Green is definitely in this spring — everything from sharp limes and chartreuse, to olive tones cued up from camouflage, and deep forest and emerald greens are decking out mannequins and savvy fashionistas in a totally ’70s redux.
And greens are hot in the fields of Pemberton, too. Local farms are pumping out everything from fresh young asparagus and salad greens to herbs like sweet cicely (boasting a pleasant licorice flavour and good cooked with things like rhubarb or currants to cut back the acidity) and lovage (add a few leaves to a salad for a zip of pungent, celery-like flavour).
I think a lot of people get all hung up on greens, literally — that is, stuck in a rut. Lettuce and mixed greens for salad. That’s it. Or maybe they branch out to raw spinach. Or cook a bundle up — overcook is usually more like it — in a pot of salted water till it’s a glob of green mush.
Most of us can handle asparagus, but again it’s often overcooked. (Try blanching a bundle in simmering water for three minutes max, then immersing it in cold water.) The mere mention of kale or Swiss chard can send shivers up the spines of many a stalwart eater, who can only picture them coming out of their mothers’ or grandmas’ kitchens more brown than green and limper than a dead jellyfish.
The thing about greens is that they really are versatile and with a little imagination and experimentation, you’ll find you can whip up a dish in a hurry where green veggies are the stars. The thing is to give them a fresh start, pun intended.
Here’s a great recipe that’s delicious, satisfying and quick to prepare. It’s also a good jumping off point because you can use so many varieties of greens and it gives you a fundamental base for cooking any kind of greens any time: Start by sautéing onion and/or garlic in a large flat-bottomed pan in some good oil. Add your harder veggies first and cook a while, covered, with a bit of water and/or broth (try carrots, zucchini, shitake or other mushrooms thinly sliced). Then add a handful or two of greens like kale or chard chopped according to how fresh and young it is — the coarser the leaves the finer you chop it — and cook them till you like the look and crunch of them.
Don’t worry about undercooking them — you can eat greens raw. Add herbs or spices as you like, a bit of acid like lemon juice or vinegar can be good, plus a pinch of salt, and you’re done.
You can even use the larger, coarse stems later in summer, if you cut them fine enough (why waste them?). But this time of year, if you go for the fresh young leaves, you barely have to cook them at all. And if it’s just too much to think about cooking with lettuce, have I got a good recipe for you coming up that will make you do a one-eighty.
1 lb spinach, kale, collards or beet greens — or a mixture of any
2 cloves (or more) garlic, minced
2-3 tbsp curry powder, or to taste
1 c finely chopped tomatoes, fresh or canned
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp dark brown sugar
1 tbsp canola oil
1 c onion, finely diced
3/4 lb potatoes, cubed (Across the Creek has many varieties that will hold up — try the purple, pink or yellow-fleshed ones)
1/4 c chopped fresh cilantro, if you like
Wash and drain the greens, removing any coarse stems or chopping them finely. Cut big, mature leaves into half-inch strips; small tender leaves will cook fine whole. In a small bowl, mix the garlic, curry powder, tomatoes, tomato paste and sugar. Heat the oil in a skillet; sauté the onion over medium-high until it starts to brown. Add the spice/tomato mixture, mix well, and cook a few minutes. Add the potatoes and 2 cups of water. Mix well, bring to a boil, reduce heat and cover. Cook 10 minutes. The potatoes will need 10 more minutes of cooking after this, so add your greens accordingly — the mature, big-leafed greens will need about 7-10 minutes to cook so you can add them now, but young leaves barely need to brush the heat of the pan. Correct the seasoning and garnish with the cilantro if you like.
As for those of you who think lettuce is only meant for sandwiches and salads, try this amazing Iranian recipe from the Chunky Cook Book of Vegetarian Main Dishes from Around the World , which can be had at Ten Thousand Villages stores. It makes a wonderful main course, plus you can slice it cold and snack on it for days.
Kukuye sabzi (Vegeatable and walnut bake)
2 c/200 g leeks, finely chopped
1 c/150 g lettuce, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh parsley chopped
1 c/100 g spinach, finely chopped
3 green onions, finely chopped
1 tbsp flour
1/2 c walnuts, chopped
4 tbsp butter
Salt and pepper
Place all the chopped veggies into a large bowl, sprinkle on the flour and seasoning and mix well. Add the walnuts. Beat the eggs in another bowl and pour them over the veggie mixture. Stir well so the egg coats the other ingredients to bind them. Melt the butter — yes, all of it — and swirl it around a loaf tin to coat the sides. Pour in the egg/veggie mixture and bake it in a 325-degree oven for about an hour, or until the top is crisp and brown. Turn it out of the pan onto a dish so it doesn’t steam. Serve with rice and yogurt.
TO THE SOURCE : For fresh local spring “greens” of all sorts and other local produce, check out Nesters Market, IGA, Creekside Grocery and The Grocery Store at Whistler as well as Choices and Capers in Vancouver for Across the Creek Organics’ potatoes, delectable arugala and amazing mixed spring greens. The latter includes eight varieties of lettuce, mizuna, mibuna, red mustard, kale and tat soi.
North Arm Farm is open for the season with all sorts of fresh appeal including eggs for the above egg loaf, asparagus, herbs like nettle, chives and the sweet cicely and lovage mentioned earlier, plus rhubarb galore for the perfect spring dessert (strawberries will be along soon if you need your annual rhubarb strawberry pie fix).
Helmers’ farm — and other local growers — will have their asparagus and other goodies available at a number of farmers’ markets, including Pemberton’s, which will be held every Friday evening, 5-7 p.m., starting June 13 at the A G Foods parking lot in Pemberton Village.
Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning freelance writer who
hated green and greens when she was a kid.