As you wait in anticipation for summer vegetables, the leafy greens and herbs that thrive all winter long in your garden beds have plenty of uses in the kitchen. You can turn your abundant winter harvest into drinks, sauces, snacks and more!
Plenty of Pesto
If you have more greens and herbs than you know what to do with, pesto is the perfect answer. It’s fresh, flavorful, and you can really pack loads of greens into a batch and keep them from going to waste. I like to use spinach, mint, and parsley, but really, any green that isn’t too tough or twiggy (I’d stay away from thyme, oregano and rosemary, save those for another project) works great. To make a pesto that’s super rich and creamy, I like to blanch my greens in hot water for 1 minute and then dunk them straight into a bowl of ice water to cool them down. This helps remove some of the bitterness, and makes the pesto bright green. Squeeze the blanched greens out well, to remove all of the water they’ve soaked up, and throw them in a blender with a squeeze of lemon juice, a bit of salt, toasted almonds, garlic if you want to add a kick, and a healthy serving of olive oil. Pulse or blend to your desired smoothness, and use right away or store in a jar, and cover with a thin layer of olive oil on top to help keep it fresh and from turning brown. I recommend using it within three days, or storing it in the freezer until you are ready to use it.
Creative ways to use Pesto:
As a pasta sauce, or tossed with ravioli
Swirled into soup
Spread it on a sandwich or wrap
Eat it as a dip with bread or pretzels
Thin it out with more lemon juice or vinegar and use it as a salad dressing
Tossed with roasted potatoes
You can’t go wrong, because pesto is delicious on everything!
- 120g. almonds, lightly toasted (I like to toast all nuts on a cookie sheet in the oven at 300 degrees fahrenheit, for about 7-10 minutes. They should become aromatic, and golden brown.)
- 60g. mint leaves
- 85g. parsley
- 120g. spinach, remove any large stems
- ½ lemon, juiced
- 1 small garlic clove, optional
- 2 cups olive oil
- salt to taste
I like to use gram measurements for my recipes when I can, especially with baking, but a lot of things like greens, are hard to measure in cups, and everyone ends up with a different amount, so gram measurements are the most accurate. Here’s a link to an inexpensive kitchen scale on our store page. If you don’t mind bitter tasting greens, you can skip the blanching, and this recipe still tastes great.
Bunches of Cilantro
In winter your garden will be loaded with cilantro, a phenomenal herb that is packed with vitamins A, K, & C, minerals such as iron, calcium, and magnesium, and has more antioxidants than most fruits or vegetables. Cilantro is a remarkable heavy-metal detoxifier and is able to remove mercury and aluminum from where it is stored in the adipose (fat) tissues*. You can chop it up and add it to bowls of soup or chili, make a fresh salsa, or just add some to a store bought salsa to brighten it up. I also love to make salad dressing with it, which you can toss with the salad greens straight from your garden.
*Learn more about life changing foods on http://www.medicalmedium.com/medical-medium-blog
Cilantro Avocado Dressing Recipe
1 large handful of cilantro, washed (you can cut off the majority of the stems, but there’s no need to pick off each leaf from the stem.)
½ avocado (optional, if you want more of a vinaigrette)
1 lemon, juiced
zest of one orange
1 tablespoon honey
salt and pepper to taste
½ cup olive oil
Add the first 5 ingredients to the blender, and turn it on low and start to blend. Then slowly stream in the olive oil. Increase the speed and blend until smooth. If the dressing becomes too thick, thin it out by blending in a little water. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Green Smoothies and Juices
Smoothies are another great way to quickly turn bunches of kale, arugula, or spinach into a nutritious snack. Add a handful of washed and chopped greens to a smoothie, and blend on high until it’s super smooth. You’ll hardly notice there are greens in it, especially if you use sweeter fruits like pineapple, or apple juice, and you will still get the health benefits from the greens. I use a Vitamix, which has more power than any blender I’ve used before - they are used in all restaurants and professional kitchens too. There is a link to one on our store page, if you are interested in taking your smoothies to the next level.
Juicing takes a bit longer than making smoothies, but if you have an hour to spare, you can juice enough to last you a few days, and it’s so satisfying to have a green juice knowing you grew the greens! This is the easiest way to turn the largest harvest into something easy to consume over a few days. It’s best to use at least one base fruit or vegetable that’s full of water to help get you the liquid volume, which the leafy greens won't give you. Cucumber, celery, apples, and carrots are all great for this. After that, it's really up to you. Handfuls of any and all greens like kale, chard, arugula, spinach, cilantro, and parsley are great. I also like to add lemon and ginger for a kick of flavor.
To preserve perennial herbs, like oregano, mint, thyme, marjoram and rosemary, cut longer stems of them and tie them into bundles and hang to dry. These will make for great seasonings when cooking. Once they are fully dried you can pull the leaves off the stems and fill up small jars, so you have homegrown herbs on hand at all times. If you don’t want to dry them, use them fresh! I love putting sprigs of thyme in soups, which I make all winter long, and into the spring months as well. The thyme leaves ends up falling of the stems as they cook in the soup, and the stems are pretty easy to spot, and pull out of the pot. Fresh thyme also makes a great tea, especially if you are feeling under the weather - it’s a must have for the road to recovery. Thyme has antimicrobial properties and is very soothing if you have a sore throat. Steep a small bundle in very hot water for seven minutes, remove bundle, and stir in a spoonful of honey. You can add sprigs of rosemary to trays of roasting vegetables, and they will absorb the flavor, without having to chop it up. You can do the same by throwing sprigs of herbs into a pot of boiling water, when boiling potatoes for example, to make mashed potatoes and the flavor will permeate into the potatoes. Mint leaves are great thrown into salads, tossed on vegetables after they come out of the oven, and also steeped in hot water for fresh tea.
Jen Bolbat is the newest member to Urbafloria and will be contributing to our blog. She has a culinary background, and will be sharing kitchen insight, and recipes using everything found in your garden beds, so stick around!