THE GOCHISO GOURMET: Turning a new leaf

Well, it’s the start of the new year, the Year of the Dragon. The Year of the Water Dragon, if you want to get technical, and it doesn’t officially start until Jan. 23. But it’s that time once again, that we make little promises to ourselves to change for the better; to be a better parent, child, sibling, neighbor, co-worker, etc.; maybe to be a little more patient, tolerant, sympathetic or understanding to our fellow humans. Or perhaps it’s simply to lose weight. Personally, it’s to lose waist.

I literally don’t care what number pops up on the scale (since it has a nasty habit of lying) but the waist never lies. And it is a bit disconcerting when you have to suck in your gut every morning just to button your trousers … and that’s even before eating breakfast. Could it be those traditional Italian holiday panettones — (sweet bread) notice that it’s plural — that I scarfed during the month of December? Nope! Perhaps it’s the decrease in exercise, since we’re all busy during the holidays. Well, I do think about exercise a lot, especially when I’m not on the bike and at a restaurant consuming calorie-laden holiday meals, but I guess thinking about exercise doesn’t burn the same amount of calories as actually performing the exercise. So you know what? I will turn a new leaf this year!

LOCALLY GROWN, LEAFY GREENS — Mao Farms Kale. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

Fresh to Market Leaves
If you read my Oshogatsu article (in the Jan. 1, 2012 issue) one of the changes I embrace is the proliferation of farmer’s markets with their fresher (and often) cheaper produce. Instead of simply carrying curly leaf kale, many farmers markets also supply flat leaf, black, red and purple kale, and instead of wilting Swiss chard that costs $3 for three leaves, farmer’s markets offer green, yellow, red and orange chard in larger quantities, and at lower prices than the usual supermarket. I once procured a whole shopping bag — not a produce bag — full of beet greens for $2. The vendor probably thought I was doing her a favor for “disposing” of those leafy parts that simply wilt and make the beet look less desirable and salable.

I do realize that most of you reside in the continental 48, where there are more than two seasons (in the 50th there are only two seasons, hot and hotter) so certain leafy produce may not be available year-round. Fret not, the freezer section in your local supermarket is your friend. While purchasing frozen produce during seasons of scarcity doesn’t help your neighborhood green grocer, it doesn’t sacrifice nutrients, either. In fact, freezing technology has progressed to the point where I specifically will purchase frozen over fresh. Peas — if you’ve ever shucked a whole bag, then boiled it only to find that there wasn’t much difference in flavor and texture from frozen, you’ll know what I mean. And frozen bagged peas make a great cold compress, so they’re also a multitasker.

The Gochiso Gourmet’s New Leaf
I’m still not convinced that my ever-expanding waist is due to copious consumption or a paucity of exercise. It must be the global warming or something else causing a reduction in the ambient pressure of our atmosphere leading to an expansion of the waistline. In any case, noshing on more veggies invariably can slow that expansion, and is also recommended by the USDA. I rotate the cooked veggies that the Mrs. and I brown bag for lunch, but this variation is one of my favorites. I cook the green beans, celery and zucchini last, since I like a little “bite” (and overcooked zucchini and wilted browned green beans AREN’T good eats) in my veggies. Adding lots of fresh mushrooms gives the dish “meatiness,” so it seems like you’re consuming more than vegetables, while the cannellini beans add starch and protein.

WILT THOU CARE FOR KALE? ­— Gochiso cooks up his own version of Italian greens. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

Italian Greens, Gochiso Gourmet Style
1 to 2 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves of fresh garlic thinly sliced
1 large bunch of curly leaf kale, roughly chopped
1 large bunch lacinto (black) kale, roughly chopped
1 large bunch flat leaf kale, roughly chopped
2 large bunches assorted Swiss chard, roughly chopped
1 large bunch mustard greens, roughly chopped
1 large bunch collard greens, roughly chopped
1 to 2 lb fresh button mushrooms, quartered
1 28 oz can of chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp Italian seasoning
1 lb of green beans cut to bite sized lengths
1 bunch celery, roughly chopped
3 zucchini, quartered lengthwise then roughly chopped
2 15 oz cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a large Dutch oven (7 to 10 quart size), heat olive oil, then add garlic and sauté just until the garlic starts to brown on the edges. Add the leafy greens and toss (they will eventually cook down to fit in a 5 or 6 quart Dutch oven but initially take up a lot of space). Once the greens start wilting add the mushrooms.

When the mushrooms start losing their moisture, add the chopped tomatoes and Italian seasoning.

When it has simmered for about five minutes, add the green beans and simmer another minute then add the celery and zucchini. Cook another two to three minutes, then gently toss in the cannellini beans. Season with salt and black pepper to taste.

Don’t Need a New Leaf?
OK, so I do realize that not everyone overindulged during the holidays like yours truly, or that you may not feel the need to purchase elasticized slacks like I sometimes do. But adding more greens to your diet is always a good thing, especially if it supports your immediate community. And even if your current diet is fortified with greens and that leaf doesn’t need turnin’, getting more exercise is always a good thing. For starters, as we age, our basal metabolic rate slows so that the 1500 calories that kept us in neutral weight balance earlier seems a bit too much now. So along with polishing off my fair share of greens, I’ll try to get my physical activity back to previous levels. Even when the house is at 90-plus degrees… and I’m tired and beat after work… and that chilled Chardonnay looks a lot more enticing than the bike… just because life wasn’t meant to take that precipitous decline after 50…

The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the Univ. of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kane‘ohe, HI and can be reached at gochisogourmet@yahoo.com.

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