After all of the indulgent foods that we consumed between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, Brian and I have been more than ready to get back into our typical, mostly healthy*, eating routine. We've bookmarked page after page of easy-to-prepare, full-of-veggies, yet still homey and comforting meals in some of our favoritecookbooks, and also in some newtitles gracing the bookshelf. It is my hope that the month of January on Bella Eats will help all of us to get back on track and break our dependence on cheese plates before and dessert after most meals, as lovely as that may have been.
*To be clear, Brian and I believe in non-restrictive eating and the idea that nothing is off limits as long as moderation is practiced. So don't be surprised when small amounts of butter, cream, bacon etc. still appear in the lists of ingredients for recipes that claim to be healthy. Balance is key to a healthy diet, and we strive to prepare meals that are full of flavor and satisfying so as not to feel deprived of something that is important to us - delicious food!
Whenever I feel off-track, out of balance, the need for a healthy meal after weeks of parties and holidays and travel and restaurants...I turn to dark greens. Full of nutrients and flavor, the consumption of a heaping pile of kale, collard greens, swiss chard, mustard greens or spinach as a side dish or addition to soup or salads has me instantly feeling like myself again. The most common preparation for us is to simply saute' any of the above greens with extra-virgin olive oil and garlic, finishing them with a light drizzle of balsamic vinegar or lemon juice and a sprinkle of sea salt and freshly-ground pepper. Occasionally though, I'll have the desire to try something different, such as when our friends gave us a heaping pile of mustard greens from their garden just before the big snowstorm hit in December.
Mustard greens have a spicy, peppery taste, and these particular greens were especially flavorful. We'd sauteed some in our typical fashion and, while still enjoyable, the spiciness was on the verge of being too overwhelming for us. I turned to Vegetables Every Day for an alternative method of preparation (our go-to book for veggies, always) and was so pleased with the result of my search. The creamy sauce and sweet onion tempers the spiciness of the greens but still allows their mustardy flavor to shine through. I could have eaten the entire bowl-full as a meal on its own.
Brian and I enjoy greens on the side of many dishes, but a recent discovery has been the deliciousness of greens on top of one of our favorite meals, sausage with peppers and onions. We stocked up on pork sausage from Double H Farm to get us through winter, and will throw a few links on the grill for a quick and tasty lunch or dinner quite often. Saute' red bell peppers with sweet onions in a bit of olive oil and garlic until tender. Serve sausage on a bun (whole wheat, for a healthier alternative) topped with peppers and onions and a generous helping of these greens. Add extra Dijon mustard if you're as big a fan as we are.
Wash the greens in several changes of cold water, then strip off the leafy green portion from either side of the tough stem. Discard the stalks and rip the leafy portions into small pieces. Add the greens and 1 tsp salt to the boiling water. Cook until the greens are tender, about 8 minutes. Drain well.
Melt the butter in a large skillet. Add the onion and cook over medium heat until golden, about 5 minutes. Add the greens and toss to coat with the butter and onion. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Whisk the cream and mustard together in a small bowl. Add this mixture to the skillet and cook just until the greens absorb some of the sauce, 3 to 4 minutes. Adjust the seasonings and serve immediately.
I’ve mentioned before that I am a big fan of leafy greens. Big, big fan. A taste for greens kind of comes with the territory when you grow up in the south, along with a decent addiction to fried okra and sweet tea. But unlike those two childhood favorites, greens can be an incredibly healthy addition to your diet - full of fiber, vitamins A, C and K, folate, iron and calcium - as long as you leave out the bacon that is standard in most southern dishes. And when you eat greens as often as Brian and I do you really should leave out the bacon. Or run a few extra miles a day which, lets be honest, could be worth it.
We planted kale our first year with the garden but had very little luck with it. We were late getting the seeds in the ground that spring and wound up having very hot weather very early in the season so the poor little shoots never really had a chance. The next year we tried collard greens, having heard that they were a bit heartier than kale. Wow. Heartier was right. We had more collards than Brian and I plus the handful of friends that also like greens could handle. They were enjoyed immensely through most of the summer, but at the end of the season Brian not-so-subtly hinted that he’d had enough collards to last him for quite some time, and could we maybe try kale again next year?
We chose lacinato kale this spring, also known as black or dinosaur kale, because we love its deep earthy flavor and feel that it is a tad less bitter than other kale varieties. The seeds went into the ground in mid-march, and because we’ve had a relatively cool and wet summer we've been enjoying a steady harvest of fresh garden kale for the last two months. The weather is getting warmer now though, and the greens are fading fast. I’m suddenly feeling the pressure to increase our intake before they all wilt away and we have to wait for the cooler fall air for our next crop.
Luckily, this increase in consumption corresponded with a couple of key events that led to the creation of a new favorite salad. The first was an email I received a few weeks ago asking if I would like to participate in a Barhyte Foodsrecipe contest featuring their line of condiments - Saucy Mama. The second was my discovery that young, raw lacinato kale leaves make for quite the tasty salad.
Accompanied by sweet roasted vegetables, tangy goat cheese and a delightful raspberry vinaigrette, the slight bitterness of the greens (which is typically tempered by blanching) was balanced perfectly. And because kale is more firm than lettuce it holds its own quite well even after being coated with the dressing, adding a nice crunch to a bite filled with soft beets and creamy cheese. Add some toasted walnuts to the top and you have a lovely dinner salad in front of you. You won’t even miss the bacon.
It is best to use young kale leaves, just 4 to 6 inches long and 2 to 3 inches wide. They will be more tender, and less bitter, than their older siblings. I also tossed in some beet greens, which have a wonderful spicy bite to them and are best if used within one day of being pulled from the ground.
For the dressing I used Saucy Mama’s Raspberry Vinaigrette. In full disclosure, Barhyte Foods has sent me samples of their most popular condiments to develop recipes for a contest they are holding. Also, to be completely honest, I must tell you that this dressing is delicious. Really, really delicious.
Summer Greens Salad with Roasted Vegetables and Raspberry Vinaigretteserves 4 for a light dinner
about 1 pound of fresh greens - rinsed, dried, removed from stems and chopped (I used lacinato kale and beet greens) - should equal about 6 cups
3 medium-size beets - washed, peeled and chopped to 1" dice
2 medium-size carrots - washed, peeled and chopped to 1" dice
Preheat oven to 350*. Place chopped beets and carrots into medium-size glass baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, stir to coat. Roast vegetables for 30-40 minutes, until tender but not mushy.
Wash and dry greens as best you can. Remove leaves from stems and chop to bite-size pieces. Place in large bowl and toss with raspberry vinaigrette to coat well.
Remove vegetables from oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes. While they cool, toast your walnuts.
Place a heap of greens in the center of your plate. Top with roasted vegetables, crumbled goat cheese and toasted walnuts.
Would you look at that? The garden has gone wild! To enter one must blindly reach through the blackberries to the latch on the gate and, once the latch is found and opened, duck underneath the new growth that won’t bear fruit until next summer. Tomatoes have broken free of their cages, the strawberries are taking over our pathway, herbs are spilling out of their raised bed and the blackberry bush has exploded with just-ripe fruit.
Once inside you embark on what feels like a treasure hunt, pecking through the ever-bearing strawberry patch for the tiny, sweet fruit and pulling blackberry branches aside to reveal purple berries as big as my thumb. The tomatoes are plump and just starting to ripen, moving from a deep apple green through shades of yellow, peach and pink before finally settling into deep rosy reds (romas and brandywine), golden yellows (hawaiian pineapple) or dusty purples (cherokee princess).
The cucumber vines have been prolific, providing us with more bounty than we’ve been able to handle, and the okra is just starting to bear its strangely-shaped pods. We’ve definitely moved from spring crops into summer, having already said our goodbyes to the sugarsnap peas and lettuces and stored away the last of the spring onions. The crop we've been enjoying most recently, the one that bridged the gap between spring and summer and would have provided a harvest for even longer if we'd just planted another succession, are the red beets.
Beets are a newly acquired vegetable on my list of top ten favorites. I was introduced to them just a year or two ago, in the roasted form and mixed with a medley of potatoes, carrots, pearl onions and brussels sprouts. Having only had experience with the canned and pickled varieties in the past, I was pleasantly surprised when I took my first bite of fresh roasted beet and discovered its delightfully sweet flavor and firm texture. Ever since, beets have made it into most of our roasted veggie dishes and made select appearances in salads containing goat cheese and toasted nuts.
Most recently I tried beets in a creamy risotto, and was extremely pleased with the final result. I based the recipe on a butternut squash risotto that I've been making for many years, thinking that the beets would make an easy substitute in level of sweetness and overall texture. The beets do take longer to tenderize than butternut squash, so my method resulted in a creamy risotto with bits of slightly firm beets. If you'd prefer your beets to be very soft, I suggest roasting them with a splash of olive oil for 10-20 minutes before adding them to the skillet.
Oh! And if you're lucky enough to purchase (or grow!) beets that still have their greens attached, and those greens are still crisp and brightly colored, cook them up like you would kale, swiss chard, or collard greens. They are delicious.
I think that barley would be a fantastic whole-grain substitute for the arborio rice in this recipe, we were just all out. Make sure to use pearl barley if you try it - quick-cooking barley doesn't allow for the slow release of the starches that provide the creaminess risotto is known for.
Red Beet Risottoserves 4 as a main course
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, cut into 1/4 inch dice (or enough tiny onions to equal about 1 cup diced)
3 medium-sized beets, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch dice (about 2 cups)
2 cups arborio rice (or 1 cup pearl barley)
1/2 cup dry white wine
6 cups chicken stock, heated over medium heat
4 tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup walnut halves, toasted, for sprinkling on top
In a large skillet with tall sides, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and beets and cook until the onions ahve softened and translucent, about 8 minutes.
Add the rice and stir with a wooden spoon until toasted and opaque, 3-4 minutes.
Add the wine to the toasting rice and then add a 1/2 cup of stock. Cook, stirring constantly, until the liquid is absorbed. Continue adding stock by 1/2 a cup at at time, waiting until the liquid is absorbed before adding more. Cook until the rice is tender and creamy, yet still a little al dente, about 20 minutes.
Stir in the butter and cheese until well mixed.
Serve immediately with toasted walnuts crumbled on top.