In Praise of Brassicaceae
If it’s winter, which it is, and if you’re eating a local foods diet, which I am, then all praise is due to the mighty plant family, Brassicaceae (bra-sih-kay-see-ay). You know this family better than you may realize: it includes kale, cabbage, collard greens, broccoli, broccoli rabe, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, radishes, turnips, and watercress. In other words, a huge chunk of a locavore’s winter diet because all of those plants are fairly cold-hardy.
Today at the Grand Army Plaza farmers market in Brooklyn there were only a few tents, less than half the number of vendors I found there up until mid-December. We are in the depths of what used to be called “the wolf months”, a.k.a. that time of year when the wolf is howling at the door because his tummy is growling and he knows you still might have a little something to eat in the pantry. Meanwhile, you are wiping dry each newly emptied and washed canning jar and looking at the shelves with a calculating eye.
At the farmers market, the vendors looked cold and miserable. One stall had no one manning it and a note on the open cash drawer that read, “Please pay for what you buy.” Presumably the person who wrote the note was warming up in the truck adjacent to the tent. Either he or she had greater faith in the population of New York City than most, or the cold had won out over even the possibility of lost income.
But there was one stand that had two busy people working cashier duty and multiple tables heaped with fresh goods: most of those Brassicaceae I mentioned plus leeks, shallots, fresh herbs, and spinach. This was Phillips Farms from Milford, New Jersey. I have some of their collard greens in a pot on the stove right now.
Truthfully, I didn’t have to go to the farmers market today. It was cold, and my nose was running by the end of the walk there, and I still have a few greens in the freezer. But who cares? I wanted to cheer for those farmers supplying me with food in the wolf months by trading them some of my hard-earned cash.
Oh, and another thing: I read an article recently bashing local foods enthusiasts. It painted a mocking picture of would be environmentally concerned consumers driving their SUV’s to pick up their locally grown foods. I walked, okay? And most of the people I know who frequent a farmers market or are CSA members walk. Oh, well. I’ll try to be compassionate. Maybe the guy who wrote that article was just terrified at the idea of having to eat his greens like mommy once told him to.
Leda’s Collard Greens
1 large bunch collards
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, sliced
1/4 cup rehydrated dried tomatoes, slivered
1 tsp. wine vinegar
2 slices bacon, cut into pieces (optional) OR 2 tsp. vegetable oil
1-3 dried hot peppers, depending on how hot you like it
1 tsp. honey
1. Wash the collard greens, cut out the tough midribs (compost those), coarsely chop.
2. Put the bacon or oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-low heat. If using the bacon, cook until most of the fat is rendered out, then remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel. If using the vegetable oil, heat until shimmering.
3. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent and starting to soften.
4. Add the garlic, dried tomatoes, and chile pepper and stir for one minute.
5. Pour 1 pint water into the pot and bring to a boil (you can use the soaking water from the dried tomatoes for extra flavor). Stir in the honey. Add the collard greens a little at a time, stirring them down as they wilt. Cook 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
6. Stir in the cooked bacon if using. Toss with the vinegar and salt to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature. These greens are even better reheated the next day.