Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mustard greens, three ways

The colder it gets, the harder it is to shop for fruits and vegetables exclusively at the farmers’ market. I miss strawberries on my cheerios. I crave plantains like it’s my job. Eating seasonally is rough, but eating local is even harder. I can make do without asparagus until spring, but it’s clementine season and I don’t think there are any thriving groves in Chicago. Eventually I’m going to break down and buy more than the occasional lemon or lime, but I’m trying to stick to the market for now.

This week market shopping paid off as we picked up our first pound of mustard greens (not to be mistaken for “big parsley”). I know neither Alex nor I would ever have chosen mustard greens at the g-store, where the commonplace mixed-lettuce bag reigns supreme, but in a basket on a folding table, next to a big pile of sweet potatoes (because what else is there?), the mustard greens found their moment.

We’ve had three preparations of mustard greens this week, each showcasing a different element of their exceedingly pleasing character.

The first was a salad. Raw, these curly leaves are delightfully spicy and crisp, without being watery. They have more chew than your regular salad lettuce, but there is no lack of bite. I dressed the greens in olive oil, lemon juice, and salt, then added anything I found in the fridge in an attempt to disguise the raging pep of the mustard. Apples, toasted almonds, radishes, goat cheese. The apple/almond/goatcheese pairing was spot on, but not for the reason I’d thought. (The radishes were a mistake: unnecessary and out of place. I pushed them to the side (not pictured).) The toasty nuttiness, sweet juice, and creamy tang were just right with the peppery greens, intensifying the zing, not masking it. Alex described it as “light… with a bite... [and] topped with crunch.” Take what you will from that.

The real winner for me this week has been my lunch sandwich: sourdough toast, fresh goat cheese, and mustard greens. Tang and zing—bangarang! It is fantastic. It is such a simple sandwich, however, complex in flavor. The key is the quality of the ingredients. Bread, cheese, and veg are all fresh and local. These ingredients are like three fifth-grade girls with broken necklaces that say “Best” and “Friends” and “Forever.”

Thirdly, we had wilted mustard greens. The greens in this preparation are blanched in boiling water, then cooled to stop the cooking, drained of excess liquid, chopped, and sautĂ©ed in butter and garlic. (My own BFF, Sarah, sent me a recipe; clearly, I worked from different quantities.) With less than a pound of starting material, we had barely two servings of cooked greens but they were worth it. I’d describe the finished product with one word: Bitter—in a good way. On a plate with chicken in cider-mustard sauce (see what I did there?) and cheese-crusted squash, the bitter greens provided a much-needed balance. I’d go so far as to say, “They put the must’ in mustard greens.” Except I don’t want to sound lame.

So I’ve discovered a new flavorite, and it’s been recipe-successipe here this week. I am planning on cheating soon, though. These are on my Christmas list:

4 comments:

  1. I want that lunch sandwich!

    We bought a box of clementines from Target and not even going to lie they are heaven-sent. But I understand, sister. I understand.

    Great post!

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  2. Sweet. Before I saw that salad I hadn't even thought to eat mustard greens raw, because of their distinctive mustardy taste. Next time I get a bunch, I'll try it.

    I was drawn to them at the market for their amazingly green color the first time I bought them. I love how the color stays after wilting.

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  3. Am obviously late to this culinary event. Make me a sandwich, says your mom, who until then will make do (note spelling) with a pre-packaged (in five separate pieces of plastic) salad. Help me help me.

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  4. I tried to make your sandwich into a salad (see GoodThymeGirl Rosh HaShonah 5772, but my changes didn't work, alas. Maybe becaus I couldn’t find isolated mustard greens? I tossed mixed cooking greens with cute little French bread croutons on which goat cheese had been spread. Added some Asian pears and used bottled Newman’s Own Balsamic Dressing (which Donna used with pears and toasted walnuts.) Almost a great idea... But I think I'll go back and just try the sandwich.

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