Fall leaves of green

Oct. 18, 2013 @ 10:50 PM

While the leaves on the trees are turning and falling, leaves of another sort are flooding the South Durham Farmers’ Market.

The heat loving vegetables of summer like peppers and tomatoes have faded as the cool weather crops come in to take their place. Our farmers are harvesting beets, carrots, potatoes, broccoli and, most abundantly, greens of all kinds. We have Swiss chard, arugula, mustard greens, collards, cabbage, spinach, kale, romaine, bok choy, pac choy and mesclun mixes. Almost every other stall at the market is laden with these fresh, fluffy leaves.

The weather has been particularly cooperative for the growing of leafy greens. Besides the short-lived spike in temperatures two weeks ago, it has been cool with plenty of moisture.  This is good news because all of us could benefit from some more greens in our diet. They are rich in fiber and vitamins A and C, while containing no cholesterol or fat. Moreover, the dark leafy greens, like bok choy and kale, pack lots of calcium.

In addition to traditional greens, several root vegetables have toppers that are too tasty to throw away, and one of the benefits of shopping at the market is that the farmers often sell you the whole plant. Turnips, beets, sweet potatoes and kohlrabi all have delicious and nutritious greens that can be used in almost any dish that uses cooked greens.

At the market, shoppers often express concerns about extending the shelf life of their greens. There are a couple tricks of the trade that will help your greens last from one Saturday market to the next. First, remove any discolored or bad leaves, and if using root vegetable leaves, immediately cut off the leaves; this will lengthen both the life of the root and the greens.

The most common mistake is to dry the leaves too much after washing.  Of course, the greens cannot be too wet or they will prematurely rot, but in order for the leaves to remain crisp, their cells need to hold onto enough water not to wilt. One of the easiest ways to achieve this balance is to wash the greens (avoid chopping unless serving within a couple of days), pat dry, then gently wrap up in either a dish towel or paper towel and place the slightly moist roll in an unsealed plastic bag (this last step helps slow evaporation).

I invite you to enjoy the leaves of autumn, as I have, with crunchy red romaine on a BLT, mesclun leaves lightly dressed with balsamic vinaigrette, quesadillas stuffed with beet greens and stir-fries made full with bittersweet bok choy.

Elizabeth Zander is market manager of the South Durham Farmers’ Market.