Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Greens, Greens, EVERYWHERE!

I love greens. They come in a all shapes, sizes, tastes, and colors. We typically recognize them as romaine lettuce, spinach, tatsoi , curly greens, and swiss chard. What is amazing about these greens is that they possess more valuable nutrients than any other food group, and they can grow in a wide range of temperatures, including our Purcellville winters. Currently, in my outside winter garden I am growing kale, tatsoi greens, swiss chard, seven top turnips, and southern curly greens. I planted these in September and they were ready to start harvesting in a few weeks. Once the cold really set in I mulched them with some leaves from my yard and I am happy to say that just yesterday I harvested some kale and added it to some soup I was cooking. Although I may not be able to grow tomatoes in December, it is nice to have a fresh tatsoi salad (very similar to spinach) or some sautéed swiss chard when the wind is howling outside. When growing your own greens, it is important to know that each green prefers a certain temperature, so make sure you read the planting instructions before you plant them. In the spring when the nights are still cold I will plant lettuce, spinach, tatsoi, and some kale. As the weather warms up I will switch to some ‘faux’ spinach varieties that do well in heat and some heat tolerant varieties of lettuce. You will know when you need to make the switch to other varieties because lettuce ‘bolts’ (grows quickly and sets its seed head) when the temperatures get warm and the leaves get a bitter taste.

Eating greens is always such an adventure. From soups, to stir frys, they have many uses. They are also nutritionally supreme, provide an excellent source of protein, and are the one group of foods that most completely match human nutritional needs. I never met a green I didn’t like, so be creative! One way I love to take in greens in by drinking green smoothies. By blending the greens with other fruits and vegetables, you break them down so your body can better absorb all the nutrients. Now the color may put some people off, but the flavor is clean and crisp and delicious. My favorite combination is spinach, granny apple, peaches and strawberries. Add abit of juice and water and blend away!

If you like your greens cooked, here is great recipe that I like to call Glorious Greens Lasagna: Preheat oven to 375. Melt 3 TBSP of butter in a small pot and sprinkle 4 TBSP of flour and mix. Cook until combined and whisk in 3 CUPS of milk. Season with salt, pepper, and add 1 cup of cheese (parmesan or whatever your favorite) and set the sauce aside. In another large pan, heat some about 2 TBSP olive oil, and add 2 cloves of chopped garlic and cook until light brown. Chop up 3 bunches of greens (spinach and/or swiss chard) and toss into the oil and garlic and sauté until wilted. Season with salt and pepper. Take 1 box of no-boil lasagna noodles and break into large pieces and mix into the greens until incorporated. Pour the sauce from the small pan into the larger pan with the greens and pasta and mix. Pour this whole mixture into a casserole dish and sprinkle 1 cup of cheese over the top. Put the casserole into the oven and cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and let it finish cooking uncovered for about 15 more minutes or until the top is brown.

Looking for greens locally, even during the dead of winter? Right here in Purcellville there is a very unique operation that grows greens hydroponically. This means that they don’t use soil, but suspend the plants in water with nutrients to grow. They are called Endless Summer Harvest and if you haven’t tried them, you should! Getting a bag of mixed salad greens never tasted so good! For more information go to http://www.esharvest.com/. Happy Eating!