Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Hills Are Alive with Fields of Mustard

Here's my column from the Petaluma Post for April...

As April rolls into Sonoma County our hillsides glow with beautiful yellow mustard blossoms.  But did you
Dandelion Greens
know that you can actually eat them?  The wild mustard plant that we love so much can be found around the world from the Himalayas to Denmark, California to India. 

Growing wild around our area you would not think of eating what so many think of as a weed.  Being a member of the brassica family, like radish/ turnip/broccoli, all aspects of the plant are edible.  The yellow flowers can be picked, yellow, white or purple and tossed in salads to add a light peppery touch.  There are numerous varieties with greens that are eaten, and the seed has been ground for 1000s of years for condiments.  Many consider it a super food being high in vitamins A, C, and D, plus calcium, potassium and iron.

I am not suggesting that you run out to the field and pick your dinner, although many do.  However I would like to recommend taking a different look at your produce basket. Tender mustard greens are the first peek of fresh produce to hit the farmers markets. 

Baby red frill mustard is one of my absolute favorites. In the spring it is tender and lacy and a great addition for spicy salads.

Red Frill Salad
Serves 4
4 oz red frill mustard
1 head escarole (a very hearty leaf green, close in flavor to iceberg)
1 small head fennel, shaved
2 blood oranges, juiced
1 Tbl white wine vinegar
2 Tbl olive oil
1 tsp honey
Salt and pepper to taste
2 oz Chèvre

Trim off the end of the mustard and gently break in to smaller size if necessary.  Cut escarole to bite size pieces, toss with fennel and mustard, and set aside.  Combine, honey, blood orange juice and vinegar, whisk to combine, then whisk in olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.  Toss as needed to coat the greens.  Top with Chevre

Another great use is as an uncooked green.  What do I mean by that?  When making a vegetable sauté I love to throw a hand full of greens in after I have taken the vegetables off the stove, just before serving.  The color just pops, but the integrity of the greens holds up well.  I also often toss my greens with just a bit of salt, pepper and olive oil, and then at plate up put them on the bottom of the plate and top with your hot items.  Grilled
 Salmon or other fish are my favorites, the heat of the meat is just enough to wilt the greens.

Another great spring green is dandelions.  Yes that weed that you pull out of your lawn is also very healthy and edible, but I suggest getting it from your grocer.  The long slender leaves are bright green in color and have a slightly bitter taste.  You want to look for young tender leaves without a thick back vein.  The have a lightly spicy flavor and can be added into many dishes or sautéed on their own.

When cooking greens I like to choose younger greens, usually from the bulk area not bunches. I have found that 6 ounces will be a pretty full bag and about what I need for dinner for 2 people.  It seems that I never have a large enough pot to hold that much; it will wilt down to less than 2 cups at the end, but keeping it all in a small pot is like heard cats.  I have found that if I take a large microwave bowl and place the greens in it and heat for 1 to 2 minutes, they will just begin to wilt and be much easy to handle.

Wilted Greens
1 small onion, sliced
4 strips bacon, chopped
2 Tbl olive oil
6 oz spring mustard, red frill, red rain or dandelion greens
1-2 Tbl balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Wilt greens in a large bowl in the microwave.  Heat the olive oil in a deep skillet, then add the bacon and onions, and sauté until onions are tender and bacon is cooked through.  Add greens to the bacon and onions, toss through until warm.  Finish with balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper

From flowers to dinner, don’t forget to stop and smell the mustard.

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