Even though we have moved into the “growing season”, in reality, there are seasons within the seasons. Some folks distinguish between spring, early summer, late summer, fall and early winter crops. Others speak of simply early, mid, and late season produce. What is clear, though, is that what we see in our early distribution varies quite a bit from later season offerings. While some crops, like lettuce and greens, we will get to enjoy throughout the entire growing season, some delicacies are reserved only for a few weeks at a time. I find the rarity of these items makes them all the more tantalizing and desirable (think of tomatoes, for instance). This is exactly how I feel about pea tendrils or pea shoots.
Pea tendrils/shoots are the early growth of a variety of pea plants. They include a thin, lightly crunchy stem, delicate tiny leaves, tendrils of early growth, and sometimes, fragile little blossoms. They have an addictive, mild sweet pea flavor. While they are most often used as part of a salad mix, they can also be lightly cooked like any other tender green, or added last minute to pasta and pizzas, like arugula. They are also wonderful added to any kind of grain, pasta, or vegetable salad. When you can get them together, mixing fresh blanched peas with their pea shoots in a little vinaigrette is a bit of heaven on earth.
In our first distribution this week we will have the pleasure of trying pea tendrils as part of a baby greens salad mix. This mix will include baby spinach and lettuces in addition to pea shoots.
Baby lettuce mixes are so special because, since they are so immature in their growth, the leaves tend to be more tender and mild and less fibrous than their mature counterparts. There is even some suggestion that the nutritional value of the individual baby leaves is higher than their bigger, more mature versions, since the “energy” of the whole is concentrated into a smaller package. However, I could not find definitive evidence of this claim. Nutritional advantage aside, there is no doubt that baby salad greens make for a unique and delicious culinary experience….simply look at how many baby lettuce mixes have proliferated in local supermarkets in recent years.
Is important to note that baby greens can easily wilt and mold, especially if they are stored with excess moisture on the leaves. That is why the farm does a preliminary rinse and dry of their baby salad mixes. However, it is recommended that right before eating these greens, you thoroughly rinse and dry them again. In the meantime, throw a paper towel in the bag with the greens when you get them. It helps to absorb excess moisture and prolong their freshness.
To clean greens, I like to swish the leaves in a large container of fresh, cold water and then allow them to sit for a few minutes. The sand and grit will float to the bottom and then you can gently lift the greens up from the top. I highly recommend that you own a salad spinner and that you “dry” your greens before proceeding with any recipe or preparation, as leaves can tend hold lots of water that dilutes other ingredients, in addition to contributing to wilting and spoilage.
Because baby salad greens are so delicate and tender, I prefer to dress them with lighter, thinner vinaigrettes. I find that overly bold flavors or heavy, thick dressings tend to just obliterate the delicate texture and flavor of these greens.
Below I have developed a recipe that uses seasonal strawberries and Hakurei turnips, a wonderful mild, radish-like vegetable that is great in salads and is a fantastic early season crop that we will receive this week. A quick note on Hakurei turnips….don’t throw those greens out. Add them to your salad or cook up with other greens. They have a bit of a bite, but are delicious!
While strawberries may or may not be ready for this week’s distribution, they make a wonderful seasonal and light vinaigrette for early season baby lettuce greens. If you don’t have fresh strawberries, try frozen ones, or even strawberry jam, to make your vinaigrette. Just make sure the berries are organic, as commercially grown strawberries tend to hold a high amount of pesticide residue.
Light Fresh Strawberry Vinaigrette Makes 1 Cup
– 1 heaping cup halved fresh organic strawberries
– 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
– 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
– 1 tablespoon agave nectar,: or sugar or honey to taste
– 2 tablespoons organic apple juice
Place all ingredients in a blender. Blend until completely smooth and emulsified. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to use. Will keep for about 1 week.
Baby Lettuce, Pea Shoot & Hakurei Salad w/ Strawberry Vinaigrette Serves 4
– 4-5 cups baby salad greens with pea tendrils
– 2-3 Hakurei salad turnips, washed, julienned
– 1 cup Hakurei salad greens, chopped, optional
– Light Strawberry Viniagrette, as needed to coat
–Toasted slivered almonds
– 2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled (optional)
Wash and dry salad greens. Toss with turnip pieces and enough dressing to coat lightly. Top with almonds and crumbled goat cheese, if desired.
Last year I published a recipe for Asian Chicken Noodle Soup, but I recently realized that this recipe is super flexible and especially great for this time of year, when the weather can still be cool and comfortable. This soup is wonderful with just the subtle bite and crunch of baby bok choy or Joi Choi (in our distribution this week). However, you can easily add in the specific veggies you have on hand for a flavorful and healthful meal.
Build Your Own Asian Chicken Noodle Soup Serves 6
– 8 cups chicken or vegetable broth (I use home-made)
– 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
– 2 large cloves garlic. crushed
– 2-3 tablespoons soy sauce (depends upon sodium content of your broth. Season to taste)
– 3-5 choi stalks with leaves (or more if using baby bok choy)
– 6 scallions, white and light green parts, cut into ½”inch pieces
– 6 ounces udon or whole wheat noodles, (spaghetti works fine as well)
– 2 teaspoons sesame oil
Choose your Own
Chicken—Use shredded rotisserie or baked chicken OR cook thin raw pieces in the soup broth for 5-7 minutes, or until cooked through.
Mushrooms: Fresh or dried Shiitake mushrooms (reconstituted if dried)
Red Bell Pepper: Use 1-2, julienned
Sugar Snap Peas: Cut in half lengthwise, and again crosswise into 1” pieces
Sprouts/shoots: Add at the last minute for crunch and nutrition
Other veggies: Julienned carrots, radishes, turnips, cabbage, and other. Add at the last few minutes of cooking.
Separate choi leaves and stalks. Chop leaves and slice stalks into 1/3″ slices. Set aside.
Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain. Toss in a bowl with sesame oil and set aside.
Mix broth, ginger, garlic, and soy sauce in a soup pot over medium-high heat until simmering. Simmer for 5 minutes.
Add raw chicken, if using. Cook for 5 minutes, or until chicken is no longer pink.
Add vegetables: Add all vegetables except tender choi greens. Cook for 3-5 minutes, or until vegetables are starting to soften. Add choi greens (and if using, already cooked chicken). Cook for 2-5 minutes or until greens are wilted and chicken is heated through. Remove from heat.
Divide noodles among 6 bowls. Ladle broth with chicken and vegetables over noodles. Serve.
This soup is great as leftovers. Refrigerate noodles and chicken broth mixture separately. Pour hot broth over noodles when ready to serve.
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