Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Aarti Cooks: Popeye & that Crazy Bastard Greens!

Popeye should be the international comic strip of the food-obsessed. I mean, first of all, the hero relies on a can of spinach to rescue his girl from hairy situations. And second of all, his girlfriend's name is Olive Oyl!

On the other hand, who likes canned spinach? Blech! And isn't it funny that SPINACH made Popeye's triceps bulge? I mean, there's absolutely no protein in it, right? And I must admit that I always found it creepy that Olive Oyl, who seemed kinda young, was involved with this much older man who relied on a slimy green sludge to come to her rescue... sort of like a precursor to viagra. Ugh! I just grossed myself out. Sorry.

Perhaps THAT'S why I never liked spinach when I was a child! Mum would try to serve it all different kinds of ways, but alas, I would sulk off and slice up a tomato as my vegetable-alternative for dinner that night.

Since then, I've embraced spinach, especially when it's combined with a pound of cheese. Exhibit A: spinach-artichoke dip. Exhibit B: Chicago-style deep dish spinach pizza. Be still my cholesterol-laden heart!!

Sadly, Bren, who grips his inner child more fiercely than anyone I know, still despises spinach. In fact, whenever I cook kale or other greens, he usually freezes with his greens-charged fork an inch from his open mouth, looks at my suspiciously and mutters, "there's no spinach in here, right?".

Luckily, at this time of year, there are a plethora of leafy green alternatives at the market, delicious and nutritious enough to lure in Brendan's specific palate and Popeye's greedy one!

Yesterday, I went to my favorite stand at the Culver City
farmers market, where the farmer, Brandon, displayed a Benetton ad of greens: black kale (which I used in this week's Aarti Paarti show), russian red kale, red boar kale, rainbow swiss chard, regular swiss chard, collard greens... I wish I'd had my camera with me. But the prices were even more amazing. 3 bunches of greens for $5! WHAT? And what's particularly great about these tougher greens is that they don't wilt as much as spinach does, so one bunch goes a long way. I grabbed the swiss chard and the two red varieties.

I also grabbed my newest discovery: beet greens. Have you tried them? I used to toss them away with nary a thought, the memory of which makes me clutch my heart in sorrow now! I didn't think I could love beets any more than I did (not the red ones though. Those are still yucky to me. Sorry, I know I'm snobby.), but once I realised that these rough-hewn gems provided TWO meals, at a price of $1.25 a bunch... I was a devotee for life. Plus, I love how the roots feel in my hand -- they are so pleasantly curvy, with that suggestive little tail... it makes me want to draw some eyes on them and stick 'em on my bed.

Waaaait a second.


I've read that you need to use those beet greens almost immediately, or else they'll start to rot. But I beat the odds by cutting the leaves off the stems, washing 'em, drying 'em in a salad spinner and then storing them, wrapped in some paper towel in a plastic container in the fridge. They lasted a little more than a week!

Anyway, this week's recipe is an improvisation on an Andy Nusser recipe, Fusilli a la Crazy Bastard. Apparently, he and Mario Batali love this New Yorker cartoon (you can order it from the New Yorker website; isn't that cool?!):

His dish is uniquely delicious, a messy melange of beet greens, roasted tomatoes, walnuts and goat cheese, served over that crazy bastard, fusilli. I decided to nix the goat cheese (ah, lactose) and the pasta. Instead, I added some classic Indian seasoning and served it over brown rice. I present you Popeye & that Crazy Bastard Greens!

N.B. I supplemented the beet greens with some swiss chard. You can use whatever greens you like, except for tougher, longer-cooking ones like collards.

Popeye & that Crazy Bastard Greens!
(Cumin-Coriander-Fenugreek scented Beet Greens & Swiss Chard with Roasted Tomatoes and Toasted Walnuts)

You'll need this stuff (plus spices):

1/4 cup raw walnuts
2 generous cups cherry tomatoes
1 tsp olive oil
2 tbsp canola oil

1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
1/4 coarsely ground fenugreek seeds
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1lb beet greens (supplemented with whatever greens you have if you don't have enough), washed, sliced roughly
1/2 tsp ground coriander
pinch of garam masala
pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
salt and pepper

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F/177 degrees C. Toss walnuts on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 10 minutes until lightly browned. Chop coarsely.

2) Turn oven up to 450 degrees F/230 degrees C. Toss cherry tomatoes with olive oil, salt and pepper. When oven is hot, throw tomatoes in and roast for 10-15 minutes, until brown spots appear on some of 'em.

3) Meanwhile, slice up your greens roughly. I discarded the beet steams, but I chopped up the swiss chard stems finely.

4) Heat canola oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add cumin, mustard and fenugreek seeds. They should sizzle upon contact. Allow them to cook about 30 seconds until fragrant, add garlic and cook carefully (don't let it burn!) for 30 seconds. Add greens, coriander powder and a sprinkling of salt. Toss until well combined, turn heat down a touch and cover, allowing greens to wilt for about a minute.

5) Add roasted tomatoes and walnuts. Toss to combine and cook until warmed through. Add freshly ground black pepper. Taste for seasoning and serve immediately (it doesn't taste as good when reheated).

Enjoy! Hope your triceps expand beyond your wildest dreams!




shinfain said...

that comic cracks me up! it's got such a vaudeville timbre to it... in one single line...

those beets are so cute... dunno why you let them into our bed, but...

spinach is terrible. it is a curse, not a source of health. or strength.

and popeyes forearms, really, i'd say, are the most notably inflamed muscle...

aartilla the fun said...

totally vaudeville!
oh man, you're so specific. wait i thought i said forearms the other day and you said it was triceps... i'm so confused!

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