Last week, I took a quick tour of the produce vendors to ask what will be offered over the next few weeks and the most common response was greens. Sounds rather predictable perhaps but the Farmers’ Market is where you will find great diversity in the type of greens offered. Bags of leaf and head lettuces, arugula, cress and spinach for fresh salads. And for the wok: spicy sauté mix, kale and bok choi.
Locally grown greens offer the best nutritional bang for your buck. Plucked from the soil the day of the market, there is abundant research that demonstrates that imported and (thus well-traveled) produce typically found in grocery stores will have lost much of its nutritional value by the time they land in your shopping cart. They will likely sit in your fridge’s crisper for a few more days at which point you might as well toss them in the compost.
Grab your market bag and invest your grocery money in food that actually feeds your body! Yes, the head of lettuce from Mexico is cheaper than the bag of greens from your local farmer. But by the time the Mexican or Californian lettuce meets your digestive system, it is void of most beneficial nutrients. In addition, non-organically grown greens are typically grown in fields lacking the natural minerals and vitamins inherent to healthy soil. More and more attention is being drawn to the poor nutritional value of industrial farmed foods. Cheap, yes; supportive of your body’s needs? No!
Delicate spring salad greens are best dressed with a vinaigrette while sturdier head lettuces (Ex: Romaine) can stand up to the heavier dressings (often mayo or dairy based). Making you own dressing with quality vegetable oils is much healthier than commercially made dressings; these are often filled with additional sweeteners especially the low-fat versions.
In abundance at the market is one of the earliest vegetables out of the ground: rhubarb. And yes, botanically it is a vegetable though most of us treat it like a fruit and smother it with sugar to make pies, cobblers, crisps and sauces. Many of these dessert recipes pair rhubarb with strawberries for the unique sweet & sour blend. For a more-than-you-will-ever-need collection of both sweet and savory recipes check out Epicurious’ pages.
You will find plenty of fresh rhubarb stalks at the market over the next few weeks. (You won’t find the leaves because they naturally produce oxalic acid, a toxic compound that the plant uses to repel predators AND HURTS HUMANS.) Fresh rhubarb is more than just a pretty red face: high in calcium & potassium it also brings fiber, folate, iron and minerals to the nutritional table. With such a short growing season, you may want to stock up for the rest of the year: wash, cut and store several bags in the freezer.
The roots of rhubarb have a long history of medicinal use especially in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Dosage (the amount taken) is directly related to its medicinal effects: small dosages create an astringent or toning effect on the digestive system while larger dosages can be used for a laxative effect.
Rhubarb Vinaigrette Dressing
¼ cup honey (try to buy local honey at the market or in the bulk section of grocery stores)
½ cup water
4 stalks rhubarb (about 2 loosely packed cups), cut into thin slices
¼ cup red wine vinegar
Zest of one lemon
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Several pinches of coarse sea salt and pepper
Heat water and honey over medium heat. When the mixture begins to boil, add rhubarb and boil five minutes more, stirring often. Stir in vinegar and lemon zest, and cook five to 10 more minutes, until dressing is reduced by about half. Remove from heat, and let cool slightly. Whisk the olive oil into the dressing. Season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or cold over fresh salad greens. Yields about 2 cups.