Cook, cherish cabbage family during cold season

Practically perversely, I planned a January cooking class on making seasonal vegetables the “star” of mealtimes.

The class, I reasoned, is too easy, too obvious during the height of the growing season when students expect tomatoes, summer squash, peppers and green beans on the menu. But in the depths of winter? The approach gets quite a bit trickier.

Of course, one has to consider what’s left in the fields locally and how much and which parts of the fall harvest remain in storage. Members of the cabbage family are cold-tolerant, as are root vegetables that nestle snugly underground. And in the cellar, as it were? Onions, garlic, potatoes and winter squash.

Here’s more on the topic to mull over from the latest “Kitchen Wisdom” class in partnership with ACCESS, for which I volunteer as a cooking skills educator.

• There’s plenty of locally grown fare to eat in winter, whether cold-tolerant (hardy greens) vegetables or storage crops (potatoes, onions, garlic, winter squash).

• Winter is the season for citrus, so use it liberally (zest and juice). The bright flavor can substitute for excess salt.

• Many leafy herbs also are better in winter because they’re sweeter and don’t go to seed.

• Warming spices are comforting and add interest to plain foods. Toast them to bring out the flavor. Make your own blends from individual spices and buy in bulk sections for best price and freshness.

• Use smaller quantities of better-quality meat, but maximize its flavor by sautéing other ingredients in the fat (bacon or sausage) or combine strong flavors like tuna with mild ones, like potatoes or beans.

• Compose filling salads with protein, beans, whole grains and starchy vegetables; make your own dressings for more vibrant flavor with less fat, sugar and salt (and lower cost!).

• Use leftover roasted meat and veggies in another meal (a bean/grain bowl, soup, fried rice or salad).

The following recipe from the Kansas City Star puts a slight twist on the Southern staple of stewed collard greens and beans, cuts some of the fat in traditional recipes and speeds up the preparation. Chard or kale could be substituted, but as participants in my class confirmed, collard greens easily are the sweetest of the three once they’ve been kissed by a light frost.

Tribune News Service photo

One-Pot Beans and Greens

Nonstick cooking spray, as needed

4 slices Canadian bacon, chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped

2 carrots, chopped

1 rib celery, chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

3 cups unsalted or reduced-sodium vegetable stock

1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

1 bay leaf

1/8 teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes

Salt and pepper, to taste

2 cups coarsely chopped, lightly packed collard greens (about 3 ounces chopped, see tip)

2 (15.8-ounce) cans reduced-sodium Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed

3 slices whole-wheat bread, cut into ¾-inch cubes

1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

2 tablespoons finely shredded Parmesan cheese

Spray a Dutch oven with some of the nonstick cooking spray. Add the Canadian bacon and cook, stirring frequently, over medium heat, until bacon is lightly browned and edges begin to crisp. Remove bacon from pan using a slotted spoon and set bacon aside.

Add 1 tablespoon of the oil to Dutch oven. Add the onion, carrots and celery and cook, stirring frequently for 5 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the stock, thyme, bay leaf, red-pepper flakes, and salt and pepper. Heat until boiling.

Stir in the collard greens. Reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered, for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in the beans and Canadian bacon and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally for 10 to 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425 F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

Place the bread cubes in a zip-top plastic bag. Drizzle with remaining olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper and the garlic powder. Seal and toss to coat the bread evenly.

Spread bread cubes in a single layer on prepared baking sheet. Bake uncovered for 5 minutes; stir bread cubes. Bake for an additional 5 minutes or until edges begin to brown and cubes are crisp. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese and bake for 1 to 2 minutes or until Parmesan is melted.

Remove bay leaf from beans and discard bay leaf. Ladle beans and greens into bowls. Top each serving with crisp bread cubes.

Makes 6 servings (total yield about 7 cups).

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