Category Archives: vegetable

Spicy Ginger Peanut Stew and a Soup Swap: Take That, Michigan Winter!

Actually, that's sunflower butter b/c I ran out of peanut butter. Same idea, though. Incidentally vegan (which is not incidentally my favorite kind of vegan)

Soup Season is ON

I think the worst thing about January in Michigan is knowing even after we survive it, we still have to deal with February. Would you like some soup? I would like some soup.

I first discovered this recipe sometime during the year or two I ate (mostly) vegan. In many ways, it’s just a standard vegetable soup. It starts with garlic & onion, and then you add some vegetables—it doesn’t really matter what kind. Top with canned tomatoes and enough broth to cover, cook until the veggies are done, season with salt & pepper to taste, and that should be pretty tasty, even if you don’t add anything else. But it’s probably nothing to write home the internet about.

You can add more nut butter if you want something really peanutty. I like it better with just a little.It’s the three elements in the name that make this something worth sharing—a hefty scoop of cayenne pepper, a couple of tablespoons of minced fresh ginger, and a few heaping spoonfuls of peanut butter. Together, they transform this from just your average vegetable soup into a spicy, hearty, creamy stew. A hint of coconut, which you can get either by sweating the veggies in coconut oil, adding some coconut milk with the nut butter, or garnishing the soup with a sprinkle of unsweetened dried coconut curls adds another layer of flavor and richness, but it’s also great without the coconut.

To make it more filling, I sometimes add potatoes or rice. In this batch, I used sweet potatoes because I think they’re especially nice with ginger, cayenne, and coconut. Sometimes I throw in a bell pepper or some hearty greens. Carrots would be a welcome addition, too. I actually have a hard time thinking of anything that wouldn’t be good in this—cabbage, peas, corn, winter squash, white potatoes. And although I’ve never tried it, I imagine it would also be good with some beans, shredded cooked chicken, or diced ham if you wanted to add more protein or had leftovers hanging around that you wanted to use up. 

Apparently 2 big onions, a whole head of cauliflower, two heads of broccoli, 4 sweet potatoes, and 5 cans of diced tomatoes is kind of a lot of vegetable matter. Filled 3/4 of my biggest pot, and took over 10 cups of liquid, in addition to the tomato can juice, to cover.This is a 12-qt pot so as written below it makes ~8 quarts of soup?
Easily scaled down—the original recipe makes 4-6 servings.

Swapping Soup

I usually make a giant batch of this once a year and then freeze it in pint jars or 2-cup screw-top tupperware containers, which usually last me through the winter. However, thanks to the Michigan Lady Food Bloggers—especially Shayne of Fruitcake or Nuts who hosted the swap—this batch got magically transformed into six different kinds of soup: 

It's like a Michigan winter survival kit!

Clockwise from the top left, that’s Cheddar and Potato with Canadian Bacon (by Bee of Good Food Michigan), Curried Red Lentil Soup (by Mary of A Million Grandmas), a Potato & Sausage soup with lots of fresh dill (by Shayne of Fruitcake or Nuts), my Spicy Ginger Peanut soup, a Corn Chowder with Red and Green Bell Peppers (by Sarah of Una Buona Forchetta), and a Winter Stew with Pork, Beans, & Greens (by Yvonne of Wool and Water).

We tasted them all, along with drinks & bread provided by Shayne and mint chocolate chip cookies from Bee—all of which were delicious—and then filled the containers we’d brought with the leftovers. Kudos to whoever came up with this idea. It would be a great thing to do on a regular basis with a group of friends with similar food preferences/restrictions.

I’ll link to their recipes when/if they post them. Here’s mine:

Recipe: Ginger Peanut Stew (adapted from VegWeb)
makes enough for a crowd, halve or see VegWeb for a smaller amount

  • 4 T. coconut oil (or any neutral cooking oil)How many great recipes start just like this: mince some garlic and/or ginger, dice an onion...
  • 1 head garlic
  • a 2” piece of ginger (about 2 T. minced or grated)
  • 2 large onions
  • 1 head cauliflower*
  • 2 heads broccoli*
  • 4 sweet potatoes*
  • 5 14-oz cans of diced tomatoes, with liquid
  • 6-10 cups vegetable stock or water
  • 1 t. cayenne (depending on your heat tolerance, you might want to start with 1/2 t. and add more to taste)
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter**
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk or unsweetened shredded coconut to garnish (optional)

*can substitute any diced vegetable for the cauliflower, broccoli, and sweet potatoes; add slow-cooking things like root vegetables and winter squash first; hold back on anything you want to remain tender-crisp

**I prefer crunchy, but creamy will work too; you can also substitute any other nut or seed butter you like.

1. Heat the oil in a large stock pot over medium-low heat.

2. Peel and mince or grate the garlic and ginger finely and add them to the oil.

3. Dice the onion and add it to the pot. Stir to coat and let cook while you chop the other vegetables (or, if using pre-chopped or bite sized things, just let them cook for 5-10 minutes until they’re soft). The heat was on a little to high when I started so by the time I got done dicing the onions, some of the garlic & ginger had browned. But at least it didn't burn. Starting something over becasue you burned the garlic is so depressing.Potato cubes need not be perfect, just as long as they're all roughly the same size they should all cook through in the same amount of time

4. Peel and dice the potatoes, if using, and any other root vegetables or winter squash into 1/2”  cubes and add to the onions. Repeat with the cauliflower and broccoli, or whatever else you’re putting in the soup.

Everything chopped and in the pot--it takes me about 40 minutes to throw it together and is ready to eat in just over an hour.5. Sprinkle the veggies with cayenne, stir well, and let cook 3-5 minutes. The onions should be turning golden, if not continue cooking, stirring occasionally until they are.

6. Add the canned tomatoes with their liquid and the water or stock, using more water or stock if necessary to cover the vegetables.

7. Simmer for 20-30 minutes, or until the vegetables are all cooked to your liking. 

8. Stir in the peanut butter and the coconut milk (if using), and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Coconut oil, but no coconut milk in this batch.

Fresh Green Bean Casserole: Look Ma, No Cans!

right out of the oven, the sauce is pretty loose, but it thickens as it sits or after being refrigerated

CSA 2010 Epilogue

I made this a couple of months ago when I was still getting pounds of gorgeous, fresh, gigantic green beans from Needle Lane Farms every week. However, it would be tasty even with far less gorgeous beans. Really, the entire point of green bean bean casserole is to disguise green beans that have been rendered essentially flavorless by canning by drowning them in a mushroom-infused béchamel and topping them with crispy fried onions (a combination that could make just about anything taste good). I threw this version together one night when I had some milk and mushrooms on hand, and I was sick of eating all those gorgeous, fresh green beans sautéed with garlic or steamed and dressed with oil and vinegar. I wanted something less summery, less virtuous, and frankly, a little less like green beans.

The title of the entry isn’t meant to imply that the can-based version is bad. I love the recipe Dorcas Reilly came up with when she was the head of Campbell’s Test Kitchen in the 1950s. It may have been a naked ploy to get people to buy more Campbell’s products, but marketing alone couldn’t have turned it into a holiday you can deep-fry your own shallots, or if you have access to an asian market, you might be able to get them in large quantities for cheap; also great for topping bagels and encrusting basically anything savoryclassic. Reilly and the test kitchen came up with dozens of recipes, most of which would now be candidates for the Gallery of Regrettable Food. But even though green bean casserole is a quintessential 1950s mush-from-cans kind of recipe, it’s also essentially a classic gratin. I can’t think of a better way to make lifeless canned vegetables not just edible but delicious than to submerge them in a savory, roux-thickened milk sauce (which is all Campbell’s condensed cream soups really are). The basic formula—condensed cream soup + canned vegetable + crunchy topping—would probably be pretty tasty no matter what flavor of soup, kind of vegetable, or crunchy topping you used. Cream of onion with canned peas topped with bread crumbs. Cream of celery with canned succotash topped with crushed saltines. It may never be a culinary revelation, but it’s hard to think of an easier, faster, or tastier way to make a vegetable dish from a handful of ingredients that keep indefinitely in your pantry.

The one real benefit to making a dish like this from scratch—aside from trying to use up CSA produce—is having the ability to customize it. Personally, I like just enough nutmeg in my béchamel to make it a little spicy. I like my mushrooms minced so finely I will never have to bite into one. I like my green beans with a little structural integrity but soft enough to cut with a fork. And for the topping, I’ll take fried shallots over French’s onions any day.

Have It Your Way

Some other variations you might consider, especially if you’re catering to a restrictive-eater this holiday season:

Vegan/Lactose-free: Use a non-dairy milk (Chocolate & Zucchini reports having good success with oat milk in a similar casserole) and substitute vegetable oil or shortening for the butter.

Gluten-free: Substitute rice flour for the wheat flour OR instead of starting with a roux, heat the butter and milk to a simmer and then whisk in a slurry made from 2 T. arrowroot powder or cornstarch combined with 2 T. milk or water and cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly, until thickened.

Mushroom-free: Leave out the mushrooms. Instead, add an onion cooked to a deep golden brown in 4-8 tablespoons of butter over low heat (which should take 30-50 minutes to get it really deep French Onion Soup brown), or any kind of cured pork product (guanciale or pancetta if you want to be trendy), or 4-5 tablespoons of nutritional yeast, or a cup of shredded, sharp cheese to the hot milk.

Lower-carb: Substitute cream and/or nut milk for the whole milk (1/2 cream and 1/2 cashew milk might be good) and thicken the sauce with a cup of shredded cheese, 2 tempered eggs, or 1/2 t. guar gum or xantham gum sprinkled over the heated milk while whisking.

Lower-fat/lower-calorie: Omit the butter and flour and use skim milk instead of whole. Heat the milk almost to a simmer and then add a slurry made from 4 T. arrowroot powder or cornstarch combined with 4 T. milk or water, stirring constantly. Cook for a few minutes, still stirring, until thickened.

Pork It Up: Fry up about 1/2 lb bacon or salt pork until the fat is rendered and the meat is browned. Drain the meat on paper towels and use about 4 T. of the rendered fat as the basis for the roux (reserve the rest for another use). Dice or crumble the cooked meat into small pieces and mix it into the casserole before baking.

French It Up: Waste some pricey Use haricots verts and call it “haricots verts gratin” instead of “green bean casserole.” (That’s AHR-eee-ko VEHR GRAH-tin).

Quicker: If you want homemade taste without having to fuss with fresh green beans, use frozen green beans—steam them on the stovetop or microwave just until thawed while you’re making the white sauce.Happy Thanksgiving! 

Recipe: Fresh Green Bean Casserole

Ingredients:green beans seem so simple, but all the trimming is such a pain in the ass; this is the main argument for using frozen/canned: it is so much quicker

  • 4 cups fresh green beans
  • 4 T. butter
  • 4 T. all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 8 oz. shitake mushrooms (or cremini, portabella, porcini, morel—if dried, rehydrate)
  • 1/2 fresh nutmeg (or 1/2 t. ground)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4-1/2 cup fried shallots or onions
  • 1/4-1/2 cup sliced almonds (optional)

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Heat 1-2 cups of water in a large pot with a steamer basket if you have one (if you don’t, it won’t make a big difference).

2. Wash and trim the green beans, and cut them into bite-sized pieces. Add to the prepared pot and cook: 2-3 minutes, or just until they’re a bright green (if you want them to be crisp), 5-7 minutes or just until you can pierce them with a fork (if you want them to be tender-crisp), 8-12 minutes or until you can pierce them easily (if you want them to be tender).

steamingdrainingrouxbechamel with mushrooms  

3. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium skillet. Add the flour and stir to make a smooth paste (or “roux”). Cook for 2-3 minutes or until beginning to brown slightly.

4. Gradually whisk in the milk, starting with a few tablespoons at a time and mixing until the liquid is fully incorporated before adding more.

5. Slice, dice, or mince the mushrooms and add to the flour-thickened milk mixture (i.e. a béchamel). Bring to a simmer and cook for 5-10 minutes. Season to taste with nutmeg, salt, and pepper.

6. Butter a casserole dish, combine the milk mixture and green beans and add them to the dish, and sprinkle the fried shallots or onions and the almonds, if using, on top.

7. Bake 30-35 minutes or until the casserole is thick and bubbling and the onions are beginning to brown.

beans & bechamel, ready to top & bake This is comfort, reborn as sophistication. But without losing the comfort part.

CSA 2010 Files: Kale Chips, Chard Chips, Kohlrabi Top Chips

Green Chip Trifecta, clockwise from the bottom left: kale, kolhrabi greens, chard Another victory in the war against greens fatigue

Every week, we get more and more non-leafy vegetables in our subscription share from Needle Lane Farms—now we’re getting cucumbers and string beans and lots of summer squash along with things like cabbage and fennel that might be technically leafy vegetables but aren’t in the interchangeable-cooking-greens category. However, we still get at least one bunch of cooking greens every week too. Left to my own devices, I would probably buy non-spinach cooking greens once or twice a year. And after 9 straight weeks of eating cooking greens every week, I kind of hit a wall. It turns out there’s only so much kale I can take, even if it’s cooked in bacon fat or a cheese-infused béchamel.

And then, I remembered the kale “chips” that I started seeing on blogs last winter. They all alleged that if  you just toss kale with some oil and coarse salt and maybe some vinegar, and then you bake it, it crisps up and becomes crunchy and delicious. It sounded a little too good to be true. After trying it, I’m declaring it half-true.

before baking after about 12 minutes in the oven

Greens treated this way do get crisp—you could easily crumble them to dust if you wanted to—and they taste mostly like the oil and salt you coat them with. But they do still have a lingering bitterness, which could be either a positive or a negative depending on your palate. I like them enough to eat them, and if I had a bowl within arms’ reach, I’d probably snack on them idly until they were gone. I might even pick at the crumbles at the bottom of the bowl. Brian, who is not generally a fan of kale, has eaten them willingly and says they seem like something he’d expect Japanese people to like, probably because they’re a bit reminiscent of dried seaweed. In general, I feel like this a good thing to do with cooking greens if you’re sick of eating them wilted and dressed or stuffed into every frittata or soup or casserole you make, but you’re compelled for some reason to keep eating them anyway.

However, they’re not so good that I’d encourage anyone to run out and buy some greens just to try it. I definitely wouldn’t expect kids to enjoy them, and if you really just don’t like the taste of kale, this probably won’t redeem it for you. 

Working on the assumption that most cooking greens are basically interchangeable, I also tried it with a bunch of kohlrabi greens and a bunch of rainbow chard, and indeed, they all turn out pretty much the same. The kohlrabi tops are a little more bitter and retain a tiny bit more chew, and the chard is a little more delicate, but I wouldn’t want to have to distinguish between the three in a blind taste test. In the future, I’ll try adding a little vinegar or lemon juice or zest along with the oil to counteract/complement the bitterness, and perhaps some chili powder or garlic powder and nutritional yeast or msg. This actually seems like a perfect nootch vehicle and I’m annoyed with myself that I didn’t think of that sooner.

Since this counts as a “win” (if not a complete trouncing), I think the official record for Me vs. Greens is 9-1-0 in my favor. I’m counting one mediocre batch of bacon kale as a “tie.” Ten more weeks to go.

not to imply that I'm looking forward to the CSA being done; I'm really enjoying it, and one of the main reasons I joined was to be forced to eat vegetables I wouldn't otherwise eat. I'm just...done with kale for a while. if we get more next week, I'll probably blanche it and freeze it.

Recipe: Kale Chips (originally from Dan Barber on Bon Appetit, via about a million other food blogs many of which are listed on Kalyn’s Kitchen)

clockwise from the bottom right: a bag full of kohlrabi greens, a bunch of kale, and a bunch of rainbow chardIngredients:

  • 1 bunch cooking greens (kale, chard, kohlrabi tops, etc)
  • 1-2 T. olive oil
  • 1-2 t. coarse or flaked salt (I used kosher)
  • 1t.-1 T. vinegar or lemon juice (optional)
  • chili powder, garlic powder, nutritional yeast, msg, or other spices (optional)

Method:

1. Pre-heat the oven to 300F and line several baking sheets with foil.

2. Strip the greens off their stems—I do this by holding the stem in one hand, and making a circle just below where the leaf starts with the thumb and index finger of my other hand and pulling up. The leaf naturally breaks off right about where the stem gets small enough to eat.

3. Tear the leaves into pieces, roughly 2”-3”.  kohlrabi greens and chard on deck, waiting for the kale to get out of the oven

4. Rinse and dry well. I dunked them in a big bowl of water, spun them in a salad spinner, and then sort of patted them down and scrunched them a few times with a paper towel.

5. Sprinkle with olive oil, salt and the vinegar and spices if using. Toss to coat.

6. Spread in a single layer on the prepared baking sheets.

7. Bake for 15-25 minutes, or until very crisp and just browning in the thinnest spots. 15-18 minutes was about right for the kale and chard in my oven, and the kohlrabi greens took about 20 minutes.

The CSA 2010 Files: Kohlrabi and Summer Squash with Almonds

I can't get over how pretty the kohrabi we've been getting is, even though they'e been a little woodier than would be totally ideal

Needle Lane gave us our first summer squash of the season last week, and I decided to try the simple sauté with sliced almonds that the Amateur Gourmet had raved about, originally from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from a restaurant called Red Cat. More of an idea than a recipe: toast some sliced almonds in a pan and then add some summer squash cut into very thin pieces and cook for no more than a minute. I like toasted almonds and tender-crisp zucchini well enough, but it probably wouldn’t have gotten my attention if Deb from SK hadn’t called it “My Favorite Side Dish.” Anytime someone lays a superlative down like that, especially for something that doesn’t involve garlic, cheese, or bacon, I’m intrigued.

I used about 2 oz. almonds for the amount of vegetable shown above

I fussed with it a bit—I added garlic because I reflexively chopped some while I was heating the fat in the pan, and I added a kohlrabi bulb diced into matchsticks and steamed for a few minutes in the microwave because I felt like I needed to use that up at the same time. I didn’t cut the squash into matchsticks because I don’t have a mandoline and didn’t want to take the time. But I could still kind of see where Deb was coming from. It was simultaneously exactly what I should have expected from sautéed almonds and summer squash, and somehow better than I could have expected. I won’t go as far as “favorite side dish” but it is a delicious and dead simple way to use the squash that’s just about to become so excessive that some people have  designated August 8 official Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor’s Porch Night.

The kohlrabi is definitely optional—it added a little cabbagey bite, but I don’t melted butter--foam still subsiding, milk solids beginning to brownthink I would have missed it. I used butter instead of olive oil and let it brown a little, by accident not by design. It may have enhanced the nuttiness. Or maybe what puts Deb’s version over the top is the whatever olive flavor survives the cooking process intact. My suspicion is that any kind of fat will work and that it would be a waste of really expensive olive oil, but expectations probably come into play here: if you want to use a pricey oil and you think you can taste the difference, then you will.

Conversely, the browned butter and almonds might have been a lovely way to finish steamed kohlrabi matchsticks on their own. The kohlrabi greens are edible, too. I threw some in cupboard-clearing bean soup, and they worked just like spinach but a little chewier. The ones from this bulb are still sitting in the fridge, waiting to be cooked in some bacon fat or baked until crisp like kale chips.

Recipe: Kohlrabi and Summer Squash with Almonds

  • 2 small-medium summer squash
  • 1-3 oz. sliced almonds
  • 1 T. butter or olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 medium-large kohlrabi bulb (optional)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic (optional)

1. Remove the leaves from the kohlrabi (if using), and peel away the tough outer layer. Dice into matchsticks, place in a bowl with 2-3 T. water and cook on high for 3-4 minutes or until tender. Alternatively, boil/steam the matchsticks in a small saucepan.

I halve the bulb, cut it into thin slices, and then cut the slices into thin strips. not a perfect matchstick, but close enough ready to steam in the microwave

2. Heat the butter or oil in a large pan. Mince the garlic, if using, and add the almonds and garlic to the fat.

3. While the almonds are toasting—or before, if you’re a stickler about having your mise en place—slice the squash into thin pieces. Matchsticks if you want to, or little half-moons like I did. You want them to be thin enough to just cook through in about a minute in the pan.

4. When the almonds are turning brown, add the squash. Toss gently to coat in the fat. After about a minute, remove from the heat.

served alongside brined and broiled shrimp with drawn garlic-butter; a perfect summer meal

The CSA 2010 Files: Swiss Chard Gratin

This is kind of "greens for people who hate greens."

Greens Fatigue

Since greens are one of the first crops you can harvest, the first weeks of most CSAs involve lots of them. In addition to the nettles, we’ve had lambsquarter (another “weed”), collards, chard, a variety of chois, and 1-2 bunches of kale every week.

I usually just sauté them with some garlic (and sometimes ginger or onion or a hot pepper) until they’re wilted and then I dress them with something acidic (lemon, white wine vinegar, rice vinegar) and something umami (tamari, crumbled bacon, grated parmesan). Salt and pepper to taste. That varies from great to mediocre. Sometimes the mild bitterness of the greens marries perfectly with the salty, rich, bright, savory accompaniments and it seems like exactly the kind of fresh, simple, delicious, nutrient-rich food that I joined a CSA to enjoy. Other times, it doesn’t matter if the greens are cooked in rendered bacon fat and topped with msg, it just tastes virtuous, and I mean that in the pejorative sense. I think chard definitely wins for "prettiest" of the cooking greens.

So this week, faced with two bunches of chard—one we didn’t manage to eat last week and another from the new box, I decided to try a classic preparation I’d heard of but never tasted.

Nothing Garlic, Butter and Cheese can’t fix

A gratin is just a casserole. It usually involves vegetables, pasta or meat tossed in a classic béchamel or flour-thickened milk sauce and topped with breadcrumbs and grated cheese. According to Wikipedia, the name comes from the French verb “gratter” meaning “to scrape,” which refers to the scrapings or gratings of bread or cheese that form the upper crust. Fun food idiom trivia: le gratin has the same metaphorical significance as “upper crust” in English. 

Baked mac & cheese is a gratin. So is the classic green bean casserole people make for Thanksgiving, even though most people let Campbell’s make the white sauce (which is basically what any flour-thickened cream soup is). But ironically, potatoes au gratin isn’t—or at least not the ones I’ve had, which are basically just potato slices in white sauce, or like a gratin without le gratin.

Chard gratin is about what you’d expect if you substituted the pasta in baked macaroni and cheese or the green beans in green bean casserole with cooked leafy greens—it’s creamy and savory and rich. It seems like a winter dish, especially because it requires that you turn on the oven, which I admit is sort of a drag in July, but it turned out to be exactly the sort of thing I was looking for to mix up my summer greens routine.leftovers for breakfast the next morning. daytime lighting is just so much nicer, even though it's less gooey and oozing because it's cold here

You could use any cooking green you like (epicurious has a nice visual guide to some of the more common ones). I can’t tell much of a difference between them after they’ve been wilted. Sure, some of them are a little more or less bitter and some stay chewier after cooking, but I wouldn’t want to have to identify them in a blind taste test. I assume the reason chard gratin is so much more common than spinach gratin (798000 google results compared to 164000) even though the latter is the more popular green by far is because casseroles are a handy way to use the stems as well as the leaves, and that’s just not an issue for spinach. Sadly, the stems don’t retain much of their spectacular color after cooking, but they are tender and mildly-flavored so it’s a shame to throw them away. They melt right into the casserole along with the softened onion and leaves.

I scanned a few recipes and then basically improvised based on what I had on hand. Precise instructions available below the jump, but here’s the short version you should feel free to adapt/improvise on at will: Blanche 2-3 bunches of chopped greens in boiling water, stems first for 2 minutes if using and leaves for another 1-3 depending on how hearty they are (spinach only needs a minute, kale or chard will take 3 to soften fully). Drain well. Then, sauté a fistful of chopped onions and/or garlic in some kind of fat, stir in a couple of tablespoons of flour and then gradually whisk in about a cup of milk. Season with salt and pepper and a little grated nutmeg, stir in some grated cheese if you want it, and add the well-drained greens. Spoon the mixture into a buttered baking dish, top with buttered breadcrumbs mixed with some herbs and grated parmesan, and bake (350-400F) until golden and bubbling (about 20 minutes).

To make it more like a main than a side, add some cooked pasta or a protein like leftover cooked meat, diced seitan, reconstituted tvp, or canned crab or tuna along with the cooked greens. You could also throw in some other vegetables, steamed or blanched unless they’re tender enough to eat raw. Following from the Thanksgiving classic, you could make a semi-homemade version by using a can or two of cream soup (probably onion and/or mushroom) instead of making a white sauce. Actually, with the green bean casserole in mind, I might try adding some crispy fried shallots to the topping the next time I make this. Which, if the CSA keeps up the current pace of the greens, will probably be very soon. 

Recipe: Swiss Chard Gratin

Ingredients:

  • 2 bunches Swiss Chard, leaves and stems (or another hearty green)
  • 2 cups water
  • 4 T. fat, divided plus more for greasing pan (butter, lard, or your preferred oil will all work fine)
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 garlic scapes (seasonally-available green curly garlic tops) or 1-2 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup milk (may sub oat milk or another vegan milk if desired—per Chocolate & Zucchini)
  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup (2 oz) shredded cheddar (or gruyere or fontina or emmenthaler)
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan, divided
  • 3/4 cup breadcrumbs
  • 2 T. chopped flat-leaf parsley (or another herb or combination of herbs)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Put the water in a large pot with a pinch of salt, set over high heat, and cover.

2. Remove the leaves from the stems of the chard by holding the stem in one hand and stripping the leaves upwards with the other. The stem should naturally break off where it’s small enough to include with the leaves.

check out how much vegetable matter you have to toss if you don't cook the stems 

3. Chop and rinse the stems well and add to the water, which should be boiling (if not, either you’re speedy or your stove is slow and either way, wait ‘til it is boiling before putting the leaves in). Cook the stems for about 2 minutes before adding the leaves. Then, boil/steam the leaves for about 3 minutes more (less if using a softer green like spinach—you just want it to just wilt, not dissolve). Drain the greens well.

4. Heat 2 Tablespoons of fat over medium heat in a large skillet or pot while you dice the onion and mince the garlic. Sweat the alliums until translucent and beginning to brown (5-10 minutes).

scapes! browned onion and garlic

5. Meanwhile, melt the remaining 2 T. fat if solid and combine with the breadcrumbs, 2 T. parmesan, the parsley, and salt and pepper to taste.

flat-leaf (Italian) parsley breadcrumbs, butter, parsley, parmesan, salt and pepper

6. Sprinkle 2 T. flour over the onions and stir. Cook for 1-2 minutes or until golden brown.

onions sprinkled with flour after the first addition of milk--stir well after each addition to make sure the flour blends in smoothly so the sauce isn't lumpy

7. Add the milk a few tablespoons at a time, stirring well after each addition. This should form a very thick, creamy sauce.

8. Grate some nutmeg over the mixture (or add pre-grated nutmeg), and add the cheddar, 2 T. parmesan, and salt and pepper to taste.

basically a condensed version of onion soup; with cheeses and greens

9. Add the drained greens to the white sauce and stir well to combine.

10. Grease a medium-sized baking dish. Spread the greens evenly in the dish and top with the breadcrumb mixture.

11. Bake 20-25 minutes or until the dish is bubbling and the breadcrumbs are beginning to brown.

I started with 1 cup breadcrumbs and that was too much--I put 3/4 cup above, but 1/2 cup would probably be plenty hot out of the oven, still bubbling at the edges

The Sweet Science of Artichokes

i wanted a picture of artichokes boxing, but this'll have to do. image from http://miscellainey.blogspot.com/2007_08_01_archive.html 

At least you’ll never be a vegetable—even artichokes have hearts. –Amelie

I suspect that one of the reasons artichokes show up in appetizers so often, especially in the sugar-loving U.S., is that they make everything you eat or drink for a little while afterwards, including water, taste slightly sweet. It’s not quite the simple straightforward sweetness of sucrose, which I’m not sure would be an especially desirable effect no matter how much you like sweet things. Instead, it’s more of a sweet-savory enhancement, perhaps even a little bit umami.I cropped the chart description for length, but will happily send it to anyone who's really interested

According to a 1972 article in Science, the first written account of artichokes’ capacity for taste perversion followed a dinner for biologists at the 1934 AAAS conference. The salad course consisted of globe artichokes, and someone must have taken a survey—of the the nearly 250 biologists in attendance, 60% reported that after eating the artichoke, water tasted different, a difference most of them described as “sweet” but a small number said was “bitter.”

The Science article reports on the results of an experiment that showed that artichoke extract modifies the taste of water by temporarily affecting the tongue rather than the food or drink (which makes it different than saccharine, which can make water taste sort of sweet and/or bitter as residue on the tongue is re-diluted). They also isolated two molecules found in artichokes—cholorgenic acid and cynarin, and found that both, independently, had a similar effects on the perceived sweetness of water as adding 2 tsp. sugar to 6 oz. water.

However, a less formal acknowledgment of the strange effects of the artichoke exists in the ancient folk wisdom that artichokes are “impossible” to pair with wine. An article in Wine News Magazine claims to “dispel” the “antiquated myth” of impossible pairings, but many of the suggestions purport to work by minimizing the presence or effect of the cynarin, either by boiling the artichoke in "ample water” or serving it with acids like lemon and/or mayonnaise. Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether either technique actually does anything to the cynarin and/or chlorogenic acid, I’m not sure that eliminating the chemical basis for the unique taste of the artichoke passes muster as a successful “pairing.” Essentially what they’ve done there is pair the wine with a less-artichokey version of the artichoke.

The Science article notes that the effects of cynarin and cholorogenic acid last longer than the sweet taste of sugar or saccharine, but are weaker and shorter-lived than that of miraculin, the protein in “miracle fruit.” Miraculin works by adhering to sweet-receptors on the tongue and acids in food, which makes the acids activate the sweet-receptors. I tried that with a bunch of friends shortly after The New York Times reported on it, and it really is trippy—lemons taste like candy, goat cheese tastes like cheesecake, and we all got stomachaches from eating so much acidic food in such a short period of time.

However, the protein miraculin seems to affect a much larger percentage of the population than the acids in artichoke. Just like at the AAAS dinner, a large number of the 1972 experiment’s participants didn’t experience a sweet taste after consuming artichoke extract. And again, a very small number actually said that the artichokes made water taste bitter. So it seems like cynarin/cholorgenic acid must have a different kind of mechanism, one that works for a majority of the population but exempts a substantial minority. Sadly, I can’t for the life of me figure out what it is. Does it inhibit bitter receptors? Attach temporarily to a certain kind of sweet receptor not everyone has? It seems to make white wines taste more sour, so perhaps it inhibits the tongue from registering the sugars in the wine? I don’t know, and I have searched. If you know, please share.

Anyhow, back to the question of what might alter or inhibit the cynarin and/or cholorogenic acid. In a post on "Transcription and Translation" also largely based on that 1972 Science article, biochemist Alex Palazzo claims that “pickled artichoke hearts don’t have this property.” I’m not entirely convinced, although this might be an issue of semantics. I won’t dispute that the sweetish aftertaste of canned or jarred artichokes seems muted in comparison with fresh artichokes, but I swear that even in that ubiquitous creamy, spinach-filled dip, or as a pizza topping, or in salads, or when added to paella, artichokes preserved in brine do contribute a subtly-sweet taste that affects the entire dish and any accompanying beverages. However, again based on my own subjective tastes and personal experience, marinated artichokes have little or no sweet aftertaste.

The difference seems to be that marinades, by definition, contain acid whereas brines typically do not—brines are just salty solutions. Now, pickling can imply either. Traditional pickling methods involve fermenting foods in brine, with no added acid. Their sourness is a product of the acids produced during fermentation. The more common form of pickling today begins with a solution that has added acids, usually vinegar. If Palazzo was referring only to the latter method—which would be artichokes labeled “marinated,” I agree with him. That also makes sense with the chefs’ suggestions to add acids in order to make artichokes play nice with wine; added acids must interfere with the cynarin and/or cholorogenic acid in the artichoke. But salt doesn’t seem to. Artichokes sold canned or jarred in brine (also technically “pickled”) still make food taste sweet.

Tomorrow, as this is apparently becoming artichoke week, I’ll post a super-easy recipe you can try to test the effects of artichokes in brine for yourself.

[Edit: Comments closed due to spam, but I welcome feedback. Feel free to e-mail me (see “contact” tab).

How to Eat an Artichoke, and other things trivia texting services can’t tell you

buying two fat globe artichokes in February in Michigan feels positively *decadent*

Every time I eat a whole, fresh artichoke I wonder two things:

photo by Matthew Wallenstein1) Who was the first person to take the time to figure out that if you cook this giant thistle bud and then remove all the stuff that’s still completely inedible, at the very center, there are a few ounces—not more than a few bites worth—of flesh that’s not just edible, but really tasty? (which frequently leads to questions 1a: how hungry would you have to be? and 1b: what else might that person have attempted to cook and eat?) and

2) How often do artichokes inspire that question? Like, in what percentage of instances where globe artichokes are prepared and consumed with at least some of their inedible parts intact do they cause people to wonder about their origins? Is it over 50%? Could it be as high as 70%? How many times, over how many different artichokes, has some version of the same conversation about the wonder and mystery of the artichoke’s discovery taken place?

Neither of which are answerable. The most we can know about the first person (or persons) who ate artichokes is that they probably lived in North Africa, where the giant thistles are still found in their wild form and where they acquired the Arabic name “al kharshuf,” which all the European names were derived from. But despite years and years of artichoke eating, I had never bothered to even find out that much because it’s not really a need to know kind of wonder that artichokes inspire. It’s more that they activate a sense of awe. Wonderment, I guess.

I mean, how weird and wonderful is it that this thorny armadillo of a vegetable exists? That there’s just a tiny piece of edible flesh clinging to each of the tough, pointy leaves and once you remove all of them and the bristly “choke,” you uncover this amazing savory-sweet heart that tastes completely unlike anything else in the world (except, apparently, the related cardoon I’ve never encountered)? If you read about it in a poem, you’d probably think it was a totally clumsy, ham-handed metaphor, too obvious by half. How literally incredible that some plant just happened to evolve that way.

Nonetheless, I decided to put question #1 to one of those crazy new services that charge you a fee to google shit for you, you lazy git text you answers to random questions. I asked kgb “Who was the first person to eat an artichoke?” at 5:57 pm. Here’s the exchange that followed:

From 542542

Thanks and sit tight. kgb is researching your answer & will send it shortly ($.99/answer). Msg&Data rates may apply. Reply HELP for help or STOP to cancel.

Received: Mon Feb 15, 5:58 pm

From 542542

Thanks for using kgb_Do you have any questions for us? We would love to answer it. Ask us! 24/7. No charge. kgb_team

Received: Mon Feb 15, 5:59 pm

To 542542

Never received answer to question: who was the first person to eat an artichoke?

Sent: Mon Feb 15, 6:02 pm

From 542542

Sorry for the delay. Pliny the Elder observed in 77 A.D. that Romans consumed artichokes. The name of the person to try it is unknown. No charge for this one.

Received: Mon Feb 15, 6:10 pm

So at least they don’t charge you if they can’t answer, and apologize if they get a non-answer to you in less time than it would take a sumo wrestler to stomp your ass. (I suppose that’s non-endorsing with faint praise?) ChaCha, “ur mobile BFF,” also basically threw in the towel:

The origin of artichokes is unknown, they are said to have come from the Maghreb (North Africa), so who knows who ate one first! Link

That “so” weirdly implies a causal connection between the fact that they’re from North Africa and the fact that no one knows who ate one first which seems a bit “Maghreb, land of mystery about which no historical facts can be ascertained!” If they were said to come from Sweden, would that also explain why we don’t know who ate one first? Another of our BFFs at ChaCha borrows a line from Greek mythology:

Cynara was a woman whom Zeus fell in love with and she betrayed him and he turned her into an artichoke because she ate them. Link

The myth of Cynara actually has a neat legacy in the names of one of the molecules that give artichokes their unique capacity for taste perversion—cynarin, which I’ll be writing more about in the next artichoke entry—and the liqueur made from artichokes—Cynar. But it doesn’t get us any closer to an answer to the questions.

I think a lot of what makes artichokes so intriguing is the fact that you have to be taught how to eat them, or initiated into what seems like a secret order of artichoke eaters. They’re complicated and fussy, the vegetal antithesis of the apple, whose starring role in so many sacred and secular stories seems fundamentally tied to how easy and natural the act of biting into a raw apple is. Surely Eve could have withstood the temptations of an artichoke. Surely Snow White would have figured out her disguised stepmother was up to no good by the time she was done with all that cleaning and trimming and cooking. You simply could not stumble on an artichoke in the wild and intuit how to consume it. And that’s not just because it has to be cooked: how much easier is it to figure out what to do with a potato or a winter squash?

off with its headMy mom was the one who taught me how to prepare and eat artichokes. On the rare occasions when they happened to be on sale at the grocery store, she would buy just one. We never ate them with or in a meal, always by themselves, often on the same day that we had gone shopping. I never saw other people eating them—not at restaurants or on television or at friends’ houses. I don’t even remember ever seeing my dad eat one. So artichokes always seemed like this special secret vegetable that only my mom knew what to do with.

However, wikipedia claims that what she always did with them: cut off the stem and the top, trim the leaves, steam until tender, and eat with butter is the way they are “most frequently prepared” in the U.S. I kind of doubt that in terms of the total volume of artichoke consumed; most artichokes eaten in America are probably consumed in the form of a creamy dip with a 90% chance of including spinach. But that kind of dip is almost always made with artichokes that have been frozen or preserved in brine, even by home cooks and Alton Brown. If you’ve ever had fresh artichoke, you already know why: they are one of the great exceptions to the general rule that everything savory is better with cheese and/or garlic. Fresh artichokes are so good by themselves, all you really need to do is steam them and eat them. So this won’t seem like much of a recipe, but in case your mom never showed you how, instructions and pictures after the jump:

Recipe: Whole Artichokes with butter (from my mom) the stem, which many people discard, actually tastes just like the heart

  • artichoke(s)—one per person unless you want to share, one artichoke actually makes a sort of romantic appetizer for two
  • water
  • salt
  • 1-2 t. butter per artichoke (or sub a vegan fat, if you like)

1. Set some salted water to boil in a large stock pot (or a smaller pot if you’re only cooking 1 artichoke). You can submerge the artichokes entirely, or just set them into 1-2” of water, or put them atop a steaming apparatus. I usually do the latter, treating them basically like broccoli so I don’t have to drain them afterwards. 

2. Cut off the top 1-1 1/2”  of the artichoke (see above) and the stem. Using kitchen sheers, snip any remaining leaf tips off. Peel the stem.

3. Place the artichokes and stems in the pot and boil/steam until you can pierce the bottom of the artichoke with a fork easily, about 25-30 minutes. If you care about color, don’t cover the pot. As the cell walls break down in the cooking process, the acids that are normally separated from the chlorophyll combine with them to create theophylline, so they lose their bright green color. If you leave the pot uncovered, much of the acid will evaporate with the steam. You may need to add more water midway through the cooking process.

February part 1 132

Or you can just microwave them. This is actually what my mom usually did—she’d put one in a bowl with a few tablespoons of water, cover it with plastic wrap with a few holes poked in it to let the steam escape, and microwave it for about 7 minutes, checking every couple of minutes to see if it was done. As with all vegetable steaming, the exact time may require some tweaking for your particular microwave, but it should give results that February part 1 133are virtually indistinguishable from stovetop cooking.

4. Melt butter (you could add some lemon juice or minced raw or roasted garlic if you really wanted to, but I prefer just the butter)

5. To eat: pull the leaves away one by one, starting at the bottom and working your way towards the middle. Dip each leaf in the butter and bite off the bit of flesh at the end.

As you work your way inside the bulb, the leaves will get smaller and thinner, and a greater portion of each one will be edible. They will come to resemble flower petals more than  leaves. And eventually, you’ll get to the “choke,” which would have been the purple bloom.

like petals the "choke," which is also just derived from the Arabic and not a reference to what will happen to you if you try to eat it

6. Scrape away the choke and drizzle the little disk of meaty flesh with any butter you have left. This is the heart; it demands to be savored.

mgofingers! in action!

And then everything will be sort of sweet for a while, even water. Which is a cool effect of the cynarin I’ll explain on Wednesday.