Basil Time–Pesto Fun

Basil Pesto

Basil is officially in season!

Want to capture some of that freshness for winter?  Make and freeze some pesto now, while supply if plentiful and prices are good.  Don’t worry if you can’t eat dairy.  Pesto can taste just fine without the usual addition of Parmesan cheese.  Yesterday, I substituted a fresh peach and a pinch of chile flakes for something fun.

Quick Ideas for Kohlrabi

As a member of the cabbage family, kohlrabi has a definite cabbage-y taste, so add it to dishes as you would cabbage.

  1. Shred on a box grater and toss into a green salad or coleslaw
  2. Matchstick and throw in a stirfry
  3. Cut into 1″ cubes and roast
  4. Slice and use as a dipper for e.g., hummus or cilantro white bean dip
  5. Gratin it, as in the previous post.

How to Cut a Kohlrabi

The Key to Kohlrabi: Serious Peeling

Kohlrabi Skin

Look closely at the edges of this kohlrabi and you can see it’s thick, fibrous skin. Peel it completely to avoid having tough, stringy chunks in your finished dish.

Cutting Kohlrabi Ends

Start by cutting off the ends to get a flat surface. Use a heavy chef’s knife to muscle through the root end, which can be pretty tough. Keep your fingers back!

Peeling Kohlrabi

Now peel away the outer flesh. Switch to a small but sturdy–and sharp–paring knife for this job. Lay the kohlrabi flat or tilt it at an angle, as pictured, to better cut around the curve of the vegetable. Don’t be surprised if you take off a full 1/8″ of peel–and when there doesn’t seem much left once the kohlrabi is fully prepped.

Matchsticking Kohlrabi

Once peeled, kohlrabi can be cut into matchsticks that are perfect for dipping, stir-frying and making the gratin in the next post. Begin by setting kohlrabi on it’s flat end. Slice vertically into “slabs” about 1/8 to 1/4″ thick.

Kohlrabi  Matchsticks

Give the kohlrabi a quarter turn and slice vertically again, about 1/8″ to 1/4″ thick to get a sweet pile of evenly sized matchsticks.

Once you’ve prepped it, what can you do with it?  Check out the Quick Ideas in the next post or the Slow Cooker Kohlrabi Gratin in the previous post.

Recipe: Slow Cooker Kohlrabi Gratin

Cooking vegetables gratin-style is a delicious option–in the winter. Because a gratin is baked an hour or so, it’s tough to even think about making one in the heat of summer. Hence the slow cooker version in this recipe. Of course in cooler weather, you can also bake this dish at 350 (F) for an hour or so.

Although kohlrabi has been at the markets lately, with the arrival of August’s hot temperatures, this cooler weather crop may disappear for a while.  However, it frequently reappears in autumn, so keep this recipe handy.

For tips on peeling and cutting a kohlrabi, see the next post.

Serves 2

Step 1 Lightly Saute Onions

  • 1 med. red onion, sliced into strips about ¼” x 2” (or 1 cup sliced green parts of fresh onions)
  • ½ Tbsp. butter

In a medium-sized, heavy bottomed saute pan, heat butter over medium heat until lightly sizzling. Add onions and saute, just until lightly browned (about 5 minutes.)

Kohlrabi

See the next post for instructions on quickly cutting matchsticks or, for a more traditional style gratin, quarter and slice kohlrabi thinly.

Step 2 Combine and Cook

  • ½ Tbsp. butter
  • 2 medium kohlrabi (about 3 to 4” in diameter), cut into ¼” matchsticks (or thinly sliced and halved)
  • 1 cup milk or unsweetened almond or soy milk
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Grease a 3 to 5 qt. round slow cooker with butter, then add and stir together sauteed onion, kohlrabi, milk and salt and pepper. (Reserve onion pan for making breadcrumbs.)

Slow cook gratin a total of 6 to 8 hours as follows: Begin by covering slow cooker and cooking gratin on high for 2 to 3 hours until simmering vigorously, stirring occasionally. Once mixture is simmering well and kohlrabi has begun to soften, remove lid and continue cooking until most of liquid is evaporated–about 2 to 3 more hours, stirring occasionally.*  Then reduce heat to low and re-cover with lid and continue cooking until vegetables are cooked to taste, about another 1 to 2 hours.

Step 3 Toast Breadcrumbs and Serve

  • ½ Tbsp. butter or olive oil
  • 2-3 Tbsp. dried breadcrumbs

In pan used for sauteing onions, melt butter over medium heat, then sprinkle crumbs evenly across bottom of pan. Cook, stirring every minute or two, until crumbs are lightly browned and crispy. About 30 minutes before serving, return slow cooker to high and sprinkle evenly with prepared crumbs. Continue cooking, uncovered, for the last 30 minutes. Serve with optional garnishes.

Optional Garnishes

  • ¼ cup Parmesan cheese (optional)
  • Freshly squeezed lemon juice (optional)

* Note:  cooking the dish uncovered allows moisture to evaporate, so the gratin comes out more like a baked dish than the kind of soupier dish that normal slow cooking produces.  While this means this isn’t a dish to fix and forget all day, the result is well worth the small amount of extra attention required.

Turnips, Kohlrabi, Radishes and Other Odd Vegetables

Picture of Kohlrabi

Strangely Beautiful Kohlrabi (photo courtesy of Vermont Food Bank)

The Key to Survival:  Odd Vegetables?

Last week, we got kohlrabi in our CSA boxes for a second time in a row. Chatting with a fellow CSA* member she complained, “Why did we get kohlrabi again? Can’t they just give us vegetables we know?”

Our personal vegetable kingdoms are frequently divided between “vegetables we know” and “everything else.” The former category includes perennial favorites like tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers and peppers. The latter is a dumping ground for those vegetables we never buy or that don’t have instant taste appeal–like kohlrabi, collards, radishes, turnips, parsnips and celeriac.

Why go to the effort of growing, buying and cooking all these odd vegetables? If we can go to the store and buy easy things like carrots and spinach, why bother with produce that presents such preparation and palatability challenges? It’s a fair question, and I’ve often asked it of myself, especially since our classes frequently use vegetables from the “everything else” category.

The answer can be summed up in one word:  Diversity.

Potato blight–not a pretty sight.

I recently attended Food: Our Global Kitchen, the Colorado History Museum’s current exhibit.**  Two juxtaposing displays really drove home the point of diversity.  The first described how, at the time of the tragic Irish Potato Famine, millions of Ireland’s population subsisted largely on just one crop, the potato. To make matters worse, they relied on just one variety of potato. So when the pathogen P. infestans (a/k/a potato blight) struck in 1845, it “spread alarmingly quickly, cutting yields from that year’s harvest in half. By the next year, harvest from potato farms had dropped to one quarter of its original size.” In the ensuing famine, over one million people died of starvation.***

Picture of Peruvian Potatoes

The wild diversity of Peruvian potatoes (courtesy of MikeJackson1948.wordpress.com)

The second display described a very different situation across the globe, where native populations in the Andean highlands had developed nearly 4000 potato varieties over thousands of years, each capable of withstanding different diseases, pests, water availability, soil conditions, etc.  So even though P. infestans is believed to have originated in Peru, the Andean region was spared its devastation.***

My great grandmother was a Potato Famine emigrant, so these displays really left me shaken.  Monoculture, the practice of planting acres and acres with a single variety of a single plant, leaves us so frighteningly vulnerable–just one disease from disaster. Sadly, we haven’t learned much. Not many years after the Irish Potato Famine, American farmers continued planting fields upon fields with just a few varieties of potatoes.   These became an “ocean of breakfast” for the next potato scourge: the Colorado potato beetle, which has been a continuing pest epidemic ever since, kept in check only by massive and multiple applications of pesticides.

At my CSA Farm, Monroe Organic Farms, over 100 produce varieties are planted on just 20 or so acres! Not only do the Monroes grow a huge number of produce items from asparagus to zucchini and carrots to watermelon. In addition, they juggle four different varieties of carrots, five kinds of zucchini, five of watermelon–did you even know there were five kinds of watermelon, all quite different? Here, 4th generation farmer Kyle Monroe sells asparagus and strawberries.

What’s to save us? Diversity. It’s the “technology” Nature has always deployed to keep disease and pests in check. Faced with a riotous mix of species and varieties, insects and pathogens can’t multiply and adapt to dangerous levels.

Which brings us back to turnips, kohlrabi and radishes. The more odd things on our farms, the less we are vulnerable to massive crop failures. And should pests or hail or a water shortage bring down one crop, there’s a good chance the damaging condition will have little or no affect on other crops or varieties.  Last year, for instance, our CSA farm was hit by fury of hail that sheared the tops off most crops–but all the root crops were safely buried in the ground. So we rued the loss of Monroe’s famous melons, but cheered at the bounty of carrots, potatoes, beets and celeriac.

Diversity yields benefits on a personal level, too. As we eat a greater variety of foods, our bodies benefit from a wider range of nutrients. In fact, Jacquie, our CSA farmer, says this is an important reason for including vegetables from the “everything else” category, i.e., so members get a chance to try and benefit from new foods.  And there’s nothing like a variety of tastes–from the sweetness of peaches to the earthiness of turnips–to create a dish with deep, well-rounded flavor.

Carrot Diversity

Diverse Varieties of Carrots:  Buying at Farmers’ Markets featuring locally grown foods from diversified farms is an excellent way to support an environmentally sound food system.

Finally, many “odd” produce varieties are what grow best in Colorado. While finicky tomatoes and cucumbers can only be grown in our hottest months, sturdy crops like kale, chard, and yes, radishes, kohlrabi and turnips, can be grown in our chilly, unpredictable springs and autumns as well. So while waiting for the hot weather crops to (finally) produce, several rounds of cold-weather crops can be harvested and eaten–and many can be stored through the winter months.

In a world where easy and familiar vegetables are shipped in to your grocery store no matter the month, it’s easy to ignore the odd vegetables. But perhaps you want to help transition us to an environmentally sound, resilient food system, where tomatoes aren’t shipped in from places 1000 miles away and we aren’t dependent on drought-ravaged California for 90% of our food supply. One of the best ways to contribute is also one of the easiest: simply buy, use and create demand for the odd vegetables.

And don’t worry about the taste. Over time, our taste buds grow and develop so that we come to treasure the “unique” flavors of each member of the vegetable kingdom. Our classes are a perfect way to gain some exposure, experiment and learn tricks and tips to make the odd vegetables a natural part of your diet.  And see the following posts on How to peel and cut a kohlrabi, quick ideas for using kohlrabi, and a recipe for Slow Cooker Kohlrabi Gratin.

Notes

*”CSA” stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Having a CSA is essentially like buying a one-season share in a local farm; in return, you get a box of the farm’s produce harvest each week.

** Food: Our Global Kitchen is open through September 1; well worth a trip to downtown Denver

*** Information drawn from Smithsonian.com, Scientists Finally Pintpoint the Pathoget that Caused the Irish Potato Famine, May 21, 2013;   http://cipotato.org/potato/  and  Smithsonian.com, How the Potato Changed the World, November, 2011.

Cherries! Summer Must Be Here

Can you think of anything more joyously emblematic of summer? I picked these from my backyard tree and can’t help posting a shot of them. I’m drying them to enjoy their gorgeous color all winter.

Bowl Covers: Cheap Way to Save the Planet

Julia Butterfly Hill* once questioned, “Where is ‘away?’ ” As in, when we throw something “away,” where is that place? As Julia pointed out, there really is no “away” in the sense we’ve been led to believe, i.e., a place where our trash can be disappeared to so we can live blithely in sweet cleanliness.

Plastic Wrap

Our health can only be as good as the health of the environment we live in. [[Picture Courtesy of Johnbalaya.com**]]

I think of Julia’s observation every time I see a wad of plastic wrap in the trash. It may be eliminated from my line of sight, but throwing it “away” really only moves it from my kitchen to a landfill in someone else’s back yard or some aquatic creature’s ocean.

We all know this is happening; if it’s not top of mind then it’s at least in the back of our minds. Problem is, there seems little we can we do about it because we’ve been conditioned to the convenience of plastic wrap. How can a kitchen be without it? And don’t you love the sight of its shiny cleanliness, clinging to a bowl of leftovers, keeping germs at bay?

About $10 for two covers–pretty small price to save the planet!

So it is with great excitement that I can share a discovery made by my neighbor Carolyn: Sili-Stretch bowl covers, a/k/a reusable plastic wrap. Buy at McGuckins Hardware or on-line, of course, at Amazon.  And here is the manufacturers website.

For the record, one box of plastic wrap has lasted me about 10 years, even without Sili-Stretch covers. I just re-use plastic produce bags and buy permanent storage containers with lids. Think of the money that has saved (freeing up money for better vegetables, too!)

 

Check out these cool covers, though, if you aren’t ready to ditch plastic wrap all the way:

Sili-Stretch Cover Pictures

They stretch over square dishes as well as round

and keep salads really fresh

just smash the cover down before sealing to remove the air.

 

* Julia is best known for having lived in a 180-foot (55 m)-tall, roughly 1500-year-old California Redwood tree for 738 days to prevent Pacific Lumber Company loggers from cutting it down. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julia_Butterfly_Hill> Here is another of her insights: “We live in a disposable society. We throw so much away. But it doesn’t come from nowhere. It comes from the planet and it comes from future generations’ lives. Pasted from <http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/j/juliabutte526434.html>

** For more (humorous) reasons to ditch plastic wrap, be sure to read Johnbalaya’s blog, “The Great Plastic Wrap Conspiracy.”

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