Saturday, April 28, 2012

Do not compost

Do not compost

I didn’t say this! By all means, please do compost! It’s economical, fun, good for your garden and for the rest of the planet. However, I’ve noticed that people get carried away, and put on the compost pile things that should go in the pot and on the table. Please, do not compost these, give them a try:

Beet greens. They are sweet, tender, and full of vitamins. Why would you toss beet greens, and then go and buy Swiss chard? It’s actually the same plant, except the beets were bred to have larger roots, and the chard was bred for the leaves. Clean the beet greens carefully, then use in braised greens dishes, add to borscht, or sauté in olive oil and toss with pasta.

Radish and turnip tops. These greens add wonderful, slightly spicy flavor and tons of vitamins to any dish where you would use other leafy greens. Or roast radishes or small turnips with the greens attached, for added textural interest.

Outer green cabbage leaves, cauliflower, broccoli, and kohlrabi leaves. These can be tougher than the cabbage heads, so they take longer to cook. On the other hand, they have higher concentration of vitamins and minerals than white cabbage heads. When braising cabbage, start with shredded outer green leaves, give them 15 minutes head start, then add shredded white or red cabbage.

Or, remove the thick center veins from the leaves, blanch them in in boiling water or steam in a microwave for about 2 minutes, refresh under cold water, stuff with your choice of seasoned cooked grains, meats, and vegetables, roll into tight parcels, place in a baking dish with chicken or vegetable broth, tomato sauce, sour cream, or a combination; bake uncovered at 375 degrees until tender and beginning to turn golden. Serve with the pan sauce.

Broccoli stems. Peel them, cut a slice and try it raw – you’ll be surprised. It’s the best part of the broccoli! If anything is left after you tried them raw, slice them and steam in a steamer or in the microwave, together with the florets, 4-5 minutes. Refresh with cold water, toss with your favorite salad dressing. My current favorite is 1 Tbsp almond butter, 1 tsp tamari soy sauce, 1 Tbsp olive oil, 1/2 tsp white wine vinegar or sherry vinegar, enough water to thin, salt and pepper. Top with dried cranberries, sliced almonds, toasted hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, or whatever you like.
Carrot tops. They taste like a carrot with a hint of parsley. They can be tough, so cut them finely and add to braised greens, soups, or pasta sauces in the beginning. Give them time to soften, and they will give your dish additional tasty goodness.

When making chicken or vegetable stock, carrot and onion trimmings, parsley stems and roots, green parts of leeks, kale stems, cabbage cores, leafy celery tops, small cloves from the center of a garlic head, lemons halves squeezed for juice, mushroom stems, bottom parts of asparagus – all add flavor, color and nutrition to the stock. Make sure that the vegetables are well cleaned. Simmer them in the stock for about 30 minutes to extract the flavor. If you are making a vegetable stock, after straining it, you can still compost the vegetables.

I’ve listed vegetable parts that I’ve been using in my cooking and enjoying for a long time. There may be other neglected edible plants or plant parts out there. Please do your research before attempting to cook and eat anything new. Our goal is to get taste and nutrition, not to get sick.
Do not try to cook with the greens from tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and other members of the nightshades family – they can be poisonous.
Braised mixed greens
This is a “loose” recipe, with lots of possible variations. I have made it with or without meat; with wine, different types of vinegar, and apple cider; using almost every leafy vegetable on the market. Taste as you cook. Note that chickories will add some bitterness, and chards and beets will add sweetness; adjust the seasoning.

Wash your greens well. Don’t waste time on drying then: any water clinging to the leaves will help them cook.

Serves 4
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 ounces bacon or pancetta, thinly sliced (optional)
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch black kale, stems removed, torn into bite-size pieces
1 bunch red kale, stems removed, torn into bite-size pieces
Tops from 1 bunch of turnips, with stems, chopped
Tops from 1 bunch of carrots, thick part of stems removed, chopped
1 cup not too fruity white wine (Italian pino grigio works well)
Salt, pepper

In a large, deep sauté pan heat oil over medium heat. Add bacon or pancetta, if using, brown, stirring often. Add onion, cook, stirring, until soft and beginning to turn color. Add garlic, cook another minute to soften it. Start adding greens in batches. The greens will shrink, giving you room to add more greens. Stir to help the greens to shrink evenly. Add wine. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low to maintain slow simmer. Simmer until the greens are tender, 30-45 minutes. Remove the lid. Taste, season with salt and pepper. If there is a lot of liquid remaining on the bottom, cook uncovered until almost all the liquid evaporates. Serve as a side to pork, sausage, or chicken, or over white beans or pasta.

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Location:San Rafael, CA

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