Tuesday, July 3, 2012

It's Not Easy Being Green.

Over the years I've heard many friends express their frustration at not knowing what to do with their CSA vegetables week after week.  I will admit that as much as I love the veggies fresh from my garden and those from my CSA box, I too struggle with creative ideas on how to use up the fresh bounty before it goes bad.  And although some of us have our "go to" dishes, it's easy to get stuck in a rut.  Here are some of the things I've been doing with the beautiful greens (Kale, Collards, Swiss Chard, and Beet Greens) I've been getting in my CSA box for the past few weeks.

Although all of these greens have a slightly different flavor and texture profile, a nice thing about them is that most can be used interchangeably in many recipes.  Here's a little of what I know, and how I've been enjoying these nutritious delectables.

Red Russian & Lacinato Kale
You will find many different varieties of kale at farmer's markets and grocery stores.  The most common varieties I see at our local markets and in my CSA box are Russian Red Kale and Lacinato Kale.  It is a sturdy green that requires a more gentle cooking technique and longer cooking time to ensure that it ends up tender.  That said, it can also make a beautiful salad in its raw form when thinly sliced (watch here to learn how to chiffonade) and given time to marinate in a vinaigrette.  One of the most important things to know about kale is that before you do anything with it, you must remove the fibrous stem/vein that runs from the stem up the middle of each leaf.  It may seem tedious, but your dinner guests will thank you.

I recently made this kale salad with rave reviews.  It was inspired by a recipe posted on "A Spicy Perspective" blog for Grilled Ham Steaks with Southern Kale Salad.

Smoky Kale Salad
1 bunch Red Russian Kale, stems & ribs removed, leaves halved
3/4 C. coarsely chopped Almonds
1 Tbls rendered bacon grease or pork fat (you can use butter if you want, but you won't get the same flavor)
hefty pinch chipotle powder
hefty pinch smoked paprika (NOT the same as regular Hungarian or sweet paprika)
pinch sea salt
1/4 C. scallions or spring onions- finely diced
1 Kohlrabi, peeled and grated/shredded

1 Tbls Orange Zest
2 Tbls Rice Wine Vinegar
1/4 C. good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Tbls honey
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp granulated garlic (powder)
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground pepper

1.  Stack kale leaf halves and thinly slice into shreds (chiffonade cut).  Place in salad bowl add scallions and Kohlrabi.
2.  Make vinaigrette by whisking together listed ingredients, pour over kale and toss well. Let this sit for 45 min to 1 hr, tossing periodically, so kale softens.
3.  In a small skillet melt fat over medium high heat, add almonds and seasonings. Shake pan over heat to roast nuts evenly until lightly golden....be careful not to burn.  Remove from heat and set aside.
4.  When ready to serve, toss kale one last time, sprinkle smoky almonds over top and serve.  

Collard Greens
Collard Greens
This is always a tough one for me.  The classic thing to do with Collard Greens is to make them southern style, stewing with smoky ham/bacon.  When some smaller tender leaves showed up in my CSA box recently I wanted to do something different with them.  I remembered seeing something in one of my raw food "cookbooks" (an interesting lifestyle I investigated a couple of years ago) about using Collard Greens as a sandwich wrap.  The recipe I found looked pretty unusual, but I wanted to give it a try, and the results were surprisingly good.  These wraps got happy reviews from my taste testers.  I enjoyed their fresh flavor and nutritious features so much that I made them again last week.  They could easily be used whole as a lunch or picnic item or maybe even sliced and layered on a tray as a party appetizer.

(If you are interested in sticking your toes in the Raw Food kiddie-pool, I recommend this cookbook..."Ani's Raw Food Kitchen" by Ani Phyo.  It has many fun, easy, and tasty things to try.  And, with all of the fresh produce at our disposal, this is the perfect time of year to check it out.)  The recipe below is based on the one found in Ani's book, but I've listed it with my changes.

Italian Herb Collard Wraps
Italian Herb Collard Wrap         
Sunny Dill Cheeze
2 C. sunflower seeds, just the meats, not the whole seeds with the shells
Juice of 1 lemon, about 2 Tbls
3 garlic cloves
1 bunch fresh dill (I used about 1/4 C. fresh fronds)
1/2 bunch fresh rosemary leaves, chopped (I've only had dried available, so used 1 tsp dried)
1 bunch fresh oregano leaves, chopped (I used approx. 2-3 Tbls)
1/2 C. water
(I added a pinch of salt as I used unsalted sunflower seeds)

1.  Blend seeds, lemon juice, garlic, and herbs until smooth, adding water as needed to make a creamy texture.  Set aside.

Fillings (prep fillings only as needed to make wraps at time they will be eaten)
1 bunch scallions, chopped 
3 Avocados, sliced individually as needed (I used approx 1/4 of an avocado per wrap)
2 tomatoes, sliced and halved
Sun dried tomatoes packed in oil, sliced (I used 1 lg or 2 small tomatoes per wrap)

Collard Green leaves, ribs removed and leaves halved (prep each leaf only as you are ready to eat it)                                  

1.  Spread 1/4 C. or so of Sunny Dill Cheeze over dull green side of leaf, dark green side of leaf should be facing down
2.  Sprinkle with chopped scallion.
3.  Layer sun dried tomato strips, a few avocado slices, and half a slice of tomato on one end of leaf.  Roll leaf around fillings from end to end into a tight cylinder. (cut edge of leaf on one end and raw edge of leaf on other)

Wraps will keep for one day in the refrigerator.  Wrap in a paper towel and store in an airtight container.  The collards will not get soggy, which is why they make such a great sandwich wrap.

Swiss Chard
Most of the Swiss Chard we see at the market is the rainbow variety.  It is really beautiful with shiny dark green leaves and bright multicolored stems.  The nice thing about chard is that, although you still have to remove the stems and veins, they aren't as fibrous as the other greens and thus are edible.  Because the stems are still more fibrous than the tender leaves, they must be chopped and cooked longer than the foliage.  Chard has a more earthy flavor than Spinach, but it can easily be substituted in nearly any dish that calls for spinach.

Beet greens
No more tossing the leafy greens at the top of your beets in to the compost bin!  They are edible and very nutritious.  The greens from Chioggia (Key-oh-jhah) beets are more tender than those of your typical dark red varieties.  All beet greens have an earthy flavor similar to that of the beets themselves.  A fun and easy way to enjoy beet greens is to sauté them and toss them with a vinaigrette to enjoy along with the roasted beets.  Like Spinach, beet greens can often be gritty so be sure to soak them in cool water and rinse well before preparing.

Ultimately, when I am short on time and motivation, my "go to" dish for greens and many other vegetables, is Quiche.  The inspiration for the recipe that I use comes from "Don't Panic, More Dinner's in the Freezer" by Martinez, Howell, & Garcia.  I always make a batch that will make two quiches.  One to eat right away and one to go in the freezer.  I can use the frozen quiche for a later meal or last minute for a party, picnic, or to give to a friend or neighbor in need.  Quiches are so versatile and can be enjoyed for any meal of the day.  Here is the quiche I made last night.

I box frozen fresh pie crust, 2-9 inch pie crusts, thawed & unbaked (This is definitely a place where I cheat. Pie crust is really pretty simple to make, but I always keep a box or two of these on hand in my freezer. Immaculate Baking Company makes an "all natural" product that Willy St Co-op sells.)
2 C. chopped bacon; sausage or chicken would also work (I recently found an exciting treasure at Willy St. Co-op...Willow Creek Farm sells their bacon ends in packages that they label as Lardons.  A less expensive option for WCF's awesome bacon when you want to use it for something other than eating in slices)
1 bunch each, chopped beet greens and swiss chard (chard stems chopped separately)
1 lg onion, diced
5 garlic scapes, chopped
1/4 C. chopped fresh basil
1/4 C. chopped fresh dill
8 eggs
1 C. whole milk (you can also use 1/2 & 1/2)
3 Tbls fresh lemon juice
2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
pinch of nutmeg
3 C. shredded swiss cheese or mozzarella cheese (I cleaned out my cheese drawer and combined some Edelweiss swiss, Marieke garlic-onion gouda, and Carr Valley Chèvre au Lait...I LOVE the name of this cheese!)
oil for sautéing

1. In a large skillet heat 1 Tbls cooking oil over medium heat, add chopped bacon and cook until beginning to brown.
2.  Add onions, garlic scapes, and chard stems.  Continue to cook until soft and beginning to turn golden.
3.  Add greens and fresh herbs.  Toss in pan frequently until greens are tender.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
4.  Place pie crusts in two 9 inch pie pans, fluting the edges.
5.  Thoroughly whisk eggs, milk, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and nutmeg in mixing bowl. 
6.  Spread cooled meat-veggie mixture in bottom of crusts, dividing equally.  Sprinkle with equal amounts of cheese.  Pour egg mixture over top equally between both pies.
7.  If baking, place in pre-heated 375 degree oven and bake for 35-45 minutes or until center of quiche is just set.  If crust begins to over brown, cover edges with aluminum foil.  Remove from oven and enjoy.
8.  If freezing, cover quiche with plastic wrap and then aluminum foil.  Carefully place unbaked quiche on level surface in freezer.  When fully frozen, wrap tightly, label, and return to freezer.  When ready to eat, thaw completely in refrigerator and bake according to above directions.  You can also freeze quiche after it's been baked.

**A couple of important tips on storing your greens.  Do not wash them until you are ready to use.  I wrap mine in a paper towel and place in a plastic bag for storing in the refrigerator.  I can often store these hardier greens like this for almost two weeks before they begin to yellow and wilt.

I hope this helps liven up your kitchen a little and gives you some fresh ideas for using the wonderful greens that have been filling your market bags and CSA boxes.  While I'm at it, I have to give a HUGE thank you to my CSA farmer, Kyle Thom, of Roots Down Community Farm, and all of the other farmers out there who are working tirelessly in these extreme weather conditions to make sure we have beautiful, local, healthy food for our tables.  I can't express my appreciation enough for what you do.  I also want to thank my dear friend, Jenny Liska-Boyer and her boys, Dylan and Parker, for their help this summer getting the hard work done in my own garden.

Dylan and our giant Dill harvest!

What are your favorite ways for using summer greens??

Interested in a chance to visit a beautiful CSA farm and enjoy good eats made by local chefs?  
Join REAP for this year's Day on the Farm event!  
Sunday, July 15th, 2012
11 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Crossroads Community Farm 
(formerly Primrose Community Farm)
Cross Plains, WI
Tickets can be purchased on REAP's website (at the link above)
Event also will include farm tours, chef demos, and fun kids activities.

I have always had a great time at this annual event!!


  1. Mmmmmm, what a wonderful collection of recipes Alyssa. Thank you so much! I appreciate all of these and look forward to making them. I'm gonna have to start with those Italian Herb Collard Wraps. Hubby has just introduced me to collards and I love!

  2. Thanks Sarah! I was pleasantly surprised at how good the Collard wraps were. I think they would make a wonderful carb-alternative wrap for nearly any filling....the smaller more tender leaves especially. :)

  3. Great ideas! Though I didn't even plant any kale or collards this year since we were less than enthused about eating them last year. I've got some rainbow chard I'll be using this week so I may mix and match some of the above ideas. My favorite go-to for greens is to pair them with a legume (Greens 'n Beans!) like cannolini or lentils. I've got a chef friend that has talked about kale in green smoothies. I'm skeptical of the whole green smothie thing. Thanks for sharing these! :)

  4. Hey Shady, thanks for the comment and for sharing your Greens & Beans idea! I'll definitely give that a try. I have some Cranberry Beans I grew last year that are just waiting for an excuse to be cooked as well as some salt cured ham that would go perfectly in that dish.

    I am a green smoothie fan! I was pretty in to them when I first got my Vitamix blender. They can be delicious, but they can also be pungent and not so tasty. :) Mostly, the ones I enjoy are greens blended with fruits. It's amazing how good they can be! I definitely encourage you to give them a try and if you're interested, "Green Smoothie Revolution" by Victoria Boutenko is a great resource. They also have a website: http://greensmoothierevolution.com/ You'll have to let me know what you think if you take the plunge.