by Anthony Enright
A recent University study revealed that even in our enlightened age, the majority of men consider eating meat more “manly” and eating vegetables less so. I guess there’s no use arguing with millennia of social conventions, but your Mom was right – you do actually need to eat your vegetables.
But that doesn’t have to be a chore. Spring at the Farmer’s Market brings with it an abundance of produce that will have you rethinking your relationship to vegetables. (They’re from a farmer, so they’re manly vegetables.) Not only are they fresh and tasty, but when prepared right they can be crave-able and even decadent. Perhaps the most prominent and varied products available in this early Minnesota produce season is greens. The remarkable variety of edible greens offered at most Twin Cities Farmer’s markets make it nearly certain you can find something you’re unfamiliar with to try out, and you’ll be equally surprised how much richer and more flavorful some of the more recognizable greens are in their freshly picked state.
The health benefits of eating greens are numerous. They have abundant nutrients and enzymes, such as iron, calcium, potassium, and magnesium as well as vitamins K, C, E, and many of the B vitamins. They have anti-oxidant properties, Omega-3 fatty acids and are high in fiber with very low carbohydrates. (Your Mom will be happy with every one of these things). That being said, to take advantage of all those nutritional benefits, greens don’t have to just be presented raw in salad form. I’m sold on the richness and depth of flavor that greens can take on when cooked, and that richness makes cooked greens a perfect canvas for bold flavors. Flavors that pair well with greens include smoked or cured meats (including bacon, sausage, prosciutto), garlic, ginger, lemon or vinegar, hot chiles, anchovies (they add depth but really don’t taste fishy in this context), Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce. You’ll notice many of these suggestions either up the umami content of the dish or add a spicy or acidic component as a counterpoint.
Below are some examples of ways you can utilize greens that are currently in season and add maximum flavor. Give them a try; I defy you not to enjoy eating your vegetables!
Collards are traditionally braised, but if you can find some tender young collards like the ones pictured here you can impart smokey flavor and get them tender without hours of braising.
Quick Cook Young Collards:
2 bunches young collards
2 – 3 Strips smoked bacon
2 cloves finely chopped garlic or 1 finely chopped shallot
pinch of red pepper flakes
1 cup chicken stock.
1. Chop and brown smoked bacon in a large skillet or heavy bottomed stock pot; meanwhile cut the woody stalks from the greens of two bunches of collards and chop the leaves in strips about 1″ thick. (if using more mature collards completely remove central stem and chop only 1/2″ thick)
2. Remove the bacon from the pan and pour off most of the bacon fat.
3. Add 2 cloves of chopped garlic or shallot & a pinch of red pepper flakes and cook for about 30 seconds.
4. Add the collard greens, about a cup of chicken stock and the bacon back to the pan.
5. Cover, cook about 10 minutes (when finished add salt to taste).
I’m I bit of a sucker for Kale, it has that rich iron flavor that I find completely addicting and it’s a versatile addition to all kinds of dishes from bean soups to a a cheesy gratin. A great and easy preparation is sautéing the chopped leaves with garlic, ginger, soy and hot chili flakes and finishing it off with a drizzle of fragrant sesame oil. If you’re willing to do a bit more preparation, the recipe below is nothing short of amazing (and pairs with a charred T-Bone in a way that should probably be banned (or at least regulated as a controlled substance).
Grilled Coconut Kale:
1 lb kale with stems
3 cups coconut milk
1 tsp ground cayenne pepper or hot curry
1 tsp paprika
1/4 cup lime juice
1. Wash kale thoroughly and cut off the stalks. Cut kale leaves about 6″ long.
2. In a pot, melt coconut milk on low heat until thoroughly mixed and just lukewarm. Transfer to a stainless steel bowl and add cayenne, paprika and lime juice. 3. Dunk each kale leave individually and put in another bowl.
4. Cover the bowl of leaves with plastic wrap, refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
5. Preheat a barbeque or stovetop cast iron grill to high heat. Remove the kale from the refrigerator.
6. Using metal tongs, place kale leaves in a single layer on the grill. Cook one side for 30 seconds (smaller leaves) to 45 seconds (larger leaves). Turn leaves over and grill for another 30 to 45 seconds, or until they have visibly softened.
Another great way to grill kale is with chickpeas after a simple toss with paprika, olive oil and salt / pepper as per below. Put the mixture in a grill basket and grill for about 10 minutes or until the edges of the kale start to crisp slightly.
You may not have tried Kohlrabi, it’s a knobby little relative of the cabbage with a peppery / mustard flavor that is distinctive and pleasant. Often it’s chopped matchstick fine for cold salads (cole-slaw style) but it’s also very nice cooked as in the warm salad below.
Warm Kohlrabi Sauté :
1 pound kohlrabi bulbs (about 1 bunch)
1 bunch watercress
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1. Peel kohlrabi with a vegetable peeler and cut into 2-inch-long julienne strips.
2. Discard stems from watercress.
3. In a large heavy skillet heat butter over moderate heat until foam subsides and sauté kohlrabi, stirring, until crisp-tender, 5 to 10 minutes.
4. Add lemon juice and sauté kohlrabi, stirring, 1 minute more.
5. Remove skillet from heat and immediately stir in watercress. Season vegetables with salt and pepper.
While you’re at the market don’t forget to pick up some lettuce for your next salad; the fresh locally grown lettuce you can get in the stands there make a mockery of their sad flavorless counterparts at the grocery store. Also try to discover something you haven’t eaten before to expand your veggie horizons. On that front may I suggest pea shoots? (above) These are the greens from the pea plant and are an early spring delicacy that carries sweet flavor of peas along with a minty quality. I like to very quickly blanch them in boiling water then shock them in an ice bath to preserve their bright green color and serve with a lemony vinaigrette. It’s barely even cooking, but it tastes like Spring on a plate.
Minneapolis Farmer’s Market: 6 am-1 pm, 7days a week from mid-April until mid-November
Nicolett Ave. Farmer’s Market: 6 am-6 pm on Thursdays, May through November
Mill City Farmer’s Market: 8 am–1 pm on Saturdays, May 12 through October 27
Northeast Farmer’s Market: 9 am-1 pm on Saturdays now through October 20
St. Paul Farmer’s Market: 6 am-1 pm Saturdays and 8 am-1 pm now through November 17
Other Area Markets