Conquering the Whole Vegetable

Image by woodleywonderworks It's easy to get caught in old ways. Habits are comforting, simple, and easy. When we know what works, we stick with it. This is especially true of cooking. Whether you're a new cook or a seasoned pro, you're likely to fall into known preparations. Sometimes cooking is as simple as "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." Other times, it's time to shake things up.

Enter broccoli leaves, carrot tops, kale stems, and more. So much energy from the earth and farmers goes into everything grown and cultivated for our consumption. What's more, almost every part of a plant is packed with nutrition. Why not make the most out of every sensational vegetable? You might be surprised by how wonderful these new flavors and textures can be. Some methods are a bit crude, but they can infuse your usual cooking with a hearty rustic touch. These techniques will help you reduce food waste, save money, and most importantly concoct new flavors to usher in the future of food.

Beet Greens

Did you know beets were originally cultivated for their edible leaves, while beetroots were used for livestock feed? Keep that in mind when you encounter these greens. Beet greens taste similar to Swiss chard, and are packed with antioxidants, potassium, fiber, calcium, copper, rioflavin, and vitamins A, C, K, E, and B6.

Use beet greens as soon as you can, as they tend to go bad quickly. Add them to smoothies or juices; stir-fry them with fish sauce, ginger, and garlic; add them to an omelet; use in place of lettuce in a burger or sandwich; add them to a curry; or bake them at 350°F for 15 minutes tossed in oil and salt for beet green chips.

Broccoli Leaves

Broccoli leaves are an excellent source of protein, calcium, potassium, and vitamins A, C, and B6. They're similar in taste and texture to kale, so try baking them like you would kale chips: toss the leaves with some olive or coconut oil and sea salt and roast 375°F for 4 to 6 minutes.

Broccoli Stems

Broccoli stems are a polarizing thing. Some folks don't mind them at all, while others find them bland and overtly fibrous. I'm in the latter camp, but I've found some ways to transform broccoli stems into something delectable. Broccoli stems work well as an antioxidant-rich filler in a juice, but you can pan fry sliced stems sprinkled with salt for something like a broccoli chip. You can also add julienned stems to a cole slaw. Finally, make a broccoli stem and almond pesto by blending 1/2 cup toasted almonds, 3 broccoli stems, 1 clove garlic, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1/4 cup olive oil, and salt and pepper in a food processor.

Carrot Greens

Despite their rumored resemblance to the extremely toxic plant Queen Anne's Lace, carrot greens are not poisonous unless consumed by the bushel. In fact, they are loaded with chlorophyll, potassium, nicain, folate, as well as vitamins A, B6, C, and K. Carrot greens are bitter and astringent, but there's a hint of sweetness in the finish. Try a warm carrot green salad by sautéeing a teaspoon of ground cumin in some oil over medium heat, adding a chopped onion and a can of chickpeas, and tossing with one cup of chopped carrot greens and some lemon juice. They're also great sautéed and drizzled with soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, and a dash of sugar.

Chard Stems

Swiss and rainbow chard stems are packed with glutamine, an amino acid that boosts the immune system. They can be a touch tough, but simply require a bit of extra cooking time to become something exquisite. Try pickling these stems, roasting them, or adding them to a stir fry. They're also excellent when sautéed and blended with tahini, garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil for a Middle Eastern dip.

Fennel Stalks and Fronds

Fennel fronds make an excellent garnish, but you can also tuck them into the cavity of a whole fish or roasted chicken for their anise-like aroma. Both the fronds and stalks work well as a bed for roasted halibut or swordfish. You can also infuse warm olive oil with any leftover stalks and fronds, garlic, lemon, and peppercorns for a gourmet condiment.

Herb Stems

Here's an easy tip: if herb stems are tender enough to snap instead of bend, you can eat them as you would the leaves of the herb - except for cilantro stems, which are perpetually tender. Otherwise, add them to cooked dishes and stocks as you would bay leaves.

Kale Stems

Kale stems are a nutritional powerhouse: they are high in iron, calcium, antioxidants, and vitamin K, A, and C. Try cutting kale stems into very small pieces, sautéeing them in a bit of oil over medium heat, then adding freshly grated ginger, minced garlic, salt, and pepper. You can ferment them as you would kimchee, give them a nice pan-fry, or blend them into a smoothie with balancing creamy ingredients like bananas, avocados, or yogurt. A unique idea is to juice the stems to create one cup of juice, stir into two cups of sea salt, and dry in an oven at 200°F to create salt with a gorgeous green hue.

Radish Greens

Radish greens are full of vitamin C, sulfur, iron, and iodine. They're nice and spicy, and add excellent pops of flavor to salads and sandwiches. For a more complex method, sauté radish tops with onions and garlic in a bit of olive oil, add two skinned and diced baked potatoes, and blend with some milk and heavy cream for a comforting soup. You can also make a savory salad with radish greens by tossing them with warm duck fat, salt, and juice from a Meyer lemon.

Turnip Greens

Turnip greens are excellent - they're even endorsed by Alvin Robinson! They have a slightly bitter taste, and are packed with calcium and potassium. As with beet greens, use them as soon as possible because they go bad quickly. They're great sautéed over medium heat with onions, brown sugar, and red pepper flakes. For a more Southern taste, you can simmer them in a large dutch oven with boiled ham hocks and a tablespoon of sugar until tender.

 

Carrots, 5 Ways

carrots, farmers market, white carrots

At the farmers market today, I looked up, and bam! White carrots, right where they hadn't been last week.

Fresh, young carrots have always been a favorite of mine--compared to pre-cut baby carrots and the older, woodier orange carrots available in the grocery store, white carrots are sweet and tender. And, of course, you can find them in other colors, which means beautiful, purple-, orange-, and white-filled Instagrams are on their way.

So there you go. Buy them. Then check out these 5 ways to use them:

  1. Fresh - Carrots are as addictive as junk food, and there's nothing wrong with eating them like that. Use a vegetable peeler to remove any brown, cracked outer layers if they're tough. Just remove the tips at both ends, slide down the middle if you like, and serve with dip. Or, add them to a salad. Use a vegetable peeler along the length of the carrot for elegant curls, or a grater for shreds.
  2. Roasted - Toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roast in a 400 degree oven until browned.
  3. Soup - Sauté an onion in butter, add carrots, and let sauté for a minute or two. Add stock and bring to a boil. Let simmer until carrots are soft, and then purée in batches. Serve with lemon juice, Greek yogurt, ginger, avocado oil, croutons... the list goes on. Or, try this soup with parsnips.
  4. Juice - Not only is carrot juice drinkable on its own, but it's great added to cocktails, mixed with lemonade, flavored with ginger and lime, and blended into a smoothie. (Freeze, and you've got carrot pops.)
  5. Baked - Bringing natural moisture and sweetness, grated carrots add depth (not to mention nutrition) to cakes and muffins. Use fresh carrots in cake batter, chocolate-chip oatmeal cookies, muffins with zucchini, or bread. (Or in this no-bake dessert.)

roasted carrots

With carrots, 5 ways aren't enough, so don't stop there:

Bonus - Fresh pesto with the greens you were about to discard.

Bonus II - Carrot Halwa Ice Cream

Bonus III - Pickled

Bonus IV - Chai Pear Carrot Sauce Parfaits

Bonus V - Puréed, and added to mashed potatoes, cauliflower, or on its own.

carrot cake

For more farmers' market and CSA tips, see:

Farmers' Market Finds, Demystified

Sugar Snap Peas, 5 Ways

Swiss Chard, 5 Ways

Perfect Picnic Picks From Your Farmers' Market

Carrot lemonade. Photo: Linda Wagner

Are Baby Carrots The New Junk Food?

We all know that familiar routine: grab a shiny bag with appealing advertising, easily pop it open, relish the snack inside with a satisfying crunch and repeat. Now imagine that snack as tasty and healthy baby carrots instead of those processed potato chips and cheese doodles we are all familiar with. This idea was exactly what Jeff Dunn, of Bolthouse Farms, and Omid Farhang, of Crispin Porter + Bogusky advertising agency, had in mind while trying to devise a strategy to make baby carrots cool again. In his entertaining and interesting article, "How Carrots Became The New Junk Food," for Fast Company, Douglas McGray details the long, but comical process of for baby carrots' new ad campaign, "Eat 'Em Like Junk Food". 

After a sharp fall and consequent stagnation in the sales of baby carrots, CEO Dunn decided it was time to rebrand and transform baby carrots into something more than just a vegetable. With the help of Farhang and his ad team, they came up with marketing idea that stood apart from the traditional vegetable advertisements promoting healthy eating and cutting calories. Instead of displaying baby carrots as the cure for junk food, they revolutionized baby carrots to be junk food. Using the same techniques and strategies as big processed snack providers like Lays and Doritos, Dunn and Farhang created cool mascots, witty commercials and attractive packaging that recall potato chip bags, to bring baby carrots back into our consciousness. One commercial depicts a model draped in silk, relishing her baby carrots while engaging the audience and drawing us in - a not-so-subtle wink at the Dove chocolate commercials on the air nowadays. With a hilarious web series, Munchies, featuring two awkwardly entertaining grocery store clerks, and a constant flow of playfully insistent tweets, baby carrots' new campaign has proven to be just the jolt Bolthouse Farms needed. Sales were up 10-12% and many schools have asked Bolthouse Farms to install new vending machines featuring baby carrots' new snack-like packaging, hopefully promoting healthy eating among our nation's youth.

Through a lot of hard work, great ideas and a bit of humor, Dunn and Farhang are changing the idea of what constitutes "junk food" for the future and are making baby carrots just a little bit more exciting. Take some baby carrots and these other healthy snacks on your next summer road trip for easy and healthful eating.

To learn more about baby carrots' Eat 'Em Like Junk Food campaign, visit BabyCarrots.com To read McGray's article in full, click here.

Photo: ilovebutter on flickr