My torrid affair with Swiss chard

October 15, 2009

swiss chard blog

It’s quite possible that 2009 has been the year of Swiss chard at our house. We didn’t have a big build up to it or anything and we didn’t even know it was happening until the summer was almost over; but, now that we’re in full-on autumn mode and the Swiss chard continues to flow from fridge to frying pan on a regular basis, there is just no denying that this veggie has become a family favourite!

I’ve prepared Swiss chard dozens of ways this year, but one of my fav recipes is to saute thickly sliced Swiss chard leaves with lemon and mixed olives – so yummy! I love this dish as part of a vegetarian plate and  it’s also great served under grilled Italian sausages.

Olive & Swiss Chard Toss

1 tbsp                            vegetable oil

¼ cup                          chopped onion (preferably red)

¼ tsp                          hot pepper flakes

1 small bunch          Swiss chard leaves, cut into wide strips

1/8 tsp                        finely grated lemon zest

3 tbsp                          assorted small olives or chopped larger olives

Water

Salt and pepper

Lemon juice

  • Heat the oil in a non-stick skillet set over medium -high heat; add the onions and hot pepper flakes and saute for 5 minutes or until the onion is softened and becoming golden at the edges.
  • Add the Swiss chard leaves and stir fry until the leaves are becoming wilted. Stir in the lemon zest and olives. Add a little water to the pan if necessary to prevent scorching.
  • Remove from the heat and season to taste with salt, pepper and lemon juice.

Do you find that you fall into passionate  love affairs with certain veggies? I do; last year it was broccolini while this year it’s all about fennel and Swiss chard. Good thing I’m more steadfast in my married life!


Give thanks for Brussels sprouts

October 9, 2009

brussels sprouts

Raise your hand if you don’t like Brussels sprouts. Okay, now put your hand down so that you don’t reflexively hit me when I tell you that you can like this cruciferous veggie. In fact, you can make it this weekend for Thanksgiving dinner and get rave reviews. I speak the truth.

I know it’s hard to believe me when there are so many nasty Brussels sprout memories competing with my claim. But trust me: the reason you don’t like Brussels sprouts is because you’ve eaten them either 1. overcooked or 2. cooked when they were too old. Honest.

In fact, I didn’t think I liked Brussels sprouts either until I started buying them on the stalk and learned that they don’t need to be boiled to death.

Ready to take the plunge? The first step is to find fresh, young Brussels sprouts. You can hit a farmers’ market or a good grocery store that brings in fresh, local vegetables. While on the stalk, the sprouts should be firm and the outer leaves shouldn’t be yellowed or wilted in any way. The stalk should be pale green and heavy. To use the sprouts, simply cut them off the stalk and peel away any loose outer leaves. Easier than shucking corn!

Maple Mustard Glazed Brussels Sprouts

2 tsp (30 mL) olive or other vegetable oil
1 cup (250 mL) thinly sliced leeks
1 clove garlic, minced
3/4 tsp (4 mL) dried thyme leaves
1/2 tsp (2 mL) each salt and pepper (approx.)
4 cups (1 L) halved small or quartered large Brussels sprouts
3/4 cup (175 mL) water
1 tbsp (15 mL) each maple syrup and whole grain Dijon mustard

Heat the oil in a large, deep skillet set over medium heat. Add the leeks, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Increase the temperature to medium-high and add the sprouts.

Stir-fry for 3 minutes. Add the water and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 3 to 4 minutes or until liquid is evaporated and the sprouts are almost fork tender.

Stir in the maple syrup and mustard. Cook, stirring often, for 2 to 3 minutes or until the sprouts are browned and fork tender. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Makes 6 servings.


Caramelizing fennel

October 2, 2009

fennel

You know you’re a spoiled, urban eater when you’re just sick to death of eating fennel in all the usual ways. Shaved with oranges in a walnut vinaigrette – ho hum. Braised with cumin seed – yawn. So, what’s left when you get to this point? Turns out caramelizing makes fennel all fresh and new again!

Here’s how I made it:

1. Slice the fennel into long, thin strips. Melt enough butter with an equal amount of vegetable oil to just cover the bottom of a skillet. Add the fennel and season with salt and pepper; stir in a minced clove of garlic and 1/2 tsp (2 mL) dried thyme leaves.
2. Reduce the heat to medium and cover the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 to 30 minutes or until softened. Remove the lid and increase the heat to medium-high.
3. Sprinkle over a little sugar (about 1/2 tsp/2 mL for a large fennel bulb) and cook, stirring, until golden. Splash in a couple of tablespoons of dry sherry and stir to scrape up the brown bits. Add a teaspoon of cider vinegar and taste; adjust the cider vinegar and salt and pepper as needed.

I served my caramelized fennel as part of a vegetarian plate but it would be great with pan-seared Alaskan cod or slathered over a white pizza, too.

What’s your favourite way to eat fennel?


New ingredient: 5 things I learned about keralla

May 13, 2009

KerallaIt doesn’t happen often, but on Saturday I found an ingredient at my local No Frills that is not in the Food Lover’s Companion. The odd-looking veggie pictured above was piled high at the entrance to the produce section and labelled Indian Keralla. Intrigued, I bought two and took them home to investigate. After all, at 99 cents a pound, you can’t inject excitement into a rainy Saturday any less expensively!

Here’s what I learned about Indian Keralla:

  1. Don’t take a bite of the raw veggie — it’s bitter and nasty!
  2. The English names for this veggie are Bitter Melon (which is in the Food Lover’s Companion), Bitter Gourd, Warty Melon or Balsam Pear.
  3. There is a Chinese variety of bitter melon that is similar but milder in flavour and it has a yellow hue.
  4. Keralla should be blanched or salted before being used in recipes to curb its bitterness.
  5. To use, slice the melon in half lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds and discard. Slice the green outer layer and sprinkle with salt and drain in a colander. Rinse and pat dry and then add to curries and stir fries that feature strong flavours.

Have you used Keralla in your cooking? If so, I’d love to hear some of your tips!


Puffed Cauliflower Gratin

March 26, 2009

cauliflowergratin

Spring is finally upon us but it will still be a bit of time before local produce is available here in abundance. So, in an effort to mix up my veggie repertoire a bit, I’ve created a light and fluffy cauliflower gratin that can be served with a salad as a light supper or as a side dish with pork chops or chicken. It’s similar enough to mashed potatoes that it makes a great lower carb substitute for spuds, too!

Enjoy!

Puffed Cauliflower Gratin

Topping
1/2 cup (125 mL) fresh, whole wheat breadcrumbs
2 tbsp (30 mL) melted butter
2 tbsp (30 mL) finely chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp (15 mL) shredded Asiago cheese (optional)

Gratin
1 large cauliflower, about 4 lb (2 kg), trimmed
2 tbsp (30 mL) very finely chopped onion
1 tsp (5 mL) minced garlic
1/2 tsp (2 mL) dried thyme leaves
2 tbsp (30 mL) cornstarch
1 cup (250 mL) 2 % milk
3/4 cup (175 mL) shredded Asiago cheese
1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt and pepper
8 egg whites (or 1 carton liquid eggs)

Topping: Toss breadcrumbs with butter; toss with parsley and cheese. Reserve.

Gratin: Cut cauliflower into large chunks; steam for 12 to 15 minutes or until tender. Cool. Purée in batches until smooth using a food processor; transfer to a large bowl.

Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Stir onion, garlic and thyme in a microwave-safe bowl. Heat on high for 30 seconds. Whisk the milk with the cornstarch. Stir into the onion mixture. Heat on high for 2 minutes, stirring once. Stir in the cheese, salt and pepper until melted; stir into the cauliflower.

Whip egg whites in a separate bowl until soft peaks form; fold into cauliflower mixture until combined. Transfer to a greased, 8-cup (2 L) deep, round baking dish.

Sprinkle reserved topping over cauliflower mixture. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until golden and puffed. Makes 12 servings.


Waiting for spring

March 11, 2009

seedsWell, my untreated, heirloom seeds are ordered from the William Dam seed catalogue and my little greenhouse is assembled (thanks John!). Now all I have to do is wait for spring to hurry up already and get here!

Turns out I’m not alone when it comes to thinking ahead. According to this article in USA Today, seed sales for 2009 are expected to soar to new heights. 

Have you started planning your garden yet? If so, will you start with seeds or plants? I like starting with seeds because there is generally more choice than when you buy live plant stock. (I find it frustrating to be at the garden centre searching for varieties they don’t have in stock.) Besides, it’s so exciting to see little filaments of green popping up through the soil and then, just weeks later, standing tall and fruit laden in your garden!

Likewise, if you are a veggie gardener, what’s your motivation: lower grocery bills, a commitment to locavorism or something else altogether?