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: 28 Sept. 2011

Excerpt from the Market Newsletter originally published on 28 Sept. 2011. View the full newsletter for all the photos and links.

In the belly
This seems like a good time to look at stress. Stress is, at heart, the feeling that things are out of control. It can be counteracted to a certain extent just by taking charge of your life — if not of the events themselves, then at least of your reactions to those events. This is at the heart of stress management. Nothing can really stress you out without your permission, but of course just not worrying about it isn’t that easy. There are all kinds of techniques out there for dealing with stress, and we all have our own methods as well — some healthy, some not so good. Some popular methods of stress management are over-eating, smoking, and excessive drinking; healthier options include meditation and relaxation in many forms, exercise, laughter, gratitude, altruism, various sorts of social activity, improved time management, counseling, journaling, and various sorts of “me-time” or self-care (I was going to say self-indulgence but that has negative connotations; that’s what we’re really talking about here, though). Stress has a bad reputation these days, but a certain amount of stress is actually good for you, and keeps life from being boring. Too little stress can lead to depression. The trick is finding the right balance.
Standard disclaimer: I’m a librarian, not a doctor. Make up your own mind and don’t believe anything just because I put it in this newsletter.

In the kitchen
A friend of mine just bought 30 lbs. of onions for the winter. I can’t imagine what she’s going to do with them all. She says she puts them in everything.

Cabbage with red onion and apple
1 large apple, cored but not peeled, shredded
2 med. carrots, scraped and shredded
10 oz shredded cabbage
6 oz shredded red onion
1 t cumin
3/4 t ground coriander
pepper
Place all ingredients in a pot over med-low heat. Stir, cover, cook 6-8 min. until soft.
From: 20-minute menus / Marian Burros. 1st Fireside ed. Simon & Schuster, 1995.

Caramelized onion and parsnip soup
2 T butter
3 large onions, halved and thinly sliced
2 T light brown sugar
1 c dry white wine
3 large parsnips, peeled and chopped
5 c vegetable stock
1/4 c cream
fresh thyme leaves, to garnish
Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the onions and sugar and cook over low heat for 10 min. Add the wine and parsnips and simmer, covered, for 20 min. or until the onions and parsnips are golden and tender. Pour in the stock, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 10 min. Cool slightly, then place in a blender or food processor and blend in batches until smooth. Season. Drizzle with a little cream and sprinkle with fresh thyme leaves.
From: Bowl food / edited by Kay Scarlett.

Pickled onions
16 white boiling onions (about 1 lb.)
2 tsp. coriander seeds
1 tsp. fennel seeds
1 Tbsp. coarse salt
1 c white wine vinegar
1 c water
3 Tbsp. sugar
Bring all ingredients to a gentle simmer in a non-reactive saucepan; simmer, covered, 10 min. Remove from heat and let cool, still covered. Pour into a 1-quart jar and refrigerate at least 12 hours; keeps up to two weeks.
From: Vegetables / James Peterson. William Morrow and Co., c1998.

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Newsletters: 29 Sept. 2010

Excerpt from the Market Newsletter originally published on 29 Sept. 2010. View the full newsletter for all the photos and links.

Cooking, and reading about cooking
Your market manager, Connie, asked me about veggie burgers, which she was sure could be made at home at a considerable savings. I was surprised to find that neither of my good vegetable cookbooks had anything at all to say about vegetable patties, while my two favorite recipe sites had all kinds of variations. Here are the two most interesting, and I’ll put some of the others up on the Market recipe pages sometime in the next couple of weeks.

>Veggie Burgers
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 small onion, grated
2 cloves crushed garlic
2 carrots, shredded
1 small summer squash, shredded
1 small zucchini, shredded
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Cook onion and garlic in olive oil over low heat until tender, about 5 minutes. Mix in the carrots, squash, and zucchini; cook and stir for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and mix in oats, cheese, and egg. Stir in soy sauce, transfer the mixture to a bowl, and refrigerate 1 hour. Form the vegetable mixture into eight 3-inch-round patties and dredge in flour to lightly coat both sides. Grill on an oiled grate 5 minutes on each side, or until heated through and nicely browned.
From: AllRecipes.com

Indian Vegetable Patties
1.25 cups fresh corn kernels or frozen, thawed
1 medium carrot, grated
1 medium russet potato, peeled, grated
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup shredded fresh spinach leaves
6 tablespoons all purpose flour
1/4 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded, minced
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 large egg, beaten to blend
1 tablespoon (or more) vegetable oil
Mix corn, carrot, potato, onion, spinach, flour, peas, cilantro, jalapeño, garlic, ginger, and cumin; season to taste and stir in egg. Form patties (3 tablespoons make a 3-inch-diameter patty) and place on large baking sheet. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour. Cook in oil over medium heat in batches until golden, about 4 min. per side, adding more oil as necessary. Serve with yogurt and chutney if desired.

From: Epicurious

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Newsletters: 21 Sept. 2011

Excerpt from the Market Newsletter originally published on 21 Sept. 2011. View the full newsletter for all the photos and links.

In the belly
It’s pickling season, so I thought I’d do a little research on vinegar. I know vinegar as an old thirst-quencher; Roman legionaries added it to their water both to kill whatever might be in there and for its rehydrating properties. You can make your own old-fashioned sports drink by mixing 1 c sugar, 1 Tbsp. ginger, and 6 Tbsp. vinegar into 2 quarts of water, but I’ve heard it’s only drinkable if you really need it. It is also widely used as a mild antiseptic, deodorizer, and cleaner — adding a dollop of white vinegar to your laundry helps eliminate that winter mistiness; a dab on insect bites keeps them from itching. Dilute cider vinegar is said to be good for the skin and is sometimes used as a sunburn remedy. Whatever your health problem, you can probably find someone to tell you vinegar is the cure, and someone else to tell you that’s nonsense. Until a lot more research is done, all that can be said for sure is that, while it doesn’t offer any great nutritional surprises, its acetic acid helps with digestion and the absorption of important minerals.

In the kitchen
Here we are with corn in season again, but last year when I looked for corn recipes they mostly involved cutting it off the cob, which I think is a waste. I suppose you could go all ’50s and put it (cob and all) into a casserole, pour condensed cream-of-mushroom soup over it, and bake it, but that sounds like a waste as well. I’ll leave you to boil or roast it, and give you some interesting fruit recipes instead.

Fruit pizza
Crust:
1 c. shortening/margarine
1 1/2 c. sugar
2 3/4 c. flour
2 eggs
2 t. cream of tartar
1/4 t. salt (optional)
1 t. baking soda
Cream shortening, sugar, and eggs until fluffy. Add dry ingredients, mix well. Spread dough in 10-inch pizza pan (or larger; it’s pretty thick at 10″ dia.). Bake 10-15 min. at 350. Let cool.

Topping:
16 oz. cream cheese
6 T. sugar
fruit (whatever you like, sliced in most cases, fresh is best but canned is OK too; I tend to use bananas, kiwis, peaches, strawberries (all sliced) and sometimes canned mandarin orange segments)
Cream cream cheese and sugar; spread on cooled crust. Top with fruit (you can make decorative designs if you want. You want to end up with a single layer of fruit, closely spaced but not overlapping).

Glaze:
2-3 c. fruit juice, sweetened if necessary
4 T corn starch
Cook, stirring, until thick (this step is very important; failure to cook the glaze will require sponging down the inside of the fridge). Spoon glaze over fruit, making sure air-sensitive fruit such as bananas and apples are covered entirely. Glaze should set on its own; if it seems reluctant, refrigerate.
From: Dorothy Huffman’s collection

Peach milk shake
3 sm. peaches, skinned, pitted, and roughly chopped
1.25 c milk
1 T superfine sugar
1 T apricot or peach brandy (optional)
grated chocolate for garnish
Place all ingredients except grated chocolate in a blender and process until smooth. Chill, garnish, and serve.
From: Fruit fandango / Moya Clarke. Chartwell Books, c1994.

Peach duff
1/4 c butter
1 c flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c sugar
2/3 c milk
1.5 lb peaches (4-6), peeled and thickly sliced
Melt butter in an 8-inch square baking dish. Sift flour, baking powder, salt, sugar together; gradually add milk and stir just until moistened. Spoon batter evenly onto melted butter and arrange peach slices on top. Bake 35 min. at 375F. Serve warm.
From: Cooking with fruit : the complete guide to using fruit throughout the meal, the day, the year / Rolce Redard Payne and Dorrit Speyer Senior. Wings Books, 1995.

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