Kids Cook Monday: Very Veggie Lasagna

kcm lasagna

A vegetarian lasagna is often not much more than many layers of pasta and cheese. Tasty as that can be, it strikes me as a lot of work for essentially a variation on stove-top mac and cheese, and a missed opportunity to add color, texture and nutritional excitement in the form of vegetables. Therefore, for our most recent Kids Cook Monday cooking class* (in which my daughter and I cook a full meal with a class of adult-child cooking pairs), we made this lasagna which uses two sauces, one with greens and one with red and orange vegetables.

Preparation takes about 45 minutes, followed by a little over an hour of baking, making it a great family dinner project. Many hands make the chopping, stirring and assembly fun and easy, and the hour of oven time can be filled with salad and dessert making (those recipe posts coming up shortly).

Very Veggie Lasagna

Ingredients:

  • 1 large onion, chopped and divided
  • 1 leek, washed and chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced and divided
  • 1 tablespoon butter, divided
  • 1 sweet potato, grated
  • 1 jar basic tomato sauce (24 oz)
  • several hardy pinches of Italian spices
  • 16 oz frozen greens (or 1 lb fresh greens, such as spinach, kale, Swiss chard, etc)
  • 15 oz ricotta cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • several grinds black pepper and nutmeg
  • 9 pieces oven-ready lasagna noodles
  • 3 cups grated mozzarella cheese

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 375˚.
  2. Place ½ tablespoon of butter in each of two skillets or sauce pans.
  3. Divide onions evenly between two pans, and sauté until soft and translucent.
  4. Add chopped leeks to one skillet (this will be the greens-ricotta pan).
  5. Divide minced garlic between two pans.kcm adding garlic
  6. Add sweet potato and ¼ cup of water to other pan (this will be the red sauce pan) and cook until soft.
  7. Drain the greens and squeeze out any excess liquid over the sink. Add greens to greens-ricotta pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes, and turn heat off.
  8. Empty jar of tomato sauce into sweet potato mixture for the red sauce.  Add ¼ cup of water to jar, close lid, shake to combine with remaining sauce, and empty jar into pan again. Add Italian spices, and salt and pepper to taste.kcm red sauce
  9. Beat 2 eggs in medium-sized bowl, mix in ricotta cheese.  Pour into greens-ricotta pan.  Add salt, and several grinds of black pepper and nutmeg.kcm ricotta
  10.  Assembly:  In a 9×13 (or similar-sized) baking pan, layer:
  • ¾ cup red sauce
  • single layer of lasagna pasta (3 pieces)
  • ½ of greens-ricotta mixture
  • ¾ cup red sauce
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • single layer of lasagna pasta (3 pieces)
  • remaining greens-ricotta mixture
  • ¾ cup red sauce
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • single layer of lasagna pasta (3 pieces)
  • remaining red sauce
  • remaining shredded mozzarella cheesekcm assembly

11. Cover with aluminum foil and place in preheated oven. After 1 hour, remove foil to allow cheese on top to brown.  Bake for another 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

kcm lasagna 1

 

* For more on the Kids Cook Monday movement, be sure to visit the campaign’s website, pledge to enjoy dinner together as a family at least once a week, and enjoy the recipes posted on this site as part of the “Kids Cook Monday” series.

Long Live Grilled Cheese!

A panini, a quesadilla, a tosti, a croque-monsieur, a Welsh rarebit…. it has been thoroughly tested the world over, and has been unequivocally determined: a grilled cheese is a good thing.  In conjunction with Wilson Farm’s Grilled Cheese Weekend (my childhood neighborhood farm and farm stand hosting their First-Ever Grilled Cheese Weekend, March 1 & 2, 2014), I’m having what has become my favorite way to enjoy a grilled cheese sandwich.

kimchi grilled cheese

Thanks to a thematic overhaul and a particularly lively addition, the grilled cheese recently jumped up in the ranks of my favorite sandwiches. The new theme is probiotics – those BFF bacteria we can’t live without and live much better with. Filling my sandwich with as much life as possible, I’ve been opting for a true sour dough bread (which is naturally fermented), layered with sliced raw milk hard cheese (naturally cultured Cheddar being the favorite choice in my area), topped with a generous scoop of sauerkraut or kimchi (lacto-fermented cabbage teaming with probiotics), all melted together to the point of perfection.

kimchi

kimchi grilled cheese

Add even more life to your meal, by washing it down with a tall glass of kombucha (a naturally fermented tea), ginger bug, kefir or a lassi and you are in good bacterial hands!

Valentine’s Fruit & Veg Pizzas

Happy Valentine’s Day!

V-day special tray

Anyone else showing love and making Valentine’s Day treats with fruits and vegetables? I know it’s a holiday celebrated with candy and chocolate (according to CNN, people dropped $1.6 billion for candy on this day last year!), but aren’t they all?  And if you really love someone, don’t you want to give them something that is good for them?

With a heart-shaped cookie-cutter (or a good knife and a steady hand), almost anything can take on a heart shape, and with some strategic cutting several fruits and vegetables have built-in hearts ready to shine!

We selected red bell peppers with a particularly hearty shape, sliced them and made personalized heart pizzas.

Single heart pizza

Tray of heart pizzas

We also made strawberry heart toasts, by cutting toast into heart shapes, spreading them with cream cheese or another soft cheese, and placing heart-shaped slices of strawberry on top. Sprinkle with shaved chocolate, coconut flakes, freshly ground nutmeg or cinnamon, and it’s a Happy Valentine’s Day!

Strawberry heart toast

Tray of heart toast

Other posts related to Valentine’s Day you might like:

Kids Cook Monday: Fried Bananas Supreme

fried bananas

Just about all children like bananas, most likely as a breakfast or snack food, eaten raw. Let’s give them their familiar banana but fry it up, which both softens the fruit and heightens the flavor, then offer a selection of toppings from chocolate to nutmeg to nuts and seeds for personalization fun. This makes an easy and special dessert, and the third recipe in our “Kids Cook Monday” series.

bananas

Fried Bananas with Chocolate and Coconut

  • ½ -1 banana per person
  • butter or coconut oil for frying
  • chunk of chocolate (dark, milk or white)
  • grated coconut

bananas

Method:

  1. With peel on, cut bananas into quarters, then peel (makes process a little neater).
  2. Heat skillet and melt butter or coconut oil.
  3. Place banana pieces side by side in pan and fry until starting to brown. Turn and fry other side.
  4. Serve with shaved chocolate and/or grated coconut sprinkled on top.

Shaving chocolate

Additional serving ideas:

  • top with cinnamon, nutmeg and/or cardamom
  • serve with ice cream or vanilla yogurt
  • drizzle with maple syrup and/or honey
  • top with nuts
  • top with berries
  • slide inside a peanut butter sandwich
  • sprinkle with black sesame seeds for a beautiful visual contrast
  • for a savory, more Latin American version, use plantains instead of bananas and serve with salt or refried beans and sour cream.

A few fun banana facts:

  1. A banana is technically a berry (and so are watermelons, coffee, pumpkins and avocados) which grows on the world’s largest herb, not a tree.
  2. There are more than a 1,000 types of bananas worldwide.  In the US, you’re probably familiar with just one: the Cavendish.
  3. In addition to edible fruit, a banana plant also offers an edible flower.  We’ve never tried a banana flower – they are hard to find in Vermont – but would love to hear what they taste like, if you have.
banana with flower

Photo thanks to pics4learning

Kids Cook Monday: Rice Noodles with Tofu & Veg

Pad Thai top view

The second recipe in the series from our “Kids Cook Monday” cooking classes, in which we invite child-parent cooking teams to join us (ten-year old daughter and her mother) to create a healthy, whole foods dinner full of color, flavor and fun is an Asian-style noodles and vegetable dish.

As my cooking partner, my daughter is as involved in the menu planning as in the preparation. Her pick for the main dish was a home-cooked version of a restaurant favorite, Pad Thai.  We added more vegetables and tofu than your typical take-out, and skipped the shrimp (for Meatless Monday and sustainability reasons).

Pad Thai vegetables

Pad Thai-Inspired Rice Noodle Stir-Fry with Tofu and Vegetables

      • 2 tablespoons grape seed oilcoconut oil or peanut oil
      • 1 package of tofu (use pressed tofu, if you can find it, or press yourself for best results)
      • 1 teaspoon tamarind paste
      • 1 ½ tablespoons brown sugar
      • 3 tablespoons warm water
      • juice of 1 lime
      • ¼ cup tamari soy sauce
      • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
      • several grinds of black pepper
      • 1 onion, finely chopped
      • 2 carrots, cut into small pieces
      • 1/2 head of broccoli, cut into small pieces
      • 1 bell pepper, cut into pieces
      • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
      • 4 eggs
      • 8 oz rice stick noodles (can substitute with spaghetti if hard to find)

Nice additions and garnishes include (all optional):

      • 1 bunch scallions, cut into small rounds
      • 8 oz bean sprouts, rinsed
      • 1/3 cup peanuts, roughly chopped, if you like
      • 1/3 cup cilantro, roughly cut and some leaves reserved for garnish
      • 1 lime, cut into wedges
      • sriracha sauce

Frying Tofu:

      1. Dry and/or press tofu – either place tofu between two plates in the sink, with something heavy on top (such as a large can) and let sit for several hours, or cut into slices, lay them on a kitchen towel, place another towel on top and gentle press to pull the moisture out of the tofu. If you like gadgets, here’s a tofu press made just for this job. Cut into cubes. 
      2. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add oil and let warm.
      3. Once first piece of tofu sizzles in the pan, place all cubes in a single layer making sure not to overcrowd them.
      4. Shake pan gently to make sure tofu isn’t sticking, and allow to cook for 5-8 minutes or until a golden crust starts to creep up the sides.  Turn tofu and give the other side a few minutes to brown.
      5. Remove from heat, and place tofu on paper towels to drain.

Making the Sauce:

      1. In a small bowl, dissolve tamarind paste and sugar in warm water (take the time to fully dissolve them).
      2. Add lime juice, soy sauce, chili flakes and pepper and mix.

Softening the Noodles:

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and cook noodles for 5-6 minutes, removing from heat and draining just before being fully cooked.

Preparing Vegetables & Assembly:

    1. Chop vegetables into small pieces and mince or press garlic. There is plenty of room for flexibility in this recipe.  For flavor and appearance, it is nice to use three vegetables of different colors, but they don’t need to be carrots, a red pepper and broccoli.
    2. Heat oil in large skillet or wok on medium heat, and sauté onions, carrots and broccoli, add garlic and peppers a few minutes later and sauté another minute or two.
    3. Beat eggs in a small bowl, pour into vegetables, cook for a moment, then stir.
    4. Add tofu, cook for another 1-2 minutes.
    5. Add noodles and pour in the sauce.  Gently combine all.
    6. Add half the scallions, bean sprouts and peanuts (if using).
    7. Place remaining scallions, bean sprouts, peanuts in bowls along with cilantro and lime wedges as garnishes for personalizing plates.

Pad Thai noodles

A “Painted Rooster” for Meatless Monday?

If you’ve been to Costa Rica, you’ve likely been welcomed with the typical tico (Costa Ricans’ pet name for themselves) dish, Gallo Pinto, meaning “painted rooster.”  A delicious and easy-to-make version of the classic vegetarian rice and beans (despite its name, there is absolutely no poultry involved), it is traditionally served for breakfast with an egg on top, but can, of course, be enjoyed any time of day.

Gallo Pinto

I had the life-enhancing opportunity to live in Costa Rica for a semester while in college.  I stayed with a host family, with a host mom who cooked and fed us well. Very well. One of the things I loved about her cooking is how one meal gracefully became the next.  I don’t know that she ever started from zero, because she always seemed to have something already prepared which she would elegantly refashion into something new. This seemed to happen intentionally and artfully, and not, as we in the US would call it, “having left-overs.”

Gallo Pinto is a perfect example. Rice (often cooked with a chopped red pepper) is a dinner staple, as are black beans (prepared with onions and garlic), commonly served along side meat or fish with vegetables and tortillas.  When you cook more rice and more beans than you will need for dinner, you are just minutes away from a delicious breakfast (or lunch, or dinner) the following day.

Gallo Pinto: Costa Rican Style Rice & Beans

It is often made in its simplest form: cooked rice, cooked black beans, onions and cilantro, served with Lizano sauce. I liked that my host mother generally added color, flavor and texture with a few additional vegetables. So, this is how I make it too.  Gracias, Doña Isabella, for all the wonderful meals while I lived in your home and for the lasting inspiration to recreate them.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups cooked rice*
  • 2 cups cooked black beans*
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil or grape seed oil**
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 red pepper, finely chopped
  • 2/3 cup corn kernels (fresh or frozen)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 tablespoon vegetarian Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Costa Rican Lizano sauce/salsa
  • several grinds salt and pepper to taste

serve with:

  • fresh cilantro
  • 1 egg per person, sunny-side up
  • more Lizano sauce

Method:

  1. Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until softened and translucent.
  2. Add pepper, sauté 1-2 minutes.
  3. Add corn and garlic.
  4. Add spices and sauces and mix thoroughly.
  5. Stir in rice and beans until mixture is heated through and well combined.
  6. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  7. In a separate skillet, fry one egg per person.
  8. Serve warm topped with an egg, and garnished with plenty of cilantro and additional sauces to taste.

P1030079

* Ideally, starting with dried bulk ingredients, soaked overnight or for several hours, and cooked separately.

** Two good oils to use for hot applications. Less stable oils mix with oxygen when heated. Oxidated oils can be very damaging to your health. The praised extra virgin olive oil is best used for dressings and other cold uses.

Cooking Dried Beans

beans-handful

  1. Select dried, locally grown and organic if possible.
  2. Soak under 2-3 inches of water overnight. Alternatively, bring pot of beans and water to a boil for 1-2 minutes, remove from heat and allow to soak for “quick soak” method.
  3. Drain soaking water, and rinse beans.
  4. Cover with fresh water in ratio of 1 cup beans to 3 cups water.
  5. Add small piece of kombu seaweed (2-3 inch piece) to cooking water to increase mineral content and digestibility (reduce potential gassiness). 
  6. Cook until soft, 45-60 minutes, scooping off foam if/when necessary.
  7. Add salt and pepper to taste near the end of cooking time.
  8. Use in any bean recipe or freeze or refrigerate for later use.

Cooking Rice

  1. Select organic and locally grown if possible. Brown rice offers more nutrition than white.
  2. To increase nutritional availability and digestibility, soak grains overnight or at least for 2 hours before cooking.
  3. Drain soaking water, rinse until water runs clear, and cook rice in clean water in a ratio of 2 cups brown rice to 3 cups water and a good pinch of salt.
  4. Bring water to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer. Keep pot covered while cooking. Brown rice will take about 45 minutes to cook.

Kids Cook Monday: Kale & Collard Chips

kaleAt a recent “Kids Cook Monday” cooking class, my daughter and I were joined by a room full of parent and child(ren) cooking teams. We had a great time and cooked a fabulous meal together.  At the end of the class, the tables in the back of the cooking classroom were pushed together, and were beautifully set by a group of children complete with improvised folded napkins, and the nineteen of us sat down to a nourishing meal of kale and collard chips, Pad Thai-inspired rice noodles with tofu and vegetables*, followed by a dessert of fried bananas with shaved chocolate and shredded coconut*.

Initiatives such as The Family Dinner Project and The Kids Cook Monday Campaign are actively promoting eating (and cooking) meals together as a family for a list of results which resemble a parent’s dream come true (from life-long healthy eating habits, to an expanded vocabulary, improved conversation skills, boosted self-esteem and better grades in school).  Studies have also shown that children are more likely to try new foods, expand their palate and choose healthier options when they have been involved in the growing, selection and/or preparation of a meal.

So today, we’re skipping the more familiar frozen peas and corn, and giving our young cooks large dark green kale and collard leaves to make an appetizer (fancy word for after school snack).  Some were familiar with kale chips, and all had the chance to build on the basic recipe and adapt it to other greens.

Collard greens photo thanks to Indiana Public Media

Vermont Maple-Mustard Kale/Collard Chips

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½  tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • ½  tablespoon maple syrup
  • ½ tablespoon mustard
  • 1 large bunch of fresh kale or collard greens
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 2-3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
  • red pepper flakes (optional)

Kale

Basic Kale/Collard Chips

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 bunch greens
  • salt to taste

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350˚.
  2. Wash and dry green leaves with kitchen towel or a salad spinner.
  3. Cut or rip leaves into chip size pieces.
  4. Mix oil, vinegar, maple syrup and mustard in a large bowl.
  5. Add leaves to bowl and coat thoroughly (using hands works well).
  6. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper (not necessary but makes for an easy clean-up), and arrange leaves in a single layer.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper and/or Parmesan or chili flakes.
  7. Bake in oven for 8-12 minutes, watching them closely since they go from perfect to burned quickly.

kale chip

Serving ideas:

  • in place of packaged chips
  • as a garnish on soups, such as potato-leek or squash soups
  • as a topping on mashed potatoes
  • grind several chips as a popcorn topping
  • create hors d’oeuvre in kale chips used as edible serving cups
  • experiment with any greens you have.

For additional recipes for green leafy vegetables, I recommend the following excellent vegetable cookbooks:

Deborah Madison’s new Vegetable Literacy: Cooking and Gardening with Twelve Families from the Edible Plant Kingdom, with over 300 Deliciously Simple Recipes, and

Greens Glorious Greens: More than 140 Ways to Prepare All Those Great-Tasting, Super-Healthy, Beautiful Leafy Greens.

For more ideas, inspiration and multi-generational cooking tips, you’ll find plenty of food for thought on The Kids Cook Monday site.

If you would like to join us for our next “Kids Cook Monday” cooking class, click here for more information and to register.  Classes are held at Champlain Valley Union High School in Hinesburg, Vermont.

* These recipes coming soon in the “Kids Cook Monday” series.

Meatless Monday: Fresh Corn Chowder

corn chowder - diagonal bowl

This is the kind of soup, which, ideally you start making a day (or two) before you plan to eat it (true, actually, for most soups, but if you’re curious enough to confirm the theory, this would be a good one to do that with).  For the richest corn flavor, shuck and de-kernel the cobs to make a stock on day one, then make and eat the soup on day two. On day three, you will be happy if you made a large pot full.

Day one, you will need:

  • 6-8 ears (or more) of just picked sweet corn (organic if possible, GM sweet corn is genetically engineered to be herbicide resistant (“roundup ready”) and to produce its own insecticide. Like all GMOs, genetically modified sweet corn has not been thoroughly tested to ensure that it is safe to eat, and is also not labeled, so the best way to avoid it is to purchase organic corn or buy directly from a local grower who can confirm the use of natural seeds.
  • 6-8 cups of water
  • 2 bay leaves
  • fresh thyme
  • several large pinches of salt
  1. In a large soup pot, heat the same number of cups of water as number of cobs.
  2. Shuck corn, then remove all the kernels from the cobs. Stand cobs upright on a cutting board, and cut down the length of the cobs, or lay them down and cut off enough to make a flat surface. Then roll the cob so that it lies on the flat side and cut off kernels (this method tends to result in fewer kernels skipping over the cutting board and landing elsewhere). Save kernels in a covered bowl in the refrigerator for tomorrow.
  3. Submerge de-kerneled cobs in heating water, add bay leaves, thyme and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and allow to simmer for 1-2 hours. Remove from heat, and let sit until tomorrow.

Day two, you’ll want to have:

  • 1-2 tablespoons butter
  • 1-2 onions, minced
  • 2-4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2-3 potatoes, cut into small cubes (again, ideally organically grown, which allows you to skip peeling them and include the peel which is full of fiber and nutrients otherwise lost)
  • small handful of fresh herbs: oregano, basil, thyme (or substitute with smaller amounts of dried, if fresh is not available)
  • 1 cup half & half
  • salt and pepper
  • fresh parsley
  1. Heat butter in large skillet and sauté onions. Add garlic when onions are soft, translucent and thoroughly limp, and cook for another 2-3 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, remove cobs and bay leaves from the corn stock.  Add contents of skillet, potatoes and herbs to stock.  Bring to a boil, turn down heat and allow to simmer for 15-20 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat, add half & half, and fresh corn kernels. Adjust flavor with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Serve with a garnish of snipped parsley.

corn chowder - top view

Corn is ubiquitous in our modern world with all the corn oil, cornmeal, corn starch, and high fructose corn syrup in processed foods, and the vast quantities we grow for animal feed and ethanol, and yet the very satisfying, sweet-savory, juice-spraying, floss-requiring, face-and-hands eating experience of gnawing the kernels off the cob is, for most, only a special short season treat.  This is when we get to savor zea mays at its best, and as a vegetable.  Corn is a food which wears many hats (grass, grain, flour, oil, sweetener, gasoline, even compostable forms of plastic) but it is the plant’s vegetable hat (making up less than one percent of all the corn grown in the US) that is saluted in this chowder.

Nutritionally, corn is a good source of antioxidants, fiber, folic acid, vitamin C, vitamin B3, vitamin B5, magnesium, iron and plant protein. Organically grown corn will generally offer more nutrients than non-organic.

Once you locate a good source for fresh, sweet and juicy corn, and get in the rhythm of shucking and cutting off the kernels, you may want to earmark a full day to do only this, make large pots of corn stock and freeze corn kernels. Corn can be frozen either on or off the cob. Amount of available time in late summer/early fall, and/or amount of available freezer space may make the decision easier.  The Pick Your Own website gives clear directions (with pictures) for both methods. With your own frozen corn in the freezer, you can recreate this soup throughout the year and bring back one of the quintessential flavors of summer whenever you need to be warmed by it.

Switching to Switchel

Switchel with lemon

It’s time to bring in the hay.  Not something I am directly involved in, but see happening all around me and am impressed by the long days the haymakers put in.  Something exceptionally energizing must be fueling this operation…

Making hay

As it turns out, haymaking has its own energy drink, or at least, traditionally it did. Switchel has been reached for on hot August afternoons for more than a hundred years in these parts. It is possible that this undeniably refreshing drink made from cold well water, sweet maple syrup, electrolyte-filled molasses and energizing apple cider vinegar, traces its roots back to a similar drink enjoyed in Hippocrates’ day. Oxymel was a medicinal mixture of water, honey and vinegar.  Apparently, we’ve been drinking vinegar for a good long time.

A few years ago my daughter attended a summer camp at Shelburne Museum, called “A week in 1795.” She introduced me to Switchel with the following recipe:

  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger
  • water, to taste

Combine the vinegar, molasses, maple syrup and ginger in a bowl. Vinegar mixture serves as a concentrate. Combine with water in a glass or pitcher to taste.

I like to make it with seltzer water (store-bought, or made from tap water with the help of a counter-top SodaStream soda maker) for an sparkly effervescent libation.  For the highest nutritional value, I would recommend using raw apple cider vinegar, blackstrap molasses, and grade B maple syrup.  If you want to substitute honey for maple syrup, look for raw (unfiltered and unheated) locally harvested honey as your healthiest option.

switchel front

With an interest in keeping traditional foods alive, the Vermont Switchel Co has emerged on the real food scene. If you are Vermont, make sure to look for her ready-made bottles of switchel on more and more grocery and general store shelves, and on YourFarmstand.com. Her website includes in-depth nutritional information as well as recipes in which to use switchel.

Switchel above

If you’re inspired to mix up a batch of your own, I’ll leave you with another recipe. Today, on a glorious August day, I’ll raise a glass to Scott Nearing (who would have been 130 years old!), and all the back-to-the-land, homesteading, traditional customs and foodways he honored, practiced and wrote about.  Therefore, from his wife’s cookbook Simple Food for the Good Life: Random Acts of Cooking and Pithy Quotations (Good Life Series) here is the Nearing’s Switchel Recipe:

  • 1 quart cold water
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup vinegar
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger

Stir up together and dilute to taste with more cold water. A pinch of baking soda will make it foam up like beer or ginger ale.

Either recipe can be tailored to taste (more or less ginger, maybe a slice of lemon, or a pinch of nutmeg, etc) without skimping on the real food refreshment.  It’s an easy-to-make replacement for expensive, mass-produced and increasingly worrisome (including, – yikes! – death!!) commercial “energy drinks.”

Keep it simple and safe, staying cool and hydrated with real food and water.

Lettuce Have Soup

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, the saying advises, but what if life gives you (too much) lettuce?  A problem of the “embarrassment of riches” variety for sure, with an elegant solution to remedy it: cream of lettuce soup.

Lettuce Soup (July 4th)

Starting with the lettuce, whether raw or cooked, there’s quite a range of nutritional value. Here’s a comparison chart from the World’s Healthiest Foods website, which may help direct your next purchase.

Nutrition Comparison of Salad Greens – Based on a 1 cup serving

Salad Greens Calories Vitamin A (IU) Vitamin C (mg) Calcium (mg) Potassium (mg)
Romaine 8 1456 13 20 65
Leaf Lettuce 10 1064 10 38 148
Butterhead (Bibb and Boston 7 534 4 18 141
Arugula 5 480 3 32 74
*Iceberg 7 182 2 10 87

Nutritionally speaking, it’s unfortunate that iceberg remains the top seller in the US, however romaine and other darker greens are seeing a comparative rise in consumption rates.  And, with the popularity of salad bars and the introduction of packaged salads, all lettuce types are enjoying increased sales.

Lettuce has also gained ground with the growing interest in gardening and local foods. It’s a great choice for home growing (even does well in a container), where you can make sure it is grown organically.  Lettuce ranks 11th out of 53 on the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Shoppers’ Guide to Pesticides in Produce, placing it in the “buy organic whenever possible” category due to the high pesticide use in conventional growing practices. Food poisoning is an additional concern with mass market lettuce, after several recent cases of Salmonella, E. Coli and Listeria are alleged to have come from “bagged lettuces” from large scale producers.  Selecting organically grown dark leaf varieties from small scale and/or trusted local growers offers the highest quality produce.

In the US, we tend to think of lettuce only as a raw food. However, in China, where far more of it is grown, cooking varieties are favored.  Last summer during the height of lettuce overload season, I cooked some up in a soup, but didn’t write it down. This year, with thanks to Emeril Lagasse and Local Kitchen Blog for publishing confidence-boosting recipes, I made this version.

Cream of Lettuce Soup

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1-2 onions, chopped
  • 6 garlic scapes (or 2-3 garlic cloves, if scapes are not available), chopped
  • 2 medium-sized potatoes, washed, unpeeled and diced
  • 2 tablespoon chives, chopped, plus more cut into several inch long “stripes”
  • large pinch of fresh or dried thyme
  • large pinch of fresh or dried oregano
  • 4 cups water or vegetable stock
  • 2 heads green lettuce (any variety), washed and roughly cut
  • 3/4 cup half ‘n’ half or cream (possibly more to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper (or more to taste)
  • several grinds of nutmeg
  • pasta stars (optional)

Method:

  1. Warm Dutch oven or large soup pot over medium high heat, and melt butter. Add chopped onions and garlic scapes, reduce heat and allow to caramelize.
  2. Add potatoes, chives, herbs and cover with water or stock. Simmer until potatoes are soft.
  3. Add lettuce and give the soup another few minutes to simmer until lettuce wilts.
  4. Turn heat off and add half ‘n’ half, salt, pepper and nutmeg. In the soup pot using an immersion blender or in batches in a counter-top blender or Vitamix, blend the soup until smooth.  Adjust consistency with additional water or stock if needed.
  5. Reheat, if necessary, and serve with garnishes such as fresh herbs, croutons, toasted bread with melted cheese, grated Parmesan, pine nuts and/or a drizzle of additional cream (if your soup tastes too bitter, additional cream will help).

On the occasion of Independence Day weekend, I served this soup with pasta stars and chive stripes. For a second serving, I went with chive fireworks.

Lettuce celebrate the stars and stripes!

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