Friday, June 25, 2010

Spinach and Blueberry Salad with Tangy Garlic Dressing

I was just home in southern Illinois visiting family and the blueberries are in season and delicious. We often go as a family to the u pick place and bring home gallons. After mountains of blueberry pancakes, blueberry smoothies and blueberries by themselves, I start to get creative. Here is a simple recipe and yet another way to enjoy blueberries. The tangy dressing is a nice contrast to the sweet berries.

2 TB rice vinegar
1 tsp dijon mustard
1large or 2 small cloves garlic, through a press
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup plain yogurt
salt to taste

3/4 lb baby spinah leaves, washed
2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and sliced
1-1 1/2 cup blueberries, or more to taste
3 green onions, chopped including greens

Combine vinegar, mustard and garlic in a blender at low speed. While blender is running, slowly drizzle in olive oil. Then add yogurt and salt. Blend well.
Toss spinach leaves in dressing, adding a little at a time until leaves are coated (you may not use all of the dressing). Add more dressing depending on taste. Place dressed spinach in a large serving bowl. Layer cucumber slices and blueberries. Top with chopped onions. Serve family style. Serves 6.

Spinach is an excellent source of vitamin K, carotenes, vitamin C and folic acid. It is also a good source of manganese, magnesium, iron and vitamins B2, B6 B1 and E. Spinach is a strong protector against cancer. The high iron content gives it remarkable capabilities to restore energy, increase vitality and improve the quality of the blood. Spinach is one of the most alkaline producing foods and helps regulate body pH.
Blueberries are an excellent source of flavonoids. They are also a great source of vitamin C, soluble and insoluble fiber and pectin and a good source of manganese, vitamin E and riboflavin. Some studies rate blueberries as the highest in their level of antioxidant capabilities. One benefit of the high antioxidant content may be in the protection against Alzheimer's disease. Blueberries also help improve vision and protect against age related macular degeneration. Blueberries are also helpful remedy for both diarrhea an constipation as well as promote a healthy urinary tract.
Yogurt is a very good source of protein, calcium, phosphorous, riboflavin and vitamin B12. it is also a good source of pantothenic acid, biotin, selenium, zinc and potassium. Yogurt and other cultured dairy foods provide many health benefits such as; improved tolerance of milk, improved intestinal health, lowering of blood cholesterol levels, anti cancer and immune enhancing effects including reducing colon cancer and having anti tumor effects.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Carrot Green Controversy

After posting the recipe yesterday, I decided to do a little research on the nutritional value of carrot tops. Wow! Was I in for a surprise! While every site hails the nutritional benefits of the root, there are conflicting reports on whether or not greens are safe to eat. I must premise this information with the fact that I felt no ill effects after making my delicious recipe last night, nor when I ate the leftovers for lunch again today (YUM!). However, below I will present a summary of the information learned through my quick research.

First the good stuff: Carrot greens are rich in protein, vitamins and minerals. They contain 6 times the vitamin C of the root and are a great source of potassium and calcium. The greens are an excellent source of chlorophyll, which has been noted to purify the blood, lymph nodes and adrenal glands. They have also been noted to deter tumor growth.

And the not so good: To understand where the concerns lie, it’s interesting to note that the modern carrot was originally cultivated from Queen Anne's Lace, also known as the "wild carrot." This plant is topped with fern like greens and contains a single root, which resembles a pale carrot, and is also edible. However, it's the greens of the Queen Anne's Lace that can get a person into trouble. The leaves contain alkaloids, a group of organic compounds that contain such nasty poisons as strychnine, cocaine, and caffeine. In the old days, the seeds from Queen Anne's Lace were even used to prevent pregnancies or induce abortions. While the greens of the common garden-variety of carrot aren't quite as deadly as that of the wild carrot, some still regard them as toxic due to the presence of both alkaloids and nitrates in the greens. While many report the greens leaving a bitter taste in the mouth, others experience some of the side effects of exposure to alkaloids or nitrates. These include a burning sensation in the mouth and throat, increased heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, agitation and possibly even death.
So why do some people get sick while eating carrot greens and others don't? Carrots pull nitrates out of the soil during its growth. The levels of nitrates fluctuate with the growing season. Since home gardeners have no way of knowing at when the nitrate levels are high and when they are safe, some recommend not eating carrot greens at all.

As I mentioned earlier, I did not experience any of the side effects mentioned. I, will, however stress the importance of eating organic carrot greens. One concern is the toxicity due to the high levels of nitrates in the carrot greens. I posted on an earlier occasion that carrots are like the sponge of the farming world and are often used as a throw away crop, to cleanse a field of dangerous nitrates. Again, whether or not you decide to eat the greens, always, always buy organic carrots!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Fettucini with Carrot Greens and Yogurt Sauce

The other day I was chopping radishes for a salad and felt guilty about just throwing the leaves in the trash (or compost). I started thinking about different ways to use those leaves. Then I came across a recipe by the glorious Deborah Madison, that, not only utilized the radish leaves, but also the tops of carrots. Below is my adaptation of that recipe.

4 cups of fresh spinach (packed)
Tops from 1 bunch of carrots, the leaves stripped from the stems
Leaves from one bunch of radishes (discard funky looking ones)
1 cup cilantro, stems included, chopped
1/2 cup fresh dill, chopped
4 celery leaves
1 TB olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 jalapeno chile, seeded and chopped
1/4 white onion, thinly sliced
1 cup whole milk yogurt (organic of course)
sea salt
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, depending on taste
1 lb Jerusalem artichoke flour or spinach pasta
juice from one lemon
1/2 cup pine nuts
crumbled feta or soft goat cheese
lemon, sliced or wedges for garnish

  • Sort through greens and get rid of any funky looking ones. Wash and coarsely chop all greens.
  • Heat olive oil over medium heat in a wide nonstick skillet. Add garlic, chile and onion and cook over medium heat until onions are translucent. next, add greens with water clinging to their leaves. Sprinkle with salt and cayenne and cook until wilted, turning with tongs, about 3-4 minutes.
  • Add yogurt and greens to blender and puree.
  • Return mixture to skillet and heat over low heat (careful not to curdle the yogurt with too high heat).
  • Cook pasta in salted water until al dente. Drain.
  • While pasta is cooking, toast pine nuts in a small skillet, over medium low heat until golden.
  • Add the pasta to the sauce and toss. Adjust seasonings and lemon as needed.
  • Top with cheese, pine nuts and a lemon slice. *I used feta the first time I made this, but think creamy soft goat cheese would be delicious as well.