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Monday, May 5, 2008

Bitter Greens

The bitter taste can be perceived by many people to be unpleasant until they become accustomed to it. Common bitter foods and beverages include coffee, unsweetened chocolate, many plants in the Brassicaceae family (such as Broccoli Rabe, Kale, Mustard Greens), and escarole. These bitter greens are highly nutritious and an essential component of the Mediterranean diet. Fortunately, it is very easy to balance and tame the bitterness when cooking these greens.

Here are 6 tips to balance the bitterness:

Sauté or Steam: Sautéeing or steaming greens helps the mature, tough leaves become tender and mild. Braising or blanching is even better for very tough, bitter greens since the bitter compounds leach into the water, and boiling softens tough-stemmed greens like kale. More delicate, younger bitter greens like baby arugula usually don't need to be pre-cooked - just seasoned right.
Salt: sodium chloride suppresses the perception of bitter flavors. I like to use a high quality sea salt, which adds a lot of flavor. You can also use other salty ingredients such as soy sauce.
Sour: Acidic ingredients can also be used to neutralize bitterness since the the bitterness in greens is attributed to pH basic alkaloids. Lemon juice squeezed over cooked or raw greens makes the flavors become brighter and reduces the bitterness. Vinegar also can be used to add acidity. Tomatoes are also a good choice, giving a touch of sourness but also a gentle sweetness.
Fat: Olive oil, rich cheeses such as parmigiano reggiano, dairy products, and pork products such as bacon and pancetta add comforting warmth to even the most astringent greens.
Sweet: A sweet balsamic vinegar reduction or a bit of honey can also be used to balance the bitter flavor. For example, escarole can be paired with golden raisins and pine nuts.
Spicy: Adding spicy chilies or hot sauces to greens will also counteract the bitterness in greens.

Caribbean Style Kale with Coconut Milk, Chilies, and Tomatoes

This recipe uses the 5 of the components above to balance the bitter flavors of the kale. The combination of the coconut milk, chilies, and tomatoes make a nice addition to other greens as well.
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup onion, chopped (such as Vidalia)
1-2 small red chilies, seeded and minced, such as Thai chilies
1 bunch of kale, chopped with tough stems removed
1/2 cup lite coconut milk
1 large tomato, chopped with the juices reserved
1/2 cup chopped green spring onions (optional)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, onions, and red chilies.
Sauté until the chopped onion is soft and light brown. Add the kale and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the coconut milk and tomato, stir and let the kale mixture braise for 5-7 minutes. Add chopped green onions, salt, and pepper to taste.

Escarole alla Romana

The pan will be full with the fresh escarole, but the volume reduces quickly when cooked.


1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
1/3 cup golden raisins
2 tablespoons pine nuts
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1 pound escarole, coarsely chopped (about 2 heads)
salt, to taste

Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add raisins, nuts, pepper, and garlic; sauté 2 minutes or until nuts are golden brown, stirring constantly. Add broth and escarole; cook 3 minutes or until wilted. Season with salt to taste.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Lamb's Quarters

Lamb's Quarters are also referred to as wild spinach. You can steam or sauté them until tender and use the dishes where you would normally use spinach. They are a good source of Niacin, Folate, Iron, Magnesium and Phosphorus, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Calcium, Potassium, Copper and Manganese. See link for complete nutritional profile: http://www.nutritiondata.com/facts-C00001-01c20do.html


Lamb's Quarter Pesto

cup pine nuts
1 small garlic clove
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups loosely packed lamb's-quarter leaves, washed and dried
3/4 oz finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (1/3 cup)
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350ºF. Toast nuts in a shallow baking pan in oven, stirring once or twice, until pale golden, about 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic clove to a food processor and process until finely chopped. Add lamb's-quarter and salt, pulse until finely chopped. Add cheese and toasted nuts and process until nuts are finely chopped. With motor running, add oil in a thin stream through feed tube.

Green Spring Onion Crepes filled with Sautéed Lamb's Quarters

3 large eggs
1/2 Tbsp sesame oil
1/2 Tbsp canola oil
¾ cup milk
1 cup water
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup all purpose flour
1 bunch green spring onions, thinly sliced and chopped
2-3 cups chopped lamb's quarters
Garnish: chopped cilantro

Combine the first six ingredients in a blender on high speed. Add the flour, blend for 10 seconds, then scrape down the sides of the blender bowl and blend briefly once more. Pour the batter into a bowl and set aside to rest. Steam or sauté the chopped lamb's quarters in olive oil until lightly cooked, season with salt.
Heat a skillet or crepe pan on medium heat, add a tsp of canola oil and swirl to coat the pan. Pour about 1/3 cup of batter into the pan and swirl to coat. Add some of the scallions on top and cook until lightly browned on the bottom about 1-2 minutes. Loosen the crepe and flip it over and cook until the other side is lightly browned. Cook the remaining crepes in the same manner, adding a little more oil to the pan if necessary. Fill the crepes with sautéed lamb's quarters and garnish with cilantro if desired.

10 Ways to use Lamb's Quarters and Other Greens

1.Raw: Chop young leaves or tips of older plants raw in summer salad or for taco topping.

2. Steamed: Eat lamb's quarters plain or with your favorite dressing.

3. Sautéed: Use olive oil and add onions, garlic or mushrooms.

4. Soup: Pick your favorite hot or cold soup recipe and substitute lamb's quarters for spinach.

5. Quiche or Omelet - this is delicious with eggs and cheese.

6. Lasagna: For those who add spinach to lasagna, lamb's quarters is a real treat.

7. Soufflé: Use lamb's quarters for a memorable dish.

8. Pie: Lamb's quarters makes an excellent spanakopita or Greek spinach pie.

9. Bread: Got a favorite spinach bread recipe? Try it with lamb's quarters.

10. Frozen: Plunge leaves into boiling water, one minute after water reboils, remove, cool and freeze for later use.