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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Tis the Season for...Greens!











Here we are, almost to December in the upper Midwest, and I am just finishing the last of the greens from my garden. Little warms a gardener's heart than to be able to serve food fresh from the back yard for months and months.

Even if you are not a gardener, however, now is the time to look for greens in the market. They are often quite reasonably priced right now, and it is not just gardening lore that they are at their peak in the fall. A touch of frost seems to sweeten many varieties of greens, so this is a good time to try them out if you have hesitated in the past.



If you look closely at the picture above, you will see there are two kinds of greens--rainbow chard and kohlrabi. Yup, kohlrabi. Until this year, I had not realized that the leafy tops of this unusual vegetable are perfectly edible. As in years past, my attempts at growing kohlrabi seemed doomed to failure. Instead of forming fat balls on the lower stem, almost every plant grew leggy and slim, kind of like the Abe Lincolns of vegetables. What all the plants did have, however, were lots and lots of leaves.

Not wanting to consider the crop a complete failure, I went searching on the Internet and discovered that lots of people like kohlrabi greens. A few tentative nibbles on the tenderest of the leaves and I was hooked. I started harvesting a couple of plants at a time, getting a few cubes of the bulbs from each for adding to a tray of baby carrots and other fresh vegetables but also having some "bonus" greens to add to stir fries.


And then I discovered something wonderful; kohlrabi seemed as cold resistant as the constantly growing chard and baby collards. (I planted a 4 foot row of rainbow chard in April and have been able to pick leaves from it continuously ever since--unsure of exactly how many meals it has provided, but that little half packet of seeds has paid for itself over and over!) Now, when we have had several nights in a row below 20 degrees (and no measurable rain for weeks, perhaps even harder on the plants), it was time to bring in the last harvest. Kohlrabi and chard--interesting combination, with lots of color and, right now, pretty mild flavors. I ended up using a pretty standard method of preparation--saute onions and garlic, maybe some bell peppers, and then stir in the greens, covering and steaming the mixture until the greens are just tender. This is a great side dish with beans (for vegetarians) or ham. In fact, if you have some ham fat or stock, that would be a great choice for sauteeing instead of oil.

And if you don't have greens from your garden, any of the choices in the market right now--collards, kale, chard--will easily work too. There is a lot of nutrition here, for very little cost. If you are not yet accustomed to trying greens (yes, my friends in the South, there are lots of who didn't grow up with these as a regular part of our menus), now is the time to try them out.

Last of the Garden Greens

canola or olive oil
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 red bell pepper, diced (optional)
approximately 3 to 4 c washed and drained coarsely chopped kohlrabi greens, stems removed (see Preparation Note below)
approximately 3 to 4 c washed and drained coarsely chopped rainbow chard stems and leaves
salt and pepper to taste
optional herbs--basil, thyme, and/or rosemary may be added to taste
other optional seasonings--low sodium soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, red pepper flakes


1.  Put just enough oil in the bottom of a large skillet to cover with a light film. Add the onions and saute over medium high heat until golden and translucent. Stir in garlic and peppers and continue to cook for another two to three minutes.
2.  Add the greens, with the water clinging to the leaves. (If they are relatively dry, you may want to add another few teaspoons of water, just enough to keep from scorching). Cover tightly, turn to medium and continue to cook for 5 to 10 minutes, until the leaves are just tender and wilted.
3.  Add seasonings and taste, adjusting as necessary.

Variations
As noted above, kale, collards, bok choy or beet greens could all be substituted for the kohlrabi and/or chard. 

Kohlrabi Preparation Notes

While the chard stems can (and should!) be used, only the kohlrabi leaves are tender enough to be really edible.
After washing the kohlrabi well, cut off the leaves at the top of each stem. Near the center of the plant will be a cluster of small leaves and "baby" stems--visible in the lower right of the picture below. This entire "heart" section can be kept with the leaves.


Remove the remaining stems and root end from each kohlrabi "bulb,"  the part of the plant most of us are accustomed to using. These "bulbs" can be refrigerated for another few days if you won't be using them right away. Greens, however, should be used more quickly, as they lose flavor and tenderness rather quickly.

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