Purslane

Local farmers’ markets are in full swing here in Boston and I couldn’t be happier. Every year the farmers bring new and interesting produce to the market giving adventurous eaters plenty of great things to try.

Purslane

Purslane

Purslane has turned up in my local markets (Central Square and Davis Square), and I love it. In America we’ve treated purslane (also known as Portulaca) as a weed. Other cultures have recognized it as a remarkably healthy vegetable that just happens to grow like a weed!

Purslane is loaded with all of the nutrients you expect to find in a leafy green vegetable: vitamin A is present in large quantities, as well as vitamin C and multiple B vitamins. It contains a decent amount of minerals like iron, magnesium, calcium and potassium.

The truly exciting nutrient in purslane is Omega 3 fatty acids. Purslane has a large serving of ALA, which is usually found only in fish, flax, hemp seeds and chia seeds.

So, how do you prepare it? What does it taste like?

Like most foods that contain omega 3s, heat is the enemy. Purslane is delicious raw, either as a stand-alone salad or mixed in with other salad greens. It has a nutty/lemony flavor with a great crunch when you have it raw.

It’s also nice quickly stir-fried. It’s great stirred in to scrambled eggs. Saute an onion first, then briefly saute the purslane before adding your scrambled eggs to the pan. Serve with salsa and maybe corn tortillas.

It must be summer because it’s Farmer’s Market time (plus sauteed Kale)

It’s farmer’s market season in Boston and I couldn’t be happier. I am fortunate enough to shop at the markets in Central Square and Davis Square (which is located directly behind my office!).

I have found that produce from the markets is fresher and tastier than anything in the stores. The prices work out to be more or less the same (or slightly cheaper, depending), but you get bigger bunches of things for the money. The markets have also turned me into a tomato snob–I never buy them from the grocery store because they are mealy and flavorless. I actually have a tomato problem in the summer–once they start appearing in the market I find myself buying so many that we have a hard time eating them all (a happy difficulty to have!).There are markets all over town, all week long. Check out the Federation of Massachusetts Farmer’s Markets to find one near you.

I always visit the Enterprise Farm stand in Davis Square to buy my greens. They’re an organic farm, and I like to try to buy as much organic produce as possible. They grow multiple varieties of my favorite vegetable, Kale, along with delicious salad greens, tomatoes and many other organic green things.

The Kimball Farm is at both of my markets and they have the biggest selection at both markets. They are not organic, but “low spray,” which means they only spray when they have to. They have expanded their “no spray” produce, making them a good alternative if you can’t find what you want at the organic stands.

I’m addicted to the berries from the Bug Hill Farm stand. They overfill their containers, and their berries are consistently sweet and delectable.

In the fall some stands have fresh foraged Maitake, or Hen-of-the-woods mushrooms. I try to buy as many of these as possible. Maitake have fantastic health benefits, are extremely tasty and versatile to cook with, and include woody stems that I save in the freezer to add to vegetable stocks. Check out this post from Drweil.com about the health benefits of Maitake and other mushrooms like Shiitake.

Both of my markets have a variety of naturally-raised meat available, and now both have fresh fish vendors! In Davis Square, the Globe Fish Company offers super-fresh, never frozen fish from their family-run business. We have a new fish vendor in Central, C&C Lobsters and fish, which seems to also be a small, family-run business. They have a nice variety of local fish and also lobsters–either live for you to take home to cook, or, if you order ahead, steamed and ready to eat.

Aside from all the beautiful produce, farmer’s markets are a community gathering opportunity. I often run into people that I know and maybe don’t see too often at the markets, and it’s like we’re all giddy with joy–it’s just so delightful to be surrounded by beautiful produce and happy people!

One thing I buy every week is kale. I love Enterprise Farm’s organic tuscan kale (also known as black, lacinato or dinosaur kale), as well as their green and purple kale. Kale is one of the healthiest foods you can eat. I think I tell at least one patient every day that they should include kale in their diet.

The problem is that no one knows how to cook it! We almost always prepare it as a simple saute with some garlic and salt. Easy, fast, delicious–what else do you need in a vegetable dish?

I hesitate to post this as a “recipe” because there’s really nothing to it:

-Chop the Kale (cut the leaves off of the thick, woody stems first)
-chop a clove of garlic
-saute the garlic briefly in a large frying pan with some olive oil (less than a tablespoon should do)
-add the kale and saute. It’s good if there’s a bit of water left on your kale from washing –that water helps steam the kale as it’s cooking.

Add salt (be judicious–kale doesn’t seem to need much salt) and enjoy!

Easy herb and grain salads

My patients have been requesting that I post recipes that are quick and healthy, and I can’t think of anything easier than a whole-grain salad made with some leftovers and a few things you probably have on hand already.

I almost always have some odd bits of left over brown rice, quinoa or buckwheat lingering in the fridge. I like to use it to whip up a salad as either a quick meal (made more filling with some canned beans), or a side dish to go with a piece of fish. It’s also a great way to put those bits of cilantro and parsley to use when you have just a little leftover from something else you’ve recently made.

I don’t really follow a recipe–I just use whatever is on hand, and dress it with olive oil and lemon juice (or vinegar).

Things that are nice to include:

* raisins
* nuts (pecans, pine nuts, almonds, walnuts, toasted if you have the time)
* olives
* chopped fresh herbs if you have them (dried if you don’t)
* roasted red peppers
* capers
* beans (chickpeas are my favorite)
* cheese
* steamed veggies
* onions/scallions
* sprouts
* cucumbers
* tomatoes

For the dressing, think about combining 3 parts olive oil with 1 part vinegar/lemon juice. Add salt and pepper and any other seasonings to taste. You can also add 1 teaspoon of dijon mustard. It’s best to mix the dressing in a separate container, beat it with a fork and taste to see if you need to add any more of anything.

When you put it together, the grain should be the predominant item in your salad. Add as much or as little of the other ingredients as you like.

Mix everything together and let it sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes (assuming you have that kind of time–otherwise just eat it right away).

The picture above comes from this nice blog I recently discovered, Tale of Two Vegans. Check it out!

kabocha squash

My new fav food blog, the beautiful and inspiring JustBento introduces us to kabocha squash.

I’ve been trying to expand my winter squash repertoire, and came across this recipe for a Japanese-style squash. It looks pretty flexible, so I think really any variety of winter squash would do. I’m going to try it with the beautiful Red Kuri Squash I bought at the farmer’s market today.

It looks so much like a pumpkin that that’s what my husband thought it was, until I told him.

Fried Green Tomatoes: Not Just a Movie

You may remember Fried Green Tomatoes as a pro-woman movie from the early ’90s, but the titular fruit is actually a tasty summer treat.

Sure, fried things are in general not so healthy. But for an occasional treat, green tomatoes are certainly better than bacon or french fries.

Martha Rose Shulman at the Gray Lady serves up a recipe with a Mediterranean twist. (She recommends a heavy nonstick skillet, but I always stick with cast iron, to avoid carcinogenic teflon bits getting in the food.)

    1 pound firm green tomatoes

    1/2 cup cornmeal (you will not use all of it)

    Salt and freshly ground pepper

    Extra virgin olive oil or canola oil for frying

    1. Slice the tomatoes about 1/2 inch thick. Season the cornmeal with salt and pepper and dredge the tomatoes in it. You can do this in a large bowl, a flatter baking dish or a brown paper bag — whatever is easiest for you. You won’t use all of the cornmeal.

    2. Heat a heavy skillet, either cast iron or nonstick, over medium-high heat, and add enough oil to coat the bottom by about 1/8 inch. Fry the tomatoes on each side until golden, about two to three minutes per side. Drain on paper towels, on a paper bag or on a rack. Keep warm in a low oven until all of the tomatoes are fried. Serve hot or warm.

Photo and recipe are from the New York Times, natch.

Whole grains for a busy life

In my attempt to eat primarily whole grains, Iíve found a few shortcuts that make it possible to fit the longer cooking time into my busy work schedule.

First, I generally make a large pot of brown rice mixed with some millet at the beginning of the week. Iím not too exact about the ratio of rice to millet, but I generally try to make 3 cups total, usually a 1/2 cup of millet and 2 1/2 cups of brown rice. They cook together nicely, and the millet doesnít really change the flavor too much while adding a lot of nutrients. (It contains iron and some other helpful minerals, B vitamins and protein.) You can do this same thing with white rice to improve itís nutritional value without changing its taste too much.

This big pot of rice allows me to simply re-heat it any time I want some rice with a meal, without the 30+ minutes of cooking time.

My other favorite pre-cooked grain combo is a blend of quinoa, amaranth and millet. I generally make about 2 cups total, with roughly 1 cup of quinoa + 3/4 cup millet + 1/4 cup amaranth. These grains also cook nicely together in about 12 minutes (like white rice). Quinoa and amaranth have a heavy dose of high-quality protein (similar to egg white, which has the highest quality protein around), as well as large quantities of minerals (like iron and magnesium) and B vitamins. I generally use this grain blend as a breakfast porridge. I re-heat it in the morning with some soy milk, and add raisins, nuts, cocoa nibs and a bit of honey for a super-healthy, super-filling start to my day.

Both of these whole grain blends contain ample fiber and have a low glycemic index, making them filling, slow-burning energy generators.

Both blends cook well with a standard 2 parts water to 1 part grain ratio. For the brown rice, I generally add and additional 1/4 cup of water since it cooks longer. Itís important to add 1/2ñ1 teaspoon of salt to bring out the natural flavor of the grains.

These grains are also gluten-free and allergen free, so theyíre a good choice for people with food sensitivities.

For more information about the nutritional makeup of these grains, you can check Nutritiondata.com.