Follow Your Food: Fields Farm

 

Organic agriculture goes back millennia, with roots as deep as any human tradition. Our connection with how to select, cultivate and prepare foods has evolved over generations of farmers and meals from the family hearth. That natural evolution eventually led to a point where the goal of food production rose above the level of subsistence, where technology allowed farming to become a smaller piece of our larger anthropology. Inevitably consolidating agriculture led to a smaller number of farmers growing over larger acreage. Farming then became less a natural development and more a field of study. Of course this has allowed the concentrated field of agricultural science to make profound discoveries in areas like crop genetics and advanced breeding techniques which matriculated  into large yields and global food distribution. However, in the creation of any industrial system there are unforeseen externalities; details that were either overlooked or not accounted for. For years now people have been talking about the ills of the “conventional” food system, and how it is a broken model. Stacks of articles have been written about how modern agriculture has contributed to land degradation, pollution, biodiversity loss, obesity, diabetes, inequality… the list goes on. One source of these problems, a factor that is easily overlooked, again, is that the greatest externality is a loss of knowledge. Yes, of course there is more research going into food than ever, but the kind of knowledge we are missing does not come from a classroom; the form of knowledge that faded comes from the land, and from each other.

That is how organic farming emerged as a movement. In the midst of consolidation, there were those among rural and urban populations who realized that they felt disconnected. What they were disconnected from was, and is a cultural heritage between people, the land, and food grown in it. This movement emerged then, and continues to this day, as a populous voice seeking to rewrite the modern definition of agriculture to include those details that were overlooked as seeds started to be bought through growing corporations, instead of shared between a community of growers. In a sense, the farmers that emerged during the organic revolution were pioneers on quest to journey back into human history and reconnect with the heritage of traditional farming.

Fields Farm has long been a curator of mindful agriculture here in Bend, beginning a quest for creating sustainable land. Jim and Debbie Fields began their journey into farming 27 years ago when they purchased their 10 acre plot, nestled right outside the heart of Bend. It began as a small gardening experiment, their initial goal was simply to connect with their roots and build a lifestyle around living off the land. Over time Jim an Debbie began to grow their hobby into a business by implementing a small CSA. They only started with 8 members, but Jim’s philosophy is to ‘start small, grow slowly and observe a lot’, much like natural adaptation in plants. By 2006 they had grown their CSA to 68 members, engaged in two farmers markets, and finding their way to sell some produce wholesale.

Over the years their growth as a business has meant that their knowledge of farming has grown along with it. What began as a backyard homestead has evolved into a goal to feed the Bend community without a carbon footprint. Jim reached this goal by holding to his same curiosity that drove he and Debbie closer to the land in the first place. Over years of observing the services plants provide to the ecosystem, they became more attuned to what the land needed to give back to complete the nutrient cycle. This led them to building their own foundation of soil health through composting non-commercial plant organic matter; however, further inspection of the wider community revealed that this process did not have to end with the 10 acre boundaries of Fields Farm. So, Jim approached Deschutes Brewery and gave them a way to recycle their wasted hops and spend grains back into the soil to foster new life. Instead of contributing to methane pollution in landfills, Deschutes contributes their organic wastes towards growing food for the community. Now, those gasses are taken out of the atmosphere and added to a soil amendment strategy that reduces more than just the farm’s carbon footprint. This example right here is how Jim and Debbie Fields are writing organic farming into the modern context of community, taking us closer to the old days when agriculture was the beating heart of human culture.

27 years of farming has imbedded a lot knowledge at Field’s Farm, extending from carbon neutrality to season extension, to crop rotations. Jim and Debbie have realized that this information contributes diminished service if it stays locked in their own brains; because, as mentioned earlier, the cultural heritage of farming is shared around the community. Without the help of caring, and insightful neighbors, there is no way that a beginning farmer can know what experience doesIf you talk to most any young farmer around Bend, they will go on about how much their operation has learned from the wised counsel of Jim and Debbie Fields. Currently Jim offers consultation services to aspiring growers in the area, a way of helping them learn from what years of experience have taught him. Knowledge not only enrichens the lives of producers, but for consumers as well. This is why Fields Farm hosts tours on site for school groups, so that the next generation of consumers grow up knowing where there food comes from, how it was grown, and why that is important.

Our world is so concerned with the pitfalls of humanity, that we forget that the objective world exists in our collective ability to care. Fields Farm cares, and through their individual work, the community is brought closer around the identity of healthy land and good food. Food is the foundation of knowledge and, no matter how far we stray away, will always be origin of culture. So, I guess my piece in this is to call to you to explore your origins by caring about your food as Jim and Debbie do.

Follow Your Food: Spring Latkes

Memorial Day is the unofficial marker of our transition from Spring into Summer. Now the sun rises early and sets late, giving plants longer hours of solar radiation for photosynthesis and metabolism. The increased photon energy provided by longer days allows for greater glucose sugar production. Naturally, as the plant makes more sugar, it must be allocated for storage. So, to keep up with energy production, the roots of certain species develop to accommodate the glut of glucose and store it as a carbohydrate. Over time this storage unit becomes a viable food crop, which we all enjoy in the form of a carrot or a beet. This trait to store increased energy is not ubiquitous among all species. Normally, it is either something represented in perennial plants, who must survive for a number of years or has been cultivated in annual plants from years of farming. Most plants would prefer to allocate available resources directly towards reproduction and setting a flower head. Eventually the fertilized flower develops into a fruiting body to provide life to a new generation, or to a hungry table. This requires an immense amount of energy, and if the plant has not met a critical mass of photosynthetic capacity, reproduction can stress a plant. So, it is critical that the season is right and the days are long to plant a fruiting crop. As Spring is to green, summer is to color; that color is derived by new growth in root and fruit crops. This week we saw an example the shape and color of early summer food with fresh Zucchini and Carrots.

Fortunately, for most, the introduction to summer is met with an extended weekend. I know how I will spend these long days ahead; sharing food and late afternoon memories with friends to grow our roots deeper.

This is an amended recipe to one I found online for some vegetable latkes (or fritters, whatever you prefer). I must say, this is an easy and delicious way to use seasonal produce, and nothing but seasonal produce. If you go online, there are a lot of iterations of this meal. I went with what worked best for the materials I had on hand. Find what works best for you. But here is a little kick to get you on your way…

Ingredients to serve 4 Latkes:

  • 2 small Zucchini, shredded (Groundwork Organics)
  • 3-4 medium Carrots, peeled and shredded (Organic Redneck)
  • 1 medium Potato, boiled and mashed (Rainshadow Organics)
  • 2 cloves of Garlic, minced (Groundwork Organics)
  • 1 Green Onion, chopped (Cinco Estrellas)
  • 1/4 tsp thyme (Sagestruck Herbary)
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour (Rainshadow Organics)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp paprika, or 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (or both!)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • pepper to taste
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp Half & Half

Cooking instructions:

  1. Begin by prepping your zucchini and carrots by shredding with a large-holed cheese grader. If you are like me and lack this piece of equipment, this can be done with some dextrous knife work. Transfer veggies to a collander, add the salt and mix. Allow to sit for 15 minutes or so.
  2. Add the potato to water and boil until soft all of the way through. This can be accomplished more quickly if the potato is quartered beforehand. Remove potato to a bowl, add the half & half and mash.
  3. Add the Flour and Baking powder to a separate bowl and mix.
  4. Squeeze the veggies dry, using either just your hands or a cheesecloth, and transfer to a bowl. Add the Garlic, Paprika, Cayenne and Thyme. Mix together. Now add the mashed up potato, mix. Lastly, add the flour/baking powder and mix.
  5. Once mixed, grab a medium sized handful and pack into a ball, repeat 3 times. Place the uncooked latkes on a baking sheet and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes so that they hold form better while cooking.
  6. Heat up 2 Tbsp of oil in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. When oil is shimmering, add the packed latkes. Cook for 3-5 minutes and turn. They should be slightly charred and crisp when flipped. Cook for another 3-5 minutes. Fin!

I did not have the ingredients at my disposal to make an adequate sauce for serving, but these would be amazing served with a yogurt based side. Perhaps yogurt, cucumber and lemon.

This was so easy, so good, and almost 100% local, that it may just become a staple in my diet.

Follow Your Food: Radicle Roots

Last Thursday I had the pleasure of spending the afternoon at Radicle Roots. As I had written in my recipe for Chicken Larb, Radicle Roots is a small, but very productive, sustainable market garden just outside of Sisters, OR. Radicle Roots is run by James Bernston, a first generation farmer from Snohomish, Washington. Farming is time and labor intensive work, even with a work force, and James does it all on his own, with help from his girlfriend Sydney when she is free from her Masters studies in Counseling. Due to the responsibilities of plant care, he operates at a small scale. As a market garden, James does his part to cultivate a variety of select crops for the Central Oregon Food system. Conscious of the capacity of his operation, James focuses on growing superb quality and cultivar diversity in his field beds. This care is reflected in the crops he brings to market; every head of lettuce and every bunch of radishes is a work of living art, full of color, crisp and fresh. He has to be selective about where he sells his food, so that his fields are not over harvested, and run dry. As such, he most often sells directly to his markets of choice, and has built relationships with restaurants and wholesalers around town. We are one of the proud partners of Radicle Roots, but you can also find his produce at the Bend Farmers Market over the summer, in Central Oregon Locavore’s store or on the menus of Drake, Jackson’s Corner and a number of other restaurants downtown.

 

Small Farms are a cornerstone of building economic diversity in our community, and a critical component of fostering a resilient food system. In any agronomy, at any scale, the key to sustainability is balance. Though small, Radicle Roots is an important piece in the balance of Central Oregon’s agricultural landscape. James’s operation is a testament to the productivity of a small, intensively attended plot of land. Since everything is hand cultivated, James is able to plant densely and maximize the marginal food yield from the land at his disposal. As the human population  grows, our demand for food grows with it; as that population builds its aggregate wealth over time, demand expands exponentially.

In the world of expanding humanity, the agronomy can grow in 2 ways. One is what has been come to known as the “conventional” model; large, specialized farms that focus specifically on producing for economies of scale. While these farms can provide food at an affordable price and over a broad range, is requires large inputs of water fertilizer and land to make these operation function. As we have begun to see, through the years, this leads to some inherent externalities as management is stretched over large acreage; to state it simply, we don’t have that land available. The second model offers a bit more systemic sustainability. This model I speak of is the smaller, diversified farm that has come to define the local food movement in America. These farms do not individually produce food at the scale capable in their larger counterparts, but when working together, they create a diverse network that contributes to the dietary needs of their direct community. Since their operations cater to a diminished scale, they require less infrastructure and as a result tend to be more flexible to the whims of nature. This flexibility also extends into the land they occupy. Since market gardens like Radicle Roots focus on intensive hand cultivation, they are capable of producing high marginal food yields in small places.

While we drive forward into a more crowded world, available farmland is dwindling, and food production has to find a way to adapt to the space that remains. James is a quiet member of the farmers adapting to such a world. His operation ingratiates itself into the neighborhood around him, providing more than just sustenance to his neighbors. In addition to his veggies, James offers his neighbors an opportunity to build their community by hosting greenhouse space for people to start gardens of their own. His presence there is that of balance; holding food production on one shoulder, land care on the other, and community development on his head.

What we hope to do at Agricultural Connections is help this sort of society to thrive by offering a central market to sell their food  so that it can always find a hungry plate. Our hope is that this sort of farming can become part of the larger hegemony in Central Oregon and create a community that is more engaged with the personalities of those who grow for them. This week we will be at Jackson’s Corner on the west side to celebrate the food that James and many other’s bring to our community on a weekly basis. Come out and learn more about these champions of the land.

 

Follow Your Food: Baked Polenta “Pasticciata”

This week as we were receiving produce from the fields, Gigi from Windflower Farm stopped by with boxes filled with a colorful array of mustard greens, kale, turnips, and mixed chois. While we were stacking the waxed boxes in the warehouse, I mentioned to Gigi my excitement to include such beautiful produce in our shares this week but have a hard time finding recipes for cooking fresh mustard. She stopped what she was doing to recommend pairing the greens with pork. It was just a quick suggestion, but that little bit of sharing got my mind opened up to new kitchen ideas to diversify how I use greens outside of salad lunches. Every farmer that walks though our door wants comes with their own bite sized suggestion to share how they use these crops. The accumulation of these conversations adds up to create a robust foundation of the knowledge required to eat seasonally. These little moments that arise during our conversations with farmers provide access to information that simply does not exist while browsing though the supermarket.

To often, we shop individually. When left to our own devices, our food decisions are often stressed by imperfect information regarding buying responsibly, sourcing and finding a healthy diet. Ultimately this requires more time to read labels, check prices and find a good tomato in February. We have all been there: walking out through the sliding doors of the grocery store, pushing a full cart, wondering if you could have shopped a little more efficiently, a little more responsibly. As we engage more directly with those who live to grow our food, we gain a better idea of what exactly we are buying. By getting involved with local food systems, we know our money is going towards supporting not only personal health, but it helps develop the community around us. As we open up the dialogue around food,  perspective changes from prescriptive dining, to descriptive eating, where meals are flexible and revolve around what is seasonally available. With this shift comes the understanding that there aren’t really tomatoes in February, and instead creates the question, “what do I do with mustard greens?” It is an exciting question to confront because it requires reaching outside of our world to share ideas with other people. That question is an opportunity to learn what others in the community are doing in their kitchen, and try something new.

In talking with Gigi, my confoundment with mustard greens turned into an opportunity to expand my cooking knowledge. So, to continue the trend, I will pass on what I learned. Whether or not you cook this recipe, I hope that it inspires a new way to cook seasonally in your kitchen.

This recipe is pulled, and altered, from a cookbook by Esquire called “Eat like a Man”. Below is the recipe, with my own adjustments marked with an asterisk. The actual recipe does not actually call for mustard, but it seemed an ammenable alteration. The mustard’s bite provides sharp contrast to the rich, nutty flavor of pork. For anyone who does not eat meat, a similar effect could be gained by sauteing an egg with the greens, then baking in walnuts. Who knows, your alteration could make this even better! But i digress… and here is the recipe:

Ingredients:

Polenta:

9 cups water

2 tsp coarse salt

2 tbsp olive oil

3 cup ground cornmeal (Hummingbird Wholesale)

3/4 cup grated Parmesan

1 tbsp unsalted butter

Ground black Pepper

Sausage: 

2 tbsp unsalted butter (I used olive oil*)

4 garlic cloves, chopped (Groundwork Organics)

2 lb ground pork (DD Ranch)

Red pepper flakes *

1 cup milk (Gerry’s Dairy)

2 cups chopped mustard greens (Windflower Farm) *

1/2 red onion (Cinco Estrellas) *

12 sage, or tarragon leaves (Sakestruck herbary)

Cooking Instructions:

To make the polenta: Bring the water to a boil in a large pot. Add the salt and olive oil, reduce the heat until the water is simmering. Gently rain the cornmeal into the simmering water; add slowly and whisk as you pour to prevent lumps. Cover and set on a very low heat; periodically remove the lid and stir. The polenta will get very thick. After 25-30 minutes, or so, stir in the parmesan, butter, and pepper. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm until ready to stir.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees

To make the sausage: In a large saute pan over medium heat, melt the butter until foamy (or heat the oil). Saute the garlic and herbs, onion until the garlic is golden brown, about 3 minutes. Add the sausage and pepper flakes and stir with a wooden spoon, breaking up any chunks, and cook until the pork loses its pink color and is slightly brown around the edges. Add in the mustard, and sit until it begins to wilt, less than 1 minute. Add the milk,  cover and reduce heat to braise. Cook until almost no liquid remains, 20 min.

Spread oil in the bottom of a 12 inch cast iron skillet. Pour the polenta in first, covering evenly. Spoon the sausage mixture over top. Then, top with crumbled gorgonzola cheese and a bit more parmesan. Bake in the oven, uncovered, for golden and bubbly, about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven, let it cool for a bit, and then serve.

If you get the pork and polenta going at the same time, the total cooking period is about 50 minutes. This dish is easy, has simple prep, and it loaded with flavor!

 

 

Follow Your Food: Thai Chicken Larb

In my last post I talked about how food is a vehicle to connect with culture outside of our own, and did a recipe on Thai Red Curry to bring some eastern flavor into our Kitchen, and the curry was just awesome. Also, this time of year there is a lot of fresh, brassicas growing, which means cooking dishes with sharp mustard flavors and Asian origin. So, naturally, this time around I wanted to continue the Thai trend. It is also the advent of regional spring lettuce season. Crisp, turgid lettuce leaves provide the perfect vessel for wrapping up a lot of flavor without soaking in juices. Now, I am not opposed to wiping my plate clean with a hearty piece chunk of baguette; but for the sake of the spring, the juicier, the better!

The lettuce I am using comes from this week’s produce box. These mixed varieties of romaine and red leaf come from James of Radicle Roots Farm, which is a sustainable market garden located just 12 miles outside of Bend. Their philosophy is simple, “healthy soil grows healthy food, which is the underlying principal for cultivating a reciprocally sustainable agrarian system. As first generation farmers, their goal is to bring vibrant energy and a passion for future generations to our local food system. I will write more about James and Radicle Roots at a later date, once I can get out to the farm with him and dig into his operation. But for now, let his lettuce speak as a testament to their quality care and fresh produce.

I was talking with James this Tuesday when he came by to drop off his produce for the week, and inspired me on the idea of using his lettuce as a wrap. So I set off to find a good recipe for lettuce wraps, and found one that incorporates Thai Larb (or Laap).  Larb is the national dish of Laos and has been incorporated into the culinary  tradition northern Thailand where there ay many people of Laotian descent. It combines raw or cooked minced meat, spices, mint, basil and is often served on lettuce leaves. It is traditionally a spicy dish, where spice adds complexity into the flavor of a dish. Southeast Asian meals derive their spice from capsicum chilis, cumin, garlic, and ginger. The watery lettuce leaves counterbalance the heat, and cool your palate at the end of a bite. This provides a rather refreshing physical experience to dining on a warm, sunny day. Since it is not quite pepper season in the high desert, I brought in spice with red chili flakes, garlic from Groundwork Organics and ginger from Bob at Tumalo Fish and Vegetable Farm. And because it is the aforementioned spring brassica season, I chopped up some of Windflower Farms asian greens to add some mustardy zest into the mix.

I pulled my recipe from one I found by Williams Sonoma. Due to what I had in the pantry, and what is available seasonally, I made some adjustments. No doubt it is good with or without amending the original format.

Ingredients:

  • 6 Tbs soy sauce
  • 2 Tbs rice vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar, since that is what is in my pantry)
  • 2 Tbs Asian sesame oil
  • 1 Tbs Asian fish sauce
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • 2 Tbs vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions, white and light green portions
  • 1 1/2 Tbs peeled and grated fresh ginger
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes (I would also recommend finding a red thai chili to cook in)
  • 1 1/4 lb ground chicken (I used chicken thighs, which I diced up myself)
  • Lettuce leaves for serving
  • Bean sprouts and fresh cilantro and basil leaves for serving
    • I did not have either the basil or the sprouts, but I did add in sliced hakurei turnips from Windflower Farm as a garnish, which was spot on

Cooking Directions:

  1. In a bowl, stir together the soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, fish sauce, sugar and lime juice. Set aside.
  2. In a wok or large fry pan over medium-high heat, warm the oil. Add the green onions, ginger, garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Add half the soy sauce mixture and cook 1 minute more.
  3. In a wok or large fry pan over medium-high heat, warm the oil. Add the green onions, ginger, garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Add half the soy sauce mixture and cook 1 minute more.
  4. To serve, spoon about 3 Tbs. of the chicken mixture into a lettuce leaf, top with bean sprouts, cilantro and basil, and wrap the lettuce around the filling. But that is just the recommended serving style. To do this family style, I put all of the add ons on a few plates and allowed for self serve. Put the the remaining soy sauce mixture alongside in a small bowl for dipping

This dish is just amazing, and I cant even imagine how much better it would be if I had some basil, bean sprouts and thai chilis on hand…

 

Eating Smart

Written by Jenni Hepburn for Agricultural Connections

Fresh Food for a New You: Foods for a Healthy Detox

Your average detox diet typically involves a week or more eating very little and feeling terrible, but does it have to be that way? Really, there’s no reason why a supposedly healthy detox should involve starving yourself; instead, load your plate with fabulous fresh produce, and make it an enjoyable experience instead of a miserable one.

The Problem with Detox Diets

The word “detox” used to be linked mostly with alcohol or drug withdrawal, and while that definition of the word is still in use, many people also associate the word with restrictive diets that supposedly rid the body of harmful toxins. However, there’s no scientific evidence that the body benefits from detox diets, and in reality, many of the popular detox menus are unhealthy, and some are downright dangerous. For example, the “Master Cleanse” involves ingesting nothing but a drink made from lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper—for ten days. Many people who try cleanses like this one experience nausea, dizziness, fatigue, headaches, muscle aches, and vomiting, because cleanse menus tend to be dangerously low in calories, essential vitamins and minerals, and fat and protein. There’s nothing healthy at all about restrictive cleanses like these; they’re really just crash diets in disguise.

The Healthy Way to Detox

So, is there any benefit to a detox? Sure—as long as you approach it in the right frame of mind. A detox shouldn’t be about getting rid of toxins; in fact, your liver, kidneys, and immune system do the job of eliminating waste and toxins just fine. A restrictive cleanse might result in weight loss, but at best it’s only water weight, and at worst, may be lost muscle mass due to protein restriction.

Instead, think of detox as a way to make a significant and long-lasting change in the way you eat, by eliminating processed and nutrient-poor foods from your diet. A healthy detox diet should include plenty of fresh, unprocessed food, rich in nutrients, with protein and fat along with complex carbohydrates, and lots of water. Many cleanse menus eliminate things like dairy and wheat products, and this can actually be beneficial, since many of these foods are processed, and add extra fat and sugar to the diet. In short, consider a detox diet as a way to remove unhealthy processed foods from your diet for good, and make a permanent transition into clean and healthy eating.

Try a berrylicious smoothie at breakfast: Add a banana and some almond milk, and load up your blender with a variety of different berries to pack vitamins, minerals, and fiber into a smoothie. It makes a delicious and nutritious start to the day, with added chia, flax, or hemp seeds for healthy fat and protein.

Enjoy a green lunch: Leafy greens of all kinds are the ideal detox staple, with high levels of essential vitamins and minerals like potassium and calcium, and vitamins A, C, and K, along with fiber and a little protein. The perfect detox salad should include plenty of greens, along with a serving of garbanzo or other beans for protein. Choose an oil-based dressing, like a simple lemon juice or balsamic vinaigrette—many vitamins can only be absorbed in the presence of dietary fat.

Have an evening fish feast: Many cleanse and detox diets reduce protein intake to dangerous levels, which can lead to loss of muscle mass. Buck this unhealthy trend by including lots of fresh fish in your detox menu, especially wild-caught salmon, which is high in omega-3 fats and low in mercury. Other good options include fresh tilapia, trout, and black sea bass.

Helpful herbs: Herbs like basil, chervil, chives, and cilantro are great way to add fresh flavor to salad greens, and dill, ginger, and fennel are perfect for infusing steamed fish. Try lining a steamer with leaves of kale or spinach, top with fresh dill and lemon zest, then rest fresh salmon filets on top. Turn the fish once during the cooking time, and the herbs will impart some amazing flavor to the fish. Many herbs, with their pungent aromas and strong flavors, are high in phytochemicals, the plant compounds that give vegetables and fruits their vibrant colors, and are believed to help protect against cancer development.

 

Sources

American Cancer Society. “Phytochemicals.” Accessed June 3, 2014. Description and overview of phytochemicals.

CBS News. “Do Detox Diets Work? Are they Safe?” Accessed June 3, 2014. How to detox safely.

Detox. “Guide to Medically-Assisted Detox.” Accessed June 3, 2014. How long does the process take?

Gourmet Sleuth. “Salad Herbs.” Accessed June 3, 2014. Fresh herbs for salads.

The Herb Information Site. “Herbs with Seafood Dishes.” Accessed June 3, 2014. Matching herbs and fish.

The Master Cleanse. “The Lemonade Diet.” Accessed June 3, 2014. About The Master Cleanse.

Washington State Department of Health. “Healthy Fish Guide.” Accessed June 3, 2014. A guide to the healthiest fish.

Checking Out Chard

Written by Jenni Hepburn for Agricultural Connections

Rainbow Chard

There are lots of great reasons to eat locally—the food is fresher and tastes better, and buying locally-produced food helps support area farmers and stimulates your regional economy. When you buy local food produced in-season, you’re also getting fresh produce that packs a much more powerful nutritional punch. Fresh rainbow chard is a gorgeous riot of color with crisp leaves and crunchy stems—full of nutrients and a great flavor that pairs well with a wide range of foods and seasonings.

Nutritional Profile and Health Benefits

Chard is one of the most nutrient-rich vegetables in the world, with high levels of many different vitamins and minerals. Just one cup of cooked chard provides between 10% and 60% of the daily requirement of nearly a dozen different nutrients.

Vitamin K: Needed for healthy bones, and may protect against heart disease.

Vitamin A: An antioxidant that helps protect against certain eye diseases.

Vitamin C: Antioxidant that boosts the immune system and is necessary for collagen production. Also enhances iron absorption.

Magnesium: Important in bone health and regulation of metabolism.

Copper: Enhances antioxidant activity, required for collagen production, and helps protect against anemia.

Manganese: Needed for healthy bones and skin, and plays a role in regulating blood sugar.

Potassium: This mineral is an electrolyte, and is essential to heart and nervous system function. It’s also important for regulating blood pressure and may help protect against the development of kidney stones.

Vitamin E: An antioxidant that helps protect against heart disease.

Iron: As a component of red blood cells this mineral is used to transport oxygen around the body.

Choline: Essential for healthy nervous system function.

Vitamin B2: Important for energy production, and helps protect against anemia.

Calcium: Essential for bone health.

As a leafy green vegetable with stalks in vibrant rainbow hues, rainbow chard is also full of plant-specific compounds called phytonutrients that have additional benefits. Phytonutrients in rainbow chard include syringic acid, beta-carotene, and lutein.

While the exact way in which some phytonutrients benefit health are not yet firmly established, it is thought that many of these compounds help repair DNA damage, reduce inflammation, improve cellular metabolism, enhance the immune response, and have antioxidant activity. Many studies indicate, for example, that carotenoids like beta-carotene help protect against heart disease, and that even a single daily serving of leafy greens can reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. Other studies show that eating foods that are high in lutein helps prevent age-related macular degeneration, an eye disease that leads to vision deterioration and can cause blindness. Finally, syringic acid helps regulate blood sugar by slowing down the conversion of complex carbohydrates into simple sugars.

Ideas for Cooking with Rainbow Chard

Chard varieties are highly versatile. Just like spinach and kale, they can be used in a wide variety of ways, and in countless different dishes. Most varieties taste fairly similar, regardless of stalk color—a little sweet and very slightly bitter, similar to spinach but with a milder flavor. Flavors that go well with chard of all kinds include garlic, shallots and onions, vinaigrettes, cream-based sauces, and lemon. In general, anything you can do with spinach, you can also do with chard, but the cooking time for chard is slightly longer.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to cooking with chard. One says that the leaves should be treated in the same way as spinach, and the stalks in the same way as asparagus. The second doesn’t differentiate between stalks and leaves; instead, just chop the greens together, and chop the stalks more finely than the leaves to even out the cooking time. Choosing a method depends on personal preference and the dish you’re preparing—for some you may prefer to omit stalks, as they are somewhat tougher than leaves.

Some quick-and-easy ideas for cooking with rainbow chard include:

  • Chopped raw chard can be added to salads, and pairs well with lemon-based vinaigrette.
  • Use chard instead of spinach in vegetarian lasagna.
  • Add chopped leaves and stalks to egg-based dishes like frittata and quiche.
  • Sauté with garlic and olive oil, add toasted pine nuts, plate, and then dress with lemon juice. Alternatively, add grated parmesan and red pepper flakes in place of the pine nuts. Both options are perfect as a side dish or tossed with cooked pasta.
  • Add finely-sliced stalks and leaves to chicken, pasta, or white bean soups, and simmer for a few minutes just before serving.
  • Top pizza with a mixture of sautéed chopped chard, onions, and pancetta or bacon.
  • Use the leaves (minus stalks) as wraps for spring rolls or as a substitute for vine leaves for stuffed vine leaf recipes.
  • Try raw chard leaves in place of lettuce in lettuce leaf wraps.

 

Sources

101 Cookbooks. “Chard Recipes.”  Accessed April 4, 2014. Healthy chard recipes using all-natural ingredients.

JM Hirsch, for The Food Network. “Off the Beaten Aisle: Rainbow Chard.” Accessed April 4, 2014. Cooking with chard.

Kwikmed. “Complete Video Guide to Heart Disease.” Accessed April 4, 2014. Dietary guidelines for cardio health.

Rita Klavinski, for MichiganStateUniversity. “7 Benefits of Eating Local Foods.” Accessed April 4, 2014. Why it’s better to eat local.

The World’s Healthiest Foods. “Swiss Chard.” Accessed April 4, 2014. Nutritional information for chard varieties.

United States Department of Agriculture. “Phytonutrient FAQ.” Accessed April 4, 2014. Information about plant-specific nutrients.

True Star Health. “Swiss Chard.” Accessed April 4 2014. Chard: Preparation, uses and tips.