Aley Chubeza #41 – November 1st-3rd 2010

As the month of November makes its entry and we bid farewell to the month of Cheshvan, we are pleased to commence our Donate-a-Box project. To date, enough weekly pledges have been collected to donate a weekly large-size box to a needy family. We thank all our contributors! Your donation will be added to your monthly bill, beginning this month. We’ve also received recommendations of many additional families in need.  Those who wish to pledge a weekly contribution of 5-10-15 NIS (or more!), please e-mail or call.

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A Matter of (Green) Taste

Along the same theme we touched last week–and following my paean to leafy greens–I decided to move this week’s focus to taste buds. Most edible greens, our main characters of the day, carry a hint of bitterness. This bitterness is milder when the leaves are still young, ideally in the winter season. The bitterness level grows as the plant matures or the temperatures rise. This is because the plants need us, human beings and animals, but only on their terms: they would like us to eat their fruit, distribute their seeds, brush up against them and carry their seeds to new places, but they’re in no hurry whatsoever for us to eat their leaves. The leaves are the source of vitality and strength for the plant to keep growing, and eating them prior to seeding does not assist the plant, at least not directly. They understand they may have to sacrifice some of their leaves for food, but they prefer to try and protect themselves.

Thus, the leaves develop a bitterness, which sometimes signals to animals: Beware! Toxic plant alert! Young leaves and ideal seasons are less threatening to the plant, which is why it is less bitter then, but when it arrives to maturity and blossoming, it needs to muster all its strength to reach the final mission of creating seeds. That rules out any annoying nibblers. In times of distress, too, when the sun is strong, when there’s not enough water intake or when there’s a lack of nutrients, the plant’s survival mechanisms kick into place and turn the leaves bitter. For this reason it is harder to grow sweet lettuce in the summertime, and basil turns bitter as it grows older and blossoms. To protect the lettuce from bitterness, we cover it with shade cloths (and choose a variety that is good for summer growth). To prevent the basil from turning too bitter, we prune it before it blossoms.

And still, greens are bitter. Most of the leafy greens we grow are on the less-bitter side: the arugula can be pungent and the basil and kale somewhat bitter, but there are greens that are much more bitter (and very healthy), such as the varieties of chicory (chicory, endive, radicchio, escarole) or the edible wild dandelion and Sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus) plants. Bitterness gets no credit in Western culinary culture. We favor sweet and salty, and are even willing to mix with sour, but we abstain from bitter, and for good reason: sometimes bitterness is indeed indicative of toxins. But not always. And though at Passover we eat bitter herbs to recall the perils we wish to avoid forever, we shouldn’t necessarily pass over a serving of bitterness on the tongue, or in the belly. Especially the tangy, tasty type.

Bitterness is the taste of base, alkaline, non-acidic. Our body needs a balanced level of acidity, and it constantly tries to regulate the level of acidity it receives from food. In order to maintain the proper balance for our body, we need nourishment that consists of 70% base and only 30% acid. An unbalanced diet containing excessive acid actually burdens the body, which works to neutralize the acid so as to balance the pH level—by removing alkaline minerals from the vital organs and bones. This can expose the body to disease and cause cumulative damage that may go undiscovered for years. It seems that the bitter has “basically” a positive side to it.

Sometimes when you look at Chubeza greens (especially during autumn and spring), you notice signs that various tiny friends had examined the importance of greens and were undeterred by the bitterness… Those are “high season” for crawling and flying insects, who hide in summertime from the heat and in the wintertime are turned away by the cold. They, too, know to derive the nutritious benefits of greens and visit our leaves quite often, nibbling away or just passing through.

Of course, we constantly receive questions or complaints about this. One asked, if a plant is attacked by pests, doesn’t it produces poisonous substances to fight them? The answer is yes and no. Distressed plants do develop specific materials to fight the pests (amazingly, neighboring plants that were not attacked sometimes develop the same defense materials), but human beings are built differently than insects, and these plant pest controllers are not poisonous to us.

Melissa and I discussed the subject and arrived at the conclusion that these tiny holes are actually good news, heralding autumn and the fact that things are going along naturally in the field. The holes you’ve been seeing were most probably created by caterpillars, that pupated after their nice large meal A few weeks later, they hatch and become butterflies beautiful to gaze upon, who make food for birds whose music is a joy to hear. In a field sprayed with pesticides where the leaves end up being nice and hole-free, toxins penetrate into the plant tissue. The insects that nibble on it are poisoned, as are the birds that eat the insects, and so forth along the food chain. We recall the book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, describing the terrible silence in fields “clean” of animals, insects and birds. The holes are proof that the music of birds in our field is as hearty and harmonious as ever, and that we host a variety of species in our field and maintain a gentle ecological balance.

Have a look at all this beauty:

So after this musical interlude, and after the greens arrive in your home, it’s time to think about how to store them. While on the plant, they are nourished by a constant supply of nutrients and water coming from the roots and stem, keeping them fresh and vigorous. Having picked and disconnected them from their source of life, we want them to continue to maintain their vitality in your homes, for a week or more. So here’s the trick: of course, the fresher, the healthier, the better, so you should eat them as fresh as possible.

But, if you want to use them after a few days, treat them as you would a VIP:
- Do not wet them until used (or if you wash them immediately, for reasons of kashrut, make sure to dry them well)
- Wrap the leaves in a towel or thick paper towel
- Place the wrapped bundle into the bags you receive from us, and then inside even another bag so that they’re entirely sealed
- Now store them in the bottom, colder, part of the fridge

This way the towel absorbs the moisture and prevents the leaves from wilting, while the bag keeps them from drying up.

Now, let’s use them: one of the best ways is to make a “green drink”—a vegetable smoothie sweetened by dates or fresh fruits. They can be used in a salad or added to a sandwich. The die-hards point out that any cooking or heating causes critical loss of vitamins, which is why cooking should be prevented.  I maintain that greens can enhance a meal in many ways: steaming and stir-fried as pasta sauce, as an addition to rice or warm salad, as a wrap for stuffed vegetables, as a filling for dumplings or ravioli and baked in quiches or bread.

Greens are bursting with vitamins, but heating them, exposing them to air or “drowning” them in water will all cause the vitamins become oxidized, disintegrate and disappear from the leaf. This is why, in order to get the most from your vitamins:
- Refrigerate your greens prior to preparation.
- Wash them only before preparation, and only while whole, before cutting or slicing.
- Use them fresh, or cook for a short amount of time. Place them in boiling water only, stir-fry over high heat for a short time, steam in a small amount of water.
- Reuse the cooking/steaming water, where the vitamins melted.
- Cook in a covered pot or bake in covered pan.
- Eat soon after preparation.
- If you’re storing the plate, refrigerate shortly after preparation (even if it’s warm, do not wait for it to cool down).

Bon Appetite,
Alon, Melissa, Bat Ami and the Chubeza team
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This week’s basket includes:

Monday: radishes, cilantro, beets, lettuce, parsley, green mustard, tomatoes, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, sweet potatoes, spinach, potatoes

In the large box, in addition: green onions or leek, cauliflower or broccoli, lubia (cowpea) or yard long bean or okra

Wednesday: iceberg lettuce or tatsoi, parsley, cucumbers, green or red mustard, tomatoes, leek, rasdish or daikon, beets or turnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cilantro, one of the following: green bean / okra / sweet peas / lubia (cowpea) / yard long beans

In the large box, in addition: romaine lettuce, cauliflower or broccoli, eggplants

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MORE DELECTABLE RECIPES FOR GREENS

Greens Soup by Shira from Kiryat Ono, who says:

This week I found myself with six bags of different greens in my fridge, which had accumulated from my weekly boxes. In addition, this week I visited Jerusalem where I ate “kubeh hamusta” soup. It was a bit too sour for my taste, spurring me to attempt to create a soup (sans kubeh) to make up for this experience. The combination of these two occurrences inspired me to make the following soup, on a Friday afternoon in fall. It was a pleasure to cook and a delight to consume!

Ingredients:
-          4-5 scallions
-          2-4 small leeks (or one large)
-          4 T. canola/olive/sunflower oil
-          1 pkg. spinach/Swiss chard greens
-          ½ pkg. parsley (leaves only)
-          Purple beet leaves (the leaves connected to the beets)
-          Celery leaves (I had none to add, but the soup came out fine)
-          ¼ – ½ t. turmeric (depending on the amount of water)
-          ½ t. cumin
-          ½ t. Atlantic salt
-          1 t. brown sugar
-          4-5 small potatoes, sliced
-          Juice of half a lemon
-          4 garlic cloves

Preparation:
-          In a large pot, steam leeks and scallions with the oil. Afterwards add all the greens and continue to steam until they wilt.
-          Cover with water, add spices, salt and sugar and bring to a boil. The amount of water depends on the desired soup consistency.
-          Place over heat, and continue to cook on a low-medium flame for several minutes. Add potatoes, lemon and garlic and continue to cook for 30 minutes, till potatoes are soft.
-          The soup is at its best around a half hour after removing from heat. At that point, the flavors are blended to perfection. Those who like it on the sour side can add more lemon upon serving.

Michal from Jerusalem sent us this salad composed of roasted and fresh vegetables-from-the-boxes, based on a recipe from the Moosewood Cookbook.

Green Bean, Sweet Potato, Greens, Walnuts and Cheese Salad

-Cook green beans till they just begin to soften; then cool.
-Cut several sweet potatoes into halves. Cover with olive oil and bake in the oven. Cut each slice into cubes.

Salad ingredients:
-          1 pkg. arugula greens, chopped
-          ½ c. sliced parsley
-          sliced purple onion (or scallions)
-          sweet potatoes
-          green beans
-          pecans or walnuts, slightly chopped
-          Roquefort or Bulgarian cheese (optional)

Dressing:
-          ½ c. good-quality yogurt
-          1 t. mustard
-          2 T. white wine vinegar (or balsamic)
-          1 T. olive oil
-          1 T. honey or maple syrup
-          salt
-          pepper

and also:
Red radish and arugula soup

Beets greens curry with chickpeas

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