• Editor's Note Spring 2008

    Editor's Note Spring 2008

    The word ‘chores’ is spoken often in New England’s farming community, but people who work outside the agricultural sector don’t use it much. Last time many of us heard the word was when our mother told us to go do our chores–or no allowance! Nowadays, we ‘run errands’ and ‘go to work,’ reflecting our estrangement from manual labor. We certainly have as much to do as farmers, especially if we’re parents or are working two jobs to make ends meet; all of us are busy in our own way. It’s just that farmers rarely get a day off.

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  • One Greenhouse, Many Winter Greens

    One Greenhouse, Many Winter Greens

    In the depths of winter, a visit to Carol Stedman’s new greenhouse in Hartland provides a breath of spring. A sea of tiny greens waves hello. Claim a seat on the cement blocks that ring the 2-ft. high garden beds, bend over, and take a whiff of soil and fresh growing things. This is what I did on a recent January day. With snow blanketing the out-of-doors, the air temperature inside was only slightly higher than outside, not really warm. But the soil… a thermometer stuck deep in the dirt read a balmy 60 degrees. What was going on?

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  • Eat it on the Radio

    Eat it on the Radio

    In his book Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, Vermont author and environmentalist Bill McKibben focuses on the importance of strong communities for the health and well-being of the planet and its people. He suggests that we can strengthen our home regions by producing more of our own food, generating more of our own energy, and even creating more of our own culture and entertainment. To achieve these goals, McKibben advises, we need to build or rebuild local institutions that draw people together, and one such institution that he cites in his book is a low-power radio station in the Mad River Valley: WMRW-LP Warren, 95.1 FM.

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  • Collapse of the Colonies

    Collapse of the Colonies

    The word “localvore” may have been Oxford American Dictionary’s word of the year for 2007, but a close runner-up was “colony collapse disorder,” an unexplained phenomenon in which bees disappear mysteriously from their hives. The two words are more related than one might think, though. Given the risk this disorder poses to the foods we eat in Vermont, it’s important to ask: how serious is colony collapse disorder in our state?

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  • Sweet Honey in the Raw

    Sweet Honey in the Raw

    Todd Hardie is shy and quiet, but when asked about his favorite subject–bees–he is eloquent and full of great information. Todd has been keeping bees since he was a young boy. His knowledge about bees, honey, and apitherapy–the age-old tradition of therapy from the beehive–seems boundless. And his passion and commitment to sharing that knowledge with others comes through in his business, Honey Gardens Apiaries.

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  • Set the Table with Asian Greens

    Set the Table with Asian Greens

    With names such as shungiku, komatsuna and takana, Asian greens may seem somewhat intimidating to even an experienced home chef. In recent years, Americans have become familiar with unusual greens such as bok choy and mizuna, but if you’re the adventurous type, a vast array of even more interesting Asian greens awaits. And while these varieties are not available at the corner store, local farmers who grow them can provide the freshest quality, and may also supply helpful tips for using them.

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  • Zack Woods Herb Farm

    Zack Woods Herb Farm

    The growing demand for locally-sourced products in Vermont is leading residents to look beyond vegetables and meat to another important item for consumption: herbs. As a result, herb farms such as Zack Woods Herb Farm in Hyde Park, founded in 1999 by Jeff Carpenter and his wife, Melanie Slick Carpenter, are enjoying amazing success as Vermonters seek out local herbs not just for inclusion in homemade meals but for medicinal use as well. At Zack Woods, 35 medicinal herbs are grown for a host of ailments, and the Carpenters are working hard to keep up with demand.

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  • Three Square—Spring 2008

    Three Square—Spring 2008

    Growing up in Vermont, I ate chokecherries, dandelions, venison, and tempura day lilies. When I returned recently, to live here full-time, I began to notice how often the conversation in Vermont turns to food. What’s for dinner? For the next few issues of Local Banquet, I’ll visit a variety of people at home, peer into their iceboxes, and find out what they’re eating and why. And because these can often be personal subjects, I’ve omitted last names.

    Susan is chopping an enormous white radish. “You’re in the store and you think, why the hell would anyone buy this?”

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  • A Missing Link in the Local Food Chain

    A Missing Link in the Local Food Chain

    In good weather, the drive between southwestern New Hampshire and the Capital District of New York state can be breathtakingly beautiful: there’s the view from Hogback Mountain, the wind farm in Searsburg, the Bennington obelisk. But at 4 a.m. during a December snow storm, while pulling a trailer loaded with lambs over a foggy two-lane road, the drive is tedious at best and can be downright hairy.

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  • Cooking the Sting Out

    Cooking the Sting Out

    If you take care, and wear the proper gear, you can harvest an abundant and fascinating wild edible. Folks who have been stung by this rascal know what I’m talking about, while those who haven’t had the pleasure of eating it will undoubtedly come to appreciate this nutritious and tasty plant.

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  • Writing Down the Farm

    Writing Down the Farm

    The logic is straightforward and simple. It goes like this: Farming is the one business that everyone needs, because everyone eats. Add to it the fact that children grow up—often faster than adults can imagine. And when Vermont children become adults, they may want to become part of the local food system, either as a farmer or an eater.

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  • Farmers' Kitchen—Try a Little Tenderness

    Farmers' Kitchen—Try a Little Tenderness

    There are some meals that spell COMFORT to all who eat them. Leave your teeth behind. Savor the smell and the melting texture. Give yourself over to a sensuous repast.

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  • Last Morsel—The Taste

    Last Morsel—The Taste

    I roasted a loin roast from one of the pigs I’d raised—dinner plans had been canceled because of the ice storm.

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Set the Table with Asian Greens

asian greens

Written By

Cheryl Bruce

Written on

March 01 , 2008

With names such as shungiku, komatsuna and takana, Asian greens may seem somewhat intimidating to even an experienced home chef. In recent years, Americans have become familiar with unusual greens such as bok choy and mizuna, but if you’re the adventurous type, a vast array of even more interesting Asian greens awaits. And while these varieties are not available at the corner store, local farmers who grow them can provide the freshest quality, and may also supply helpful tips for using them.

Several Asian greens have a mild bitter flavor, perhaps owing to the fact that many are members of the Brassica family, which includes vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, mustard greens and turnips. Americans have developed a strong taste for salty and sweet flavors, but they have not embraced bitter flavors, which are more often found in other cultures’ cuisines. However, bitter compounds cause the liver to release bile, which helps with digestion. This is why, for example, Europeans consume herbal aperitifs and tonics made from bitter herbs. Greens with bitter properties can serve the same purpose. So in addition to being full of vitamins and minerals, Asian greens aid in digestion while adding a complex and rich flavor to any dish they are added to.

Linda and Takeshi Akaogi grow an extensive variety of Asian greens on their farm in Putney. At least a dozen varieties are sold to markets such as the Brattleboro Food Co-op and the Brattleboro Farmers’ Market. Asian greens also make up a significant portion of their own farm’s CSA share. Linda says they are introducing these greens to their customers because, for the most part, Americans do not eat enough greens. To help change this, half of the Akaogis’ weekly share consists of a diverse assortment of fresh greens.

Since all greens begin to lose vitality soon after harvest, Linda stresses that the fresher the green, the better, since freshness provides the greatest benefits. And she says that any of the Asian greens can be used raw or cooked. In the U.S., many of these greens are harvested as baby leaves for salad mixes, but in countries such as Japan they are usually cooked and supplement every meal. Linda says her favorite method of preparation is blanching, but although it is a simple process, it must be done correctly to preserve the plant’s nutrients and freshness (see sidebar). The blanched greens can then be frozen, used in stir-fries, or served with dressing. Linda says the varieties of dressings are endless, but a traditional Japanese dressing includes soy sauce, miso, vinegar, mustard, wasabi, ginger, and sugar.

Here are a few unusual Asian greens for those who want to move beyond the basics:

Tatsoi is a compact plant that is related to the well-known bok choy, however, it grows lower to the ground with almost a flattened rosette form. As a member of the cabbage family, its mild flavor hints at its origins, and it is sometimes referred to as spinach mustard. Its dark green leaves are a sign of the plant’s vitamin-rich properties.

Komatsuna is another relative of the cabbage, with tender leaves that have a flavor and texture somewhere between spinach and bok choy. It has tall, thick stems, which are both juicy and crunchy when used raw. In can be used in place of celery when serving raw vegetables with any type of dip or spread.

Takana is also known as giant red mustard. There are several varieties of mustard greens and all have leaves that are very spicy. While these greens are often harvested in the baby stage for salad mix, the full size leaves offer a more intense experience. Linda says if you continue to chew the leaf for a couple of minutes, the flavor is reminiscent of wasabi and offers the same nasal-clearing properties.

Shungiku is probably one of the prettiest greens, and you may find that it looks familiar. Shungiku is also known as ‘edible chrysanthemum,’ and is related to the ubiquitous potted plants that grace porches in the autumn months. However, before you go snipping shoots off your ornamentals, keep in mind that shungiku is a vegetative plant that does not produce the familiar showy flowers, so the leaves of this plant are less bitter than its ornamental cousin. Although native to the Mediterranean, shungiku is widely used throughout Asia. Its leaves have an unusual flavor and can be lightly cooked for a warm dish or used in salads.

If you are interested in growing your own greens, many seed companies are now offering an extensive selection of Asian green seeds. Most varieties can be seeded in the garden in early spring. As with crops such as lettuce and kale, Asian greens thrive under cool weather conditions, so the seeds can be planted again in late summer for a fall harvest. They can be more challenging to grow in mid-summer, when the plants try to ‘bolt,’ sending up their flower stalks for reproduction. If the plant is allowed to do this it will develop a very strong bitter flavor and will not be edible.

If you spot Asian greens at your local market this summer, don’t be intimidated. Instead grab a bunch or two and surprise your friends and family with a new dish. And whether you buy them locally or grow your own, Asian greens will surely spice up your summer.

Illustration by Meg Lucas

Linda Akaogi’s Tips for Blanching Greens

Following the instructions below will retain your greens’ nutrients and freshness. There are certain key points to keep in mind:

  • Rapidly boiling water is necessary
  • The water must return to boil quickly after adding vegetables
  • Very, very cold water is needed to cool down the blanched greens
  • Work quickly to remove greens from the water
  • Use freshly harvested greens and rinse several times to remove dirt
  • Use the whole plant; do not cut off its base. The red base of spinach has iron—that is why I do not remove it when I harvest. Trim off the roots and the end if you need to remove any dirt

Bring the water to a boil. The amount of water to use is tricky. The basic rule is to use enough water to circulate through the individual leaves of the plant, but make sure there’s not so much water that it won’t return to a boil within a minute or less after adding the vegetables. If you use a small amount of water, then add small amounts of vegetables at a time. They will cook quickly and cool down quickly. I frequently make the mistake of trying to do too much at one time. It just makes for an overcooked, slimy mess.

Most cookbooks call for salt. As I understand it, salt is often used to retain the color of the vegetables. Sometime I add it and sometimes I don’t. I don’t feel good just throwing the salt down the drain and I don’t notice the difference in flavor. If you follow the instructions, I think it doesn’t much matter. If you choose to add salt, then reduce the salt later when you dress or flavor it.

When the water boils, add the vegetables. Immediately stir the greens gently with chopsticks or a wooden spoon to separate the individual leaves and help the hot water penetrate all the surfaces. The water should return to a boil almost immediately. Keep pushing the vegetables around so they don’t clump up. When the vegetables turn a dark green color, they are done. More delicate or quick-cooking vegetables, such as spinach or shungiku, take less than a minute. Cooking time is entirely up to you. If you like the greens crunchy, almost like a salad, then 30 seconds should be fine. If you have older, stringy vegetables, or you like them well-cooked, then they could take as much as five minutes.

Quick cooling is very, very important. If you use warm water or you leave the greens in the water for a time, you can just feel all the nutrients oozing out into the water. Cold water will immediately stop the cooking process and seal the pores. The result is wonderful flavor and a nice green color. So put the greens into very cold or ice water. I do several changes of water to ensure a cold enough temperature. Work quickly. When the greens are finally cold, quickly gather all the roots together while they’re still in the water (it’s easier that way), squeeze gently, and put the greens in a colander to drain. They can then be used as desired.

About the Author

Cheryl Bruce

Cheryl Bruce

Cheryl Bruce works for Vermont Organic Farmers (VOF), the certification branch of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont.

 

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Vermont's Local Banquet Magazine illuminates the connections between local food and Vermont communities. Our stories, interviews, and essays reveal how Vermont residents are building their local food systems, how farmers are faring in a time of great opportunity and challenge, and how Vermont’s agricultural landscape is changing as the localvore movement shapes what is grown and raised here.

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Home Stories Issues 2008 Spring 2008 | Issue 4 Set the Table with Asian Greens