At the Farmers' Market: Mustard Greens and Green Garlic
It might be January, and it might not be time to think about spring yet, but it's been a warm year and the greenery is already out at the farmers' market, up to two months in advance of its normal appearance.
Green garlic is the entire garlic plant while it is still young, before the cloves have a chance to form. It looks like scallions, but with a much more floral garlic taste which can actually be stronger when raw than its mature cousin; cooking the garlic tempers the bite to a pleasing undertone. Look for garlic with a perky top and fresh-looking roots. If the bulb is purple, don't worry; this sometimes happens. Make sure you don't leave the garlic in the hot car; the leaves will wilt.
More and more growers are coming to the market with mustard greens; these curly, leafy greens are not only delicious, they're amazingly good for you (folic acid, anyone?). While most Asian vendors will have large bundles of the greens, the best mustard greens I've ever had came from Sweredoski Farms, down at the far end of the Irvine market. They grow an amazing array of unusual greenery on small urban plots in Bell Gardens, which is not exactly a place one thinks of when thinking of farmland. Sweredoski's mustard greens are a third the thickness of other vendors', with leaves still furled, and the taste is so mild you could shred them and eat them raw as slaw. Look for fresh, crisp leaves with clean cuts on the bottoms.
What do you do with these things? Stir-fry the mustard greens with a tiny bit of oil, some salt and some (regular) garlic, or put them in with some pasta and roasted chicken. Greeks would be lost without their plates of horta, wild mustard greens cooked simply, and Sicilians would be missing a very healthy part of their diet if they couldn't make mustard greens braised with chickpeas.
Green garlic is delicious in soups (try it with fresh peas), marinated in vinaigrette as a simple side salad, mixed with ricotta and a little bit of nutmeg as a filling for your favorite stuffed pasta, or substituted for the regular garlic in a pesto recipe.
Mama said to eat your greens; now you've got no reason not to.
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