Creasy greens

A weird-sounding name, right? I saw them advertised on the outdoor sign of our local greengrocer and just had to find out what they were. Evidently, these foraged greens are a delicacy served in the Blue Ridge Mountains for years. 

So I checked them out. They do occur naturally although they are not technically native. They’re bright green in early spring, followed by tiny yellow flowers. A cousin to watercress, they’re one of many plants in the mustard family that occur all over the United States. The flower is four-petaled just like arugula, radish and mustard. These greens are prized for their peppery taste. 

Pennsylvania bittercress or Creasy greens

As soon as our snow melted, a similar plant emerged in my garden, growing everywhere in moist landscape beds. In the past I simply pulled it and tossed in the compost as a regular weed. This plant has similar leaves to creasies, but the flowers are white and the leaves have a hint of bitterness in addition to the peppery flavor. My plant is Pennsylvania bittercress (Cardamine pensylvanica). Creasy greens are Barbarea verna, with yellow flowers.  

Now for experimenting. Sources I found said to either saute the leaves of either plant for a stir-fry or use them fresh in a salad. And, the roots can actually be ground and mixed with vinegar and salt to make a horseradish-like sauce. Evidently, both types of greens have amazing nutritional qualities – Vitamins C and A particularly. 

Plentiful in my landscape (thought they were only weeds)

I’ve never been a fanatic forager but this has sparked that early spring yearning to find bitter greens to add to a salad. They are spring tonics that really do renew the body. Now that I have these growing right in my landscape, I won’t have to go far for my spring tonic. I’m sure I can find a few new dandelions soon to add to the mix. 

Easy Creasy Greens (or any greens for that matter)

Film a skillet with about a tablespoon of oil of choice (sesame, olive, bacon grease)

Thinly slice half an onion and add to pan over medium heat. Saute until slightly tender. 

Wash greens, remove flower stalks if there are any, and coarsely chop 2-3 handfuls. Add greens to the onions and toss in the oil until coated. Cook briefly until the greens are wilted. Add a couple of tablespoons water or stock, a dash of cider vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. 

Serve as a side dish alone or toss with rice or pasta. I found that mixed with kale and sauteed over pasta is an excellent way to serve them.

Bartering and Barley Soup

I love the concept of bartering. It’s such a simple way of adjusting the pace of living, giving something you have in exchange for something you need without money changing hands. It just feels like a healthy way to develop a sense of community as neighbors get to know neighbors. And it takes our focus away, even if only for a little while, from earning power and the bottom line. 

I have a wonderful memory of my mother striking up a conversation in the produce section of a grocery store. While squeezing melons, she and another woman started out by talking about their gardens and they ended up sharing fruit. My mother provided a bushel of peaches and she received a bushel of apples in return. Both women’s larders were soon full of canned peaches and apple butter. Even better, the two became friends. 

buckets of squash given to a neighbor yielded luscious squash bread for my family

I’ve challenged myself to see just how many things I can barter for. I started by making a list of all I have to offer, material things as well as things I can do. I even listed those things I tend not to think of as marketable such as lawn mowing, sewing and bread baking. After making this list, I whittled it down to things that I like to do. Sure, I can clean bathtubs and cut grass, but who wants to? I know myself well enough to know that if I don’t enjoy doing something, 1 won’t feel good about the barter and my exchange system will fall apart. 

To start bartering, it’s taken me a lot of courage to step forward and start conversations with a stranger. It also takes nerve to open up and talk about who you are and what you do. But the outcomes can be so rewarding, not only in a bartering milieu but also with the people I’ve gotten to know and the friendships that have developed along the way. 

I got started by frequenting the places where gardeners and cooks hang out. Whether at the farmer’s market or the local garden center, if you begin talking to the people there, you’ll find there is a natural exchange of information that can be the start of a trading network. 

Plentiful apples from a friend yielded applesauce for both families

Another natural starting point is with your neighbors working in their yards. People who garden love to talk about their gardens and most also love to share. I would bet that very few gardens that I’ve visited are comprised solely of plants and seeds that were purchased. Sure, I bought some of the plants in my garden, but the majority are trades with other gardeners. I have just moved into a new neighborhood (well, a year ago), and am looking forward to starting barters with my neighbors.

Perhaps you know someone who is no longer physically able to tend a garden, but who does superb lawn mower repair. Or how about exchanging herbs and garden produce with someone who has no garden, but can watch your children one afternoon a week? I like to grow seedlings, so I always add a few more for a friend who repairs my trellises. 

It also helps to remember that not all trades have to be for tangible things. Offer to take someone to dinner if they will sharpen your pruners and grass shears. Or perhaps merely an offer of a visit gives both you and a friend the pleasure of relaxing conversation. Sometimes the joy is simply the benefit of giving—and not receiving anything tangible in return. 

The key to making the system work is to be clear about what you can and cannot do. Don’t be discouraged if you initially receive some negative responses. Keep searching and talking and eventually you will be on your way to a pleasant exchange. It’s a bit idealistic to think that every service and good you need can be bartered for, but even a few exchanges can make life a little simpler and increase the social network that is so important to mental health. 

The word barter brings to mind the word barley. Here is a simple, nutritious barley soup for a cold winter day. For you or to barter with a friend.

Barley Soup

Barley mushroom soup, just awaiting crusty bread to go with it
  • ½ c. pearled barley
  • 1 ¼ c. water
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • ½ c. sliced onions
  • ½ c. sliced carrots
  • ½ c. sliced celery
  • 1 plump garlic clove, minced
  • ½ c. sliced mushrooms
  • ¼ t. smoked paprika
  • 2 c. stock or broth
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Cook barley in water according to directions (will take about 45 minutes). 

Film heavy skillet with olive oil and add all vegetables except mushrooms. Saute over high heat for about 7 minutes. Add mushrooms and paprika and saute about 3 minutes more. 

Add broth and bring to simmer. When vegetables are mostly tender, add barley, more stock if necessary and heat gently. Adjust seasonings and serve with crusty bread to soak up the juices.

This recipe lends itself well to adding leftover cooked chicken, sausage or stew beef. 

Apricity and sprouts

There is nothing that lights the soul quite like feeling the sun on your face  when it’s viciously cold outside. My new word is apricity, meaning the warmth of the sun in winter. Winter sun is often weak and pale compared to summer sun. But it is appreciated so much more because it’s infrequent. 

Apricity comes from the Latin apricus, “having lots of sunshine” or “warmed by the sun.” To apricate means to bask in the sun. My dog gets this. She moves with the sun throughout the day. 

I think I’ll mimic her and apricate every sunny winter day. Even if it means tucking myself up against the south-facing garage wall, wrapped in a heavy coat, hat and mittens. The sun on my face is delicious. And makes me dwell on the spring memory of a fresh scallion pulled from damp earth. The best scent in the world and harbinger of a bountiful garden.

Can’t head to the garden, so let’s head to the kitchen

After my sun bask, I’m recharged to get into the kitchen. It’s the middle of winter and I’m desperate for fresh vegetables so I’ve decided to add sprouts to my menu for a boost of fresh vitamins and fiber.

Sprouts

You can sprout many, many different vegetables and beans. The beauty of sprouting just about anything is that the vitamin content seems to skyrocket when a seed is sprouted. Moreover, some of the vitamins and enzymes in seeds are made more readily available to our bodies when the seeds are sprouted.

Sprouts are naturally low in fat and salt and high in fiber. Bean sprouts are full of protein and an acceptable substitute for meat. Some research is being done that is showing sprouts to have antioxidant and disease prevention qualities as well. Scientists are even noting some tumor reduction in patients who eat a lot of sprouts, and many sprouts are high in phytoestrogens which help boost bone density and prevent osteoporosis.

In essence, the perfect food!

Some of the seeds that make good spouts: soybean, mung bean, onion, mustard, sunflower, radish, lentil, broccoli, alfalfa, clover, wheat and rye. But this is not an exhaustive list. There are many other types of seeds that can make good sprouts. 

Only a few – black beans, wheat berries, mung beans, millet, lentils

How to sprout

I’ve had great luck using a large mason jar with a screen or cheesecloth lid. This method grows the sprouts with nothing more than water. Depending on the type of sprout you decide to grow, the methods may vary just a bit. You can even grow sprouts in soil, but the method is completely different and you will clip these sprouts off the root to use them. When growing with just water, you eat the entire sprout. 

Sprouting alfalfa in soil

You simply soak the seeds for 8-12 hours and then drain and rinse well. After that, you leave the seeds in the sprouting jar and rinse well two to three times a day. Critical to healthy sprouting are a clean sprouting jar,  frequent rinsing with clean, cool water, and plenty of air circulation. 

Sprouting wheatberries

Ready for the fridge or pot

After rinsing, shake well to get as much free water off the sprouts as possible. I like to then tip the jar upside down in the drain rack to let it drain. The sprouts will take anywhere from one to three days, depending on the type of seed used. When your sprouts are the size you want, put them in a large bowl and fill it with water. This will let the hulls float to the surface where you can pour them off. They won’t hurt you, but are usually pretty chewy and may not be so palatable. Let the sprouts drain in a colander and then store in a jar in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. 

Float the hulls away before storing

How to use sprouts

Once you have your sprouts, toss them into salads, onto sandwiches, toss with rice or pasta. You can cook sprouted beans for a delicious fresh taste, quite unlike the usual cooked beans, and with higher nutrition. Sprouted grains are excellent additions to breads and baked goods. 

An excellent source for information on all things sprouts (as well as tools and sprout seeds for purchase) is the International Sprout Growers Association: https://isga-sprouts.org/

Planning the garden

Isn’t this the best time to start thinking about planning a garden? The weather is not-so-great, it’s warm and cozy indoors, and if you’re like me, the fall garden is far enough in the past that I’ve gotten over my weariness. I’m getting the itch to start gardening again. 

Putting time into planning before you even put a seed in a pot will make you a much happier gardener come planting time. You don’t necessarily have to put everything on paper, but at least start pondering some things. And if you’ve kept a calendar or notes from prior years, it’s time to drag those out and learn from your mistakes and successes. 

Site selection

If this is a brand new garden, site selection is critical. Keep in mind that you don’t need a huge spreading garden, especially to begin with. The amount of inherent work may only discourage you. Consider raised beds that dry out faster and warm up quickly, containers that can put veggies on the patio, or a small kitchen garden outside the back door with maybe a little larger garden for bigger produce like zucchini and vining cucumbers. 

Plenty of sun

Wherever you decide to put your garden, make sure you have plenty of sun. Some vegetables and fruits grow in partial shade but most need seven to eight hours of sun. 

House and water access

You will also need to consider the distance from the house – you won’t be inclined to get into the garden often if it’s down in the back forty. Make sure you have easy access to water without hauling heavy hoses for hundreds of yards. And give yourself access to a compost pile. 

Take advantage of small microclimates like next to the garage wall for plants that need warmer starting temperatures or the shady spot on the east side to grow lettuce longer than if it was in full, hot sun.

Planning garden beds

Garden rows or beds should run north and south for the best sun exposure and air circulation. And, the beds should be no more than three or four feet wide in order to allow you to reach the center of the bed without stepping in. This will help avoid soil compaction. If your soil is poor, perhaps you need to raise your beds and bring in fresh soil. Or maybe you just need to add plenty of organics.

A thing of beauty

Lastly, think about aesthetics. It really is okay to put your garden in the front yard as long as you keep it looking neat so your neighbors won’t run screaming to the authorities about your weed patch. Well-designed vegetable gardens are beautiful parts of the landscape. 

Keep quantities in mind

So, now you get to start choosing plants to grow. Before tripping through the seed catalogs and ripping out a huge seed order, take a rationality check. You don’t want to be overwhelmed with produce so only grow what you intend to eat. Of course, you may want to plan for putting food up for winter, which is fine. But bushels of tomatoes have to go somewhere, and remember that your neighbors’ tomatoes are coming in at the same time so they will not appreciate a basket of tomatoes left in the night on their front porch. Envision summer visitors laden with extra zucchini, and summarily tossing them out the car windows as they leave your home.

If you have a small garden, think twice before planning space hogs like pumpkins and sweet corn. They take up a huge amount of space for little return. And, they are always available at the farmers’ market. 

Grow what you love

It doesn’t make sense, either, to grow something you are not fond of. Brussels sprouts are awesome-looking plants, but if you don’t like the taste, don’t grow them. 

As you look at the seed catalogs, you’ll need to consider the “days to maturity” for your plants. Find out the average frost in your area (from your local cooperative extension), and plan for the right number of growing days. As wonderful as sweet potatoes taste, you need to have a long growing season. 

Warm vs. cool season plants

Spinach in the cold frame

Next, you will begin to think about warm and cool-season varieties. Cool-season plants such as lettuce, spinach and peas are usually planted directly outdoors as soon as the frost leaves the ground. Warm-season plants such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplants are usually started indoors, whether in your basement or in commercial greenhouses. 

Anaheim pepper

There’s also another category of vegetables that are perennial and need to be planted only one time. Site selection is important for asparagus, sorrel, Jerusalem artichokes and rhubarb because the plants will be there a long time. 

Rice (or any other grain)- a great base for delicious sides or main dishes

Rice with spinach and red peppers

Check out the Grains section in the recipe folders for information on cooking each type of grain. Once you have your cooked grain, simple additions can dress it up for dinner. Grains are great warm or cold in a salad. Here are some suggestions, but let your creative side reign. And enjoy!

Suggested additions

  • Broccoli, sesame oil, chopped toasted peanuts
  • Sauteed mushrooms, snow peas and sliced water chestnuts
  • Basil pesto, cooked or raw shredded zucchini and chopped tomatoes
  • Black beans, minced red onion, chopped red pepper, cilantro 
  • Garbanzo beans, shredded carrots, parsley, ricotta and romano
  • Marinated artichoke hearts
  • Frozen spinach, thawed and drained, plus feta cheese

Dips and chips

Hummus

I’ll admit it – when I get really bored I head for the chips and dips. And I seem to be doing that a lot lately. It’s not a particularly healthy habit but it gives me a satisfyingly crunchy and creamy diversion. Of course, french onion dip and potato chips are probably the worst offenders. But oh, so good. 

In order to get rid of some of the guilt, I’m trying to reduce fat and salt with healthier choices. I’ll share with you some substitutes that are easy to make and fulfill all of the requirements of a good chip-dip combination. Salty, savory, creamy, and of course crunch from chips. 

So many salsas and vegetable combinations make great dips. It means moving away from thinking about dips as only creamy. One of my favorites is pico de gallo, a chunky salsa that is just as good on chips as it is on fajitas. 

I tend to rely on vegetables I froze last summer, but you can also buy them fresh. Even supermarket tomatoes are suitable for jazzing up in a salsa. The peppers and onions give them flavor. You can also use frozen corn, canned artichoke hearts, canned beans and even frozen mango if you want to make a fruity salsa. 

Some dips: 

  1. Roasted eggplant
  2. Feta or goat cheese blended with artichoke hearts and roasted peppers
  3. Corn and black bean salsa
  4. Pico de gallo
  5. Classic bruschetta (tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and basil)
  6. Hummus – make from chickpeas or white beans, use as a dip or a spread on sandwiches or toast. 
Texas caviar – made with black-eyed peas and corn

Chips: 

  1. Pita chips (easy to make your own by cutting fresh pita into quarters and toasting them)
  2. Fresh vegetables – peppers, celery, carrots, broccoli, radishes, turnips, cucumbers
  3. Toasted sourdough pieces
  4. Check out the myriad of commercial chips available – beets, sweet potato, taro, carrot, turnip

I grow eggplants in every summer, and although we do eat some of them fresh, I roast and freeze lots so I have them available for this rich dip. It’s a riff on baba ganouj, a classic middle eastern dish. And infinitely adaptable to whatever you want to add. 

Eggplant dip (Baba ganoush)

Eggplant dip
  • 1 medium eggplant, roasted and peeled
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, roasted and peeled
  • ½ medium onion, diced
  • 1 large clove garlic, diced
  • ½ c. toasted bread crumbs or panko
  • ¼ c. tahini
  • ¼ t. cumin
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • 1 T. vinegar
  • Salt to taste

Saute onion and garlic in 2 T. olive oil until soft. Process in a food processor with the pepper and eggplant until you reach the consistency you like, smooth or chunky. 

Stir in rest of ingredients, salt to taste and serve at room temperature with pita chips. 

Pico de gallo

This Mexican favorite has a fresh, tangy flavor and just longs for crisp tortilla chips. 

pico de gallo
  • 1 chile, chopped (with or without seeds depending on your taste)
  • 3-4 tomatoes, chopped finely
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 T. vinegar or lime juice
  • 1 T. fresh cilantro
  • 1 t. salt

Mix and chill. Serve as dip with tortilla chips, on black bean tacos or as topping for a baked potato. Feel free to add other ingredients such as black beans or corn.

Hummus 

  • 1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained or 2 cups freshly cooked
  • 1/2 c. tahini
  • 1 T. lime juice
  • 1 t. cumin (tip from my brother – roast whole cumin seeds and grind for unbelievable flavor)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 t. cayenne
  • Olive oil (you can use some of the juice from the beans to reduce fat)
  • Salt to taste

Blend all but the olive oil. Gradually add enough olive oil or bean juice to make it creamy but not runny. Season with salt to taste. Refrigerate for the flavors to blend. 

Winter Sowing

Doesn’t look so cold, but the temperature was 12 degrees

One of the hardest elements of love for gardening is how things seem to stop in the winter. Well, I’ve found a way to keep it going, without a greenhouse. I’m trying winter sowing this year. I’ve heard about it for years and this year, I’m bored enough to try it. 

This is a phenomenon that has taken hold in the gardening world for those of us in colder winter climates. Basically, you sow seeds for the spring garden outside, in the cold and snow, but you do it in makeshift greenhouses or cloches. 

It’s a simple concept, and although you can certainly sow some seeds of hardy perennials and vegetables directly into the garden with occasional success, this method gives more control and actually works fairly well according to everything I’ve read. So, I’m giving it a try. 

I sowed my seeds in their little milk-jug cloches just after the winter solstice, and after many days of frigid cold and off-and-on snows, I checked yesterday and some of my seeds are actually germinating. 

This method is not for warm-season plants like tomatoes and peppers, but it supposedly works well for cool-season plants like broccoli and cabbage, not to mention cold-hardy flowers like cosmos, lupine and calendula. My broccoli rabe has already germinated. Putting them out in the fluctuating cold actually breaks the seed coats faster, and the constant moisture assures the germinating seeds will survive. 

The method: basically, you cut plastic jugs in half (leaving a hinge), fill partially with damp potting soil and sow your seeds. You tape the jug shut, leaving the cap off to allow moisture in and out. Then you wait. Once the seedlings are up and the weather is leveling off, you transplant them into pots for growing on. Or directly into the garden. 

I won’t go into all the details on how to do it here, but there are many good videos and tutorials on Youtube and the internet. I found a great video series on the Buncombe County (my county in North Carolina) extension site. There are several active Facebook groups also. 

A recipe for winter time

And, here’s a recipe not necessarily connected with winter sowing, but our dinner last night, paired with roasted salmon. The kale and chard were from my cold frame!

Delicata squash stuffed with couscous and greens

Delicata squash with couscous
  • 1 delicata squash, sliced in half and seeds removed
  • ½ c. whole-wheat couscous
  • ¾ c. stock
  • 1 c. greens of choice (kale, spinach, chard), chopped
  • ¼ c. sliced onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • Parmesan cheese 

Brush the squash with olive oil and roast face down at 375 for about 40 minutes. 

Meanwhile, heat the stock to boiling. Add the couscous, turn off the heat and cover. Let sit for five minutes. After letting it sit, fluff it with a fork. 

Saute the onion, garlic and greens in a splash of olive oil, about five minutes until wilted. Mix into the couscous and season with salt and pepper to taste. 

Fill the squash cavities with the couscous mix. Sprinkle with parmesan or other cheese of choice and slide under the broiler until delicately browned. 

Cream soups

Broccoli soup drizzled with basil-infused oil

A creamy soup can make even the harshest winter seem not so bad. It soothes a raw throat, clears the sinuses with fragrant heat and nourishes the belly with warmth.

Don’t be put off by the word “cream” if you’ve made a resolution to count calories, because there are many ways to make a creamy soup without cream. Of course, the richness of cream is sometimes worth the indulgence. 

Add a fresh salad of spring mix and a homemade vinaigrette and a slice of crusty Italian toast and you have a winning, quick meal. 

Corn soup

Here’s a secret – make a creamy base from rice: 

  • 1/3 c. medium or long-grained white rice 
  • 3 c. broth, chicken or vegetable

Film a deep saucepan with olive oil, add the rice and cook for two minutes, stirring. Add the broth, reduce the heat and simmer until the rice is soft with most of the liquid, about 25 minutes. 

Transfer to a blender or use a stick blender and process until the sauce is smooth. Use as a substitute for cream or milk in any cream-based recipe.

And, now for the soup!

Once you make the easy base, the choice is yours as to what vegetables to add. The key is to cook the vegetables until done and then puree with liquid of choice as needed. Many don’t need further seasoning than salt and pepper but use your creative hand to make the soup Italian flavored with oregano and basil, curry-flavored by adding a tablespoon of red curry paste, or Tex-Mex with chipotle and cumin.

  • 1 T. butter
  • ¼ cup chopped onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 4 c. broth (chicken or vegetable)
  • 2 cups vegetables of choice (see note below)
  • ½ c. half-and-half, rice cream, coconut milk or pureed cannellini beans
  • Salt and pepper to taste, other seasonings as desired

Melt butter in a large saucepan. Add onions and garlic and saute until tender. Add vegetables and saute until tender. Alternatively, toss vegetables with olive oil and roast at 375 until tender. Add broth and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and puree with a hand blender. You can puree until smooth or leave it somewhat chunky. Stir in half-and-half and season to taste. Pour into bowls and garnish with garlic croutons, scallions, feta or goat cheese, parmesan.

Note: suggestions for vegetables are endless. Raid the crisper drawers or freezer and come up with your own combinations. Frozen vegetables can make a really quick soup. Add mushrooms, spinach, carrots and skip the puree step for a delicious chunky soup.

  • Fresh or frozen peas and chopped carrots
  • Tomatoes and basil
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Cabbage
  • Corn
  • Edamame
  • Peppers and carrots
  • Eggplant
  • Zucchini
  • Beets
  • Pumpkin or winter squash

Resolutions and Vegetable Soup

I’m not one for making resolutions, mostly because I don’t want to be disappointed when I can’t keep them. But I am in the mood for some food cleansing to start the year off right. One of the best and easiest things I can do for my family is to make homemade vegetable broth. It has a clean, crisp flavor that is perfect for a soup base. It gives just about any type of soup a rich, savory flavor that you simply cannot get from canned stock or broth. It’s rich enough to drink on its own, flavored with a little salt and pepper.

Homemade vegetable broth

As simple as possible

Although I’ve seen fairly elaborate recipes for broth, I want to keep this as simple as possible. To help me keep the resolution to do it. So, I keep a plastic bag in my freezer, and every time I trim a vegetable I rinse the trimmings and toss them into the bag.

I use the trimmings from garlic, onions, greens, mushrooms, carrots, celery, etc. Onion skins in particular give a wonderful flavor to the broth. When the bag is full, I dump it all into a large stockpot, add a couple of bay leaves and a handful of whatever other herbs I have in the garden or dried on the shelf.

Simmer slow and long

I cover the vegetables with water and simmer very gently for four or five hours. Once they’re all reduced to mush, I pour the stock through a strainer and divide it up to freeze. I freeze it in one cup batches so it’s simple enough to pull out a chunk, thaw and use it. Toss in some pasta, some sauteed onions, a handful of chopped greens, a can of cannellini beans, and Voila! You have a hearty soup with tons of subtle flavors on the table in 15 minutes. And there’s also a bit of nostalgia about always having a pot of soup bubbling on the back burner.

Mirepoix

You can make almost any kind of brothy soup by starting with a mirepoix (French – named for Duke of Mirepoix and the community he ruled) or soffritto (Called the Holy Trinity in Italian – translates as fried softly).

Chop a small onion, small carrot and a couple of stalks of celery. Saute gently in two tablespoons of olive oil until soft but not browned. This releases the flavors to infuse your soup. Add other vegetables and greens as desired, cooked beans, cooked grains or pasta. Add 2-3 cups of your homemade vegetable broth and heat through, seasoning as desired.

Cabbage White Bean Soup

Olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 small carrot, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
2 medium thin-skinned potatoes, sliced
1 c. sliced swiss chard or kale
½ small head cabbage, sliced
1 c. cooked white beans
3-4 cups vegetable broth
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan. Saute onion, carrot, celery and garlic if using on low-medium heat, stirring often, until the vegetables are soft. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to simmer. Simmer until potatoes are soft when pierced. Season to taste and serve hot.

Kale and Kasha Soup

2 T. olive oil
1 ½ c. chopped onion
1 large clove garlic, minced
4 c. vegetable broth
¼ t. dried oregano
1 ½ c. cooked kasha or other grain
1 can crushed tomatoes
1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed and divided
½ lb. kale, trimmed and chopped

Heat 1 T. oil in large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, and cook 3 minutes, or until softened, stirring occasionally. Add garlic, and cook 5 minutes more, or until onion is lightly browned. Stir in broth, kasha, tomatoes, 1 cup beans, oregano. Bring to a boil. Press half of the kale into the liquid with a wooden spoon until it wilts. Press remaining kale into liquid. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer 15 to 20 minutes, or until kale is tender.

Purée remaining beans in food processor and add to the soup. Season with salt and pepper, and serve with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar or sriracha.

Eating in season

I’ve given up on green beans. For now anyway. We cooked them for our Christmas dinner because we always have fresh green beans for the December holidays. But they were terrible. I realized that fresh green beans, even when blistered with olive oil and garlic are a summer dish. These were tough and tasteless. 

Green beans from last summer. The store-bought ones this month are a poor comparison

This unpleasant result brought me through the backdoor to my mantra “eat in season”. I tend to forget it when going back to family traditions. Of course you have green beans for Christmas dinner. But I grew up in Texas, where my family food traditions were seated, and green beans in December were not a novelty – they were still readily available locally. Or, as so many families do, my mother would pull out her home-canned green beans to make the standard casserole. Am I too old to change? Not at all – from now on we will have roasted brussels sprouts!

We gave up on tomatoes

My husband and I gave up on tomatoes about a month ago. We bought the small sweet Campari tomatoes on the vine at the grocery market after we had the last of our garden grown and the market tomatoes dwindled. Last year we thought these were better than the usual grocery store tomatoes, but we just realized that we’re reaching for a ghost of flavor that’s just not there. So, we’ve decided not to eat fresh tomatoes until next year. 

Simple sauteed Brussels sprouts

Cool season vegetables are abundant

Trying to find those flavors and only getting a ghost is so unsatisfying, and since there are so many other flavors that are robust and delicious, we’ll stick with those. Brussels sprouts and cabbage are still available locally, and the fresh-picked flavor is unbeatable. 

Brussels sprouts an winter squash for roasting

I have a shelf full of winter squash just waiting to be roasted and tossed with hot pasta or pureed into soups with onions, garlic and kale (also readily available). And I have a bucket of sunchokes harvested from my own garden waiting to be roasted. 

Roasted Kabocha squash

I will simply save the tomatoes, beans, summer squash and eggplant until I can enjoy it fresh and delectable as it ripens next summer. This decision also makes me feel better about my carbon footprint as I’m trying to eat locally as much as possible rather than vegetables shipped in from far away. No green beans, but delicious wintery beans with rice. And roasted brussels sprouts with kabocha squash.

Caribbean beans to go with steamy rice

Here’s a favorite: 

Caribbean rice and beans 

  • 1/2 c. chopped onion
  • 1/2 c. chopped celery
  • 1/2 c. chopped sweet pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 can fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 1/4 t. crushed red pepper
  • 1/4 t. cumin
  • 1/4 c. chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 can black beans, drained

Saute onion, celery, pepper and garlic until soft. Add the rest of the ingredients and cook for about 3 minutes. Serve over cooked rice, topped with mozzarella or queso fresco. Delicious with sauteed chorizo, either meat or plant-based. 

Melted sweet potatoes

I just read that North Carolina, where I now live, is the largest sweet potato producer in the country, eclipsing even California and Mississippi. There’s a reason it’s our state vegetable (did you know that all states have an official vegetable?). 

When you go to the farmers’ market or grocery store here, you will usually find three or four different varieties, unlike other states where you just find the traditional orange sweet potato. We have the orange globe-shaped ones, but also have red, purple and white, in all shapes from round to oblong to long and skinny.

Red-skinned sweet potato

Why always candy-sweet?

I grew up with the traditional “candied yams” prepared for the holidays and frankly, didn’t much care for them. Whose idea was it anyway to put marshmallows on top? As I matured, I did grow to love baked sweet potatoes with butter and salt. I realized that I just didn’t like them candy- sweet since they have enough sweetness on their own. 

My family is not particularly enamored of this healthy, delicious vegetable so if I buy them and they tend to be forgotten and languish in the pantry until they become shrunken and disgusting. But they are so good for us that I really want to add them to our diets. They are superstars for Vitamins A and C, not to mention fiber and a host of other nutrients.  

Red-skinned sweet potatoes have white flesh

Found: the perfect recipe

So, in my spare time now, I’ve been investigating ways to prepare them in different ways, to get my family to eat them. I’ve found the perfect way, one my family is raving about: melted sweet potatoes. 

It’s quite simple actually. You simply slice and toss with seasonings of choice and melted butter. Olive oil will work, but the best flavor comes with a splurge of butter or ghee. Then you bake at a high temperature, turning once, and then finish with a splash of broth. The outsides are crispy-delicious and the insides are meltingly creamy. Voila! And if you really like the sweet aspect, you can drizzle them with maple syrup when they come out of the oven. 

Ready for the oven

Melting Sweet Potatoes

(also works well with white potatoes)

  • 1 sweet potato, scrubbed but not peeled, sliced ½ inch thick
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • ½ c. broth (vegetable or chicken)
  • 2 T. butter
  • 1 t. chopped fresh herbs (can be omitted, my favorite combination is sage and thyme)
  • Salt and pepper 

Preheat the oven to 475. Melt the butter in the microwave with the herbs if using. Toss the sweet potato slices well and put them in a single layer in a cast iron or metal roasting pan (don’t use glass). 

Roast 15 minutes until the bottoms are crispy and caramelized. Flip and roast 15 minutes more. Then add broth and roast another 15 minutes. 

Serve hot, drizzled with maple syrup, or sprinkled with crumbled feta or goat cheese.