In the winter, leafy greens and root crops dominate at markets and in Community Supported Agriculture shares. At first glance, a winter market may not seem to offer many choices, but there is actually a wide variety of vegetables available during these months. Grocery stores usually sell just one type of each vegetable, selected for its ability to ship and store well. Farmers’ market vendors can offer more variety. “We grow several types of carrots in different shapes and colors to give people more options during winter,” says Clay Smith of Sleeping Frog Farms. Farmers growing for market also have access to a variety of seed. Seed companies and seed banks work hard to preserve and promote heirloom seeds as well as develop new varieties, offering you the opportunity to try candy striped beets, purple carrots, speckled lettuce, and many more distinctive, colorful vegetables.
There are many types of greens to choose from at the market in winter. To make shopping and cooking easier, familiarize yourself with the different varieties; each has its own taste and texture. “One of the best things about the CSA is the great quantity and amazing variety of greens we get during the cold months,” says Philippe Waterinckx of the Tucson CSA. “Winter greens can be daunting at first, but once you’ve embraced them, you’re tapping into a source of very healthy and low calorie foods that can be prepared in many different and delicious ways.”
While you can use most greens interchangeably in recipes, it helps to know the characteristics of each. Many of the greens at market are in the highly nutritious cruciferous family, a huge family which also includes broccoli and cauliflower. Cruciferous greens include earthy kale and collards, as well as their pungent cousins, mustard and turnip greens. Many Asian greens are also in the cruciferous family. Succulent stemmed bok choy and pac choy have a mild cabbage flavor while mizuna can have the spice of horseradish. Though their leaves may resemble lettuce, greens like radicchio, dandelion, and escarole can be quite bitter. Chard and beet greens are in the same family as spinach and are similarly mild in flavor.
If you are sensitive to bitter or pungent flavors, you may want to blanch strongly flavored greens before using them in a recipe. Just add a handful of greens to a pot of boiling water and stir to submerge. After about a minute you can remove the greens from the pot, dunk them in cold water and squeeze to remove excess water. Blanching is also a good space-saving option if you end up with several big bunches of greens.
Cooking greens, both cultivated and wild harvested, have been an important part of almost every culinary tradition around the world. For recipe inspiration look to your favorite ethnic food for ideas. Large, sturdy leaf greens like kale, collards, and mustard greens can be used for stuffed cabbage recipes or raw wraps. These sturdy greens are also great for long-simmered dishes like Indian saag or Southern style braised greens. Any of these greens will also make great baked chips. Cheese, butter, cream, or pork fat will help mellow the bitterness or pungency of strongly flavored greens. Tart flavors like lemon, tomatoes, or vinegar also work well in balancing bitter flavors. Greens are generally sweeter in cold weather, making this a good time of year to eat them raw in salads or by juicing. For salads, look for baby green mixes that include several varieties of leaves.
One new item available at local farmers’ markets is oyster mushrooms from Old Pueblo Mushroom Growers. “Oyster mushrooms can tolerate variations in temperature better than other varieties of mushrooms,” says Andrew Carhuff of Old Pueblo. “They grow in a hoop house where they can survive the occasional freeze in winter.” To grow the mushrooms, Carhuff and Nicole DeVito prepare their own straw logs, which they inoculate with the mushroom mycelium. “Once the mushrooms appear they can double in size in 24 hours,” says Carhuff. Several batches of mushrooms grow on one log; after they harvest, the straw makes a perfect addition to their compost pile. Nicole and Andrew are looking forward to raising shitake mushrooms. “Shitakes grow on hardwood logs,” says Carhuff. “It is something that hasn’t been tried in this region, so we are experimenting in order to find the right locally available wood.” Oyster mushrooms and produce are available at the Old Pueblo Mushroom Growers booth at the Thursday Santa Cruz River Farmers’ Market and the Sunday Heirloom Farmers’ Market at Rillito Park. ✜
Citrus is a fantastic winter treat in Baja Arizona. Early in the year, many varieties of citrus, both sweet and sour, are at their peak. There are many uses for citrus besides eating it as a snack or juicing the fruit. Citrus can be used in both sweet and savory recipes. It adds flavor to pies, cakes, custards, and more. A squeeze of juice and a pinch of zest add tang to creamy pasta or risotto. Sliced or quartered citrus are a good addition to roasted chicken
or fish dishes or long-braised meat or vegetable dishes. Slices of kumquats and and other varieties of citrus with tart juice and sweet edible peels are great garnishes for salads, pies, and cakes.
The citrus you find at market (or get from your own backyard) is organic and wax free. That means you can use the zest and peels as well. The zest is the thin layer of colored skin around the fruit where the highly fragrant citrus oils are. Use a paring knife to remove strips of zest, taking care to avoid the white pith. Add the zest of a few fruits to one cup of either oil, honey, or vodka and let it infuse for one week to add a citrusy flavor. You can also lay the zest out to dry for a day or two, and then use it for mulled wines and tea blends. Marmalades or candied citrus peels are delicious options for using your citrus fruit and recipes are easy to find online or in cookbooks.
Clean one bunch of greens by submerging in water. Chop roughly and add the still-damp greens and some minced garlic to a hot, well oiled skillet. Stir until wilted (this will take 30 second for greens like spinach and a minute or two for thicker greens like kale. If necessary, add a splash of water to keep from sticking). Season to taste (ideas below) and serve immediately.
Soy sauce + balsamic vinegar + Parmesan cheese or
Soy sauce + ginger + chile flakes
(add ginger to pan with greens and garlic) or
Salt and pepper + lemon + capers or
Hot sauce + queso fresco
Sara Jones is a longtime employee of the Tucson CSA.