Tangled Branches: Satiated

riveting tales of how we sustain ourselves

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Flavor of Beets and Chard

With the onset of colder weather we've noticed a major change in the chard in the garden. It now tastes good. I planted chard for the first time this spring and we kinda sorta liked it, just as long as it was a relatively minor ingredient and heavily flavored with something acidic or spicy. It was the earthy taste, the same one present in beets, that put us off. But now...now that earthiness has faded into the background and it just has a sweet leafy flavor. I could almost imagine eating it in a salad.

So it's probably something to do with the weather (or decrease in sunlight?), but why? Well, I'm not there yet, but I've learned the reason for the earthy taste. A chemical known as geosmin is to blame. It's also partly responsible for stinky municipal water. But it is uncertain whether the geosmin inherently belongs to beets/chard, or if it comes from microbes in the soil.

Folk wisdom tells us that many vegetables taste better when harvested in cooler weather and increased sweetness is almost always mentioned, but so far I've been unable to find any scientific studies to back this up. So perhaps the plants are producing/storing more sugar and that masks the taste of other flavor compounds? Or if the earthy flavor is due to microbial activity in the soil, perhaps that activity decreases in colder weather? Or both?

I also learned this morning that the red and yellow colors of beets/chard are due to a somewhat rare class of compounds known as betalains. Somewhat rare because they are only known to occur in a handful of plant species. There are up to 28 different betalains responsible for the various flamboyant colors of 'Bright Lights' chard. And those lovely colors would be reason enough to grow it even if it does sometimes taste of geosmin.


posted by Entangled at 9:43 AM 2 comments

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Potatoes, Kale, and Chard

The kale in the garden is sweet and delicious after our recent cold weather, so I picked a batch on Sunday afternoon and cooked it Tuesday evening. Indian recipes are the default method for cooking vegetables here, but I don't see too many (any?) published recipes for kale in Indian cookbooks. But I reasoned that the flavor could stand in for any cabbage-y type thing in a basic recipe for sauteed mixed vegetables, so I created the following based on Gobi-Aloo-Saag (Cauliflower-Potato-Spinach) from Quick Vegetarian Curries by Mridula Baljekar. Quick is a relative term - most Americans wouldn't think of these dishes as quick. And there's more than just curries here - a quick glance through and I find Pakoras, Rice, Bread, Raitas, and Desserts. Anyhow, here's what I made:

Boil 1 lb. potatoes; drain, peel and chop into approx 3/4 inch cubes.
Remove and discard large midribs from 6 to 8 oz. kale (I left the small ones in), and chop the leaves coarsely (about 1 to 2 inch pieces).
Remove leaf stalks/midribs from about 8 medium-large leaves of chard. Slice the stems thinly crosswise and chop the leaves coarsely.
Slice vertically one medium onion. Mince 3 cloves of garlic.

Heat 3 tablespoons peanut oil in a large deep saute pan. Add 1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds. When they start to pop, add 2 dried red chiles and 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric. Stir once and add sliced onions. When the onion begins to brown, add 1 teaspoon ground coriander, 1/2 teaspoon ground red chile (or to taste), and minced garlic.
Stir a few times, and add kale, chard and chard stems. You may have to do this in stages because all the leaves may not fit in the pan before they're wilted. Once you have all the kale and chard in the pan, and they've wilted down a bit, add about 1/2 cup canned chopped tomatoes, the potatoes, about 1/2 teaspoon salt, and about 1/2 cup water. Cover and simmer until kale is cooked through.
Now, the original recipe called for 5 fluid ounces of single cream to be added at this point. I didn't have any (half and half, or table cream), but did have some Mexican crema in the fridge. So I added a few spoonsful of crema, thinned with water to a flowing consistency. Add 1/2 teaspoon garam masala (I used Penzey's Punjabi Masala), and just about a teaspoon of butter. Stir and cook until the cream/crema is heated through and the butter is melted. Taste for salt. The original recipe called for 1 teaspoon salt, but I usually start with half the amount and add more at the end if the dish tastes flat. (Also, the crema was quite salty.)

That's it. This amount was enough to serve 2 people as a main dish with ample leftovers.

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posted by Entangled at 3:52 PM 1 comments

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Mojito Salmon and More Swiss Chard

As much as I'd like everyone to believe that I only serve freshly-prepared local sustainable organic food, that really isn't the case. So, when Mojito Salmon showed up at Trader Joe's a few months ago I eagerly put it in my shopping cart. And we liked it, but I said to the spouse "This sauce would be really easy to make. It's basically a green Mexican salsa with extra lime juice and mint added. You just have to cook some salmon in any way you like and top it with the sauce." I'd been intending to verify my theory and last evening I finally got around to it. Success!

I opened a jar of Arriba Roasted Green Salsa (we're still a few weeks away from harvesting ingredients for fresh salsa), placed about half a cup in a bowl, cut up a lime and minced some spearmint leaves and started tasting. I think I ended up with somewhere around 10 large mint leaves and the juice of about a third of a small lime to the half cup of store-bought salsa.

For the salmon, I rubbed a large fillet (enough for two people) with olive oil, ground black pepper and a small amount of soy sauce. We grilled the salmon, spooned the sauce over it, and had a nice dinner.

Other than the mint, there was one more garden component to the meal. I'm still thinning the Swiss Chard, so I sauteed some green beans, chopped onion and coarsely chopped Swiss Chard. Seasoned with salt and a couple of spoonsful of the same Arriba Salsa (minus the lime and mint).

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posted by Entangled at 8:29 AM 0 comments

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Spicing Up Swiss Chard

This post is as much for my own notes as anything else. I've been searching for ways to tame the earthy flavor of Swiss Chard. So far the most satisfactory experiments have involved one of two things - making sure the chard is not the main ingredient and sticking to spicy Asian-inspired dishes.

Last night's dish was good enough to write down for future reference.

1 clove fresh garlic
equal amount of ginger root

Chop fine in mini-chopper (or mince with a knife).

3 green onions, "onion" part sliced thinly crosswise and "leaf" part sliced thicker
2 small russet potatoes (may have been better with a more waxy, shape-holding potato), peeled and cut into approx 1/2 in dice
Swiss Chard thinnings, stems sliced thinly crosswise and leaves sliced into about 3/4 inch strips
a few small Bronze Fennel sprigs, finely chopped

Heat about a tablespoon of cooking oil on medium or medium-high heat in a large skillet. Sizzle ginger-garlic mixture briefly (try not to let it brown), then add 2 dried red chiles (broken in half) and 1/4 tsp turmeric. Sizzle that a few seconds and add potatoes, green onions, and bronze fennel. Stir until potatoes are well coated with spicy oil, add 1/4-1/2 tsp. ground cumin, 1/4-1/2 tsp. ground coriander seed, 1/2 tsp. salt and a small amount of water. Cover, turn down heat to medium-low, and cook until potatoes are almost cooked through.

Add sliced Swiss Chard, and 1/2 tsp. brown sugar, 1/4 tsp. garam masala (or cinnamon - the Bantry Bay garam masala I had on hand tastes mostly of cinnamon anyway), and a spritz of lemon juice. Let this cook until the Swiss Chard is wilted, adding more water if necessary. There should be a little liquid left in the finished dish, just enough so it's not dry.

I served this with grilled salmon topped with Green Chutney. The Green Chutney was some I made last fall (when fresh chiles and coriander/cilantro were plentiful) and put into the freezer in single-serving containers. Basically, it was a couple of green chiles, a good handful of coriander leaves, a few spearmint leaves, with lime juice and salt to taste, all chopped fine in the mini-chopper.

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posted by Entangled at 8:17 PM 0 comments