Purslane

native to: India and Iran
in season here: summer

Also called pigweed, verdolago, or little hopweed, Portulaca oleracea is often considered a weed around here — or at best, a readily available green mulch. It’s tolerant of both drought and poor soil. Leaves, smaller stems, and flower buds appear in many Asian and European cuisines, especially South Indian dishes. It can be eaten raw in salads, stir-fried, or curried. It is often compared to arugula or spinach and can be used similarly.

Purslane is higher in omega-3 fatty acids than some fish oils, making it popular among vegans. In fact, it’s generally considered to be the richest cultivated plant source of omega-3s, rivaled only by certain wild greens like molokhia and stamnagathi. It has plenty of vitamins A, C, E, and some Bs; its mineral offerings include iron, magnesium, calcium, and potassium. It’s an excellent source of anti-oxidants and a particularly good source of alpha-linolenic acid, which has been linked to coronary health and general longevity. Along with amaranth, lamb’s quarters greens, watercress, and lettuce, purslane is one of the richest herbal sources of anti-depressant substances.

Purslane doesn’t keep very well, which may be why it’s so hard to find, especially for those who lack a good farmers’ market. It starts to lose nutrition as soon as it’s harvested, so the fresher you can eat it, the better. It spreads readily, making some gardeners reluctant to grow their own, but it can be grown in containers to help control it (just don’t let it go to seed). It also makes a good microgreen.

It should be noted that purslane is a source of oxalic acid and should be avoided or eaten with caution by those susceptible to calcium-oxalate kidney stones or urinary issues such as bladder stones, or with other oxalic acid concerns. Pregnant women are also commonly advised to avoid purslane, which promotes uterine contractions and can cause miscarriage.

Read more:
label-style nutrition information for raw purslane
label-style nutrition information for cooked purslane
Health With Food
Natural Health Solutions

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Versión en español: this post is also available in Spanish.
Esperanta traduko: this post is also available in Esperanto, because Dana is a language geek.

Apricots

native to: China or Armenia
in season here: June to early July

Apricots, Prunus armenaica, are closely related to plums (more distantly, they join plums, peaches, and apples as relatives of the rose). They may have originally come from India or China and were certainly present in ancient Greece and Rome, but the general scientific consensus these days is that they came from Armenia. They were brought to Virginia in 1720, but didn’t do all that well until they arrived in California in 1792, where the climate was much more suitable. Here in Washington State, of course, we think of them as being from Yakima and Wenatchee, and may even associate them with Cotlets. It’s easy to tell if an apricot is reasonably local and delicious or has been picked green and imported hundreds or thousand of miles: the better an apricot smells, the more flavor it has. The essential oil from apricot pits is sold as bitter almond oil (just like almond extract is actually made from peach pits).

Apricots are one of summer’s earliest fruits and provide plenty of beta-carotene, fiber, vitamin C, copper, and potassium. Their flavonoids and other polyphenols have been linked to heart health, and their carotenoids and xanthophylls are thought to protect vision. They are also a good source of catechins, an anti-inflammatory most commonly associated with green tea. They support bone health, with all the necessary minerals needed to grow bones and prevent osteoporosis. They’ve been used to treat digestive complaints, earaches, fever, skin problems, respiratory problems, cancer, and anemia (with what success, my superficial research doesn’t mention). Apricot oil is used on strained muscles and wounds.

Read more:
label-style nutrition information for raw apricots
label-style nutrition information for dried apricots
World’s Healthiest Foods
Live Strong

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Versión en español: this post is also available in Spanish.
Esperanta traduko: this post is also available in Esperanto, because Dana is a language geek.

Leeks

native to: probably Central Asia
in season here: fall through early spring

Leeks, Allium ampeloprasum (Leek Group), are members of the Amaryllidaceae family, related to onions and garlic. They have plenty of kaempferol, which protects blood vessel linings. Another way leeks protect blood vessels is with their high concentrations of polyphenols (garlic and onions have more, but leeks are still up there). They also provide lots of folate in a bioactive form, meaning you’re not only eating this B vitamin, you’re absorbing it and getting that cardiovascular support. Leeks’ flavonoids are more abundant in the bulbs and lower leaves, which is the part most commonly used. They also contain compounds which convert to allicin after the leek is cut or crushed; allicin reduces cholesterol formation (how about some leeks in that omelet?), reduces blood vessel stiffness, lowers blood pressure, and has anti-microbial functions. Leeks also provide the important vitamins pyridoxine, niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, and vitamins A, C, and E. Their good fiber content makes them helpful for weight loss.

Ancient Greeks and Romans ate leeks to benefit the throat and make the voice stronger, and the Romans introduced them into many of the colder areas of their empire. The leek is the national symbol of Wales; according to some sources this is because of their use in a battle against Saxon invaders in 1620, but sources I find more credible trace the presence and importance of leeks in Wales into far earlier times.

Read more:
label-style nutrition information for raw leeks
label-style nutrition information for boiled leeks
Nutrition and You
Organic Gardening News and Info

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Versión en español: this post is also available in Spanish.
Esperanta traduko: this post is also available in Esperanto, because Dana is a language geek.

Newsletters: 26 Oct., 2011

Excerpt from the Market Newsletter originally published on 26 Oct., 2011. View the full newsletter for all the photos and links.

In the belly
Pumpkins, of course, are just one of the many winter squashes. Winter squashes are members of the Cucurbitaceae family, related to both the melon and the cucumber. They were originally cultivated, 10,000 years ago in South America, for their seeds. Now they offer us complex carbohydrates, fiber, alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and other carotenoids, omega-3 fats, and a whole alphabet of vitamins. They are said to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-diabetic and insulin-regulating properties. Research has suggested that growing winter squash can help remove contaminants from soil, which is good as long as you weren’t planning to eat them. The corollary is that this is a good vegetable to buy organic if you do plan to eat it.

In the kitchen
Being a bit pressed for both time and inspiration, I turn once again to good ol’ Epicurious for, of course, pumpkin recipes.

Ginger-Pumpkin Muffins
5.5 tablespoons minced crystallized ginger
1/2 cup dried currants or raisins
2 tablespoons brandy
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1.5 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons cooked pumpkin puree (or canned solid pack pumpkin)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons low-fat buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large egg whites
1 large egg
3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons golden brown sugar
1/2 cup light molasses
1/4 cup vegetable oil
Mix 2.5 tablespoons crystallized ginger, currants and brandy in small bowl. Sift together flour, ground ginger, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda and salt. Whisk pumpkin puree, buttermilk and vanilla. Beat egg whites and egg until foamy; beat in 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons brown sugar. Beat until light, about 2 minutes; beat in molasses and oil. Beat in dry ingredients alternately with pumpkin mixture in 3 additions each. Stir in currant mixture. Divide batter among sixteen 1/3-cup muffin cups with paper liners. Mix 3 tablespoons crystallized ginger and 1 tablespoon brown sugar and sprinkle evenly over muffins. Bake at 375F about 25 min., until tester inserted into center comes out clean. Cool on a rack.

Sugar Pumpkin, Feta, and Cilantro Quesadillas
3 cups peeled seeded sugar pumpkin or butternut squash in 1.5-inch cubes (about 1 lb. whole pumpkin)
1 finely chopped seeded jalapeño (about 2 tablespoons)
salt and pepper to taste
12 flour tortillas, 8-inch diameter
10 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
1.5 cups coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
2 limes, each cut into 6 wedges, to serve
Cook pumpkin in boiling salted water until tender but not falling apart, about 10 minutes. Drain and cool 10 minutes; transfer to a food processor and puree until smooth. Stir in jalapeño; season with salt and pepper. Spread about 1/4 c pumpkin mixture evenly on each of 6 tortillas. Sprinkle with feta, 1/4 cup cilantro and pepper to taste. Top each with a second tortilla. Cook in a heavy skillet over med-high about 1 min. per side, until golden with dark char marks.

Pumpkin-Seed Brittle
1/2 cup fresh pumpkin seeds, not rinsed
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
salt to taste
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
Toss seeds with oil and salt and bake at 250F on an ungreased baking sheet, stirring occasionally, for 1 – 1.25 hours, or until golden and crisp. Combine sugar and water and cook over moderately low heat, stirring and washing down the sugar crystals with a brush dipped in cold water until the sugar is dissolved, and simmer it, undisturbed, tilting and rotating the skillet, until it is a deep caramel color. Stir in the pumpkin seeds until they are coated well, and turn the mixture out onto a buttered sheet of foil, spreading it evenly. Let the brittle cool completely and break into pieces.

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Newsletters: 19 Oct., 2011

Excerpt from the Market Newsletter originally published on 19 Oct., 2011. View the full newsletter for all the photos and links.

In the garden
This being our designated planning-for-the-winter week, it seems only right to give you a run-down of what will be going on out there over the winter. Here’s a summary of what the WSU Master Gardeners tell us.
• Nov.: Mulch. Move container plants inside (if you haven’t already). Be careful not to over-prune your roses.
• Dec.: Pot up paperwhites for forcing. Fertilize for the winter.
• Jan.: Do a little winter weeding. Start planning next year’s garden, including crop rotation.
• Feb.: Don’t be fooled by good weather into exposing your roses or getting a start on your spring pruning. Instead, go slug hunting or start your brassica seedlings indoors.
• Mar.: NOW you can prune and feed those roses. Transplant your brassicas outside and start tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants inside. Sow hardy vegetables such as beets and spinach.
• Apr.: Sow carrots. Start squash and cucumbers indoors. You should probably mow the lawn, too.
• May.: Plant dahlias, gladiolus and calla lilies; fill containers and deadhead bulbs. Sow corn and beans, and transplant tomato, pepper and squash starts, if and when it’s warm enough.

In the kitchen
The cold weather is here, so I guess it’s time to talk about nice hearty soups again.

Clove-scented onion soup with Madeira and paprika
0.25 c unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. olive oil
3 lb. onions, peeled and thinly sliced
6 c beef broth
3 Tbsp. golden raisins
1.5 tsp. paprika
0.5 tsp. ground mace
8 whole cloves
salt and pepper to taste
4 egg yolks, lightly beaten
0.25 c dry Madeira wine
Cook onions in the butter and olive oil, stirring occasionally, 20 min. or until the onions are wilted and golden. Add broth, raisins, paprika, mace, and cloves. Bring to a boil; partially cover, and simmer 30 min. Season. Stir 1/4 c of the soup into the egg yolks. Add the yolk mixture to the pot and cook, stirring, for about 4 min or until slightly thickened. Stir in Madeira.
From: Adriana’s spice caravan / Adriana & Rochelle Zabarkes.

Healthy Oatmeal Soup
10 cups chicken stock
2 skinless chicken breasts
1 large ripe tomato, finely chopped
1 green onion, finely chopped
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 tablespoon ground coriander
1 cup quick cooking oats (more or less, according to desired thickness)
Salt to taste
Boil chicken breasts, tomato, cumin, and coriander in chicken stock until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken meat from the bones and cut or tear into small pieces. Return meat to broth and stir in oats. Bring to a boil, stir occasionally for about 2 minutes. Boil for about 15 minutes.
Source unknown.

Crock Pot Barley Soup
1 lb. stew beef in 1/2″ cubes
1 med. onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots, diced
3/4 c. barley
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste
6 c. beef stock
Slow-cook on low for 6 to 8 hours, stirring occasionally.
Source unknown.

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Newsletters: 20 Oct., 2010

Excerpt from the Market Newsletter originally published on 20 Oct., 2010. View the full newsletter for all the photos and links.

Cooking, and reading about cooking
Last month Jackie at L&I recommended a recipe from Chez Panisse Vegetables using corn and zucchini that I think must be this one. If you move quickly you still might be able to find all the ingredients.

Summer squash and corn pasta
4-6 small summer squashes, diced
5-6 ears corn, cut from cobs
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 jalapeño pepper, finely chopped
3 Tbsp. olive oil
salt and black pepper to taste
handful cilantro leaves
2 Tbsp. butter
4 Tbsp. water
1 lb. fresh fettuccine, cooked
juice of 1/2 lemon, optional
Saute squash in the oil until tender and a little brown; season with salt and pepper. Add corn, garlic, and jalapeño; continue cooking a few more minutes. Add cilantro (reserving some for garnish if desired), butter, and water; correct seasoning. Add fettuccine and toss. Add lemon juice if corn is very sweet and garnish with cilantro.
From: Chez Panisse vegetables / by Alice Waters and the cooks of Chez Panisse. HarperCollins, c1996.

Warm spinach and squash salad
1.5 lb. delicata squash cut in half, seeded, and sliced, or butternut squash peeled, seeded, and cubed
4 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 t salt (divided)
black pepper
3 Tbsp. lemon juice or red wine vinegar
8 oz. spinach leaves
1/2 c toasted sliced almonds
Toss squash with 1 Tbsp. oil, 1/4 tsp. salt, and pepper to taste, in a 12×17-inch baking dish. Bake at 400F ca. 20 min., until tender. Mix lemon juice with remaining 1/4 tsp. salt; add squash, spinach, and onions. Heat remaining 3 Tbsp. oil, pour over all, and toss to coat, wilting spinach. Serve immediately.
From: Yoga Journal, Nov. 2009.

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Newsletters: 16 Apr., 2011

Excerpt from the Market Newsletter originally published on 16 Apr., 2011. View the full newsletter for all the photos and links.

In the garden
The WSU Master Gardeners say this is the time to plant dahlias, gladiolus, calla lilies, corn and beans, and harden off your vegetable starts. They also suggest planting out your tomato, squash, pepper, and cucumber starts, but some local tomato growers tell me it’s better to wait until really warm June weather to plant out tomatoes, basil, and other heat-lovers.

In the kitchen
At this time of year, lettuce is the one thing we can be sure of finding at the market.

Wilted lettuce
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup white vinegar
3/4 cup water
ca. 3 slices bacon, chopped (or cut up with kitchen shears)
1 head leaf lettuce
Mix sugar, vinegar, and water; these measurements will probably give you enough for more than one head of lettuce but it can be kept in the fridge longer than I’ve ever needed to use it up – months, at least. Wash and tear up lettuce and place in a large bowl that won’t object to a little hot grease. Fry the bacon until crisp. Drain off some of the grease if there’s a lot, but reserve 1-2 Tbsp. of it. Add bacon to the lettuce, then the sugar/vinegar/water mixture in about the amount you would any dressing (not enough to leave the lettuce swimming, though). Toss, then add the reserved bacon grease and toss again.
From: Kelly Iverson

Fried lettuce
1 large head of lettuce
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
pinch salt
1 tsp. Vesop, Bragg’s, or soy sauce
Wash and trim lettuce and shake off excess moisture. Cut into four sections. Heat the oil and fry lettuce for 1 min. Add crushed garlic, salt, Vesop; mix well and cook another minute.
From: The Left Foot Organics cookbook : recipes for great food and a healthy community. Gateway, [2008].

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