Eatin’ in Season: Green gold

This week, we hear from Ruth Gonzalez, a former market farmer, avid gardener and founder of the Tailgate Market Fan Club. Gonzalez loves that she now lives within walking distance of tailgate markets and enjoys visiting them frequently with her daughter. "It's not because we are do-gooders," she says. "It's because we get super-fresh food that was just picked, and it's power-packed with flavor. We are the ones who benefit from the farmers' labors of love. We like associating a particular farmer's face with the food we are eating."
—Mackensy Lunsford

Easy being green: Kale is just one of the many kinds of fresh greens available when farmers markets open for the season. Photo courtesy of the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (asapconnections.org)

I overheard a mom asking her toddler about the planting time of bean seeds when I was at our local natural grocery. As I passed by, I blurted out the answer, and a conversation ensued that traversed gardening, cooking and longing for access to those doggone-great tailgate-market greens. Collards and kale, for example, will be among the first veggies available when the tailgate markets open.

Greens continued to come up repeatedly in conversation all week — how to cook them, when to plant them and what kind to plant. If you were raised in the South, you likely know all about them; even if you didn't like them as a kid (I didn't), hopefully you outgrew that stage. Now I crave the satisfying taste of greens.

It's no wonder, since they are power-packed with vitamins and minerals — vitamins A, C, E and K, plus folic acid, iron, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids and fiber. A quick Google search revealed that dark leafy greens eaten once a day are reputed to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by 11 percent, the risk of diabetes by 9 percent and the risk of hip fracture in middle-aged women by 45 percent; they also help protect the eyes from cataracts and macular degeneration, and help prevent or reduce the risk of many downright scary cancers. I knew greens were good for you, but, as it turns out, they're actually a wonder food! Here's how I cook them. It's simple and delicious:

Ruth's Favorite Greens

Olive oil, or other fat source
½ onion, chopped
Greens, 1 bunch*
Salt to taste … I don't add much
Water
*You probably want to double this, as one bunch barely feeds three people.

Prep: Wash greens thoroughly, making sure you have washed off ALL the grit. It likes to hide in the ruffles of kale. Sometimes it works best to fill a deep bowl with water, submerge each leaf in the water, and swish it around until you are confident that no grit remains. Remove the leaf from the ribs (thick stems) and compost the stems. Tear the greens up into smaller pieces.

Method: Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a big pot — a big pot because you will need room for the raw greens before they cook down. Sauté onions in the olive oil until onions are clear. Add greens a little at a time, stirring with each addition to ensure that the greens are coated with olive oil. When you have added all the greens, add about ¾-inch of water (less if you are super-attentive, more if you have three other things going and kids). Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and turn down. 

Let it cook about half hour or so until desired tenderness is reached, stirring occasionally. Check all along to make sure the water hasn't disappeared, or the greens will burn. If, at the end of cooking, there is still some liquid in the pot, save it and drink it. This liquid is called "pot likker" (liquor?) by southerners and is rich with nutrients.

Interesting additions include: Roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, artisan balsamic vinegar, Tabasco, turnips, nuts, dandelion greens and gomasio. Meat-eaters might substitute bacon grease for olive oil and add some kind of pork.

More: Since some of the vitamins are fat-soluble, the olive oil is a health benefit.
For the highest vitamin content, use mixed greens (like collards, kale, mustard, turnip greens and dandelion greens).

Freeze leftover greens in a Ziploc bag for a quickie vitamin lift when you are in a hurry.

You can read Ruth Gonzales' blog at www.tailgatemarketfanclub.wordpress.com.

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