Summer kind of smacked us around this past week in Minnesota. We’re a state that lives for Summer, for beach time and hours spent outdoors engaging in just about any activity that means we escape our houses and enjoy the weather, but then there are those Summer days that are so hot, so thickly humid and uncomfortable that we have no choice but to stay home, avoid the triple digits outdoors and attempt to entertain ourselves while the sun tries to burn holes in our roof.
I’ve experienced some hot Summers in my lifetime; 1988 was a blistering hot Summer that saw temperature records fall by the score, knocking out ones that had stood the test of time since the 1930’s. I was living in a third floor walk-up apartment with no A/C and I’ve never been so miserable in my life. One evening in July, as I sat out on the stoop with other exhausted and over-heated residents of our building, the night air at 10:30 was still hovering around 105°. Trying to sleep was impossible. At 3:30 that morning, I finally gave up and turned on the radio, only to hear that the current temperature was 88°. During that particular Summer, we saw a stretch of weather where the temperature did not fall below 85° for more than a week. At that point in time, central air-conditioning was still a novelty.
I don’t recall much about what I ate during that sweltering Summer, and having this cool, crunchy and fresh salad around might have made those awful days a bit more tolerable, but at that point in my life, my culinary exploits were just about non-existent. Thankfully, for our current heat wave, and after a quick and sweaty trip through the Farmers Market, we were stocked to the hilt with fresh greens and lettuces and crisp vegetables, making this dish a mainstay of those sticky days blessedly spent inside our comfortable, fully air-conditioned house.
Not familiar with millet? Most of us in the USA see it only in birdseed, and that’s a sad fate for us humans, but terrific for the birds. Millet is widely cultivated in the form of pearl millet in India and parts of Africa, and is popular there due to it’s high productivity and and short growing season. In the USA, the most widely cultivated form of millet is proso millet, grown and used as birdseed. Millet is an ancient grain, known for being the least allergenic and most digestible of the gluten-free ancient grains that are becoming more popular. Millet is high in fiber and all the B vitamins, iron, calcium and zinc. It cooks in less time than quinoa and has a pleasantly sweet and nutty flavor.
This salad, born of desperation and some choice nightmares over stressful memories of past sticky summers, made our stretch of housebound days feel a bit easier. Even in the cool comfort of home, with the heat and humidity kept at bay by closed shades, eating becomes almost an afterthought. There’s no comfort in foods that are heavy or rich; no desire for flame or heat, and when the mood strikes to eat something, it’s good to just reach in the refrigerator and pull out a bowl of summertime goodness. The crunch and snap of fresh vegetables, the headiness of herbs cut straight from the garden outside your door and a blind eye turned from the weather forecast was welcome relief as the calendar page turned to July.
This salad is endlessly versatile, and if Millet isn’t available, you can use just about any small grain you wish. With the wide variety of fresh vegetables in season, as well as delicious greens, putting your own personal thumbprint on this salad is a cinch. I loved the addition of the radish greens to the salad, offering their unique peppery bite, but if you use them, seek out organic radishes to insure that the greens aren’t laden with pesticide residue. And as always, with time in the refrigerator, this salad takes on a lot more flavor.
Now we’re all set for the next heat wave. Let’s just hope it’s not toosoon.
Millet & Chickpea Salad
1/2 c. raw millet
1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 small cucumber, peeled and diced (remove the seeds if desired)
1 small bunch radishes and their greens, washed and sliced
1 c. fresh chopped herbs such as basil, oregano, thyme and parsley
1/4 c. good quality olive oil
2 T. white or red wine vinegar
Sea salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste
In a small saucepan, bring 1-1/2 cups of water to a boil. Rinse millet in a wire mesh strainer until the water runs clear. Add millet to boiling water with a generous pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes. Test the grains. They should still be firm, with a bit of softness, like rice. All the water might not be absorbed either. If tender, remove from heat and drain remaining water. Spread cooked millet on a parchment lined baking sheet to cool.
In a large bowl, combine the cooled millet, chickpeas, cucumber, and radish, greens included. Whisk the oil and vinegar together in a small measuring cup, season with salt and pepper. Pour over vegetables and toss to coat. Taste and season with more salt and pepper, if you wish. Add half the herbs, toss together. Chill for about an hour. Taste before serving, adding more seasoning and herbs to boost flavor.
It’s been almost a year since we eliminated meat from our eating. I’m ecstatic over the way I’ve felt in the last year; I’ve got more energy even when I have a terrible time sleeping; my belly is superbly happy, and my skin looks so much better. Those pesky hot flashes are only a minor occurrence these days too, and I love that part of it the most.
I love the variety and simplicity of our meals too, the ease at preparing them now that we don’t have to wait for meat to cook, and it’s been wonderful to see Griffin expand the foods he eats and also to see that he’s learning to enjoy meatless meals so much more than I ever expected. I’m really proud of how he’s adapted to the changes; he still gets his meat too, so he has the best of both worlds.
One food item that he’s still on the fence about is greens. Mike and I have come to love greens like chard, beet greens and kale, but Griffin is still wary, only eating them in dishes where other flavors can mask their tastes. He’s trying greens, at least. That’s good enough for me right now. He’s also not a huge fan of gnocchi due to the texture, and that’s too bad all around because this Baked Pizza Gnocchi dish that I created is utterly divine in every way.
Recipes inspire me in the most fascinating way. I can read dozens of them and not have a spark of interest, and yet come across one that stirs my imagination and I’m suddenly inside my head putting ingredients together and dreaming of an outcome. That happened to me recently as I was browsing through my news feed on my phone and came across an article about using chard. One recipe for a Skillet Gnocchi with Chard sounded really delicious, and my creative spark was ignited.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot more about meals with greens in them as I received an entire box of a wide variety of packaged and cleaned greens from Cut N Clean Greens to try out and it was probably the most exciting food stuff that’s landed on my door step because I just LOVE this product. It is so ridiculously easy to use greens with Cut N Clean Greens in your refrigerator. They’ve done all the work for you and the greens are ready to open and cook with. You don’t need to prep them, clean or do anything but enjoy. And for roughly the same price you’d pay for a bunch of greens, you get a great deal more yield and it goes a lot farther. Yet another wonderful thing to love about them.
(disclaimer: I received all the greens for free yet all opinions here are solely mine)
But…. back to this Gnocchi. Very simple and quick, rich with flavor and texture, this gratin came out fragrant, bubbling and with that perfect crunchy top to it. Grab a favorite pizza sauce (whether scratch or homemade) a package of shelf stable gnocchi (or…. knock yourself out and make a batch from scratch) and about a pound of good greens like chard, spinach or beet greens and give yourself about 15 minutes while the oven springs to life and heats up. It’s like pizza but it’s not; it resembles lasagna, but it’s better because it’s easier. The gnocchi become so incredibly soft and tender in the oven and it’s gorgeous enough for a special occasion, classy enough to taste like you really put out some effort.
I’ve noticed lately that when I write out my recipes here that I’m posting all sorts of side notes (in blue!) on what options you might do with your own version of the recipe. I hope this isn’t annoying. Is it? Because, here’s the thing; I don’t have the ego to think that the way I make anything would be exactly how someone else would make it. We all have our own tastes, right? We like different foods, flavors and we all have different methods, ovens that work differently, cookware and utensils that we love (go ahead, use that garlic press if it’s your way) and these recipes that slip through our computer screens in to our minds, making our mouths water, well they might mean something else entirely to another person. If I mention to saute your onions for 10 minutes and you think they should be cooked longer, or shorter, or if you don’t even like onions and don’t want to use them, then by all means, trust those instincts. Make the recipe your own. Learn the ways of your own stove, the cut of your favorite knife, dig through your cupboards and add your own flavor, spice, extra something that you love. This is how cooking should be. I’m thrilled to just be one of the stones you traverse in your own journey in the kitchen.
Baked Pizza Gnocchi with Greens
1 lb. gnocchi
1 15-oz can prepared pizza sauce (I love Muir Glen Organics)
2 small shallots, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2-3/4 lb. greens of choice (can be beet greens, spinach, chard or kale or a mix) 1/2 c. crumbled goat cheese (for a richer taste, use ricotta) 1/2 c. panko bread crumbs
2 T. melted butter (i used coconut oil)
1/4 c. grated parmesan cheese
1/4 c. mixed fresh herbs, like parsley, thyme, basil, oregano
Heat oven to 400°. Spray a 2-quart baking dish with cooking spray. Or live a little and rub butter in it.
In a deep skillet with a lid, heat oil of choice and add shallots, cooking for about 5 minutes while stirring over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, stir and cook for a few minutes, then begin adding the greens, a handful at a time and stirring so they begin to absorb some of the heat and oil and start to get a bit of wilt to the leaves. Once all the greens are in the pan and they’ve collapsed and are starting to soften, crumble in the goat cheese and stir to break it down. When it’s pretty well incorporated, add in the pizza sauce and about a half cup of water. (add the water to the can and swish to collect any remaining sauce). Stir the pan well, then bring it to a gentle simmer and cover it. Cook the greens until just tender. The timing will depend on which green you are using. Taste often so they don’t get away from you. When the greens are just tender, stir in the gnocchi, and turn off the heat. I used a mix of beet greens and chard and cooked them for maybe 10 minutes.
Mix the panko crumbs, butter and parmesan cheese together. Scrape the gnocchi in to the baking dish and sprinkle the top with the panko crumbs. Bake in the middle of the oven until bubbly, and the crumbs have browned nicely. Mine took about 20 minutes, and I rotated the dish a few times to brown the top evenly. Once removed from the oven, allow the dish to stand about 10 minutes before serving.
KATE’S NOTES: You can divide the gnocchi between individual ramekins if you want something fancier. But please keep in mind that your baking time will be drastically reduced. I baked a few ramekins, placing them on a baking sheet lest they rise up and bubble over the top. They didn’t. (whew)
You can double this for a crowd, baking it in a 9×13 pan. That’s a lot of greens, so add them patiently to the pan.
I collect a lot of recipes. Papers overflow the corner of our counter where they tend to land; recipes of all types from desserts to main dishes. Trouble is, I rarely use them, verbatim anyway. They serve as a sort of spiritual guidance, infusing me with inspiration to cull what I need to make up a dish all on my own. I’m only home a few nights a week to cook these days. And although I could give any one of the recipes to my guys and they’d likely be able to pull it off, there’s no way I could hand them two or three, with all sorts of odd instructions such as ‘Take this part’ and ‘Do this but not this’ and expect it will come out the way I envision it. My brain works way differently than theirs when it comes to putting recipes together.
Still, even with all the inspiration at my fingertips (or these days, stuffed in a drawer) sometimes the meals I create are derived from a leap or two of inspiration that comes not from a printed source, but from a few wild ideas my brain churns out that I think sound good together.
I certainly had no doubt that we would enjoy this silky braised kale, infused with coconut milk and some fragrant curry powder, but I had no idea that it would swirl through my mouth with such immense flavors, causing me to think almost obsessively about it, plotting the exact next time I could simmer up a large pan of it for us to enjoy. Griffin won’t eat it, and that’s fine. He has tried a few bites of cooked greens that we consume but he’s just not there yet. Mike and I fell over ourselves in adoration for this dish, easily a complete meal. Alone with a large helping of kale, it’s perfect as is, but the second go-round I made of it, I added a large bunch of red chard, complete with the chopped stems and if it’s even possible, the dish was so much better, with richer, deeper flavor and much more balanced.
The best part about making this dish on one of the first bone-chillingly cold days of December, was placing my nose down among the wisps of steam that rose from the pan and breathing in the fresh green scent of kale and chard. It easily transported my mind back to late summer, the bounty of chard bunches to be had for a dollar apiece that I would bring home from the markets each week. Thankfully I can find inexpensive one pound bags of prepared kale, and chard is reasonable for the taking so I won’t be missing my greens all that much. I just won’t be shopping in a flippy skirt and tank top when I buy them.
Braised Kale and Chickpeas in Coconut Milk
1/2# prepared kale, tough stems removed, roughly chopped
1 15-oz can lite coconut milk (you can use full-fat as well)
1 15-oz can chickpeas, rinsed well
2 garlic cloves, minced
2-3 t. prepared curry powder, or curry paste (both red or yellow would be perfect- adjust to taste)
In a large deep skillet with a lid, heat about a tablespoon of olive oil, and add garlic. Cook and stir for a few minutes until garlic becomes opaque. Add kale in handfuls, stirring continually, until it’s all in the pan. Continue to stir until it turns a very bright and dark green and has taken on the oil in the pan. Add about a half cup of water and cover the pan, allowing to simmer for about 10 minutes. Stir in the chickpeas, coconut milk and curry powder. Cover and allow to cook, slowly, anywhere from 5-15 minutes more, depending on how you like your kale to taste. Stir again, seasoning with salt and pepper, if desired. If the kale seems a bit watery, remove the lid and allow some of the liquid to cook off.
Kate’s Notes: If you wish to use chard as well, you can add that after the kale has simmered for the first 10 minutes. Stir in the rough chopped chard and allow the heat to steam it tender. If using the stems too, chop them fine and add them with the garlic in the beginning.
I spent a significant amount of time this past summer wandering up and down the aisles of our local farmers markets, as many, many people do. But I don’t venture in to the larger markets in Minneapolis or St Paul, instead preferring to go to the small satellite ones in the suburbs. I can always find what I needed, and as was the case this past year, I found a whole lot more than I ever anticipated.
Each summer for the last 5 years it seems some type of theme arises from a particular food I discover and experiment with; it might be a food type, such as the summer of 2007 when I learned a great deal about cooking with whole grains like quinoa, millet, bulgur and a multitude of colorful rice varieties. Or it might be a particular food, like in 2008 when I took the humble burger in different directions, and 2009 found me falling in love with beets and getting my fill of learning about those. In 2010, what I experimented with was a killer job. Cooking went by the wayside last year, but this summer, with a better schedule and actual time off during the week, trips to the Farmers Market were a must, and in those weekly visits, I came across a multitude of vegetables that I’d never tried or even considered prior to this past June.
And what was different about this year was the increase in the need for vegetable based meals, since we walked away from meat consumption in May and never looked back. So stretching the imagination and reaching for foods that were unfamiliar was going to have to stick. I needed to expand my palate, and this was the perfect spot to do so.
If I could pinpoint one item that I really learned a great deal about this year it would be Greens. Kale and chard crossed our plates and made appearances in our kitchen nearly every week. Enormous bunches of chard could be purchased from the market for a dollar a piece and easily could feed us for 2 meals or more, depending on what I did with it. I discovered the joys of making Chard Chips, and fell in love with a simple chard side dish, sauteed with a few cloves of garlic and simmered gently to bring out it’s deeply rich and slightly sweet flavor. I love Rainbow Chard for it’s colorful stems.
Then, in one visit to the market in Maplewood, I came across a giant bunch of greens on a farmers table and asked curiously “What is this?”
“That’s Sweet Potato Leaves.” She said, smiling widely. “They’re like spinach, only a little sweeter.”
Here was yet another enormous bunch of greens, and for a dollar as well. What did I have to lose? I handed over a buck and placed the bunch in my sack and as I turned away, the farmer said with a smile “Those are going to become your favorite green!!” To which I simply smiled and said ‘Thank you!’
She was 100% correct. I stripped the leaves that evening and sauteed them for dinner and with the first bite, I was raving over how tender and amazing they tasted and couldn’t wait to return the following week for more. Also known as Kamote, or Camote leaves, and as other dark leafy greens they are loaded with vitamins and minerals like iron, magnesium and calcium, making them a good choice for healthy eating. Each week I could, I returned to that market, and that farmer and scooped up large bunches of Sweet Potato leaves. While many cultures also eat the stems, I consumed only the leaves, tossing the stems in the garden to compost. Imagine my surprise when I noticed after a few weeks that those stems had taken root and were growing new leaves. I managed to get a small crop of my own Sweet Potato leaves from my garden before the first frost in September. Now that’s a nice bonus.
I’ve been on the fence with Eggplant for a while now, fighting back and forth with it, hoping to fall in love even when I fall on my face, but for some reason I keep trying and I’m really glad as I have discoveredmore waysthis summerto enjoy Eggplant. I came across Rosa Bianca eggplants too, and was immediately drawn to their unique colors.
The farmer told me that they could be roasted like regular eggplant. What she didn’t tell me, and what I discovered a bit too late was that this little orange variety is very bitter and is considered a delicacy in SE Asian cuisine. One bite and I had to admit that I’d found a vegetable I couldn’t eat.
A few more unique vegetables crossed my doorstep this summer, due to a relationship with Ocean Mist Farms. I was contacted by a representative of Ocean Mist back in July and asked if I was interested in some fresh Fennel to try. While Fennel isn’t really anything new, it was not a vegetable I’d done much with and while I did like it, the cost had always been prohibitive. I agreed to the Fennel they would send, and soon a case of it arrived at my house, holding six large, aromatic and superbly fresh bulbs. We had a wonderful time enjoying the light anise flavor, roasting them with potatoes and carrots. Fennel becomes so nicely sweet when roasted. I also added fennel to a slaw salad I made, loving it’s crisp texture and added taste to a favorite summery dish.
Recently, Ocean Mist contacted me again, offering to send me a vegetable I’d never even heard of: Cardones. Curiosity won me over, and I accepted. I had no idea what I was going to receive.
Cardones, or Cardoons, are very popular in Italy, come from the Thistle family and are considered a distant cousin of the Artichoke. They look like mutant celery, but they cannot be eaten raw. The internal part of the plant has slim silvery gray leaves that look like sage. And they are HUGE. Check out those stalks!!!
This was nothing like I’d known before; and I was initially at a loss as to what to do. After some research online, I decided to make a creamy cardone soup out of one of the bunches. They require a long simmering time, and mixed with onion and leek, it offered a warm and fragrant scent to a chilly evening. The finished soup was smooth, mild and creamy, and as we discovered, tasted amazing with some leftover wild rice pilaf stirred in to it.
The next two stalks I roasted, and this method was the best tasting. I tossed the slices with a bit of olive oil and a splash of an asiago caesar salad dressing I had on hand and after a nice long turn in a 425° oven, they were tender and flavorful enough to toss with pasta. The experience with Cardones was really interesting; I kept expecting celery flavor, but instead got something so unusual. It was like artichokes but richer. Cardones are similar to Artichokes in that they will discolor when cut apart, and should be soaked in acidulated water to prevent brown spots from forming. I did discover too, that they will change color even after cooking, and the roasted pieces I had in the refrigerator turned a strange shade of greenish gray after a day. The taste does not change though, even when they look just a bit unappetizing. I’m sure they have a lot more use in the kitchen, and maybe I’ll come across them again so I can experiment more.
WHAT NEW VEGETABLES ARE YOU LEARNING ABOUT? ARE THERE VEGETABLES YOU EAT NOW THAT YOU NEVER THOUGHT YOU WOULD LIKE?
Ocean Mist Farms provided me with both the case of Fennel and the Cardones free of charge.
I have no obligation to post any feedback or information on them, and all opinions are my own.
One night last month, amidst the gorgeous August that made it’s way in to Minnesota and on a night that seemed as supple as velvet, I was home by myself, bored and restless. Feeling the urge to experiment with some of the food laying about the refrigerator, I poked through the stuffed bags from the Farmers Market, eyeing the three overflowing bags of chard.
I’ve been crazy for chard. Really crazy. Thankfully, this is a good thing. It’s not like an addiction that’s harmful, unless you can OD on vitamins. My blood won’t be anemic any time soon. And after this particular evenings playtime with my food, I was excited to share my findings so I propped up the computer on the island and found my voice to tell you this story.
Beyond the deep green of spinach, and now kale, I hadn’t yet moved towards other deep green leafy vegetables, such as collards, mustard greens, or chard of any variety. But I’m working slowly to incorporate more of this incredibly nutritional vegetable in to my diet though. It’s a work in progress, for sure. So, in consideration that I didn’t just wake up one morning in a “Hallelujah!!” moment and love spinach to death, or eat one bite of kale and declare myself transformed, trying out Chard, and finding that I liked it on the first attempt was somewhat surprising.
I’m exploring a lot more offerings on the tables at the Farmers Market these days. And really, I’m loving the results. Approaching my favorite organic farmer one afternoon, I spied a small bunch of delicate baby red chard sitting on his table, with it’s lush deep red veins and crisp, exceptionally dark leaves and something in my mind went “Get that now!” and so I held out a few dollars and walked away with this thick bunch of greens thinking “I have no clue what to do with this.”
But thankfully, that’s never stopped me before. And we learn a lot through often just following our will in to adventure; listening to the voice that tells us to turn left at the crossroads, even when you have no idea where ‘Left’ goes. I trust my gut instinct. And this bundle of red chard was that gut instinct telling me to branch out. So I sauteed the chard one morning, and topped it with a poached egg. I’d been making this breakfast for a while now, only with leafy braised kale and loving how energizing and delicious it was. It seemed the next logical step was to try it with chard.
And I was devouring – devouring – the last bite when I realized that I should have maybe tried to take a picture of it. So trust me, ok? It was divine.
The next week when I went back, there sat my favorite farmer, again with bunches of Red Chard on his table, although much larger and leafier than before. I told him how delicious that tiny bunch had been and his eyes lit up. You see, my very first experience with chard years ago, and subsequent experiences since then were not favorable. Maybe I wasn’t ready at that point to be going ‘Left’ in my exploration of leafy greens, of appreciating the merits of good health that they offered. It hadn’t left a very good impression, but that little bunch of organic chard, at this point in my life where I am firmly rooted in learning, exploring and embracing a plant-based eating plan, well that impulse purchase had Wow-ed me, and I happily handed over a few more dollars and stuffed another huge bunch in my sack. When I made it again, it was lunch for Mike and I.
And I remembered to take a picture.
But like spinach, and beet greens, a whole enormous pile of leafy chard can be reduced to a little pile of barely anything by a few quick turns in a hot skillet. And with one lunch, plus me stealthily hiding the leftovers so only I could benefit from them, that delicious $2 bunch of red chard was gone in a matter of moments. But it left such a nice taste and experience in my mouth that I eagerly anticipated a return to said farmer, and maybe TWO bunches of it this time. Alas, by the time I got back to that market, his slot remained unhappily empty. Given that it was the day after July 4th, I’ll grant him his absence. But by golly, if next week rolls around and he isn’t in his usual place, his hat pushed back and a truck full of truly wonderful produce behind him, don’t be surprised if you hear that I’ve broken down crying.
Because that’s how quickly, and deeply I’ve fallen for this rich and lush green. It’s dark and brooding, silky, tender and tastes like I’m in the middle of a deep forest drawing in the air, and the green. Can a vegetable taste like a color? Does color even have a taste? To me it does, and this chard tastes like it looks. Deep green, and rich with flavor and I’m sold, 100%.
Have you tried Chard? What do you like to do with it?
Chard and White Beans with Fresh Herbs
2 small shallots, finely minced
2-3 garlic cloves, minced (use minced garlic scapes if you have them, about 2 T. worth)
2 big bunches red chard, stems removed and rough chopped
1 15-oz can Great Northern Beans, drained and rinsed
1-2 T. each finely minced parsley and thyme
1/2 c. cooked wheatberries (optional- I had these on hand and they were delightful in this dish)
In a large skillet, saute shallot and garlic until tender. Add the chard in handfuls, stirring to saute. Cook chard for about 5 minutes, or until tender. Stir in white beans and herbs. Season with salt and pepper and cook for a few minutes to blend flavors. Add a few tablespoons of water if dry.