I am a member of an online Mom’s group. I don’t necessarily participate all that much, but when the twins were infants and we had just moved here, it was a lifesaver. There was always someone around to “talk” to. I still check in from time to time, to chat with my book club friends, get advice on a restaurant, or help a new Mom know it’s going to be okay. While I was visiting with my online ladies yesterday, an interesting question caught my eye. Continue reading
While I love to cook, I know that there are many people who do not. Eating affordable nutritious food without cooking is pretty much a non-starter most of the time in my opinion, but there are many nutritious dishes out there that are so simple to prepare, that anyone (even someone who HATES to cook) can master them with ease. Even those of us who like to cook can use a break from hovering over hot pans now and again. When this happens to me, provided it’s even remotely warm, I look to the garden to see what’s available and build from there. Right now the garden is ALL about greens. Kale, spinach, romaine lettuce. But what to do with them that I haven’t already done millions of times?
Namul where have you been all my life? Cruising through a cookbook the other night (yes, I have an exciting life), I came across a picture I couldn’t get past. It was green and beautiful and the food photography makeover (which included edible flowers and a lovely rustic wooden table underneath) did wonders. I was REALLY drawn to the food, so I settled in to read about it. Spinach Namul. I had no idea what that meant. Now, I do. So here we go, stretching ourselves just beyond the boundaries…
Namul is a Korean dish that typically involves vegetables, some kind of vinegar or soy sauce, sesame oil, and sometimes chili, garlic, sesame seeds. The vegetables marinate, so if they are remotely tough, they soften or wilt and they pick up the flavor of the other ingredients WITHOUT COOKING THEM. Got that? If you are one of those who does not care to cook (a subject I’d like to come back to at some point here), this is the dish for you. I’ll give you the recipe the way I made it but a more refined version can be found in Ani Phyo‘s Ani’s Raw Food Asia, which is a lovely book and one that I would recommend for a peek by anyone who’s trying to eat more veggies.
MY FIRST NAMUL serves 2 as the main event, 4 as a side
- 4 c spinach, washed and dried
- 2 t soy sauce (or Bragg’s)
- 2 t toasted sesame oil
- 1 small clove garlic, made small however you like
- 1 t sesame seeds
Place everything but sesame seeds in large bowl and toss. Ideally you should massage this with your hands. I was doing a bunch of other things at the same time, and decided to use utensils instead. Set aside and let marinate for 20-30 minutes, tossing periodically. Add sesame seeds, toss and serve. Yes, that’s it. How to eat it? You could use it as a side dish for any protein you like. OR you could do what I did and serve it on top of brown rice with warmed frozen peas and a chopped up asparagus stalk (there’s that asparagus again! still coming a few stalks at a time). Delish.
My poor husband missed the first round, so he had it as leftovers, which worked really well, and all he needed to do was warm the rice, then pile on everything else. If it had been a hot day, he said it would have been just as good with the rice cold. It would seem that at least in our house this is a crowd pleaser. And the simple nutrition of it got me to thinking. Surely there would be other combinations that might work as well.
Ani Phyo’s book has a variety of namuls, different vegetables, the occasional chili thrown in. I was wondering if the principle of the namul, greens wilted through marinating, could be used with other flavor combinations. Since we’ve been eating less meat, I’ve been using a lot of Asian flavors. We LOVE Asian food, but it would be good to expand the repertoire a little bit…. I decided to try a Italian twist on namul (I can’t seem to stop myself from going Italian). And it was super yum.
Mediterranean Wilted Greens
- 4 c geens, roughly chopped (I used kale)
- 2 t balsamic vinegar
- 2 t olive oil
- 1 small clove garlic
- 1 T pine nuts (or really whatever nut you have that you like)
- 2 t raisins or currants (optional)
I’m betting you can guess what to do here. Throw everything but the pine nuts and raisins if you use them in a bowl and massage or toss. The thicker your greens, the more you should mix, and the more time you want to give it to marinate (20-30 mins). When done, add pine nuts and raisins (if you choose). I served mine with whole wheat shells and garbanzo beans. Delish.
How else could we change it? A French version of the Mediterranean greens might use wine vinegar and add a bit of fresh thyme and parsley. A Japanese version of the original namul might use rice vinegar instead of soy sauce, and come with a side of wasabi, or have nori flakes broken into it. Yum. The possibilities are endless. And they’re all SUPER nutritious. WAHOOTIE! Let’s hear it for namul!!
A little break from Sugar Busting this morning because THE ASPARAGUS IS HERE!!
I realize many of you have probably been able to buy asparagus in the store for a few weeks now, and may well have moved from your initial joy, through some sort of asparagus binge, and are now less willing to pay for the delectability, but before you get too complacent, just remember, it won’t be here for long. My asparagus high is particularly profound because this year, the third year since planting, I get to eat some asparagus from my own patch. Wow. The spatial limitations of my asparagus patch have, however, forced me to reconsider my favorite ways to eat asparagus; when you only have three stalks at a time to work with, the traditional side dish approaches don’t make a whole lot of sense. On the other hand, when you have three stalks of fresh from your garden asparagus, you darned well better find a way to use them because they will never taste quite as awesome as they do right at that moment.
Not an asparagus fan? This might be one you should reconsider. From a nutritional standpoint, asparagus has a lot to offer including potassium, fiber, folacin, thiamine, B6, and a compound called rutin. These nutrients make asparagus a great food for helping to prevent birth defects and maintain healthy blood and liver function. So I say don’t like asparagus? Try it another way.
We’ve been using our mini harvests a variety of ways, all of which involve chopping the asparagus stalks into smaller pieces so that they become part of another dish rather than the superstar that they can be in quantity. This is also a great way to five asparagus a second chance and to make the little bundle you bought go farther. We’ve used these little nubs in their delightfully tender and raw state a variety of ways including the most obvious choice, sprinkling them on a salad. We’ve also added them to our favorite tofu and rice dish. If you are an egg eater, I think a sprinkle of these babies over gently poached or perfect over-easy egg would be stunning. Our favorite use for our asparagus was adding it to one of our old standby dishes, orzo with spinach and lemon. The asparagus added a little crunch to the texture and springiness to the flavor. It interacted beautifully with the lemon and olive oil. Just fantastic. So I thought I’d share it with you.
LEMON ORZO WITH SPINACH AND ASPARAGUS
- 1 lb. whole wheat orzo
- About 5 very large and packed handfuls of raw spinach (adjust to taste)
- Juice from 1.5 small lemons
- 3 T olive oil
- 2T oregano
- salt and pepper to taste
- Chopped raw asparagus bits (we used three stalks, but more would have been nicer)
- Grated parmesan, if desired
Cook orzo according to package directions – with the caveat that I usually shave a minute or so off of their recommended time. Taste it early, see what you think. You do NOT want a big bowl of mush. While orzo is cooking, chop the spinach into bite sized pieces. Place spinach, lemon juice, and olive oil in large bowl. When orzo is done, drain in sieve or other colander with SMALL holes (sorry if that’s obvious, but I’ve done such things). Add hot orzo to bowl with spinach, etc. and stir, distributing the spinach and seasonings throughout the orzo. Add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle asparagus over individual servings. Garnish with parmesan if desired. I went without and didn’t miss it. This recipe made plenty for our family of four (with only one reluctant participator – our picky girl, who wasn’t even swayed by the promise of stinky pee later) and also served as a leftover dinner for a very hungry adult a couple of nights later.
A Note on Preparing Asparagus: Store-bought asparagus can be tough at the base of the stalk. Test your asparagus by bending one stalk to see how low you can break it easily. Use this stalk as a guide for chopping the bottoms off the rest. If the stalks are particularly thick or seem slightly tough generally, you can also use a vegetable peeler to remove the outer skin, revealing the yummy tender inside.
So there’s my spring asparagus fling. I’m headed out to check the patch this morning and pick up a few strays, and looking forward to Easter dinner, when I know there will be a big honkin’ pile of it (Thanks, Mom). What spring vegetable makes your mouth happy?