Chicago Greens

After traveling well over 2500 miles of the upper Midwest — by car, ferry, bicycle, and foot — POD has returned. While wandering our way through the windy city we discovered what might well be the best urban gardening store ever: Sprout Home.

Enjoying Chicago’s delayed growing season we sampled fresh peas, asparagus, and Swiss chard (along with roast chicken, lamb, lake trout, and short rib tortellini) at the new Nightwood Restaurant in the Pilsen neighborhood.  Excellent.  At Avec, the fennel and Brussel sprouts took the day and at the Publican the pork belly with fava was fabulous.

But oh good sweet dessert lord…the Baked Alaska with homemade strawberry ice cream, shortbread cookie, and wicked strawberry rhubarb sauce (served with a complimentary glass of Muscat — thanks, bartender guy) at Mindy’s Hot Chocolate wins, hands down.

Stay tuned for updates from the Little Blue Deck, but in meantime, enjoy this vision of lettuce and Swiss chard.

Chicago Lettuce
Chicago Lettuce
Fields of Green
Fields of Green

Spring Curry

This spring curry features POD-grown Swiss chard, bay, and Thai chilies. Serves 6-8.

spring curry ingredients
spring curry ingredients

2 chicken breasts, rinsed and cut into 1″ cubes
3/4 lb potatoes, parboiled cut into 1″ cubes
1/2 tsp saffron
4 tbs heavy cream
4 tbs canola oil
12 cardamom pods
4 cinnamon sticks
6 bay leaves
4 bird chilies (or to taste), minced
3 large shallots, sliced
2 tbs ginger, minced
8 cloves garlic (or to taste), minced
4 tbs whole almonds
2 tbs ground coriander
1 tbs ground cumin
1 tsp cayenne (or to taste)
1/2 tsp turmeric
3/4 tsp salt
1 c. chicken stock (or water)
1 c. buttermilk (or yogurt)
10 oz chard, sliced
2 c. peas

RICE
1 1/2 c. basmati, well-rinsed
3 c. water (or stock/water combo)
6 cardamom pods

1) Heat cream, add saffron. Set aside to steep.
2) Heat oil over medium high in Dutch oven, add the cardamom, cinnamon, and bay. Stir until they begin to release yummy smells. About a minute. Add chicken pieces and cook until barely not pink. Remove the chicken and set it aside. Leave as many of the spices in the pot as you can.
2b) Stick the rice, cardamom pods, and water/stock combo in a pot. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 17-20 minutes until done.
3) Add the shallots to the sizzling spices and fry until they’re reddish brown. You may want to increase the heat a touch. Add the garlic, ginger, and Thai chilies and fry for an additional minute. Reduce heat a bit. Add the almonds, coriander, cumin, cayenne, salt, and turmeric. Stir for a few seconds. Avoid coughing into the spice cloud.
4) Add the chicken stock and buttermilk or yogurt. Scape all the good stuff off the bottom of the pan. Reduce heat to a simmer. It should be fairly liquidy. Add a little more yogurt or buttermilk to suit your tastes.
5) Toss in the chicken, chard, potatoes, and peas. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes or so.
6) Stir in saffron cream mixture.
7) Serve over rice. Try not to eat the cardamom pods and cinnamon sticks.

Swiss Chard and Preserved Lemons

It’s so ridiculously satisfying to climb up the sladder, pick chard, climb down, chop it,  throw some other stuff in a pan, and eat. Of course, you’ll need to have made the preserved lemons two months ago, but still. Good stuff. If you don’t have preserved lemons lounging in your fridge like some food nerds do, lemon zest, a squeeze of lemon juice, and a pinch of coriander and cinnamon also happens to be pretty darn tasty.

swiss chard with preserved lemons
swiss chard with preserved lemons

Swiss Chard and Preserved Lemons
1 bunch swiss chard (about 6-8 stalks), chopped
1 tbs olive oil
a slosh of sherry vinegar (about 2-3 tbs, depending on taste)
¼ preserved lemon (pulp removed and well-rinsed), chopped finely
black pepper or red pepper flakes, to taste

1) Heat olive oil
2) Drop in chard
3) Sauté for a few minutes, until leaves have wilted
4) Add vinegar to hot pan, swirl until it mostly disappears
5) Remove from heat and stir in chopped preserved lemon and pepper

Preserved Lemons
Quoted directly from: Casa Moro (2004) by Sam and Sam Clark

Preserved lemons are a great feature of North African cooking, especially in Morocco. They have a strong, distinctive flavour used to give character to tagines (stews), sauces, fish dishes and salads

10 organic lemons, washed and drained
1 kg (2.2 lbs)
3 cinnamon sticks, broken up roughly
1 tbs coriander seeds
1tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp cloves
5 small dried red chilies
5 bay leaves (preferably fresh)
juice of 8 extra lemons

Make a cross in the top of each lemon and continue to cut until two-thirds the way day. Open out slightly, pushing some salt inside each one and press together again. In a large, sterilized preserving jar about 1.5 litres, alternate the salt with the spices ad the lemons so that everything is more or less evenly packed in the jar. Press down on the lemons to help extrude some of the juice. Pour on the extra lemon juice to cover completely. Close the jar and leave at room temperature for about 2 months, or until the skins are soft all the way through. When you are ready to use a lemon, remove it from the jar, rinse under cold water to remove any excess salt, pull out and discard the pulp, then chop the skin as desired. Preserved lemons are deceptive in their strength, so only the smallest amounts will b e necessary in most recipes: although it may seem like nothing, beware of adding more. The lemons should keep for up to a year in the fridge.

Spring Panzanella

Hey, fresh peas! And the asparagus looks awesome! Oooh, swimming in Swiss chard. What to do? What to do?

Ta da! Here’s a welcome-to-garden-fresh-produce panzanella-like salad. The bread was sliced off a lovely husband-baked loaf (both the husband and the bread are lovely, thank you) of French bread and POD provided the Swiss chard, basil, tarragon, and thyme. Coulton Organics via South Philly’s Headhouse Farmers’ Market must be thanked for the amazing little peas and toothsome asparagus. Genovese basil seedlings from Longview Farm joined the ranks several weeks ago.

Spring Panzanella

GRILLED BREAD
8 oz bread, cut into thick slices — stale is fine
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tbs olive oil
salt and pepper

VEGETABLES
¼ c. + 1 tbs. olive oil
1 lemon, juiced
¼ c. fresh basil, chiffonaded
1/3 c. parmesan
1 bunch fresh asparagusSwiss chard, basil, tarragon, thyme
3 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced
3 c. fresh peas
5 c. fresh spinach OR Swiss chard
salt and pepper

CHICKEN MARINADE
1 chicken breast (appx. 6 oz)
1 tbs. olive oil
3 tbs. fresh herbs (tarragon and thyme or basil and oregano, for example)
2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
2 cloves garlic, crushed
½ tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper

1) Marinate the chicken breast for 1-5 hours (ideally 2-3, but whatever works).

2) Prep the bread for the gill by brushing the crushed garlic clove over both sides of the bread. (Actually, try grating the clove on a small cheese grater — you get more of the garlic oil on the bread that way.) Brush the bread with olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Set aside

3) Whisk ¼ c. olive oil with lemon juice in a large bowl. Brush the asparagus with the sauce and place the asparagus in a grill tray (line the tray with aluminum foil so none of the tasty asparagus slips out – supposedly you can skewer asparagus, but it’s never worked for us). Leave remaining juice and oil in the bowl – add a little more if you like your panzanella wet. Toss in basil and parmesan. Stir.

4) Heat  remaining 1 tbs. olive oil over medium high heat. Add thinly sliced garlic and sauté until the garlic turns a light golden brown. Scoop the garlic out and set aside.

5) Place a few ice cubes in a small bowl with cold water. Toss the spinach or chard into the hot, garlicky oil. Sauté very briefly until barely wilted. Scoop the spinach or chard out of the pan and into the ice water to “shock” it. This will prevent further cooking and maintain a nice bright green color. Squeeze out most of the water and add to the big bowl of lemon juice and oil. Stir.

6) Bring to boil enough water to cover the peas. Throw in the peas. Cook until desired consistency. We like our peas tender-crisp – maybe 3-4 minutes. Drain the peas and add them to the big bowl. Stir. Add salt and pepper to taste.

7) Grill the asparagus until desired tenderness, grill the chicken until it’s cooked through but not puck-like – we usually cheat and slice open the center of the breast before turning off the heat and accidentally serving raw chicken. Grill the bread until it reaches your desired crunchiness.

8 ) Slice the asparagus and bread, mix them into the vegetable base. Spoon onto plates, sprinkling reserved garlic chips on top. Slice chicken on top of the panzanella.

Container Gardening: Making the Most of It

Philly gardeners should check out the Pennsylvania Horticultural society’s City Gardening Series workshops. They’re free and full of useful tips. For example, POD discovered that early on in the season container gardeners  can cram their pots with all sorts of greenery.

Cucumbers and Swiss Chard
Cucumbers and Swiss Chard

So, with that in mind, this 5-gallon bucket is sprouting 3 cucumbers (two Space Masters, from D. Landreth Seed Company and one lemon cucumber snitched from my mother’s supply). The Swiss chard seedlings came from Moore’s Greenhouses, a small family-owned operation in West Deptford, New Jersey.

While the cucumbers are still wee we can enjoy all the chard we want. I’ll just yank them when the space masters need a little more space.