Reminder: We’re now taking orders for Yiftah’s bi-weekly baking. Please send your orders by Friday. You can read about Yiftah’s hand-baked, sprouted bread products here. And here’s a link to a PowerPoint that Yiftah prepared featuring a glimpse of the special bread oven which he built and his very distinctive bread bakery facilities.
It’s not easy being a leafy green…
Writing about tatsoi last week opened the way for a host of questions regarding greens: Why are they so healthy? What do they contain? And how is this connected to the development and growth of the plants (for they grow their leaves for themselves, not necessarily for our salads…)? And then, to ponder about how amazing is their intensity as energy providers on the one hand, and on the other, their fragility and gentleness after being picked; about the worms that puncture the leaves during this season (they too want to be healthy and thin), and about various greens in various cultures (each culture adopted different greens) and the fact that even with all the goodness and healthiness, greens always contain a touch of bitterness as well.
So I embarked upon some research, and today the newsletter will not be dedicated to one green, but rather to green thoughts (or really, colorful thoughts, as you will see) about leafy greens. I will attempt to answer my own questions, and some of yours as well, if you send any questions my way.
Let us begin with a short survey of leaves in general: the leaf is one of the plant’s organs, used primarily to absorb light and energy from the sun, and transform them into sugars. This is the process of photosynthesis, enabled through chlorophyll. The leaves are the energy suppliers to the plant- other parts of the plant (trunk, flower, root) do not contain chlorophyll and at times are not exposed to the sun, which is why their existence depends upon the energy (and the sugars) produced in the leaves. The leaf is constructed of two parts: the petiole and the blade. The blade is the flat and wide part of the leaf. Because of its (usually) wide surface area, it is the main worker of photosynthesis, and its tissue arrangement is tailored to absorb sunlight. The petiole is the narrow part of the leaf, that little point connecting the body of the leaf to the branch or the main stem. Leaves exist in nature in many shapes and forms: narrow and wide, short and long, tiny and huge, serrated, round, paper-thin, fleshy or feathery.
Most of the leaves are green, thanks to the chlorophyll pigments. Chlorophyll catches the sunlight, setting into motion the process of photosynthesis, which eventually produces the energy for plant tissues to grow and live. Chlorophyll may be the main pigment, but it is not the only one. Pigments like the carotenoids (which are yellow and orange) and the anthocyanin (a purplish-red) also catch the sunlight, yet they are not active participants in the process of photosynthesis. Instead they transfer their energy to the chlorophyll. Towards exfoliation, the chlorophyll production in the leaves is reduced, which is why the green color makes way for the orange and yellow carotenoids, speeding the pace of red anthoycyanin—and creating the stunning beauty of the foliage.
These pigments are the first of the good things that green leaves contain. Chlorophyll is the life engine of the plant, setting in motion the flow of substances, allowing it to grow and develop. Amazingly, the biochemical structure of chlorophyll is very similar to the structure that creates hemoglobin (the iron atom of the hemoglobin is replaced by the magnesium atom in chlorophyll), which is why when consumed, it is easily absorbed in the blood, cleaning and purifying it, and improving the health of the cells and the functioning of the entire body’s system. It delays the growth of bad bacteria and delays the absorbance of carcinogenic substances, all the while contributing to the renewal of healthy cells.
Carotenoids, as well, are very important to the life of the plant. They are a critical force in the process of photosynthesis: these yellow-orange-red pigments expand the range of light absorbance in the plant, increasing the pace and efficiency of the photosynthesis. Carotenoids are sometimes used as shielding pigments or sunscreen, protecting the plants from the possible damages of overly-strong radiation. In our body, too, they provide protection: as antioxidants that join the free radicals, preventing them from oxidizing and injuring more cells. Similar to their task in plants, carotenoids work in our bodies as well, as sunscreen and to protect our skin (lycopene in particular is known for this). One other famous carotenoid is beta carotene, which becomes Vitamin A once consumed, a very important aid to eyesight (specifically night vision), skin function, and mucous membrane tissues. This is also true for lutein, otherwise known as the “inner sunglasses,” shielding eyesight from radiation, and also protecting the heart and blood vessels.
Anthocyanins also provide UV protection. They act according to a beautiful regulation mechanism: the rate of their production in the plant expands and decreases according to their surroundings (light, temperature and earth) and the plant’s condition. The plant has its own chemical regulation mechanism, sending chemical messages to create if the plant is stressed or needs more protection (e.g., when its leaves are still young and sensitive). Anthocyanins are also efficient antioxidants, effective in fighting destructive activities in the body.
In addition to these substances, green leaves are rich in folic acid. Despite all of my research, I could not find a description of the role of folate (folic acid) in plants and leaves, although its name derives from its impressive existence in these greens (from the Latin for leaf- Folium). However, the advantages for us human beings are manifold: folate, Vitamin B9, is critical for the production of new cells and for keeping them healthy. It is most essential during pregnancy (for prevention of congenital defects) and for babies, as this is a time of quick and vast cell division. It is crucial for the shifting and rehabilitation of DNA, thus “rescuing” damaged cells that may develop into cancer.
One thing that prevents us all from gobbling a huge bowl of these greens is the need to actually chew their entire healthy texture, and to keep on chewing it, resembling a meal of hay. The reason for this is the abundance of fibers that fills the mouth. So indeed, sometimes it can make you want to bray, but these dietary fibers are our internal cleaning team, bound and determined to get rid of body waste. Almost all the toxins in our body, including millions of dead cells, arrive daily at the human sewerage, the intestines. In order to eliminate this waste, the body needs either soluble fiber or insoluble fiber. Our greens contain the second type. Insoluble fiber is microscopic, and looks like tiny sponges, which indeed they are: any of them can absorb a quantity of toxins of much greater size than its own size and volume. And after they adsorb the dirt, they let it out of the body. Like any cleaning task- this cleaning must be done regularly. If we don’t consume fibers, most of the poison waste will accumulate in our body, in the intestines.
One last word about waste: the body is like one big happy and untidy day: the toxins accumulate not only from breathing in dirt and pollution, non-digesting food, or consuming heavy metals and pesticides. A large quantity of poisons comes from the dead cells of the body itself. Every year 98% of the atoms in our body are exchanged, which makes for a large amount of waste. If the dead cells are not removed from the body, they may become the most toxic waste.
If this newsletter is sounding like propaganda for greens, I have not yet finished my diatribe! One last thing- greens contain Vitamins C and K, important minerals like iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus and many others. This is, of course, dependent upon the earth in which they grow— earth that is poor in nutrients and insects may grow great big lettuces, but they will be malnourished (just as it is with humans…).
This is already getting to be rather long. I hope you haven’t despaired from my green leaf manifest. Next week I will ponder why they are so bitter, and what these tiny holes are all about. And how to keep all this good greenery fresh and nutritious for as long as possible.
In the meantime, for this last week of October, have a great week, with wishes for more autumn weather,
Alon, Melissa, Bat Ami and the Chubeza team
This week’s basket includes:
Monday: kohlrabi or radish, cilantro, daukon, lettuce, corn, arugula, green beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, small boxes: eggplants or red beets
In the large box, in addition: pumpkin, spinach, eggplants and red beets.
Wednesday: spinach or Swiss chard, parsley, cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, green onions, radishes or daikon, red beets, arugula, sweet potatoes, corn.
In the large box, in addition: pumpkin, lubia (cowpea) or yard long bean or okra, tatsoi
A RECIPE FOR EVERY GREEN: Some out of the ordinary, some more conservative, some for soup, salads, stuffed vegetables, pasta and even—mousse!
Last Friday I wolfed down an amazing casserole my mother had made from the greens that were left over from her weekly box. I thought I’d look for a proper recipe for a greens casserole, and then remembered that several months ago, at the very end of the spring greens season, Miriam from Rishon Lezion had sent me this outstanding recipe appropriate for all types of greens:
MUSTARD GREEN CASSEROLE
-Wash well, drain and chop the greens. Sauté 2 thinly-sliced onions in a pan, add the mustard green strips and steam for around 10 minutes.
-Afterwards, add salt to taste.
-In a separate pot, prepare the Béchamel sauce: Melt 50 grams butter and 1 T. olive oil, add 3 T. flour and mix well. Add 2 containers of whipping cream (shamenet metuka) and remove from heat while stirring, until the sauce is completely smooth.
-Mash in the greens mixture, and around 150 gm Bulgarian cheese 5% (g’vina Bulgarit me’udenet).
-Divide into two round greased baking pans and bake at 180C degrees till browned.