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Friday, January 7, 2011

Feasting and Fasting: The Virtues of Greens (and sweet potato gnocchi!)

I hope you all thoroughly enjoyed the holidays, found space for all of your shiny new toys, and are ready to jump off the feasting train. We'll step off slowly, don't worry. Easing into the spirit of the new year, let's align the focus of our minds and hearts with the focus of our bodies toward better health! In this blog installation (after much ado), we're going to explore the detoxifying abilities of greens, why chlorophyll helps your body to utilize nutrients, helps breathing and healing, and a delicious and easy sweet potato gnocchi recipe!

Why Clean with Green? 

After gorging on less-than-nutritous food all holiday season (as I have!), a lot of those foods have less than satisfactory effects. Too much processed high fructose sugar can actually tax your liver even more than the same amount of ethanol sugar--alcohol. That's right, sugar can also be a weapon against the body. Not to mention sugar lowering the effectiveness of one's immune system, causing the formation of cavities, and increasing the uric acid levels in the blood (high uric acid levels is the cause for gout and many other problems). Dairy can also increase uric acid levels int he blood, increase the production of mucus, and if inorganic, attack the body with an onslaught of hormones, antibiotics, and the types of fats that are too present in our modern diet, causing weight gain, acne, brittle hair, nails, and bones, and a sluggish metabolism.

I know, I know. Your new years resolution is now going to be to stop reading this blog because I keep threatening you with all of these ailments. BUT before you add me to your "blocked sites" list, know that buried deep in the epicenter of our guilt and fear of eating unhealthy foods, there is a great glimmer of hope: greens!! Think of it like Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz. The big "fix-all." That magical place of instant health, understanding, and forgiveness. I may not be able to promise magic teleportation shoes, a heart, or courage, I can absolutely do my best to lay down the path for you to reach optimum health and happiness (munchkin kids not included).

Step 1: Don't be afraid of failure. Try the dating scene. Get to know a few greens at your local store, co-op, farm, or farmer's market. Here are some great options, each suited for a different intention. To make it easy, I'll categorize the greens by the intentionality of their use.

SALAD GREENS: Spinach, frisee, Belgian Endive, red leaf lettuce, green leaf lettuce, parsley, cabbage sliced thin, romaine lettuce, mizuna, baby arugula, spring mix.

GREENS BETTER SUITED FOR COOKING: Spinach, escarole, swiss chard, red and green cabbage, lacinato (also called Dinosaur) kale, curly kale, collard greens, turnip greens, mature arugula, beet root tops, tough mizuna.

Step 2: After playing the field, have found some potential mates, then, be open. Test 'em out. Try one new green a week in a few different recipes. Become acquainted with its taste, its texture, its cooking time. Getting to know the taste of a green can help you understand its best purpose, ie, how to serve it. For example, arugula is spicy and pungent. Using a mustard vinaigrette would not be a wise choice since it too is spicy and pungent. Like in matchmaking, we're looking for balance. Consider a sweet but not overly saccharine choice to balance out the arugula. Sweet cherry tomatoes would be very nice. Or grilled roma tomatoes with olive oil, cracked pepper, and salt, or thin-sliced asian pear, orange segments, or the classic green apple pieces. Now, you'll need some salt for balance. For you dairy-eaters, try an unpasteurized chevre, stilton, or other sweet but salty cheese. For you vegans, try another salty options, maybe just a simple olive oil, salt, pepper, and orange juice vinaigrette? Maybe some cinnamon-and-salt-toasted pecans or walnuts? This same principle of balancing goes for cooking. Making a soup that needs some extra salt but you'd like to cut down on sodium? Try a handful of chopped parsley, which adds a lot of flavor and natural saltiness to foods. To balance the parsley's astringent qualities, you may need some sweetness. Tomato would work very well. Or a sweet bean like black-eyed-peas. Yum. Then a little tart, some fresh lemon juice to brighten it up. In the case of the tomato in soup, it provides both the tart and the sweetness to balance parsley. Then add some garlic, maybe some white beans, great northern beans, or butter beans, some escarole, chopped kale, or spinach and some chopped garlic finished with a swig of olive oil on top and a glass of red wine and you've got yourself a delicious and balanced soup with greens!

Step 3: Research. Think of this like the background check period. Get to know your greens' friends. Parsley and tomato spend a lot of time together.....escarole and kale love to mingle with olive oil and soft, buttery white beans. Frisee is a friend of the goat cheese+grilled fruit (such as peach, plum, or apple) combo, and spinach is the universal friend, cooked, raw, in soup, salad, on eggs, creamed, any way, spinach is the easy-going guy or gal. Look up pictures of greens so you aren't completely overwhelmed at the market or store with all these new foods and their missing labels in the produce aisle. Look up some traditional recipes from the area of origin of your green. Get to know its flavor profile and how it has been used throughout history. Let the knowledge of past cooks inform your choices and know-how now. Getting to know a new foods helps you to be able to use it well, releases fear or anxiety, and is fun......broaden those horizons! Become a vast source of knowledge and experience!

Step 4: After you've found your favorite greens, the honeymoon phase may begin to melt away and you may be searching for, well, a little more. Nothing to be ashamed of, greens monogamy is quite the boring game out there with so many options and combinations available. Always try new recipes, new ingredients....this will keep your interest so that eating well is always a new and enjoyable experience. So much diet failure comes from setting up a strict monotonous routine with the same few recipes again and again and again! Get out of that slump, experiment! Go ahead, try a menage a trois (with greens of course! I don't want to get any emails from angry husbands and wives in the morning......so, for now, stick to the swiss chard and spring mix).

THE VIRTUES OF GREENS
-Chlorophyll, the cells in plants that make them green, is very similar to a crucial part of human blood: hemoglobin. Chlorophyll helps build blood, stimulating the production of new cells.
-Chlorophyll also brings oxygen to your cells, it increases the amount of oxygen in your body. Eat a huge bowl of steamed greens with olive oil, toasted garlic, salt, pepper, and balsamic vinegar. Eat slowly, chew well. Pay attention to how much larger your breaths are 30 minutes after eating if you chewed well. Chlorophyll is great for athletes, busy people, those looking to lose weight, and those wishing to have more energy. It floods the body with oxygen, bringing nutrients and energy to cells, cleaning the blood, cleaning the arteries and veins, increasing brain function by feeding the brain a lot of oxygen, and in combination with water, helps flush fat out of the body.
-Greens require much, much less energy and water to produce than meat, thus helping stop global warming, superfluous energy spending, and the overuse of water.
-Greens are easily found locally (more so than most other foods). Don't think so? Try one of these websites to find a CSA or Farmer's market near you: HERE or HERE. From my local farmer I can get 6 heads of organically-grown collard greens (my FAVORITE green!!) all winter and fall for only $6. With each head being about the size of 3 basketballs, that is enough greens for 2 people for 2 weeks......for $6!!!!! Can't beat that! 
-Greens promote healthy teeth by cleaning as you chew. AND get this......it even helps reverse signs of aging in the face. Developing strong jaw muscle and chewing food very well is like exercise for the face. It increases blood flow to the face, allowing skin to look younger and fresher, it tightens up sagging skin, promotes collagen production, which helps fill in wrinkles and make skin look more taut. New slogan: "Greens, the Original Face Lift." 


For more on chlorophyll, check out my basic class on polyphenols HERE.


Now, a recipe using organic and local swiss chard, local eggs, and local sweet potatoes! This gnocchi recipe is delicious and very simple since you can make a lot ahead of time, freeze them, and boil them whenever you'd like.

SWEET POTATO GNOCCHI RECIPE:

  • 1 lb of sweet potatoes, or about 4 sweet potatoes....if you have extra sweet potato, no problem, make a quick mash to serve with the gnocchi! 
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
-Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On a baking sheet, bake sweet potatoes in their skins, whole, for 50 minutes to an hour, until a fork easily penetrates the sweet potato and it feels like mashed potatoes on the inside. 
-When the potatoes cool enough to touch, but are still very warm, peel off their skins and eat! Or feed your dog, or compost! 
-Fill a big pot with water and place it on the burner to begin to heat.....we want this to reach a boil just as we begin to shape the gnocchi. 
-Mash the sweet potatoes in a big bowl. Add salt and spices and mix well. 
-Whisk in eggs and mix well. 
-One cup at a time, add in the flour, mixing very well to avoid clumps. 
-The batter should be slightly sticky....stiff-ish yet soft. 
-I usually roll the gnocchi in logs and then cut them into their shapes, which is a tiring, inconsistent, and messy process. Just last night I experienced a new way of making them which has made me jump for joy! We'll call it the bag method. 
-In a freezer ziploc bag or a large pastry bag (with a large tip attachment), fill with sweet potato mixture. -When the bag is full, create tension by twisting the end of the bag so that the bag becomes stiff and tight. Tie with a rubber band or hair tie. 
-On the end of the ziploc bag, snip off the end to allow a hole the size of a dime. 
-Ok, here's the fun part. When the water comes to a boil, squeeze out the sweet potato mix out of the bag SLOWLY over the pot of water. When the paste is coming out of the bag and reaches a length of about 3/4 inch, use a butter knife and cut down on the sweet potato mix shaped like a little cylinder. This should allow the little gnocchi to fall into the water (making sound effects at this point makes it a little more fun). 
-Don't worry about all the gnocchi pieces going into the water at different times. You'll know when they are done. When they float, they're ready.....take 'em out with a slotted spoon, being careful not to squish them. Place them on an oiled sheet or plate. They should be soft but al dente after cooking, each piece done after about 2 1/2-3 minutes. 
 **I'll make a video on how to do this this week and I'll post it on a new blog installation so you can have some visual guidance. Once you get the hang of it, it is very easy, quick, and not messy at all. 

SAUCE: 
I served mine with a sage-olive oil sauce with some carmelized onions but feel free to use another option of you'd like. 
  • One spanish onion, sliced. 
  • Grapeseed or coconut oil for sauteeing, or local butter. 
  • salt to taste and pepper
  • 1/2 tsp powdered, dried sage
  • dash of cinnamon 
-Cut one spanish onion into slices. 
-Heat up oil in a pan on medium heat. 
-Cook onions, stirring constantly once they lightly brown. They are done when soft and the color of those rip-your-teeth-out caramel squares that are omnipresent at CVS and dollar stores. 
-Once the onions are done, add the salt, pepper, sage, and dash of cinnamon. Give a quick stir, let cook for about 20 seconds, then take the pan off the heat, add in more butter or oil to give the sauce body, then add the gnocchi to mix into the sauce and to warm. 

SWISS CHARD SIDE: 
  • Use as much swiss chard as you'd like! I used about one pound.....I love my greens!
-Fill a pot with an inch of water and place a steam basket in the pot. 
-Cut the swiss chard where the green stops and only the stem exists. The stems take longer to cook, so we'll cut them in 1/2 inch pieces so they'll finish cooking in the same time as the greens. 
-When water comes to a boil, put all swiss chard into the steam basket and steam, with the lid on, about 5 minutes on medium-high heat, until the stems are soft but still crunchy and leaves are a vivid green. 
-When done, mix in a bowl with some salt, olive oil, and a little balsamic vinegar. 

ASSEMBLY: 
-Place a handful of swiss chard on each plate then top with a portion of the gnocchi mixed with the onions and sauce. 
-Top all with a shaving of pecorino romano or cave-aged gruyere, if preferred. 

ENJOY!!!! Here are the pictures. They demonstrate the old way of making gnocchi but I'll put up a video this week of "The Bag Method." 

Beautiful, vibrant orange yolks......can't get a color like this from the store!

Mixing the dough.....getting as messy as possible of course

Just cut, pre-cooking

Gnocchi warzone

Pre-Sauced

After cooking, mingling with a light olive oil finish to prevent them from sticking together. 

Locavore's heaven

The Final Presentation




3 comments:

Gerald said...

Food as art. Utterly gorgeous. Go to NYC, get famous, make a ton of money and then give me some... ok?

Tyler said...

Reading about greens and soup made me think we really do rely on salt a bit much...in general. I like the idea that an herb or other green can understudy for something else, but my wife hates parsley to the point where if there were a Ban Parsley collective, she'd be in it. What else can we do, wise Samara, to cut our sodium especially in our soup recipes?
Be well!
-Tyler

Samara said...

Tyler!!!
Hey!!! I was just checking out some pics of you and your wife....such a cute pair...AND that sure is some beautiful basil you had from your garden in a few of those pictures!! Ok, so your wife is in the Parsley-Is-The-Root-Of-All-Evil Club? Seems to be gaining popularity these days I hear. Ok, here are some substitutions for salt (and parsley). Spices. Spices like black pepper, cumin, curry, etc add flavor and natural salt to a lot of cooking, which is why I hardly use any salt at all when cooking Thai and Inidan food. Another option: Shoyu (soy sauce). A good-quality soy sauce adds depth, richness, and believe it or not, a lot of nutrition to certain dishes. It is salty yet has less sodium than salt. When making a salad dressing, adding shoyu instead of salt works beautifully and tastes amazing despite it sounding weird. Shoyu is also great in soups like a vegetable broth soup with steamed greens, mung bean sprouts, torn basil, and udon or soba noodles. Also great in egg drop soup (easy and delish to make!) and almost all Japanese hotpot and ramen soups. Celery, kale, swiss chard, pretty much all greens, all beans, and especially split peas.....and cheese! a little tiny shredding of pecorino romano cheese on a dish can add a strong salt flavor without all the sodium. Add lots of greens to your food, add chopped celery to your stir-fry, your soup, your vegetable pasta sauce, and you'll be getting a lot of added nutrition and flavor without all the sodium!!! I hope it works out for you!!!