Friday, June 1, 2012
On Tuesdays and Thursdays each week, my local Whole Foods store is kind enough to provide me large trash bags full of their vegetable compost - well, they're actually providing it to my pigs, but the pigs haven't learned to drive just yet, and someone has to handle the transport.
The loot is wildly popular with the swine, as indicated by their enthusiastic grunting at the rustle of the trash bag, and their general enthusiasm at seeing me, which I'm pretty sure has nothing to do with my sparkling personality, and everything to do with a Pavlovian feed-me-the-good-stuff reaction to the sight of the trash bag lady.
We've only been collecting the compost for a couple of months, and I'm certainly not privy to order information in the produce department, so I can't know the stocked-to-sales ratio, but my observations indicate that humans do not like hearty greens very much at all. They also eschew fennel (the horror! oh, but the pigs do love it so), and, most surprising to me, as I regard it as a mainstream staple veggie, people don't seem to love broccoli as much as I'd expect.
I admit it. I'm rather taken aback by this shocking news, as broccoli, fennel, and those hearty greens are among my favorite vegetables.
The pigs are more than happy to eat what the Providence-area humans will not, though they, too, have their favorite treats amongst the cast-offs.
Coincidentally, and happily for us here on the tiny farm, these favorites turn out to be nearly completely analogous to the foods that the humans do not like. Kale, collards, and fennel are all worthy of a few extra happy grunts, possibly even some tail wagging (yes, they do wag their tails), and prancing around.
Perhaps the greens waste is a case of supply outpacing demand. After all, once one plants collard greens, one may not be able to keep up with its prolificacy, particularly in more temperate zones.
Earlier this spring, I had the opportunity to see, in person, something I had only heard rumor of on seed purveyors' websites: collard greens that had overwintered in Massachusetts.
As was the case with the web legend greens, these collards were grown on Cape Cod, a milder climate than that at our house due to the moderating effect of the ocean, yet still northerly enough to be remarkable.
However, my friend, Tamar, owner of these magical plants, was overrun by the greens, and, I'm guessing saw them as much as a bane as she did a blessing. "Free food. The same food. Free food. The same food." You can see the quandary she'd be in, right?
In our garden, I have willingly and knowingly entered into what I expect will be a very productive union with 9 collard green plants, along with 8 or so (there are some babies sprouting up as well, perhaps we'll keep them) kale plants, some Red Russian, some Lacinato. Have I mentioned that I love hearty greens?
Six of the collard plants were bought as starts for a whopping $1.95. The other few were started from seed, as was the kale, and those direct-sown plants are all too wee for harvesting just yet.
Oh, but the six collards for $1.95? Those bad boys are in need of a trim. It's not all just asparagus and eggs here, though we have been doing our best to eat what we've got on the property.
Sidebar: I feel I must mention that we have been eating asparagus from our patch every other night for five weeks now - not bad for an initial investment of twenty-one dollars for twenty-one plants 4 years ago. I'm just sayin'.
Returning to the main topic: The realization that the collards needed eating, and the discovery of two sad, neglected sweet potatoes - a natural pairing for the greens - and a small vat of whole wheat Israeli cous cous caused this eat-whatcha-got side dish to happen.
It's not just pretty (look at those colors! check out the textures!), it's also addictively flavorful. If you hate collards, give kale or chard a try in its place.
It's also worth noting that the cinnamon-cayenne seasoning (plus thyme, salt, and pepper) is great on its own for roasted sweet potatoes anytime the sweet-spicy-starchy side dish craving hits.
Israeli Cous Cous with Roasted Sweet Potato and Collard Greens
Serves 4 to 6
1 pound sweet potato (approximately 2 small or 1 large - it's okay if it's a little over a pound), peeled, sliced crosswise into 1/2-inch rounds, the rounds then sliced into cubes approximately 1/2-inch in size
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 cup dry Israeli cous cous (whole wheat or white)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium shallot, coarsely chopped
1/2 to 3/4-pound collard greens, washed, stems removed, sliced crosswise into 1-inch thick strips
3 tablespoons maple syrup, preferably Grade B Dark Amber*
1 green onion (scallion), trimmed and coarsely chopped
freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Place the sweet potato chunks in a medium mixing bowl, then toss them with the olive oil, thyme, cinnamon, and cayenne.
Transfer the sweet potato to a 9 by 13-inch rimmed baking sheet, and arrange the chunks in a single layer. Bake until they are golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes, stirring them midway through the cooking time to keep from having blackened sweet potato on one side, free range egg yolk-hued sweet potato on the other.
While the sweet potato roasts, prepare the cous cous according to the manufacturer's directions.
Around 30 minutes into the sweet potato cooking time, bust out with your large saute pan or cast iron skillet, place it on a burner of your choosing, turn the heat up to medium-high, pour in the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, add the shallot, and saute until it is softened and translucent, 2 to 3 minutes. Then add the collard greens, and saute until they are just softened and are a deep grass green, 5 to 7 minutes.
I like my collards with a little crunch. If you prefer your collards softer, go ahead and keep cooking until they're to your liking. If you aren't sure, taste them at 5 minutes in, then keep going until you're happy with them.
Add the cous cous and the sweet potato to the saute pan with the collards, pour in the maple syrup, stir it all up, season with salt and pepper, and serve it forth. It's a good partner for grilled chicken or pork chops, country style spare ribs, or pork tenderloin, and also makes for a fantastic meat-free lunch option.
Estimated cost for 4 servings: $10.80. Sweet potato costs $2.99 per pound, so $2.99 it is. The olive oil we use is the Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value brand, which costs $5.99 for 67 tablespoons. The cost for olive oil in the entire dish is 36-cents. The thyme would be very inexpensive if you bought a plant two years ago and grew it in a pot so it could live in your house during the winter, otherwise, we'll estimate a dollar for the purchase. The spices should cost in the range of 21-cents (7-cents for the cayenne, 14-cents for the cinnamon from their respective containers). The cous cous is 1/4 of a container that costs $6.79, so that runs us $1.70. The shallot should cost no more than 75-cents. The collards are $2.99 per pound at Whole Foods, less at my regional grocery chain, but we'll go with the higher price (and they are nearly free from seeds in the garden, which is sweet), so $2.25 on the higher end of the collard green weight range. The maple syrup costs $10.99 for 12 ounces (roughly 24 tablespoons), so $1.37, and one scallion is probably 1 of a pack of 6 for 99-cents, so 17-cents (those grow well in the garden, too, by the way). We never count salt and pepper, so there's that. This lands us at $2.70 per serving for 4 people, or $1.80 per serving for 6 people.
*Grade B Dark Amber maple syrup has a more pronounced maple flavor. Don't stress if you can't find it, though. Just go ahead and use maple syrup you have on hand (eat-watcha-got, right?), or what's easiest for you to locate at your local grocery, farmers market, or farm stand.