Friday, July 5, 2013

Too many greens? Make this Green Chowder

This is my third year having a subscription to a CSA. (what is a CSA?) Each farm has been excellent to work with. The customer service and food quality have been great. The problem I still have is getting too much food of what I don't want and not enough of what I do want.  Last year I got a huge box of food every week. It was an extremely hot summer. There was a little wilting from the heat. I had to hurry to pick up the box and quickly get the greens into the cold water bath to reinvigorate them, wash them and put them into the fridge. This chore took up to 2 hours every Thursday. I still have spinach in the freezer from those days. Every delivery is a new adventure. I am delighted to receive things that you only get if you grow them your self like garlic scapes and heirloom varieties. The boxes contain foods I love and my kids will eat. Usually we never got enough of those kinds of veggies. I also have a medium size garden. Sometimes there is just too much food to manage. It stresses me out because I don't want to waste any of it. Only a few of the foods don't freeze well, so I just need to time to work on it.

In the early part of the season comes a lot of known and unknown greens. I didn't grow up eating cooked greens. I have learned to grow and cook them but a little goes a long way. I'm not too fond of them.  I know kale smoothies are all the rage these days. I think eating kale raw is a mistake if done more than once in a while. It's a digestion and assimilation issue. Plus, raw kale is goitrogenic. I purchased Greens, Glorious Greens!, a cookbook with some new ideas. I tried a few recipes with varying results.There are more I need to try, though some are too carby for me.  I recommend this cookbook (caveat: the song from Ice Age 2  might get stuck in your head. Yes, I know it's from Oliver but I like this one.)

I love supporting local food. It makes sense economically, nutritionally, and sustainably. The food is fresher, more nutrient dense and uses less energy to deliver it to the customer. The CSA I have this year is a very small one. I was friends with the farmers before they started the CSA. I respect them 100%. Having heard their lectures on gardening, I know their food as the very highest quality available. Yet, I'm still frustrated by the greens.

Here's one of my coping mechanisms - Green Chowder. (I was going to call it WTF CSA!? Chowder, but I thought I should be nice.) I got the idea from this Onion Puree Soup Recipe, which the author used to alleviate  urinary tract infection symptoms. That recipe starts with sauteing four kinds of onions in a stick of butter, adding water and pureeing it with the blender. It is a pretty good soup and successfully worked for the intended purpose. It is a very nice base for any kind of cream-of soup and it doesn't call for any flour. The idea with the recipe below is to create a thick chowder base and change the seasonings to make different soups. I have made it with chard, spinach, kale, arugula, dandelions and stuff I can't identify. The first CSA year was a cold spring. I got LOTS of green onions from the CSA plus from my garden.

Green Chowder Base
Ingredient amounts are based on quantities of the greens you are using up. Use more fat and broth as needed.

2-3 tablespoons fat (chicken fat, lard, bacon fat, beef tallow, coconut oil, olive oil, butter - whatever you want to cook with)
bunches of greens, washed, stems trimmed as needed
1 quart of bone broth
1 onion, chopped  (optional)
1 few cloves of garlic (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Wash and trim your greens. Chopping is unnecessary (but it depends on your blender). Heat the stock pot to medium high. Add fat/oil until shimmering. Add onion and garlic if using. Add a bunch of greens. Put the lid on and let it wilt. Check on it in a few minutes and stir it around. Add broth. Do you have more greens? add them in batches. Put the lid on until wilted.

Get out the blender or immersion blender (preferred). Puree the whole thing until no identifiable particles remain. If you didn't chop the greens beforehand, you may need to turn off the stick blender and pull pieces out of the blade from time to time. Taste your creation  to know how much salt and pepper to add.

Ideas for this chowder: 

  • eat it as is
  • add meat and vegetables for texture and flavor
  • Add some heavy cream or butter and make cream-of asparagus soup, broccoli soup, carrot soup, cauliflower soup, mushroom soup... 
  • Add chicken and lemon juice or make it into Avgolemono.
  • It  might make a nice green Vichyssoise
  • Thai inspired: 2 cups chowder, 1 can of coconut milk, 1 teaspoon chili paste, 1-2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger, garlic, lime juice, fresh cilantro or basil
  • Southern greens inspired: add bacon and 1-2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • Tex Mex inspired: chorizo, onions, bell peppers, garlic, tomatoes, green chilies (or spicier kinds like jalapeno), chili powder, fresh cilantro
  • Gazpacho: who says you have to eat it hot? Chill it, then add tomatoes, tomato juice, cucumbers, celery, bell peppers, avocado, Tabasco, etc.. then blend it all again
  • Italian inspired: tomato sauce, italian herbs (basil, oregano), olive oil, Parmesan cheese, some ground beef or italian sausage
  • Italian wedding soup: sausage, meatballs, cooked chicken or maybe pasta, italian herbs
  • German green bean soup - fresh or frozen green beans, potatoes, ham, bacon or polish sausage and the key herb is summer savory
  • Sauerkraut soup: 1-2 cups sauerkraut, pork or polish sausage
  • Goulash: tomato paste, beef stew meat, paprika, onions. 
  • German potato soup: cook peeled, diced potatoes in the chowder with a bay leaf and black pepper. Add some bacon, ham or ground beef.
  • New England Clam Chowder: clams, potatoes, celery, bacon, cream
  • Bean, split pea or lentil soup: I would cook the legumes separately, mix them into this chowder and simmer it some more.
  • chill and mix it with sour cream or cream cheese and fresh herbs as a dip 
  • Curry: cook down this base, add curry spices, meat, paneer, or chickpeas. Maybe base it on Saag Paneer

    So you get the idea. It can use up greens you don't really want to eat and maybe other leftover foods too. When I want to make a specific soup like Italian Wedding Soup or Goulash, I google it and read a few of the recipes until I have an idea of what is generally in the dish. I compare that with what I have on hand and try it out.