Thursday, October 8, 2015

Vegetable Feature: Celery

by Beth Brown-Lucas

Harvesting Celery
Celery is considered by most people to be a kitchen “staple”, much like potatoes, onions or garlic. It is often used more like an herb than a vegetable, being used to flavor stocks and soups or added to a pot roast. It’s also used as a snack food, and who doesn’t love pairing celery with peanut butter and raisins for the classic Ants on a Log?

Celery can be a difficult vegetable to grow. We estimate that we have 40-50% good, harvestable celery out of what we plant. Celery is very susceptible to aster yellows disease. Even with these challenges, we choose to continue to grow a small amount of celery for our CSA and market members. We prefer growing celeriac as it is much more resistant to aster yellows disease.

Celery Bin
Nonetheless, the celery we grow is delicious and has great flavor. We trialed many varieties, and there are not many available. Our celery is grown from seed gifted to us from our friends at Seedway. We are growing two varieties-Tango and Merengo. The Tango is not as disease resistant, while the Merengo has a better success rate. Richard estimates we are able to harvest 60-65% of the Merengo variety.

Fresvindo shows off his celery harvest

When it comes to preparing your celery, you may find it to be a little different than the California celery found at the store. Wisconsin-grown celery has much more flavor! The outer stalks are best used to flavor stocks and soups or roasted with other vegetables. They can also be sliced thinly and stir-fried or tossed with a light vinaigrette in a salad. The inner stalks are suitable for eating raw-try pairing with cheese or, of course, peanut butter! Celery leaves can also be used to add flavor to stocks, stews or a green salad. You could also dry the leaves and make your own celery salt. It’s a very simple process, and there are several tutorials available online to guide you through it. Celery also has a strong enough flavor that it can be the main flavor in a pureed soup, especially with a little cream and bacon! Check out the recipes below for more cooking ideas.

Curried Celery Soup

Servings:  4-6
2 tsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 leek, sliced
5 ½ cups chopped celery
1 Tbsp medium or hot curry powder
1 ½ cups washed and diced unpeeled potatoes
3 ¾ cups vegetable stock
2 Tbsp chopped fresh mixed herbs (parsley, thyme, etc)
Salt, to taste
Celery seeds and leaves, to garnish

  1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion, leek and celery.  Cover, and cook slowly for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  
  2. Add the curry powder and continue cooking for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. 
  3. Add the potatoes and stock.  Cover and bring to a boil.  Simmer for about 20 minutes or until the vegetables are tender, but not too soft.  
  4. Remove the soup from the heat and cool slightly before processing it.
  5. Transfer the soup to a blender or food processor and process in batches until smooth.
  6. Add the mixed herbs, season to taste with salt and process briefly again.  Return to the saucepan and reheat slowly until piping hot.  Ladle into warm bowls and garnish each one with a sprinkling of celery seeds and a few celery leaves before serving.

Recipe sourced from The Soup Bible edited by Debra Mayhew.

Mushroom & Celery Salad with Parmesan Cheese

Servings:  6
6 ounces fresh white or cremini mushrooms, sliced thinly
3 ounces fresh oyster mushrooms, thinly sliced
3-4 stalks celery
3 ½ Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 ½ Tbsp finely chopped shallot
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
4 ounces baby spinach, baby kale or salad mix
3 ounces Parmesan cheese

  1. Lay the mushrooms on sheets of paper towel;  cover with clean, damp kitchen towels.  Thinly slice the celery, and transfer it to a bowl; cover with plastic.  Refrigerate both until you’re ready to assemble the salad.
  2. Stir together the lemon juice and shallot.  Let stand at least 15 minutes or up to 2 hours.  Whisk in the oil until emulsified, and season with salt and pepper.  Toss the mushrooms and celery with the dressing;  let stand 10 minutes.  Divide the greens among plates, and top with the mushroom mixture. Shave the cheese with a vegetable peeler over the top of the salad.

Recipe adapted from The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook:  The New Classics.

The Asa Lift & Its Operator

by Lisa Garvalia

Parsnips being harvested with the Asa-Lift
Living on a farm myself, I have a deep appreciation for the use of good, efficient equipment. One example is the round baler which has taken the place, on many farms, of the need for a square baler. The square baler requires someone to pull the tractor over the windrows, while the baler makes the squares, then the bales are thrown onto the wagon that is attached to the square baler. If the square baler does not have a “kicker” to throw the bales onto the wagon then someone has to manually pick the bales off the field and throw them into the wagon. There is usually someone on the wagon to stack the square bales up neatly in order to get a maximum load on the wagon. When the wagon is full, it is pulled back to the barn by another tractor and the bales are manually loaded on an elevator and dropped in the haymow. There is also someone in the haymow to stack the square bales neatly for maximum storage with less waste. I am tired just writing about the whole process.
The Asa-Lift

Now that I have given you an example of the efficiency that certain farm equipment can bring, let me tell you a bit about the Asa-Lift, our single row root crop harvester. I had the pleasure of hearing about the workings of the Asa-Lift from the main operator, Rafael. One of the most important things that was stressed in my discussion is that the settings on the Asa-Lift must be precise in order for it to operate at its best.  That being said, there are a lot of things to pay attention to so the precision is there. The front of the Asa-Lift has a leaf row cutter that separates the leaves from one row to the next.

Leaf row cutter, plow & torpedo bars
 There is a plow that lifts the plants out of the ground and 2 torpedo shaped bars that rotate and pick up all of the leaves from the plant. A belt grabs the leaves and moves the plant upward out of the ground and toward the topping bar. The dirt is cleaned off the plants from below by rubber fingers, and metal topping bars cut the leaves off the plant. After the leaves are cut off, the produce then travels farther up the conveyer and drops into wood bins. The bins are waiting on a flat rack, or wagon, that is being pulled by another tractor alongside Rafael with the Asa-lift.
Rubber fingers to clean dirt
Asa-Lift harvesting with the 2nd tractor pulling flat rack

In total it takes two tractors, and 4-5 people to make this operation work. Both tractors must travel in synchrony to make this work. One or two people ride on the flat rack to “catch” the produce with the pad and one to pick out the leaves and culls. One person also walks behind the Asa-Lift to watch the operation and pick up any leftover roots from the field. Rafael has many different things to pay attention to when he is operating the Asa-Lift.
He has to make sure that everything is working correctly because if there is one setting even a few inches off, it can either do damage to the crop, plug up the conveyer, or the dirt may not all get cleaned off. Another thing that is always on his mind is the safety of everyone around the Asa-Lift when it is in operation. He likes to work with the same crew as they are familiar with how it should be running when it is working properly and also the things that should be watched for safety reasons. On the tractor with the Asa-Lift is a small square box of controls that is right at the fingertips of Rafael and it runs all of the different components of the Asa-Lift, from the PTO to the pumps to moving the conveyer. Rafael is very keen to listen when the machine is running as he can tell by the sounds if something needs to be adjusted or looked at.  Rafael has a very important job running the machine and he takes it very seriously. If one small thing is overlooked it can cause something big and unpleasant to happen.
Topping Bars

Rafael running the Asa-Lift
Now that I have given you a brief summary on how this machine works, let’s look at what kind of efficiency it brings to Harmony Valley Farm.  When it comes to purchasing tractors and equipment, farmers must take into consideration many different things to justify the expense. Besides looking at the cost, they also look at how the equipment may improve quality of life and time saved.

With the Asa-Lift they can harvest approximately 9 different root crops and they can fill up to 40 – 50 bins per day depending on the produce being harvested. Now if this were to be done manually, it would take 10 people 4 hours to fill 6-8 bins with produce. We still have many crops that involve lifting crates and hand harvest, but whenever possible we use pallet jacks, machinery, and forklifts to harvest and move heavy roots.

The Asa-Lift was purchased from Denmark because no machines are made in this country for small vegetable farms like ours.  Another important benefit of the Asa-Lift is that it can be used at any time, even if there has been a stretch of rain, where manual harvest would be affected. This should give you an idea of why the Asa-Lift is such an important piece of machinery. Besides the time factor, it also saves on back strain that could be caused by all of the manual work that would need to be done.

Bins of celeriac being harvested by the Asa-Lift.
Vicente is on the flat rack catching celeriac and
pulling off extra leaves. Each bin holds 600-800 pounds of roots!
There are many other pieces of equipment that are used on the farm, all of which help to make the job easier and more efficient. The time that is being saved along with the health of the workers is taken very seriously. My hope is that you have enjoyed reading about the awesome Asa-Lift, its operator Rafael, and understand our appreciation of its usefulness!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Harvest Party Recap!

by Beth Brown-Lucas

Captain Jack loved meeting everyone
We could not have asked for better weather for our Harvest Party this past Sunday! It was a beautiful sunny day with temperatures in the upper 70s and there was not even a chance of rain. Our party kicked off at noon with a Mix & Mingle and snacks.

Folks started arriving right at noon, excited to tour the farm and meet their fellow CSA members. Captain Jack was ready, making sure he greeted everybody as they arrived. We had delicious light snacks prepared and everyone raved about the Caramelized Poblano Chile & Onion Dip and Roasted Beet & White Bean Dip made by Farmer Andrea. Everybody mingled & chatted while enjoying NessAlla Kombucha and cold press Kickapoo coffee. We had a few activities planned, and kids tried their best to guess the seeds in the “Name that Seed” game or ringing a pumpkin in the Pumpkin Ring Toss.
In the pepper field

At about 1:00 Farmer Richard began loading the wagons for the farm tour. A few families were already on the wagons in anticipation of starting the tour! We loaded up 4 wagons and made our way down the road. Kids & adults were excited to catch a glimpse of the strawberry field and the rhubarb-we had a great view of the fields below. As we continued on our way to the sweet potatoes, we were also able to see the parsley, daikon and leeks.

The sweet potato digging begins

When we arrived at the sweet potatoes, we were all anxious to get off the wagons and into the field! Richard & Andrea led groups of children in digging the first of the sweet potatoes. Before long everyone was pulling sweet potatoes out of the dirt, and there were plenty to go around. Farmer Richard explained how to tell when a sweet potato is ready to harvest, and how the crew has to cut the vines back by hand when harvesting them. Jose Ramon, Alvaro and Rogelio helped cut the vines & dig the potatoes while our guests helped pull up bunches of sweet potatoes. One party attendee found one of the biggest sweet potatoes anyone had ever seen! It was over 2 feet long!

Now that's a giant sweet potato!
After we finished digging sweet potatoes, our wagon caravan made its way to the next stop- peppers, tomatoes, tomatillos and eggplants. Kids were so excited to pick the mini-sweet peppers and eat to their hearts’ content. Everyone wandered through the rows picking Orange Ukraine peppers, tomatillos, eggplant and some tomatoes. We made sure to tell everyone which peppers were the hot peppers, although a few brave souls tried eating raw jalapeños and lived to tell the tale! We were asked lots of great questions, like “How do you know when an eggplant is ready to harvest?”, “Why are the peppers planted on that reflective stuff?”  and “Do you have extra bags?” Our expert farmers and crew were happy to answer questions and help everyone pick and carry lots of great treats back to the wagons.

Picking the perfect pumpkin!
From there we headed to the main attraction-the pumpkin field! Andrea & Richard helped people find the Cinnamon Girl pie pumpkins and we see a lot of pies and pumpkin soup being made soon. Others wanted the big pumpkins for carving and a few took armloads of pumpkins back from the field. Andrea searched high and low for her special pumpkin carved with her name until somebody called out that they found a pumpkin with “AJ” written on it. Captain Jack’s special pumpkin was never found even though Richard made it very easy this year and just carved “Dog” into the pumpkin.  He wasn’t too disappointed that nobody brought his pumpkin back for him though. After everyone had picked their pumpkins, we loaded up the wagons and prepared to head back for the pig roast. A few adventurous partygoers took a tour of the effigy mounds with Richard while the rest of us made our way back to enjoy the food.

The food was plentiful!

Everyone worked up a good appetite with all the field work, and the pig roast was accompanied by an abundance of side dishes, salads and desserts. So many people commented on how wonderful the food was and went back for second and third plates just so they could sample everything! It’s safe to say that nobody went home hungry.
Thanks for coming to our party!

At the end of the day, it was a very successful Harvest Party. Many people commented that it was a perfect day to visit the farm and that they loved the chance to see where their food is grown and meet their farmers. It was wonderful to meet so many new people, and see long time friends of the farm. A big thank you to all the Harmony Valley crew who volunteered to help with set-up, drive tractors and clean up after the party ended. Thanks to all who attended the party and made it such a fun day. We were so happy to be able to share the day with you and had so much fun showing you the farm and talking with you. We hope to see you next year!

Vegetable Feature: Jicama

by Sarah Janes Ugoretz

Harvesting Jicama
Before we kick off this week’s vegetable feature, let’s cover one thing right off the bat—pronunciation! Our delicious feature this week is jicama, which you can choose to pronounce one of two ways: HICK-uh-mah or HEE-kuh-mah. Also known as the Mexican yam or Mexican turnip, jicama is native to—you guessed it—Mexico! This vegetable is the edible tuberous root of a vine that can grow to be 20 feet in length. The largest recorded jicama weighed in at a whopping 50 pounds! At Harmony Valley Farm, we deal in much smaller versions of this vegetable, keeping them to less than 5 pounds each—a much more manageable amount to work with in your kitchen.

Apart from its brown papery skin, jicama is entirely edible. The creamy white flesh is firm, sweet and slightly starchy with a very distinct crunch. Thinking of jicama as a savory apple, as TheKitchn describes it, may help in classifying this unique food that many of us may have had limited exposure to.

Jicama is typically enjoyed raw, though it can be sautéed or stir-fried and still retain its crunch. To prepare, begin by peeling the skin. Using a chef’s knife, remove a thin slice from the top and bottom of your jicama in order to create a flat surface on each end. Working from top to bottom and following the curve, carefully slide your knife under the skin to remove it. Once peeled, you don’t need to worry about removing any seeds as the entire interior portion is edible.  Jicama is often served in very simple preparations such as salads, slaws, salsas or just eaten raw on a vegetable tray.  It pairs well with citrus fruits, peppers, avocado and cilantro.

The jicama harvest begins! 
Unlike apples and other fruits, jicama doesn’t oxidize (turn color) once its flesh has been exposed to air. Store half of your jicama in the fridge for later use and all you’ll need to do is remove the thin layer of exposed flesh that has become somewhat dry. In general, store your jicama loose in a cool, dry place at room temperature where it should keep for about 2 to 3 weeks.  The storage for jicama is similar to sweet potatoes.  They are actually subject to chill injury at temperatures less than about 50 degrees.

While it’s challenging to grow jicama in the Midwest, we’re continuing to learn about growing this crop in Wisconsin.  One of our employees, Jose Antonio Cervantes Gutierrrez, introduced us to this crop several years ago with a small handful of seeds he brought from home.  After some experimentation, we’ve finally figured out how to pull off this crop with success.  We use a combination of an early start in the greenhouse and the use of plastic mulch to trap heat and increase the soil temperature to create a microclimate more similar to the ideal growing conditions for this crop.  We hope you enjoy this little taste of the tropics!

Jicama Sticks with Chile & Lime 

(Botana de Jicama con Chile y Limon)

Servings: 6
1 pound jicama, peeled
Juice of 2 limes (about ¼ cup)
Juice of ½ bitter orange (about 1 Tbsp), optional
1 Tbsp distilled white vinegar
¼ tsp ground dried chile, cayenne or red pepper flakes
¼ tsp salt
⅛ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp finely chopped cilantro, optional
1 tsp sugar, optional

  1. Cut the jicama lengthwise into ½-inch thick slices, then cut the slices into ½-inch wide sticks. 
  2. Place the sticks in a medium bowl and toss with the rest of the ingredients.  Arrange in small 2-ounce shot glasses, standing them up like breadsticks, and moisten with the juices of the marinade.

This is a traditional way to enjoy jicama in Mexico and is a common street food offering.  This is Maricel Presilla’s interpretation of this method of preparation that is featured in her cookbook, Gran Cocina Latina.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Cover Crops...Our Allies in Nutrient Management

by Richard de Wilde
Every year we are intrigued by cover crops and find ourselves wondering why more farmers don’t utilize them.  Late summer and fall is an important time of year when we start to wrap things up for the growing season, making our final passes through the fields and putting them to bed for the winter.  We remove the mulch and irrigation lines, take down tomato stakes and chop any remaining plant material (such as broccoli stalks) in the field.  Starting in mid-late summer, as soon as a crop is finished, we start this process with the goal of getting a cover crop planted as soon as possible.  We’ve been planting cover crops since August, so many fields are already covered with a lush blanket of green growth.  Cover crops are a very important part of our production system and are important for maintaining the health of our soil as well as investing in future crops we’ll take off the land.
Richard kneeling in a cover crop planting
Cover crops are an excellent example of how it pays to work in alignment with nature.  While we plant most of our cover crops in the fall, they could be planted at other times of the year in certain scenarios.  We choose cereal grains, grasses and legumes as our plants.  It’s important to understand why we plant them and what purpose they serve.  First, cover crops will out-compete any fall weeds that might germinate in a field….and we hate weeds!  There are actually some weeds that germinate and start their growth cycle in the fall. Once they are established, we have to deal with them in the spring when they start to bloom.   The more weeds we can prevent from getting established in the fall, the better it will be in the spring.   Cover crops also help hold soil in place.  Winter winds and moisture can carry precious topsoil away if there isn’t something to hold onto it.  We try to get cover crops established as soon as possible so we can maximize their growth potential and form a strong root structure to hold the soil in place and prevent erosion.

Field planted with a cover crop mix of annual rye grass,
oats, crimson clover, Japanese millet and Austrian winter peas
Another important reason for planting cover crops is to build soil health and nutrition while building a system for holding nutrients.  Cover crop plants can both synthesize and extract nutrients from their environment and then act like a sponge to take these nutrients up and hold onto them.  Through photosynthesis they are able to take carbon from the air and use it to build nutrients in the plant and soil system.  Some scientists studying climate change have theorized that if all farmers used cover crop systems, we could mitigate the problem of excess carbon and the effects of climate change.  Many nutrients in the soil are water-soluble and can be lost when they wash away with melting snow and moisture over the winter and in the spring.  If you have a plant in the soil, it will take up the nutrients and utilize or hold onto them.

This year we’ve chosen to diversify our cover crop plant mixes.  We have two different mixes.  The first mix is a combination of four different plants that have the ability to overwinter.  This means they will start to grow again in the spring time.  We plant this mix in fields that we do not plan to plant early crops in.  This mix includes hairy vetch and mammoth red clover which are both legumes.  The other two components are annual rye grass and cereal rye.  Each component of the mix has a specific purpose.  The legumes are important because they have the ability to take nitrogen from the air and fix it in the soil.  Annual rye grass is a fast-growing, aggressive plant that can out-compete weeds.  While it’s part of the overwinter mix for this purpose, it’s actually one component that will not come back in the spring.  Cereal rye is important because it takes up the nutrients, including the nitrogen synthesized by the legumes, and acts like the sponge to hold onto them.  They release them into the soil as needed, or at the end of their life cycle when we cut the cover crop and work it back into the soil.

Austrian winter peas, rye and clover in our cover crop mix.
Our second mix contains five components that will winter-kill.  While this means that the plants will die when we get temperatures of 10°F or less, these amazing plants can and will continue to grow (slowly) up until this point.  This is yet another reason that cover crops are so amazing!  We use this mix on fields that we know we’ll need to get into early in the spring to plant some of our early crops such as parsnips, salad greens, early cabbage, kohlrabi, peas, etc.  This mix also contains the annual rye grass for its fast-growing abilities.  The nitrogen-fixing legumes in this mix include winter peas and crimson clover.  The sponges in this mix include two cereal grains, oats & Japanese millet.  While creating these mixes has added a level of complexity to the process, it also has added a higher level of diversity to our cover crop system which in turn will create a wider diversity of microbes in the soil.

Our standard operating procedure when we finish harvesting a crop is to immediately follow with the chopper to break down any remaining plant material, then do a light disking.  Next, we spread compost and then the cover crop seeds are planted.  This happens fast and the whole process can be completed in 24-36 hours!  This is very time-sensitive and every day matters because you really want to maximize the growth of the cover crop while the fall days are still warm.  Of course we need moisture in the soil to germinate the seeds, so sometimes we dance with the weather and try to time the seeding right before or after a rain.

Using cover crops is a very efficient way to hold and add nutrients to the soil.  Once the crop is planted, everything happens in place.  There is no additional need to haul or spread additional fertilizer…the plant does all the work for us!  Management, teamwork and timeliness are key components to making this all come together.

Vegetable Feature: Lemongrass

by Andrea Yoder

stalk & leaves
Lemongrass is considered an herb, and is very fragrant and aromatic.  There are three parts to lemongrass and all the parts of the lemongrass can be used; the leaves, the middle stalk and the bulb.  The bulb contains the most refreshing lemon essence and only needs to be used in small amounts. The stalk has good flavor but is not as intense as the bulb’s and the leaves have a good lemon flavor followed by more of a “greens” taste.  When using the leaves, it takes about three times more product to achieve the flavor intensity of a bulb.  You can make a bundle with the leaves and use it to flavor pasta or rice while it is cooking.  Remove and discard the bundle when finished cooking.  You can also steep the leaves in hot water to make tea.  The middle section can be cut into sections a few inches in length.  You’ll find this section to be tough but flavorful.  Add them to sautéed dishes, to marinades and to flavor soups; discard before eating.  You can also use the stalk as a skewer for cooking kabobs or chicken satay or as a stirring stick for refreshing beverages.  The bulb is the most tender portion and can be sliced into thin pieces and added to soups, salads and other entrees where it can be eaten instead of discarded.  The secret to cooking with the bulb or the stem is to pound it with the back of a knife to release the oils before using.

Lemongrass Plant

Lemongrass combines well with ginger, garlic, basil, chilies, coconut milk, cilantro, cinnamon and clove.  It is frequently used in Thai, Vietnamese, African, Indian and even Mexican cuisine.  Soups, curries, marinades and teas are more common uses, but don’t limit the use of lemongrass to just these. You can use lemongrass anywhere a refreshing, crisp lemon taste is desired.  It is often a key to making some of your own homemade curries combined with fresh chiles, ginger, etc.  Lemongrass can be stored wrapped in plastic and put in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.  You can also freeze it whole or cut into smaller pieces and it can be dried for later use by hanging to air-dry or by using a food dehydrator.
Laurel with our lemongrass plantings
started in the greenhouse

While lemongrass provides great flavor, this grass also happens to be good for you!  Lemongrass is rich in a substance called citral, traditionally distilled from the leaves and stalks. Citral has shown to be helpful in aiding in the decrease of such ailments as muscle cramps and headaches, and well as aiding in digestion.  Studies have also shown that the components of the grass when boiled (in a tea for example) create multiple anti-oxidants that are believed to help prevent cancer.

Lemongrass Mojitos

Serves 2
2 lemongrass stalks
6 large fresh mint leaves
3 Tbsp sugar
6 Tbsp white rum
3 Tbsp fresh lime juice
Ice cubes
1 cup chilled club soda

  1. Cut the bottom 7 inches from each stalk of lemongrass.  Save the tops for garnish and thinly slice the stalks.  Combine sliced lemongrass, mint and sugar in a shaker; mash well with muddler or wooden spoon.  
  2. Add rum and lime juice to the lemongrass mixture; mash until all sugar dissolves.  Strain into 2 highball glasses.  Fill with ice; top with club soda.  Garnish with lemongrass tops.

Recipe originally published in Bon Appetit, November 18, 2009

Thai Larb

1 ½ pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces 
½ cup coarsely chopped shallots 
2 Tbsp thinly sliced lemongrass 
2 kaffir lime leaves, thinly sliced 
1 small red Thai chile, thinly sliced 
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced 
2 tsp fish sauce 
1 tsp kosher salt 
3 Tbsp peanut oil or canola oil, divided 
8 small iceberg lettuce leaves
Cilantro, tender leaves and stems for garnish

  1. Combine first 8 ingredients in a food processor. Drizzle 1 Tbsp oil over and pulse until chicken is very finely chopped. 
  2. Heat remaining 2 Tbsp oil in a large heavy nonstick skillet over medium–high heat. Add chicken mixture and sauté, breaking up into small pieces with the back of a spoon, until chicken is starting to turn golden brown and is cooked through, about 6 minutes. 
  3. Place 2 lettuce leaves on each plate. Top leaves with chicken mixture, dividing evenly. Garnish with cilantro and spoon reserved dressing over.

⅓ cup fresh lime juice 
2 Tbsp fish sauce 
2 Tbsp (packed) light brown sugar 
½ tsp Sriracha sauce 

  1. Stir all ingredients in a small bowl to blend; set dressing aside. 

Recipe originally published in Bon Appetit, July 24, 2012

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Celeriac, Leeks & Amara Greens...Shifting Gears with the Season

By Andrea Yoder
While this week has actually blessed us with beautiful warm days, last weekend was downright chilly with temperatures into the 50’s.  I finally tipped the balance of denial that summer is fading and fall is moving in.  Summer by no means marks the end of our growing season and this week we have several new items in the box.  We had a hard time deciding which one would be the featured vegetable, so we narrowed it down to three in this week’s newsletter.

The first vegetable is green top celery root.  This vegetable is also referred to as “celeriac.”  It’s in the same family as celery however celery root is cultivated for the root instead of the stalk and leaves.  The root is the portion you eat and it has a mild celery flavor.  The green tops resemble celery stalks, but they are too tough and fibrous to eat.  They do have a lot of flavor in them and can add depth to stock and broth.  The root portion is the part you’ll actually be eating.  The exterior is bumpy and has a tangle of roots on the bottom.  You need to peel away this outer layer to get to the white, dense flesh inside.  My technique is to cut the celery root into quarters using a sharp chef’s knife.  It’s easy to hold a quarter in your hand and peel it using a paring knife.

Celery root may be eaten raw or cooked.  A classic French preparation for a simple raw celery root salad is celeriac remoulade. It consists of shredded celeriac dressed with a mixture of mayonnaise and Dijon mustard.  There are many variations of this recipe, but our favorite includes shredded apple, chopped cranberries and a bit of honey.  Celery root is most frequently used in soups, stews, braised meat dishes, gratins and root mashes.  It seldom takes center stage, but often plays more of a supporting role by laying the foundation for flavor and balancing out other ingredients.  It pairs well with a variety of other root vegetables, cream and cheese.


Our next featured vegetable is leeks.  They are similar to celeriac in that they are more subtle, mild in flavor and often help round out a dish instead of being the dominant flavor.  Leeks are in the onion family, but they do not have as high of sugar content and thus don’t caramelize like an onion.  Leeks are best when cooked gently over medium to low heat only to soften them.  When cooked in this manner they become smooth, buttery and silky.  They pair well with other roots, potatoes, cream, cheese, mushrooms, etc.

In the field, dirt is thrown up on the lower part of the leek. This is part of the growing practice to keep the shank of the leek white.  You may find some dirt between the inner layers.  It’s important to cut the leek in half and either wash it before you cut it any further, or cut it first and then wash it in a colander where the excess water may drain off.  The white portion of the leek is most tender.  The top portion that has more of a bluish-green color is generally thicker.  Many people discard this portion, but don’t fall into this habit- it can be used to flavor stocks, etc.
Finally, we have a new vegetable this week.  The bunching green in your box this week is called Amara.  It actually originated in Ethiopia where it is a very common green also known as Ethiopian Kale, Ethiopian Blue Mustard, Highland Kale and in Ethiopia the name is Gomenzer.  So is it a mustard or a kale?  Technically it’s classified as a mustard, but it does share some qualities of kale including a more sturdy leaf and a thicker stem than traditional mustard greens.  As far as flavor is concerned, it is a bit more similar to mustard.  When eaten raw it has the spicy peppery bite of mustard, which mellows out with cooking.  Typically the thick stems are discarded and the thin stems and leaves are eaten.

Antonio harvesting Amara Greens
I read about this vegetable a year or so ago in a culinary magazine, but this is the first time we’ve had access to the seed.  Menkir Tamrat is credited with introducing this vegetable crop to the United States just recently.  His story was told in the Fall/Winter 2011 issue of Edible Magazine for the Bay Area of California. Tamrat came to the US from Ethiopia in 1971 to go to school.  He had every intention to return to his country, however a revolution occurred in that country in 1974 and came under the rule of a Soviet-backed military ruler who used mass killings, forced deportation, and hunger in an effort to control the people.  Tamrat was not able to return to his country and stayed in the U.S.  Ethiopia was once referred to as the “breadbasket of Africa” and was able to maintain its biodiversity and stay true to the cuisine of its culture.  Tamrat found it very hard to find his traditional foods in the US and, after growing tired of trying to make substitutions, decided to start growing some of his traditional foods here.  Eventually he connected with Fred Hempel, a plant biologist and owner of a farm and nursery in California.  Tamrat got seeds from Ethiopia and, together with Hempel, they started growing them out and producing more seed.  While Ethiopian Kale was not the only crop they worked with, it was one of the crops Tamrat introduced to this continent.  I am intrigued by new crops and foods from different countries, as food is the common denominator that brings us all together as people.  Tamrat shared the recipe for preparing Ethiopian Kale in the article published in the Edible Magazine mentioned above.  It’s as close as I can get to the “real” thing.  If there are any members reading this that have more first-hand information about this country or this vegetable in particular, I’d love to learn more!

Gomen or Ethiopan Kale

This recipe was featured in Edible East Bay, Fall/Winter 2011

Serves 3-4
1 bunch Ethiopian Kale/Amara mustard greens
¼ cup vegetable oil, divided
¼ cup chopped shallots or onion
2 Tbsp chopped garlic
2 Tbsp finely grated ginger
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 mitmita (Ethiopian hot pepper) Or half of a jalapeño, split lengthwise, optional
1 Tbsp lemon juice, optional

  1. Rinse the greens in cold water.  Pull out and discard some of the bigger stems and veins.  At this point you can either blanch the greens quickly in boiling water and chop them or just chop them without blanching.
  2. Meanwhile, heat several tablespoons of the vegetable oil in a skillet and sweat the shallots or onions (don’t let them caramelize).  Then add the chopped garlic and grated ginger and saute gently for 1 to 2 minutes. 
  3. Add remaining oil and the chopped greens and cover the pot.  Stir occasionally to ensure that the shallots and garlic do not caramelize.If the mixture begins to look dry as the greens are cooking down, add a small amount of water.  Continue to cook, covered, stirring occasionally on low heat for about 30 minutes, depending on your taste and the tenderness of the greens.
  4. Add salt and pepper, to taste.  If adding the hot pepper, do it a couple of minutes before turning off the heat.  Add the lemon juice and slightly mix the greens before serving.

Note: Carnivores might like to try the rendition of this dish known as Gomen Besiga.  Start by braising about 2 pounds of beef or lamb rib meat with the bones until well cooked and then just follow the recipe above, adding everything else to the meat in the pan.

Celery Root Puree with Anjou Pear

“When summer fades and the markets fill with fall fruits and roots, make this savory-sweet puree of pears and celery root, a perfect accompaniment to roast pork tenderloin or to pork of any kind.”

Serves 8 as a side dish
1 large celery root, trimmed, peeled, and cut into 1-inch cubes
Kosher or fine sea salt, to taste
4 Anjou pears, about 2 pounds
¼ cup unsalted butter
½ cup dry vermouth
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
½ cup heavy whipping cream, warmed
Freshly ground white pepper, to taste

  1. Fill a 6-quart saucepan two-thirds full of water.  Add the celery root and 1 tsp salt, cover partially, and bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce the heat so the water simmers and cook until the celery root is tender when pierced with a knife, about 15 minutes. Drain the celery root in a colander and return it to the pan.  Place the pan over low heat for 1 minute to evaporate any excess moisture.  
  2. Meanwhile, using a vegetable peeler, peel, halve and core the pears and cut them into 1-inch chunks.  In a large frying pan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the pears and ½ tsp salt and cook, stirring occasionally until the pears are soft, about 5 minutes.  Add the vermouth and nutmeg and continue cooking until the pears are very soft and the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes more.  Remove the pan from the heat.
  3. In a food processor, combine half each of the celery root, pears and cream and process until completely smooth.  Transfer the puree to a warmed serving bowl.  Repeat with the remaining celery root, pears and cream and add to the bowl.  Season with salt and white pepper.
  4. Serve immediately or keep warm in the top of a double boiler.
Recipe borrowed from Diane Morgan’s book, Roots.  Her book of more than 225 recipes covers a wide variety of root vegetables, many of which we grow.  Her recipes are interesting and the cookbook is informative and easy to use. 

Leeks & Cheese Mash

“The quantities are deliberately vague because of the nature of leftovers.  A recipe for which we must use our instinct”

A large leek
Leftover mashed potatoes
Cheese—anything you have around that needs using

  1. Wash and chop the leek, then let it cook in a generous amount of butter, covered with a lid and a piece of wax paper if you wish, until soft.  Season with salt and then scoop into a shallow ovenproof dish.
  2. Spread the mashed potatoes on top of the leeks.  Level them a little without packing them down too tightly.  Dot small knobs of butter over the surface, cover with grated or crumbled cheese, then bake in a hot oven until the cheese has melted and the potatoes are heated through.

This recipe is taken from Nigel Slater’s book, Tender:  A Cook and His Vegetable Patch.  Slater is a British food writer who writes honestly about growing & cooking his own vegetables, mixing personal experience with descriptive prose.