Healthy Cooking is a Family Affair by Susan Guillory

purple kolrabi

Spring is upon us. It’s time to come out of our winter sluggishness and get moving! Find your closest farm, farmer's market or CSA. What better way to shop mindfully than close to nature and the source? The adventure is an ideal family outing. Everyone can enjoy nutritious, beautiful produce that delights the senses while young ones learn how to shop mindfully and develop healthy eating habits.

Discussions about the nutritional power of eating produce fresh from the ground or tree (before too many vitamins are lost), our favorite healthy choices, or menus and recipes occur spontaneously while sampling items and chatting with farmers.

I recently remembered how fun it is to share this experience with family while at the Roadrunner Park farmer's market in Phoenix, Arizona with my sister-in-law. She had asked me to introduce her to some new vegetables. It’s always a treat to make culinary side trips while on vacation and discover new and interesting local items. We found many local specialties like Hispanic peppers, jicama, four different types of kumquats, and amaranth (the green). Kathy isn’t fond of vegetables - especially greens - so I had the fun challenge of opening her mind and palette to new foods and recipes.

To this end, I shared 3 of my most tantalizing veggie recipes with Kathy. Perfect for kids or veggie-wary friends, these dishes are both accessible and delicious.

Kale Pesto
Serves 6

2 bunches kale, lacinto is the classic but any will do
I cup pine nuts or walnuts
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped basil leaves (optional)
few drops hot sauce (optional)

  • Wash kale, then, if it is the large variety, strip the leaves from the bitter, inedible stems. Some farmers offer early crop "baby kale" in which case the entire piece can be used
  • Sautee kale as is on low heat then cool in a separate bowl until room temperature
  • Add all of the remaining ingredients to a blender and voila, you have a quick, easy and highly nutritious item to eat with your favorite pasta or whole grain

Kohlrabi Salad
Serves 4

Did you know that kohlrabi is of the brassica family  - same as cabbage and broccoli? This uniquely shaped vegetable offers the same health benefits as its cousins. Children are often charmed by its spherical shape and "space ship" style protruding stems and leaves. There is even a purple variety! I gleaned this refreshing recipe from a dinner at Fergus Henderson's London restaurant, St. John.

3 large or 5 small kohlrabi
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup cilantro (can substitute parsley leaves)

  • Remove stems with leaves, (the leaves can be cooked like other tough greens but only the youngest and most tender are palatable
  • Peel the two inedible fibrous layers from the sphere, the inner one is white
  • Slice very thinly with grater, food processor or mandolin
  • Dress immediately with other ingredients to avoid discoloration. Will keep in sealed container in fridge for up to 3 days

Bitter Greens Salad
Serves 4

Bitter greens are an acquired taste for Americans but every other culture in the world understands the importance of eating these plants. They are not only highly nutritious but also cleanse the liver and its related organs. In Italy dandelion greens are a popular source for this "medicinal" purpose. We were lucky to find some cultivated ones at the Roadrunner market. They are often available in produce departments, too. Heres my take on the Italian classic.

1 bunch of dandelion greens
2 large shallots or one small white or red onion
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons apple cider or Balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt

  • Finely chop shallots or onion and sautéin olive oil until translucent
  • Chop hard stem off of dandelions and save for adding to a stock or discard
  • Chop remaining greens in ½
  • Add all the greens to the pan with shallots. Cook until center of dandelions are wilted
  • Add vinegar and salt while hot

Bitter greens are typically eaten in small portions, but can be served hot or at room temperature with other salad items like tomatoes or spinach. Olives may be added to soften the bitter taste. If dandelion greens are unavailable then kale can be prepped (as described in the Kale Pesto recipe) and substituted.

Photo by Summer Tomato

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Thanks for the great ideas! Your comments about discovering unusual foods makes me think of a friend who often goes to the store and has a cook off with family members around unusual foods they choose for one another. I know this idea is based off some of the cooking shows out there now, but what a fun way to possibly incorporate new ingredients and make cooking a fun, family affair!