Food & Drink » Glenda Bartosh on Food

Other shades of greens

Beyond the lettuce leaf and more

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Have you ever watched tender young leaves in the wind? They're so delicate the slightest breeze sets them trembling, making their delicacy all the more apparent. Even the shade of green they offer seems tentative, uncertain.

On your plate, spring greens are equally tender. No, they don't have huge adorable eyes like those of kittens, puppies and most baby animals to make them look vulnerable and appealing. Still, there's something about their leafy delicacy that triggers the protective, mothering side of me. That is, before I gobble them down!

Tender little sorrel leaves tangy as lemon-lime juice; chartreuse young lettuce leaves as delicate as gossamer; baby beet micro-greens that really are deep purple and as sultry as beets themselves. They fill heart and mouth with delight — welcome relief from the root veggies of winter we've been rooted in for months.

Farmers from Pemberton to Abbotsford have been teaching me for years about the joys of local spring greens, especially those far from the beaten path of supermarket shelves.

Yes, Virginia, there is life beyond lettuce, cabbage and parsley. Besides, even if you check the "organics" sections of your favourite grocery store, all you'll find now are greens shipped 1,001 miles from California or Mexico.

A local exception — one you can enjoy year-round — are the very B.C. Eatmore organic sprouts grown in Comox Valley on Vancouver Island. You can find them in nearly every grocery store and remember this — you're supporting 30+ jobs each time you buy a container.

But branch out! In this case, life abounds beyond alfalfa sprouts (never my favourites). Try the garlic sprouts for a lovely hint of garlic or the broccoli sprouts — a bit peppery and, surprisingly, not even remotely like broccoli.

Sprouts got a bad rap a few years back with e. coli scares, but Eatmore does a bang-up job of growing theirs carefully, plus they're seed savers and anti-GMOs.

Regardless, all sprouts — and all greens, for that matter — need to be rinsed well before use. The easiest way for sprouts is to dump them in a sieve and rinse them under running water. Give it a few taps on the side of the sink to get more water out, then let them drain in the sink bottom while you prep your sandwich or salad. Your sprouts will be ready when you are.

As for other tender-leaf darlings, try branching out with these:

Arugula: Like so many other things, this got a new lease on life in Canada when the American name, "arugula", overtook the original name of "garden rocket" or just plain "rocket" used in Commonwealth countries for ages. I say go British, not American, on this one since rocket is native to the Mediterranean. I still like to call it "rocket" mainly because its flavour sends me, maybe not quite to the moon, but close. Arugula is a member of the mustard / cabbage / radish family and one bite of fresh, tender arugula will tell you why. Peppery and nutty at the same time, some people find it addicting. But that might be due to its high potassium content, a property most greens share. One of the more common elements in our bodies, potassium is vital for keeping our brains and nervous systems healthy.

Mizuna: Originally from Japan, mizuna is a winner just sitting there because the leaf is so beautiful. Serrated, with long narrow lobes, it reminds me of a stretched out citronella leaf. Also known as Japanese mustard or Japanese greens, there are a number of varieties, some of them red. Generally, mizuna has a mild peppery flavour, much like arugula minus the nutty element. This isn't surprising given it's from the same family. Never mind salads, a friend of mine will cook up a bunch of pasta, dump in good olive oil, then sprinkle it with minced garlic, good grated parmesan (not from the Kraft shaker) and pine nuts, then pile on a bunch of raw mizuna and gobble it down. Delicious.

Sorrel: Just days ago, Stefan Butler from Good Time Farming in Squamish taught me to love sorrel. He tucked a few leaves into his bag of stir-fry greens, which we haven't fried at all. Instead, we're picking through the bag — such a deal for five bucks! — washing off a few leaves and using them as we like, raw, to zing up salads and sandwiches. Stefan grows garden sorrel as a perennial, but you can find the plant growing wild. It will either be mountain sorrel, native to B.C., or sheep sorrel, introduced from Europe. All are tart — think lemon-lime. I loved it shredded thinly and mixed with fresh leaf-lettuce from a greenhouse in Abbotsford. Try a simple dressing, like grapeseed oil and an orange-champagne vinaigrette. The leaves, which are rich in vitamin C, get their zing from oxalic acid ("sorrel" is from the French "surrelle" meaning "sour").

Carrot tops: Thanks to Stefan, we also learned that we can eat carrot tops — and radish tops, too, for that matter, although I didn't really like the latter. Mind you, we tried them raw, not stir-fried as recommended, so I should give them a proper go. The carrot tops, though, are wonderful straight up! Which made me wonder, why the heck have we been throwing them out all these years? I'll wait for older carrots to see if their tops are as nice, but these young tops from Good Time are tender, fragrant, and a bit carroty — perfect minced into a salad, much like parsley. The baby carrots, turnips and radishes were even more exquisite — something of a miracle that they were ready for eating now.

As for your own supply of miraculous and tender greens, pick up a bagful at any of the farmers' markets starting soon.

Vancouver's Trout Lake farmers' market and Squamish's (on Cleveland Avenue) both happen Saturdays at 10 a.m., starting May 12. You'll find Stefan at the latter along with other local farmers. Whistler's farmers' market goes Sundays at 11 a.m. in the Upper Village, starting June 17, while Pemberton's is in the heart of the village at 4 p.m. every Wednesday, starting June 20.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning freelance writer who's hooked on greens.

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