Celebrating Spring Greens

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From Salads To Sauces And Soups

Though my winter greens are leggy and flopping, with fluffy flowerheads pulling in the busy bees, my spring greens are hustling to take their place. One of my favorite activities is wandering my deck with salad spinner insert in hand, plucking a little of this and a tad of that. I plunge my pickings in cold water, drain, spin and taste in mere minutes, so the greens have that lively, crisp, just-picked quality and flavor.

Beet_BlsBloodMy winter mix had dwindled down to kale, Bulls Blood beet greens (really red), and chard. Now I’ve got lovely freshets of Italian parsley, thyme, and mint from perennial herbs, as well as beautiful babies that are stretching and growing as fast as they can. My new favorite lettuce is Dancine Mountain, a mini butterhead with lush, almost sweet leaves. I wrote Dancing Mountain on the tags, and now that’s what we call these little cuties, which shape up to a grapefruit-sized head. If you gently remove the inner leaves, the outer ones make a perfect cup for tuna or egg salad (great Easter brunch entree!).

Butterheads and Bulls Blood

Butterhead leaves make a perfect contrast for old favorites like Hyper Red Rumple and Marshall’s Red romaine, which are my daily staples. I’m especially taken with Pomegranate Crunch, a mini red romaine that’s super crisp. The foliage is almost painterly, tinted with russet and plum and burgundy and bright with flashes of chartreuse, the color of spring.

I’m putting in more Bulls Blood beets because those glowing red greens are so tasty and the beets are amazingly productive. I pick a few at a time and they just keep coming. Even when elderly in late winter, they are meltingly tender when steamed or stir fried in coconut oil with a lot of garlic and some chickpeas. Yow!

Infant Peas & Tangled Tendrils

My peas are twining up their twiggy trellises, and there are always plenty of curly, springy tendrils to spare for salads and stir fries. I’m crazy about red podded peas, and am delighted with Sugar Magnolia, which was reportedly Jerry Garcia’s favorite snap pea. It’s gorgeous, with plump purple pods packed with sweet, tender peas. So is Blauschokker, a purple podded shelling pea bred by Belgian monks in the 1500s (they liked red pea pods too). The red and purple flowers are pretty enough to eat, which of course you can, and the peas are tasty fresh or dried (mine never last long enough to dry).

Both of those peas need support, but Spring Blush snap peas don’t, since they are hypertendrils, plants that produce more tendrils than foliage. The dense masses of frilly tendrils create enough support that these peas don’t need staking. They are also fabulous for people like me who eat lots of pea tendrils. Spring Blush boasts beautiful flowers with lavender ruffles and violet skirts, followed by soft green pods blushed with rose. Not super sweet, they offer more protein and less sugar along with an intense flavor that’s terrific in Risi e Bisi, Pasta Primavera, and other classic spring dishes.

Vegan Versions Of Spring Favorites

Risi e Bisi is traditionally made with cream, butter and cheese as well as rice and peas, so a vegan version is not going to be especially similar. Mine is more like risotto with fresh peas added at the last minute, so they are barely cooked, just long enough to remove the tannic bitterness

Vegan Risi e Bisi

1 tablespoon fruity olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
2 leeks, thinly sliced (white and palest green parts only)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup short grain brown rice (or arborio rice)
3-4 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup dry white wine (I used Pinot Grigio)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups freshly shelled peas
1 cup pea tendrils
2 tablespoons minced Italian parsley

In a saucepan, combine oil, garlic, onion, leeks and 1/4 teaspoon salt over medium high heat and cook until fragrant (1-2 minutes). Reduce heat to medium and cook until onions and leeks are lightly golden (15-20 minutes). Add rice, stir to coat and cook for 1 minute. Add 1 cup broth and cook, stirring a few times, until absorbed (2-3 minutes). Continue adding broth 1 cup at a time until rice is as tender as you like it (30-40 minutes). Add wine and stir until absorbed. Remove from heat, add salt and pepper to taste, stir in peas, cover pan and let sit for 5 minutes. Serve hot, garnished with pea tendrils and parsley.

Quinoa With Spring Greens

Fluffy, protein-rich quinoa is the perfect foil for the lively greens of spring. Rinse it well, then shake dry (in a very fine sieve) before toasting with seeds.

1 teaspoon fennel seed
1 cup quinoa, rinsed and shaken dry
2 cups vegetable broth
1 teaspoon virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon bittersweet or hot smoked paprika
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 leeks, thinly sliced (white and palest green parts only)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups red mustard greens, finely shredded
2 cups pea tendrils
2 cups red kale, finely shredded
4 green onions, chopped

In a saucepan, dry toast fennel seeds over medium high heat for 1 minute. Add quinoa and toast, stirring for 2-3 minutes. Add broth, bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low and simmer over low heat until tender (15 minutes). Fluff with a fork, let stand 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in a wide, shallow pan, heat oil, paprika, garlic, leeks, and salt over medium high heat  and cook for 2 minutes. Add greens, cover pan and cook until barely wilted (2-3 minutes). Serve over hot quinoa, garnished with green onions. Serves 4.

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One Response to Celebrating Spring Greens

  1. Teresa Stone says:

    We must share some of the same DNA, I too walk through the garden and get bits and pieces of various greens, wash, swirl, toss and eat. It’s called picking dinner/ salad and my Grandkids love this part of the visit. Can’t wait to order seeds for your favorites. 🙂

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