As an avid cooker, as well as a proponent of healthy eating, I have always had a desire to share information on nutrition and tips for preparing nourishing foods. Unfortunately, the result of this desire is not always the passing along of useful information, because my enthusiasm for sharing this information is often tempered by an honest weakness I have as a would be teacher. Now, it isn’t so hard to repeat the facts regarding the reasons to avoid processed foods, the nutritive value of whole foods, or the connection between nutrition and health. These facts tend to resonate with logic and common sense, and it is often just a matter of gaining access to information regarding these subjects that in turns propels folks to take a closer look at their diet. When we are confronted with the fact that it is food that is the source of all our body’s energy, we realize that the old adage “you are what you eat” really is literally true.
This I can do…share information on nutrition. The problem arises when people ask me how to do the cooking, because the truth is, as we farm so we cook–very creatively. We do not usually use recipes, and when we do, it is almost guaranteed that we do not follow it to the T. Even when we are baking, a much less forgiving branch of the culinary arts, we substitute at will to use different sweeteners and flours. As we approached the beginning of the CSA season, we began trying to keep notes of amounts used, but habit is hard to break, and we really do not prepare any two meals exactly the same way. The seasonings change, the veggie combinations change, all based more on what we have available than on a predetermined outcome. It is very fluid, very spontaneous, very fun…but very hard to transmit.
And yet, it wasn’t like this when I first started exploring the kitchen. I remember trying recipes, having them fail, having them succeed, learning different cooking methods, trying different spices and spice combinations. And now, this information, this knowing of my way around a kitchen and around different meats and vegetables, oils and spices, this familiarity is simply ingrained. I don’t think about it in the same way at all. And it has been questions from our great customers that have reminded me of this difference. Vegetables that I have a deep intimacy with have turned out to be new and intimidating to some of you. And although we never got too many of our own recipes nailed down, we were lucky enough to have an eye for good recipes so that we can include as many as we can for you to try, hoping to ease this burden of becoming familiar with new vegetables. It has even brought new dishes to our table at a time when a hectic schedule inclines us to simple foods.
And we love to hear that you enjoyed a particular recipe or that a new veggie is now your favorite, but we do also hear from some of you that you somehow messed up the recipe, or that you haven’t yet enjoyed a certain veggie because you think you are preparing it wrong. It is these comments that remind me of my inability to really transfer my cooking ability to others. I suppose like all good things in life, it is in the process of our own undertakings that brings true understanding. So many of the steps that occur as I cook the same recipe are happening at an unspeakable level. This may sound disheartening, but it all happened because I spent time cooking and observing.
To encourage any of you who have had trouble preparing some of this season’s veggies, I wanted to address this issue–the letting go of measurements and times and the development of your best cooking skills, your senses, Greens provide a good example of what I am talking about. We have tried to include a lot of recipes for cooking greens, recipes that we think are really yummy so that for those of you who have not yet learned to love the taste of these nutritional giants can begin to enjoy them. I was remembering the first year we grew and ate a green. I don’t why we chose them since they are not the most mild flavored green around, but it was mustard greens. My first reaction was not pleasant, and then my fobled attempt to cook them was even worse. Years later, I can not imagine feeling this way, partly because I no longer taste them with trepidation, a sure fire way to experience a negative taste (yes, our brains can affect how we taste things!), but mostly because I now can prepare greens in so many ways that truly do highlight the flavor of these veggies.
The trick is getting to know the vegetable. Most of the recipes for cooking greens we give out we would consider usable for all greens. However, tiny things like the minutes you will cook the greens to altering spices or meat additions might be necessary. Chard, like spinach, is less fibrous than kale. It can easily be overcooked and then be unpleasant to eat. It is mild, and so is a great salad green as well. Kale has thicker leaves than chard, so you would cook it a little longer. Because it is thicker, it can also go in the pot for soup without becoming mush, and there are scores of soup recipes with kale that attest to this. Collard greens, which we do not grow, are similar to kohlrabi leaves, which we do grow and encourage you to eat, are tough, but if given a long enough cooking time, become tender, with a delicious broccoli flavor. Mustards are course, and you would not want to eat them fresh unless young, have the strongest flavor, and are like chard in that they are more thin walled and not very good overcooked, but take a little longer to cook. Their strong flavor often requires additional consideration, and often is best cooked with other strong flavors rather than mild ones. Cabbages are like chard on one hand-they make excellent salads , but I find that when cooking them, their flavor is best with a longer cooking time.
All of this information can be gained from using your senses when you cook with these vegetables. It is more important to pay attention to the green as it cooks and softens than to the time listed in the recipe. With the tender greens, cooking times are so short that 1 minute extra can be too much, and the mushy green will not be very appetizing. Let the smells, feel of the vegetables, the taste tests you take mid-stream, and the look of what you are preparing be your guides. Soon enough, the things you have to make conscious decisions about now will become instinctual, and your dishes will take on characters of their own. Always temper experimenting with simple and sure preparations so that you can know the flavor of things by themselves too. And in the end, suit your time in the kitchen and at the dinner table to you, lest these necessary actions become chores rather than joys!