feelings: cleansed (yes, seriously), hungry, exhausted, slightly delusional, energetic, sated and, did I mention hungry? My one constant was my ever-present desire to cook. You can pump me up with all the kale juice in the world but you can’t take away my inherent need to cook.
Why did I deliberately submit myself to 72 hours of pure juice torture?
The most obvious reason: the holidays. It’s safe to say I put back enough Nutella, red meat, wine, cookies, and other unmentionables to sustain me through the entirety of 2013. I needed a detox.
Reason two: I wanted to test my self discipline.
Reason three: call me crazy, but I thought juicing might lend itself to a sort of spiritual experience.
When it comes to leafy greens, there are some big players that tend to dominate our salads, soups, and suppers: romaine, baby spinach, and perhaps even a few “exotic” varieties like arugula. With CSA deliveries and farmers markets well underway, we get to meet some new possibilities that can enhance (and dare I say, replace?) the regulars we so often lean toward. Nothing against romaine and spinach; they have many redeeming qualities, and are favorites for good reasons. Yet there are other leafy greens just as delicious, and with the bonus of adding significantly more vitamins and nutrients to your dishes.
Kale is one of these leafy greens. New to many people, and gaining popularity due to its health benefits and versatility in cooking. In the same family as cabbage, kale comes in a variety of forms, such as ornamental, curly, and dinosaur — which I assure you, is as fun to eat as it is to say. Kale’s bright flavor and rich texture easily distinguishes it from other garden greens. It also comes in many colors, dark green and beautiful purple being the most common kinds in CSA boxes and markets today.
“I am surprised that the only leafy item in my CSA box this week is lettuce,” began one Facebook post from a friend. Her pithy commentary summed up what seems to be the experience of many who open their kitchens to weekly mystery deliveries from the farm. Eating locally means eating a lot of greens. I’ve seen crowd-sourced requests for ways to cook amaranth leaves, escarole (that was me), tatsoi, purslane and various kinds of kale and chard. Not to mention the tasty looking yet delicate leaves that come attached to beets and turnips. Sturdier than spinach, yet delicate enough to require cooking within a day or two, greens inspire culinary creativity in my friends. But why so many greens?
For CSA farmers, I suspect the abundance of greens has a lot to do with flexibility. Greens such as chard and kale grow well in the cooler weather of the beginning and end of the growing season. They don’t require as sustained periods of heat to get them going (the way melons or peppers might), they grow quickly and in a difficult growing season, they can be started in a greenhouse and then transported. Greens aren’t as easily damaged in rains as lettuce or delicate greens. Part of a CSA membership is learning to eat what the land produces, rather than what we are used to, and greens have been an education.
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