Photos by Zachary Cross
As a child I loved Brussels sprouts. I don’t mean I loved eating them. I’m pretty sure I refused to try them, and unfortunately that’s the culinary story of my childhood. I loved playing with them in my dad’s huge garden, peeling the tiny cabbages down to their core.
Have you ever seen Brussels sprouts growing? They are pretty comical, a tall plant with the little “sprouts” all along the stalk, sometimes with leaves only on top. Not unlike a tiny palmetto tree in shape. Sometimes farmers bring the sprouts to market on the stems, sometimes off.
As you might expect from their cabbage shape Brussels sprouts are yet another member of the brassica family. Although they can be steamed or boiled, their relatively large surface area to size ratio makes them a fabulous candidate for caramelizing, either by sautéeing or roasting. Roasting means less work, in my opinion, as you just put them in the oven and stir once during cooking.
I recently tried Brussels roasted with grapes at a party. It was a pretty simple dish with just the sprouts and grapes mixed with olive oil, roasted, and balsamic vinegar added at the end. I had never tried it before and was surprised at the plethora of recipes for it online. Many include thyme or nuts but I preferred the simplicity of just the grapes and Brussels (there were folks with nut allergies at the party). Roasting and caramelizing brings out the natural sweetness of a food. This sweetness was complemented by the grapes, and the texture contrast was good, too.
Martha’s version includes thyme, as do quite a few others. Some recipes call for the grapes to be cut, and others to roast the grapes separately. Save yourself some trouble and keep the grapes whole, the Brussels, too (unless they’re large), and roast them all one the same pan. Do add one more step that many recipes skip: toss your veggies with the seasonings and oil together in a bowl. Yes, it’s more to wash but it distributes the oil and seasonings so much more evenly and thoroughly that it’s worth it. You can wash that bowl pretty quickly while the roasting is happening.
Although red grapes are recommended for this recipe, it’s because of their looks, not taste. I had some of both red and green and used both. The green grapes end up looking like the sprouts once cooked, size and color wise - not a bad thing. The ratio of sprouts to grapes also varies in each recipe. Work with what you have and what seems good to you. I went with Martha’s ratio of about equal amounts by weight. A higher ratio of grapes might encourage a sprouts-shy kid while fewer grapes would be more appropriate for someone with less of a sweet tooth. And add nuts if you love them. Suggested nuts are walnuts, pecans, or almonds. Large pieces are preferable over small. Add nuts near the end of cooking if you only have small bits.
Finally, I added the vinegar near the end of cooking and put the pan back in the oven long enough for the dish to brown a little more. If you’re not cooking for vegetarians try adding some bacon.
Adapted from Foodie with Family
Photos by Zachary Cross
Happy Thanksgiving week! Today I’m going to link to previous side dish and dessert recipes on the blog that will work well for your Thanksgiving dinner, as well as share a recipe for a new twist on mashed potatoes. I love how you can buy nearly all that you need for your Thanksgiving meal at the market, from the turkey to dessert ingredients and all the side dishes in between.
There’s not a turkey recipe on the blog but this recipe for roasted chicken has a yummy-sounding maple-apricot glaze. There’s a classic stuffing recipe, a stuffed pumpkin, green beans, Holiday Broccoli Salad, Brown Butter Sweet Potato Cornbread, and Sweet and Spicy Brussels Sprouts. This weekend at a party I sampled some Brussels roasted with grapes and it was a fabulous combination. I don’t have the recipe, but this sounds close, minus the soy sauce. Moving on to dessert, there’s this technique for cooking your pumpkin. There’s apple pie, a Honey Pecan Pie, and Sweet Potato Pot de Creme. For your leftovers there is Second Helpings Pot Pie. Finally, some words of wisdom about hosting large holiday meals, plus another side dish. Also, you can use search bar on the right hand side of the page to help you find dishes to use your CSA share or market finds. Remember to include some ferments to help you digest all that food! Harvest Roots Ferments has fermented veggies and kombucha and Blue Indian Kombucha will fill your growler with their kombucha.
Turnips are a member of the brassica family, like broccoli but more resembling mustard greens on top and kohlrabi on the bottom - or a giant radish. Some turnip varieties are grown specifically for the tops; some mainly for the roots; and some are good for both. Unlike a potato, the top is always edible, so be sure to save your turnip tops to prepare alone or in combination with other greens.
I was looking for a new way to prepare turnips last week. I appreciate them raw, roasted, and braised, but I have not come to love a simple purée. I do love mashed potatoes, though. This recipe from Fashionable Foods calls for roasting turnips and potatoes together. Then they’re mashed with butter and milk, though they retain a good bit of texture. This makes for a chunky mashed potato dish with an extra punch of flavor from the browned bits and the turnips. Fresh thyme adds another layer of flavor and a nice color. Note: this is a fairly small recipe but should increase easily.
From: Fashionable Foods
6 Yukon Gold Potatoes (medium in size), peeled and cubed
2 Turnips, peeled and cubed
2 Tablespoons Extra-Light Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper
½ Cup Whole Milk, warmed
2 Tablespoons Butter, melted
1 Sprig Fresh Thyme, leaves removed from stem and finely chopped
Photos by Zachary Cross
“Then the sun peeped over the edge of the prairie and the whole world glittered. Every tiniest thing glittered rosy toward the sun and pale blue towards the sky, and along every blade of grass ran rainbow sparkles...the bitter frost had killed the hay and the garden. The tangled tomato vines with their red and green tomatoes, and the pumpkin vines holding their broad leaves over the green young pumpkins, were all glittering bright in frost...The frost had killed them. It would leave every living green thing dead...The vines were wilted down, soft and blackening, so they picked even the smallest green tomatoes. ‘What are you going to do with the green ones?,’ Laura asked, and Ma answered, ‘Wait and see.’” From The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder
It’s that time of year, or nearly so, depending on where you live in the Chattanooga area. The mountains have seen frost, and some of the valleys too. The end of the season potentially leaves unripe summer foods: peppers, squash, and tomatoes, to name a few. Ma Ingalls made good use of those green fruits that year, pickling the tomatoes and making a pie from a green pumpkin.
Yes, fruit. We often eat fruits of plants as vegetables, though pumpkins are as often made into desserts. Less often do people think of tomatoes as fruits or eat them sweet, though it was common in the Ingalls’ time to eat ripe tomatoes with sugar and cream. When I told Jeffrey, my husband, about this he tried out ripe tomatoes in his vanilla ice cream and declared it a winner.
Jeffrey’s love of tomatoes inspired my hunt for this week’s recipe. Traditionally for his birthday I’d made a fairly involved carrot cake, a really yummy recipe from Cook’s Illustrated. One year we returned home from vacation the day before his birthday. I did not have enough carrots in the fridge but I did have an abundance of green tomatoes in the garden. A new favorite was discovered! My kids are jealous that their birthdays fall in winter and spring when green tomatoes are not to be found.
There is one aspect to this recipe that resembles our favorite carrot cake: draining excess juices off the vegetable ingredient. The carrot cake recipe uses sugar, this recipe uses salt. Be sure to rinse and drain the tomatoes very well so the cake will be neither salty (the recipe does take into account any trace of residual salt) nor too wet.
Whatever variety of tomatoes you have will work with this recipe: cherries, large tomatoes, paste, any and all. If you don’t see green tomatoes at market, ask! That’s how I supplied the main ingredient for subsequent years’ birthday cakes.
I’m posting this recipe as originally written but my photo is of a cake made with brown sugar, hence the darker color. I also vary with the spices. Jeffrey loves ginger, so I usually include a teaspoon of dried ginger or more of fresh. This makes the cake taste like a moist gingerbread. I also cut back on the nutmeg and sometimes throw in some cloves. Tweak to your liking.
This is a cake made of a lot of tomatoes and a little batter. The batter starts out a little dry but the tomatoes add the final moisture needed. It’s a sweet batter, so cut back a little on the sugar if desired. It does not need a frosting but that can certainly be festive. Caramel sauce or chocolate sauce are other options to try as toppings.
4 cups chopped green tomatoes
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 cup butter
2 cups white sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Place chopped tomatoes in a bowl and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon salt. Let stand 10 minutes. Place in a colander, rinse with cold water and drain.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a 9x13 inch baking pan.
Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and beat until creamy.
Sift together flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, soda and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add raisins and nuts to dry mixture; add dry ingredients to creamed mixture. Dough will be very stiff. Mix well.
Add drained tomatoes and mix well. Pour into the prepared 9 x 13 inch pan.
Bake for 40 to 45 minutes in the preheated oven, or until toothpick inserted into cake comes out clean.
Go to Allrecipes for a printable recipe.
Photos by Zachary Cross
It’s November and that means it’s time for our neighborhood’s annual chili dinner - and contest. In the past I’ve usually made the same vegetarian chili, but it’s not something I’m eating anymore. My husband Jeffrey still makes it and makes an extra spicy batch to serve alongside it. I’ve been hunting for a go-to chili that fits my paleo-ish style of eating better.
I had a ham roast from Hoe Hop in the freezer and decided to try a new recipe with it. I’m still learning about cooking with meat and a ham roast has cooked up consistently well in my slow cooker. I couldn’t quite find what I wanted so I took ideas from Food Network and Slow Cooker Gourmet and combined them. A lot of recipes called for boneless and cut up pork. I used one with a small bone in it and threw it in whole.
I came up with a recipe that uses not only pork but also the fall flavors of apples, pumpkins, and greens. A couple of recipes called for beer, but I wanted to bring a gluten-free chili to the supper so opted for a hopped hard cider. I used Bold Rock brand but I know there are others. You could also use regular beer, sweet apple cider, or some combination of both. Cider will be sweeter and beer less so.
I wanted a mild chili, so I skipped the jalapeños I originally planned to use, but did sauté them separately with onions and served them on the side. I replaced them with some bell peppers that I had blanched and frozen earlier this year. Peppers are still plentiful at the market and you can use whatever kind you like from sweet to crazy hot - Jeffrey used a combination of habanero, Scotch bonnet, Thai, and ghost peppers for his. Yikes!
The pumpkin purée adds a depth of flavor and some extra nutrition. I had a nice orange purée but the color gets lost in the rest of the chili so don’t worry if yours is a different color. For greens I had spicy Asian mustard, though the flavor is mild once long cooked. Here’s another area to vary the flavor. I parboiled the greens, stems and all, partly because I wanted a milder flavor, and partly because of the toxins found in greens. Some folks prefer the spicy flavor, and do well with less cooking time. If that’s you, throw your greens in at the last minute. Also try different greens if mustard is not available or there’s another type you prefer.
For spice I tried Frontier brand chili powder for the first time and it’s my new favorite. It has a smooth flavor and is nice and mild for the spice wimps around our house. I wanted to use fresh herbs and chose to add the cilantro and oregano at the end. I would probably add more fresh oregano next time, ¼ cup like the cilantro.
The pumpkin sour cream was a fun garnish. The purée barely tinted the sour cream but gave it a bit of extra flavor that was a nice surprise. More cilantro on top was yummy, and for those who wanted to turn up the heat they could add the browned onions and jalapeños.
I thought it was yummy, and apparently other meat eaters thought so, too; this chili won second place in the neighborhood contest! And there wasn’t enough for leftovers so it remains to be seen if it’s better the next day. A good problem to have!
If you don’t have a slow cooker try the method Paleo Leap uses for their spicy pork chili.
~3 lbs pork roast (I used a ham roast)
3 Tbsp fat (I used trimmed pork fat plus palm oil)
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 small bell pepper, chopped, or 2 jalapeños
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1 28 oz can diced fire roasted tomatoes
1 12 oz bottle of hopped hard cider (or use beer, sweet cider, or a combination)
½ cup sour cream
2 Tbsp fresh oregano, chopped
¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped, plus more for serving
1 ¾ cups pumpkin purée
1 bunch mustard greens
Mix 3 tablespoons of the pumpkin, ½ cup sour cream, and salt to taste then chill.
Melt the fat in a skillet and add the onions, salting them lightly. Sauté them for five minutes, then add the peppers and salt lightly. Saute for about five minutes more then add the garlic, cumin, and chili powder and saute until all the veggies are soft. Add the sauté to your slow cooker.
Salt the pork roast well and place on top of the veggies. Pour over the canned tomatoes, then the cider or beer. Cook on low for 7-9 hours.
Separate the stems from the mustard greens. Parboil for 7 minutes, then drain and chop. Remove the pork and shred the meat and save any bones or fat for stock. Return the meat to the pot along with mustard, remaining pumpkin purée, ¼ cup cilantro, and oregano. Cook on low for 30 minutes longer, then add salt to taste. Serve with pumpkin sour cream and additional cilantro.
Printable recipe here.
Photos by Zachary Cross
While visiting family recently in Portsmouth, Virginia, I went out out to eat at a local, farm-to-table restaurant, Homegrown. There were many yummy-sounding menu items and I enjoyed my appetizer of mixed pickled veggies and my meal of brisket, mashed root veggies, and mixed greens. Someone else in our party had whole, braised (I think) bok choi as as one of their sides and, if I had not had such a fabulous meal of my own I might have been jealous. So when I saw Tant Hill Farms’ pac choi I knew what I wanted to make.
Summer Black Pac Choi is a variety of Chinese cabbage which in turn is a type of brassica, like broccoli, brussels sprouts, mustard greens, and many others. Chinese cabbages do not head up like green and red cabbage, but make stalks “...reminiscent of mustard greens or celery” (Wikipedia). As the name implies, the cabbages, are popular in China and throughout Asia. The name is a an Anglicization of the Cantonese and can be spelled bok choy, bok choi, pak choy, or just called Chinese cabbage. They’re all basically the same so don’t be afraid to try varieties by another name. The leaves range in color from light green to dark, almost black, and the stalks from white to green. Interestingly the summer black variety is all light green.
There are also often a variety of sizes of the heads. Until recently I’ve mostly seen single large bunches. These are great for chopping and stir-frying, although halving and roasting works well, too. Tiny, “baby” heads are also sold, and these are best cooked whole, whichever method you choose. My bunches were medium-sized and a nice size for roasting.
The first recipe I worked with said that they tasted like mild roasted brussels sprouts. I actually found them, mainly unadorned in this recipe, to be stronger than brussels. That could be because of our hot, dry weather making them stronger. Or perhaps I should have used butter. I liked the flavor much better when complemented with Asian flavors such as sesame and tamari in the second recipe.
Don’t make my method mistake; I crowded the pan, thinking the bunches would shrink and leave room between them. Nope, at least not very much. Leave space and the leaves will crisp up nicely and be crunchy like kale chips. If you would prefer the leaves soft (a different but also good texture) then do place the bunches closer together. I left off the sesame seeds but I’m sure they would add an extra touch of taste and crunch.
I’m posting the Asian-flavored recipe but you can make them with just oil and salt, roasting for the same amount of time. See Epicurious for more info. Or EatingWell for a lemony variation. Vary the times and ingredients based on the size and quantity of your cabbage. If baby cabbage, use whole. Halve medium-sized ones, and quarter the larger.
Adapted from The Wheatless Kitchen
4 medium heads of pac choi
2 Tbsp neutral oil (I used sesame and palm)
2 tsp roasted sesame oil
2-3 Tbsp tamari
2 cloves garlic, minced
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
2. Halve the pac choi lengthwise. In a small bowl whisk together the remaining ingredients.
3. Place pac choi on a large baking sheet and pour the marinade all over the wedges. Gently rub the pac choi with your fingers to make sure the marinade gets under some of those layers.
4. Roast 10 minutes, cut side down. Flip, and roast 5 minutes more.
Serves 4 as a side dish. Printable recipe here.
Photos by Ashlee Glen
I’m still on vacation but will be on the way home when this publishes. The first evening of our trip my good friend Ashlee served this chowder when we arrived at her house, travel-weary after all day on the road. Ashlee and I once were part of a community garden together and and still share a love of gardening, local food, and pumpkins which made her choice of this chowder especially fitting and special. She graciously made two batches, this version and a vegetarian one for my husband. It’s great either way! The potatoes add a nice texture that pumpkin soups are so often lacking. The recipe is originally from Vollmer Farm in NC; this is Ashlee’s version developed over years of making. Enjoy!
Pumpkin Chowder Recipe
2 cups freshly pureed pumpkin
1½ - 2 lbs sausage
1 large onion diced
3 cloves garlic pressed
5 large potatoes diced (more or less)
5 stalks celery diced (more or less)
1 T fresh rosemary
1 T fresh oregano
1 T fresh thyme
3 quarts chicken stock (add more water to taste) or chicken bouillon
2 Bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
Half and half to taste
Cook sausage and pour out oil.
Continue sautéing sausage and add onion, garlic, potatoes and celery (with a little water) for about 5 minutes.
Add chicken stock, pumpkin purée, then add all herbs salt and pepper.
Cook until potatoes are soft. Sometimes I cook on low over a few hours so the potatoes are nice and soft. Add half and half to your liking, and EAT!
Photos by Alice O'Dea
It’s fall break time at the moment (give or a take a week depending on whose calendar you go by), so a lot of folks in the area have been coming and going. I’m subbing here this week while Heather is off on a trip (you can find me most Saturday mornings over at nooga.com). The recipe I have to share is something I whipped up because my husband has also been traveling, while I was at home working my way through a lot of delicious food from the market.
My share with Tant Hill Farm started up again recently after a summer break and I’ve been loving the return to their famous powerhouse greens. However, for most of the past week, it’s been just me trying to get through all the food from recent pickups, so there was a bit of a backlog (which is admittedly a nice problem to have!).
I’ve got a fantastic go-to main dish for whenever I find myself with an abundance of greens. It’s a very adaptable recipe, and my husband and I have played around with it quite a bit, based on what we have on hand whenever we make it. At this point in the year, most of the ingredients should be available at the Main St Farmers Market.
Three to four pounds of greens might seem like a lot, but they will cook down quite a bit. Use whatever greens are available, but stick to tougher ones like bok choy and kale, mustard and collard greens, or the or tops of kohlrabies, since they will need to hold up to quite a lot of cooking. When removing any thick stems from the greens, you can chop them up too, and add as many as you like to the onions.
The bacon is completely optional. If you prefer, use some sort of sliced or crumbled sausage (the original recipe calls for ½ pound of Andouille), a vegetarian or vegan substitute, or just leave it off entirely. If you do use meat, you can cook it and then use the same pot for the greens, making this a one-pot meal. Either way, start with a Dutch oven or other good-sized oven proof pot, as the greens will take up space while they’re cooking down.
As written, the recipe calls for buttermilk for the biscuits and either milk or cream for the greens, but I rarely have any of those around. My most common substitute is to use plain greek yogurt, watered down to roughly the thickness of milk or cream (roughly half yogurt, half water). For the cornbread liquid, I also might add a splash of lemon juice or vinegar to give it the sourness it would have with buttermilk. Of course, plant-based milks are also a good option.
adapted from Collard cobbler with cornmeal biscuits by Sarah at The Yellow House
For the biscuits:
3/4 cup flour (I used whole wheat, but any kind will work)
3/4 cup cornmeal
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1-2 teaspoons honey or agave
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 cup buttermilk
For the greens:
4 slices of bacon
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups vegetable broth or chicken stock
3-4 pounds greens, stripped and sliced into 1-inch ribbons (adding chopped stems to onions)
1/2 cup milk or cream
2 tablespoons cornstarch (or arrowroot) dissolved in 1/4 cup water
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, and, if you want to spice things up a little extra, a shake of red pepper flakes or other spices, or a chopped pepper.
As you might imagine, this is a really filling, savory dish that is teeming with nutrients. It also makes great leftovers, but I always separate the biscuits and greens for storage in the refrigerator, so that the cornbread doesn’t get soggy. They can then be later reassembled for reheating in an oven or microwave.
Photo by Sequatchie Cove Farm
Cool weather has finally arrived in Chattanooga and I can get excited about pumpkin goodies. Now, this does not make sense, really, for seasonal eating in the South. Winter squashes that are planted in the spring become available as early as July. But I’m pretty well culturally conditioned to think of pumpkins going together with fall and I’ll just go with it.
You may have noticed an article about pumpkin that went viral recently. A food writer recently made the personal discovery that canned pumpkin is not actually pumpkin, it’s a blend of squashes. I found this amusing since pumpkins and squashes are both in the family Cucurbitaceae, as are cucumbers and melons. Going down to the genus Cucurbita you have what we call the squashes, pumpkins, and gourds. That’s where the distinctions get fuzzier and the names are often fairly cultural, even down to the local level in some cases.
Don’t misunderstand me, though, there are different species in Cucurbita, and an even wider variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors. Even the leaves are distinctive, though a big field of a variety of squash is going to visually blend together at a distance into similar green leaves. Cucurbita pepo has been proposed to be the variety we think of in the United States as our bright orange pumpkin (and I assume has to do with the seeds’ name pepito) but it is a controversial topic and it’s a species that potentially includes any orange squash or gourd, crookneck squash, scalloped squash (such as pattypan), acorn squash, and most ornamental gourds. You can see why I am amused that someone would worry about squash versus pumpkin.
As a cook and market shopper I’d much rather be flexible in my squash and pumpkin thinking. I’m not worried about what a can of pumpkin says because I’m not using the can! Also, I can choose a squash that is a lovely shade of blue gray if I want, or ask around for the variety with the most orange, sweetest flesh - or both.
Once you have your squmpkin home and have finished using it as decoration, how do you cook it? There are possibly as many ways to cook it as there are varieties of pumpkin. Try one and see how you like it and move on to another way next time if it sounds more appealing. I prefer cutting mine into manageable pieces (really, this depends on the shape and size of the squash), scooping out the seeds and strings, and putting it cut side down on a baking pan. Roast for 1-2 hours at 375 degrees (again, depends on the size). You can flip it all over halfway through baking if you’d like some of the flesh to caramelize. Once it’s done and cool enough to handle, peel the skin and puree the flesh in a food processor or with an immersion blender.
Catie had a previous post on a different method that I have not braved yet. It certainly looks easy!
Once you have your puree it’s time to turn it into some yummy goodness. In my recipe for lemon poppyseed squash bars I mentioned that it was adapted from a winter squash bar recipe. As I often do I tweaked the recipe and increased the spices in variety and total. An excellent variation would be to replace the ground ginger with 1 tablespoon fresh grated (to taste). Fresh ground nutmeg is a nice touch, too, and really doesn’t take very long for the small amount called for. I changed the sugar to brown for a touch of molasses. I also use melted butter instead of oil for both the flavor and improved texture. Feel free to use your favorite oil - I recommend coconut or palm if you like those.
Note that this recipe was developed for homemade winter squash puree. If you substitute canned pumpkin or find that the squash you cooked is fairly dry you will need to add some liquid to keep the batter from being too stiff. I’ve used applesauce but even water would do. Substituting maple syrup for some or all of the brown sugar will work, too, and will add another yummy flavor to the mix. Also, if you are using market eggs (I hope you are!), be sure to weigh them. The recipe was also developed with large eggs, which weigh 2 to 2.25 oz each. It’s good to have the correct amount of eggs in this recipe.
These bars have a texture between a cake and a muffin, rather than a dense, gooey bar. I’ve seen bars with frosting but I think these are plenty sweet and moist enough as-is. Enjoy for breakfast or dessert, according to your personal sweet tooth.
Adapted from Winter Squash Bars from Simply in Season by Mary Beth Lind and Cathleen Hockman-Wert
1 cup flour (white, whole wheat or half and half)
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ginger
⅛ tsp nutmeg
Pinch of cloves
Beat together in a mixing bowl
1 cup winter squash puree
¾ cup sugar
⅜ cup (6 Tbs) butter, melted
Mix in dry ingredients to wet. Pour into greased 9” x 13” pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes and cut into bars when cool (or cool-ish!).
Go here for a printable recipe in two different quantities
Photo by Zachary Cross
An assortment of herbs, plus carrot tops, for making pesto and freezing
Photo by Heather Cross
It still feels like summer, but the days are shorter and a change in the weather is imminent. Basil is abundant at the market right now, but cold weather will be here before we know it. Stock up on basil and other fresh herbs now and have plenty of pesto or plain herbs for seasoning, for months to come.
I’m sure you have plenty of dried herbs and spices in your cabinets - I know I do. Some herbs are just better fresh, though, or are at least different enough to warrant having both around. Chattanooga is a mild enough climate that evergreen herbs such as rosemary and thyme are green year-round. Cilantro prefers cooler weather. Basil loves the heat, though, and many other herbs will not be found in our coldest days, and none if we get any snow or ice!
Freezing is a great way to preserve fresh herbs. They won’t have the same texture as fresh but they will still provide the flavor and color that you cannot get without them. There are several ways to go about freezing herbs. First think about what herbs you like to use often and what you miss having handy in winter. Do you miss pesto or just a little green to give color to a cream soup? Do you have a favorite herb that you’d like to have on hand all the time? Or, perhaps you just have some fresh herbs that you want to use up before they go bad.
The easiest and quickest way to freeze fresh herbs is as-is. Make sure they’re clean and dry, organize them into amounts you’d like to use, pop in a ziploc bag, and freeze. Note that they will not look the same thawed as they did fresh but will still be good for seasoning cooked dishes or made into purees. You can also chop them before freezing, making them even more appropriate as a garnish.
Going a step further, herb ice cubes make consistently proportioned frozen herbs. Pack an ice cube tray full of herbs, cover with water, and freeze. Pop out of the molds and store in labeled bags. Or, go a step further and puree the herbs with water or another liquid. For instance, cilantro pureed with lime could be appropriate for a mexican-style dish. Just be sure to label it well, in case you don’t always want lime with your cilantro!
Next up is preserving in butter or oil. We haven’t gotten to pesto yet; this is just plain herbs in your choice of oils. First decide how you want to use your finished herbs: as a spread or dip for bread, a topping for cooked meat or fish, or other garnish for a finished dish? You can pick any herb you enjoy for such a use. If, however, you want to begin a recipe, such as a soup, with the herbs in oil, choose sturdy, woody herbs such as thyme or rosemary for that purpose. The flavors of soft herbs won’t hold up to long cooking. Even though they’re cold tolerant, you might want to have some cubes of the hardier herbs in oil just for convenience sake. It will be one less step in preparing your meal to have herbs at the ready. For either purpose use small herb leaves whole, or tear, chop, or puree larger herbs, again to your preference. Blend with softened butter and freeze in ice cube trays, dollops on a lined cookie sheet (then transferred to bags or containers once frozen), or, after chilling, rolled into a log like cookie dough. For olive oil, prepare your herbs, then add to ice cube trays and cover with oil. Or, puree the herbs with oil and pour into trays. Remove the desired amount from the freezer when you start cooking and they will be sufficiently thawed to add to a hot meal when it’s done. Or, cubes can be added to hot soup to help bring it down to serving temperature.
Finally, preserving pesto is not very different from preserving herbs in other ways. Although you can make pesto year round with ingredients other than basil, it’s easy enough to set aside a winter’s worth of basil pesto in your freezer. Make your favorite pesto recipe and then choose the storage method that suits you best. Jars work if you go through a large amount within a week or so; just remember to take it out of the freezer long enough ahead of time for it to thaw! Cubes or frozen dollops (you can measure them if you’d like to be precise) probably work well for most people. They thaw quickly and you can choose your amounts to freeze and use. Another method is to spread out your pesto thinly on a lined cookie sheet, freeze, and then break into chunks like candy bark. The pesto freezes solid but breaks apart easily into your preferred serving size. You can add just a taste to a serving of soup or use more for a family’s worth of pasta.
I like to use silicone ice cube trays for my herbs and pesto. The frozen herbs pop out of the flexible molds better than stiff trays. The shapes are cute, too, but also the flowers I chose have petals that are easy to break off for small amounts.
Experiment and have fun!
Clockwise from top: cilantro-lime, pesto, chives, and cilantro
Photo by Zachary Cross
Photos by Zachary Cross
Fall is just around the corner and with it, greens return to the market. I was pleased to see chard at the market last week. It’s a green that can, to a point, handle our hot summers, but this dry, hot one was a bigger challenge than usual. Hopefully fall will bring rain as well as cooler temperatures - and with them, many more greens!
Chard, or Swiss Chard, is a relative of beets, which is most obvious when you look at the red varieties, named things like rhubarb or ruby. Like rhubarb, beet greens, and spinach, chard is high in oxalic acid, which lends it a tangy flavor (and makes rhubarb - otherwise unrelated to chard - unpalatable to most without sugar, and its leaves toxic!). Unlike stronger greens such as collards, there is no bitterness in chard, but, unlike spinach, it does have a distinctive, earthy flavor.
Chard comes in several other colors, in addition to red, making it a beautiful addition to the market and your table. The stem and veins can be white, yellow, red, pink and orange. The leaves are mostly bright green, except in the reddest varieties, which are a dark green and red. The names are colorful: pink flamingo, bright lights, rainbow, silverado, and oriole, to name a few varieties.
Tiny chard leaves find their way into salad mixes, and chard leaves of all sizes can be prepared like spinach or kale. But what about the stems? For a sauté or stir fry you can simply start the chopped stems first and then add the greens as the stems begin to get tender. The stems are wonderful on their own, though. Their bright colors are beautiful in pickles, sautés, and baked.
A new recipe for me this year is chard stem hummus. It’s really more like baba ganouj: a vegetable cooked until soft and blended with tahini and seasonings into a savory dip. The color of the dip depends on the color of the stems. White chard looks most like a regular hummus while darker pinks and reds turn it pink. I’m a sucker for pink so I went with the darkest pinks and reds I had. With a sprinkle of green herbs it’s a beautiful color combination.
Unlike baba ganouj this recipe surprisingly tastes most like regular, chickpea hummus. This is an excellent discovery for someone wanting to use up leftover stems or feed someone eating paleo-style. Or just for fun and something colorful and different! This recipe comes from Tara Duggan’s Root-to-Stalk Cooking, via Food 52.
From Root to Stalk Cooking by Tara Duggan
Makes 1 cup
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