Pass the Polenta

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Apparently there’s a lot of negative press surrounding polenta, something about it being a weird texture, something else about having to stir it constantly, and something crazy about lack of flavor.

Well, I’m here to tell you: don’t listen to the haters! They don’t know what they’re talkin’ about. Polenta can have the creamiest texture, its certainly not any fussier than rice or quinoa, and by golly, if it isn’t more flavorful and delicious because it’s grown all over the country!

It’s interesting, so many people are readily jumping on the organic, local, heirloom bandwagon for their fruits & vegetables…but why don’t we think the same way for our grains? Or our beans, nuts, seeds, oils, etc….but that will be for another post!

I bought some locally-grown, freshly-milled polenta at a farmer’s market, though you can also get it online – and gosh darn, if it wasn’t the most flavorful grain dish I’ve ever had! Yes! I’m including ALL grains! Ever!

And simple. Without further adieu:

Creamy Squash Polenta

If you want to try a bit fancier, though not really complicated recipe – try this one. Basically it enables you to make creamy polenta hours before you want to serve it, and then let it sit, undisturbed, becoming creamier & richer. Can’t complain too much about that…

And the really great thing about polenta, is that it makes wonderful leftovers. It’ll harden up in a few hours and then you can serve it cold or fried, or some other creative way that I don’t know yet. For me, I gave it a little pan fry and then made a sun-dried tomato pesto for the top. Yum.

So get on the polenta bandwagon! Support your local grain farmer – and avoid those pesky GMOs! And enjoy some truly delicious, nutritious (dietary fiber, zinc, iron, magnesium and lots of beta-carotene) meals!!

Skip the Meat, Beat the Heat

It’s hot!! After a long morning of working in the sun, the last thing I want to do is slave away over a stove to prepare lunch. But some summer vegetables are just asking for at least a quick saute. What to do?

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Ever heard of a terrine? You layer ingredients into a baking dish, press down firmly to force everything together, and then enjoy it the next day. Anything can go into a terrine, and I figured I’d try and pack as many vegetables as possible in there – trying to stay within the limits of what we’ll be providing to our CSA this weekend.

The “recipe” is pretty simple, as it’s really more of an idea. I went out and collected my ingredients: eggplant, summer squash, hot peppers, onions, garlic, bush beans, kale, and basil. Any summer vegetable would work well in here though, it’s just about the proper layering technique and the right amount of liquid.

After collecting, I built up a little fire and started chopping my vegetables as I waited for the perfect cooking coals. If you don’t want to grill or work over an open flame, roasting in the oven would work fine as well. I sliced the eggplant, squash and onions about 1/4 inch thick. Peppers, garlic and beans stayed whole. Everything got a little shake in some olive oil, salt, and pepper, and then onto the grill. Compliments to all grillers out there: it is definitely an art form, I applaud your skill.

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Once everything was tender and charred with grill marks and smelling musky and wonderful, I started layering into a 4-inch deep glass pan. First the eggplant, overlapping pieces to make sure every square inch was covered. Then the squash, then peppers, onions & garlic, then kale and basil, and finally the bush beans. Cover with plastic wrap, weigh it down, and stick it in the fridge until the next day. Eat it cold or at room temperature, and impress everyone with your skills. I’ll be the first to admit I viewed this as more of a homey, art project than a sophisticated, intricate dish – it turned out beautiful and tasty, but did not hold together quite as well as I was expecting.

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So to offer a few suggestions for your terrine adventure:

1) Use sauce!! I served mine on the side, and I should’ve been layering it in with the grilled vegetables. Try pesto or roasted garlic dip or cashew cheese (or ricotta, etc.). Smear it in between each layer of vegetables to get them to stick together.
2) Cook all the vegetables. My mid-terrine kale salad was just that. Kale leaves should be steamed or lightly grilled or left out. There are probably other possibilities, but I can tell you that thin, raw strips does NOT work.
3) Go for multiple layers. I think if I could’ve had another layer of eggplant and squash on top of everything, I’d have had a much better chance of keeping things together.
4) Or just layer better. Use long strips of zucchini to make a crust on the bottom and sides. Consider chopping vegetables smaller and making more of a paste or pate.
5) Improve the unveiling. Layer the vegetables in plastic wrap so you can overturn the whole dish and flip the terrine out like a cake. Really do not be afraid to weigh it down when you stick it in the fridge overnight.

No meal would be complete without some dips, so I whipped up some “pesto” and “hummus” to serve with my terrine. Garlic scapes + parsley + dill + basil for the pesto. Peas + roasted garlic + tahini for the hummus. A nice, cool meal for a hot, hard-workin’ farm crew. With that off the grill taste. Can’t beat it. DSC_0138

A Trio of Kale Salads

Our CSA has been featuring quite a few green things, with kale being a superstar (in my opinion). Full shares received a whopping pound of this amazing superfood, and I felt obliged to share a few recipes with them upon hearing how many people were not into the “bitter taste.”

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Kale, in general, has a deep, earthy flavor, but the flavor, texture, and look ranges over all the different varieties. For example, Toscano/Lacinato/Dinosaur kale tends to be sweeter and more delicate when compared to Curly/Winterbor kale, which has a lively, pungent flavor. Ornamental varieties like Red Russian or Rainbow Lacinata have their own unique properties as well. And they’ve each got dishes that they work best in, too. Toscano, with its long, narrow leaves, is great in salads. Curly kale makes the best chips. The possibilities are endless. Just ask me.

I’m sure you’ve probably heard other people ranting and raving about kale, and if you still haven’t jumped on the bandwagon, let me give you a quick run down of the nutritional reasons to try this amazing vegetable out:
-Great source of antioxidants like vitamin C, beta-carotene, manganese and flavonoids
-Significant amount of fiber and omega-3 fatty acids
-Rich source of glucosinolates, which the body converts into cancer preventive compounds
-Twice the vitamin K of other cruciferous vegetables
-A delicious way to get some copper, calcium, vitamin B6 and potassium

There’s a lot of debate about raw versus cooked kale (and other vegetables), and for me, it just comes down to balance. Are you having a smoothie or salad? Go raw. Are you looking for a hearty, warming meal? Add some steamed kale. Are you craving a salty snack? Eat some kale chips! Mix it up, and listen to what your body needs. Here were the two recipes I provided to our CSA:

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And here’s a third “recipe” as an example of how to turn this green leafy vegetable into your main dish:

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Curried Kale, Squash and Lentils

Squash – butternut, banana, or sweet potatoes – they are naturally sweet and easy to cut
Lentils – green or brown hold up better than red
Kale – any variety, but a flatter leaf is easier to work with
Spices – curry powder, cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, paprika, cayenne

**I’m not giving any quantities because believe it or not, you can decide!! Do you want this to be a side? Go with more kale, fewer lentils. Do you love Indian flavors? Pile on the curry powder. Find your desired flavor profile, and go with it.

Peel your squash, scoop out the pulp, and cut into 1-in cubes.
Drizzle coconut (or sunflower or olive) oil, and a little salt and pepper on the squash. (you can also add spices to get more depth of flavor in your dish)
Roast squash in 400 degree oven until soft & starting to brown, checking on it every 15 min and turning it as needed. Takes 30-40 minutes depending on size of chunks.

In a 2:1 ratio, combine water and lentils. Bring to a rapid simmer, then turn heat down to low and cook until lentils are tender, about 15-20 min. Feel free to add some spices to your lentils, but save the salt until final flavoring.

Meanwhile, chop up a huge handful of kale. Leaves, stems, everything. Add it into the lentils in the last few minutes of cooking to soften the leaves. You can add the stem parts before the leaves if you aren’t into the crunch.
Drain the water, add a touch of salt, pepper, juice of half a lemon and stir.

Combine the squash, lentils, and kale for a delicious, warm meal, and eat the leftovers cold!

This dish tastes great with chopped prunes or dates, golden raisins, slivered/toasted almonds, and even a little blue cheese.

Any stew, grain/bean or noodle dish you love to make would probably benefit from a little kale. Start out small and work your way up to a full kale salad or smoothie…but the more you try it, the more you’ll start to appreciate it’s taste and powerful source of nutrition (this is coming from a kale/green vegetable hater). And the more you’ll find how versatile it really is!