Friday, March 22, 2013

Alternative Greens


In Fergus Henderson's cookbook masterpiece, The Whole Beast, the now cliché term 'nose-to-tail cooking' was not intended for the fauna of the world alone. The flora can also be approached with a waste-not-want-not-approach.

To quote Chef Henderson:

"Given the carnivorous overtones of a book on the whole beast, it is possible to forget the holistic (not wanting to sound new age) connotations of nose to tail eating. There is equal respect for the carrot; once radishes are eaten, their leaves are turned into a peppery salad. The spirit of time and place, enjoying the limitations of the indigenous season."

Given that the Spring season is stubbornly refusing to rouse herself from under a duvet of snow (not unlike my daughter on a school morning), I have had to find new and interesting ways to celebrate humble winter vegetables. One such way, as per Fergus Henderson, is to start looking at the parts of the vegetable that one would typically toss into the bin. Take beet greens for example. Grocery stores treat these tasty delicacies with such disdain that it's a wonder we can find any that are still intact. I found some the other day and quickly got them home before the greens were damaged any further by the rough manhandling that the part-time teenage staff are want to do to the veg (there really is an argument for 'green grocer' being a professional designation).

I removed the greens from the beets immediately when I got them back from the store. The beets themselves will keep for a long time in the crisper, but the leaves are very perishable. I cleaned them up, cut out the worst of the stalky bits (just like cleaning chard or kale), then gave them a very good wash. Raw, they are a little to tough to eat, although the stalks have a lovely mild beet flavour--like beets meets chard meets celery. I opt to give them a very quick blanch in boiling salted water. The don't really need more than three or four minutes. Then I take them out, drain them slightly and then give them a little spin in my salad spinner to remove a bit more of the water. I then toss the greens in olive oil and sprinkle with some sharp goat's cheese feta. I served this along with some roast fingerling potatoes and a baked fillet of trout. Terribly healthy, but lets not hold that against it - tasty nosh either way.

I also decided to do some 'whole beast' cooking with a radish. If caught before they become brown and wilty, the greens on the top of a radish are a lovely peppery salad green, almost like a hearty leaf of arugula. The greens were washed, picked over and tossed in a salad with some of the sliced radishes, whole parsley leaves, capers,  pan roasted walnuts and then dressed delicately with a vinaigrette of grainy mustard, red wine vinegar, honey and oil. 

Yes, I suppose this dinner smacks of something that a nutritionist might throw together for a diet cookbook - in my mind a negative - I figure if you take a balanced approach to whole, fresh ingredients and cook from scratch, you're going to be healthy either way, so like Julia Child, I ignore the 'diet police' and focus on flavour. The French are among the healthiest people on earth, n'est-ce pas?  However, there is something to be said for a healthful and appreciative use of good old root vegetables.

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