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.


The Greening of the Games

Picking local in the produce aisle, checking for sustainability at the seafood counter, paying premium for organic milk...decisions that more and more of us make on a daily basis in our efforts to take better care of ourselves and the planet. This isn't always so easy. Things happen. A sudden shortage of organic milk, the price of sustainable salmon spikes one week, and the next thing you know your grocery cart's off kilter. Now imagine committing to those higher standards when you have to serve roughly14 million meals to spectators alone. Welcome to the other main event--the London 2012 culinary Olympics.

The Sustainability Promise

I'll admit it. Sustainability was not on my radar as I awaited seeing Phelps swim, Bolt run, and gymnasts fly in Olympics 2012. I happened upon London's pledge to go green when I delved into what Olympians were eating for my post, The Olympian's Plate. Until then, I would have assumed the chance of broad sustainability at the Games to be almost as remote as winning the gold in swimming sitting on the side of the pool.

I was wrong. Sustainability and promising to "deliver a tastier, healthier, greener Games" were at the core of London's bid to host the Games. The London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOPG) made the pledge a priority. This was much bigger than when Norway introduced the concept of green into the Olympics in the Winter 1994 Games. With a promise of sustainability from pre-Games to post, from athletic venues to food service, London carved out quite a task for itself.

Working towards sustainability for the food alone was a behemoth undertaking and the Committee clearly took its mission quite seriously. Their all-hands-on-deck approach to the hard work at hand was visible from the 36-page report Feeding the Olympics - How and why the food for London 2012 should be local, organic, and ethical authored by a trio of nonprofits to the manifesto Food Vision for the London 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games produced by the Game committee after 18 months of consultation. London obviously knew it would take a village to make greener Games a reality.


Described as both visionary and ambitious, LOCOGP wove its sustainability pledge and Sustainable Sourcing Code into their Food Vision for hosting a "tastier, healthier, greener" Olympics. Tasty was a given, with 150 different dishes on the menu for spectators, 1,300 from myriad cuisines for the athletes, and the head of catering, Jan Matthews, planning to create the atmosphere of a food festival.

The burning question for me was how they could make healthier and greener a reality with so much food to order, fast food and soda sponsors, and disposable eating utensils everywhere. In my search for answers, I discovered that they had enough breadth and depth in their planning to make a Go-Green advocate's head spin. Here are some important commitments in the greening of what will likely go on record as the "greenest Games yet."

1. Supporting Fairtrade: London is actually the world's largest Fairtrade city. Their commitment to Fairtrade, paying producers in developing countries fair prices for their goods, is evident in the Games. Part of their Vision pledged to serve Fairtrade tea, coffee, chocolate, sugar, bananas, wine, and oranges. That's no small shakes when you're looking at an estimated 10 million Fairtrade bananas from the Windward Islands and South America, 14 million cups of Fairtrade coffee, and 7.5 million cups of Fairtrade tea. Those numbers reflect scores of lives that will be positively impacted by the Committee's decision to take the worldwide friendship of the Games to the next level by playing fair in purchasing.

2. Red-Tractor Assurance: Buying as close to home as possible helps reduce your carbon footprint. The British have a special Red-Tractor logo that lets buyers know that foods can be traced back to a British farm and have met strict standards of safety, animal welfare and environmental protection. The Committee's benchmark standards indicated that fruits, vegetables, salads, cereals, milk, butter, cream, British cheeses, beef, lamb, veal, mutton, and poultry for the Games were to ideally be Red-Tractor Assured. If they were not, they had to be fully traceable, which helps support sustainability. The meats in the Athletes' Village and Media Center are taken one step further and raised to the UK's leading animal welfare charity, RSPCA's standards (Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) because chefs will be right there to use the entire animal.

3. Sustainable Suppliers: The Committee searched for suppliers that were sustainable in their practices, with high scores in environmental, ethical, and animal welfare standards. They then took the next step, encouraging employee training to help boost individual employability post-Games. Cadbury, a Game sponsor, is on-board with their mission, working with dairy farmers to reduce the carbon footprint of milk, a key ingredient in their luscious milk chocolate, an already Fairtrade product.

3. Organic, whenever possible: This was the Committee's benchmark standard. All of the milk served by McDonald's is organic. Although the preference for organic produce was clearly communicated pre-game, reports are in that the Organizers were unable to hit their aspirational target of all organic. This isn't surprising given the sheer volume they're serving. All organic would have been fantastic, but I'm sure their standards helped move more organic to the plates.

4. Sustainable Seafood: Food Vision mandated that all fish and seafood served at the Games must be sustainably sourced (i.e. from fishing that does not deplete resources) based on specific guidelines and sustainability lists. Even wild-caught fish falls under regulations. Ideally, all seafood was to come from a broad range of species, in order to avoid depletion of a group. One source estimates a whopping 82 tons of seafood consumed at the Games. Will all 82 tons be sustainable? The jury is still out and I don't know that anyone will ever be sure. However, I think it's safe to say that whatever the actual percentage of sustainable seafood consumed, it will be higher than it would have been without the Organizer's mission!

5. Environmentally-Friendly Packaging: LOCOPG directed that every scrap of food and beverage packaging at the Games be compostable or recyclable. The food and drink served in the Olympic Park is packaged in wrappers, cartons, and boxes made from bioplastic or other compostable materials. Even the restaurant trash is green, with bins presorted into plastic, compostable, and non-recyclable bins to help maximize an environmentally-friendly process.

6. Healthier Choices: The Committee's pledge to go healthier didn't mean taking this international group outside of reasonable comfort zones. Instead, healthier Games meant taking some simple steps:

-Offering more whole grains -Giving away free water in all venues at all times -Making lower fat, salt, and sugar options available and highlighting them -Showcasing a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables -Offering more meat and fish-free menu items -Moving towards grilling and steaming as cooking methods -Encouraging responsible eating habits by backing away from huge servings and optimizing servings, especially of meat and fish

We could all take a page from their healthier eating strategies. We don't have a scorecard yet on how green the Games actually are but I hope they hit as many targets as possible.

An Introduction to Food Buzz Words

In today's culinary world, a lot of buzzwords get thrown around at super markets and on menus. Classifications like farm-fresh, organic, farm-to-table, and free-range sound appealing, but what do they really mean? Here's an introduction to some of these terms to help you navigate food jargon.

Organic-There are a few parts to the "organic" definition: - "100% Organic" means exactly what it sounds like, foods with this label were made with 100% organic ingredients. - An "Organic" label means that 95% to 99% of the ingredients (by weight) are organic and the remaining ingredients are not available organically, but have been approved by the National Organic Program. - "Made With Organic Ingredients" indicates that 70% to 94% of the ingredients are organic-although these produces will not have the USDA Organic seal, they can list up to three organic ingredients on their packaging. - "Other" means that less than 70% of the ingredients are organic.

Free Range or Free Roaming-For chickens, this only means that the animals have been allowed access to the outside and open air, but does not specify that the animal did spend time outside. There is no official, standard definition for this classification for any other animals or products like eggs or cows.

Fair Trade-Products with this label must have been grown by small-scale producers democratically organized in either cooperatives or unions. This certification is very rigorous and difficult to attain, so the consumer can be sure that this label is very meaningful.

Grass Fed-For cows and sheep, this means that the animals were raised on a lifetime diet of 100% grass and forage, like legumes and cereal grain crops, except for the milk consumed prior to weaning. To achieve this USDA certification, these animals must have been given access to the pasture for the majority of the growing season and cannot have been fed grains or grain products.

Natural-Any meat or poultry with the label "natural" cannot contain any artificial flavoring, color ingredients, chemical preservatives, or artificial or synthetic ingredients, and are only "minimally processed," in other words: the processing cannot have fundamentally altered the product. For other foods, the natural term has no official definition. For all foods, regulation of "natural" is limited, meaning that the USDA can hold producers accountable for lying, but does not have an official pre-verification process.

Sustainable-A looser term, sustainable agriculture is a way of raising food that is healthy for consumers and animals, does not harm the environment, is humane for workers, respects animals, provides a fair wage to the farmer, and supports and enhances rural communities. There is currently no official certification for this label.

Farm-To-Table-This label has no official certification, but is generally used by restaurants or some markets as a way to indicate the freshness of the food by claiming that the product was brought directly from a nearby farm and served fresh. This kind of term, along with other like "farm fresh" or "local," are mainly used as buzz words and are hopefully accurate, but other than trusting the word of the chef or seller, there is no way to confirm this sort of claim.

For more information on labels, check out the USDA Fact Sheet or the Consumer Reports Greener Choices website.

Photo: cwwycoff1

Do-it-Yourself Butchery: A Growing Trend in Sustainable Eating

Butchers were once a staple of the American community. Nowadays, neighborhood butchers have all but disappeared from the American landscape, but a new trend is rising out of the sustainable eating movement: do-it-yourself butchery.  The thought of cutting up an entire animal can definitely be a little intimidating, even for experienced cooks. But as of recently, many butcher shops and farmers are now offering classes in butchery where students can learn the appropriate techniques, knives, and cuts for getting great pieces of meat without having to buy mysterious, plastic-wrapped cuts from the supermarket.

DIY butchery presents an opportunity to de-mystify your food. You get to know where your meat comes from and become part of the process of taking it from the farm to the dinner table. Not only does it promote an awareness about ethical eating, home butchery also teaches the importance of using the entire animal and avoiding wastefulness.

While small, artisan butchers like the Meat Hook in Brooklyn deliver their knowledge and expertise to customers, DIY butchery actually puts that expertise directly into the hands of the eaters. You can purchase a sustainably-farmed pig from a local farm, bring it home, cut it to your needs and specifications, and cook up delicious pork chops and ribs for weeks without ever having to make another trip to the store.

Want to try your hand at some DIY butchery? These butchers and farmers around the country offer courses to learn!

Taylor's Market 2900 Freeport Blvd, Sacramento, CA, 95818 Danny Johnson, owner of Taylor's Market in Sacramento, offers his Butcher's 101 classes to students who want to learn anything from the basic cuts of meatto sausage-making.

Fleisher's 307 Wall Street, Kingston, NY 12401 Fleisher's Meats offers a variety of classes in butchery, including an intensive, 5-day Butchery 101 course. They also offer demonstrations and one-on-one classes for butchers in their Butcher Training Program.

Have you tried a DIY butchery class?

Food and Philanthropy: Added Value

Food and Philanthropy

Amid the concrete and asphalt that makes up the majority of Brooklyn's "landscape" sits Added Value Farm. Formerly an old asphalt playing field, Added Value is the creation of Ian Marvy and Michael Hurwitz who both previously worked in social services in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Disappointed with the growing number of children falling through the cracks of the social system, their talents squandered and confidence all but diminished, Marvy and Hurwitz strove to create a space for Brooklyn youth that could at once provide them with an educational, enjoyable and rewarding afterschool activity while simultaneously providing the community with much needed fresh and healthy produce. Working with over 150 local teens, from ages 14 - 19, since its inception, Added Value has built a lasting community of sustainable food and food justice advocates who take in just as much as they give.

The skills learned on the farm as well as the opportunities offered make Added Value very attractive to city-centric teenagers, offering them plenty of outdoor activities, growing their food from mere seedlings to bountiful crop, as well as providing a monthly stipend for working each week at the gardens, markets, and offices, a small reward for all their work to improve their community. Additionally, the kids at Added Value learn essential communication and occupational skills that go beyond the farm, helping them achieve their educational and professional goals and augmenting their prospects for the future.

Added Value also works with New York City schools through their Farm Based Learning initiative to provide kids with an important education about where food comes from, the biological cycles of plants, how to make healthy food choices and the social, economical and environmental impact of the food industry. By engaging in a public discourse as well as writing about their experiences, students improve their vocabulary and public speaking and observational skills while remaining active.

Together, the Added Value family has transformed vacant lots into community gardens, revived local parks and continues to supply a growing population with affordable and healthy food. But perhaps mostly importantly, Added Value doesn't just grow fresh, delicious food, they also grow and empower community leaders who will undoubtedly propel Added Value and other socially active food justice movements into the future.

To get more involved with either one of Added Value's farms (the team recently opened a second location on Governor's Island), visit their website and join Added Value in supporting local agriculture and local communities.

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