By Nicole Montesano • Staff Writer • 

Greens & Beans: Eating all of your vegetables

Part of the fun of vegetable gardening is that it can introduce you to unusual foods you’re not likely to find in the grocery store. A good CSA subscription can do the same, and you may even find new edible adventures at a farmers market.

There are, in fact, a number of edible parts of our vegetables that we aren’t used to thinking of as such, although some, such as the bolting stalks of kale and other overwintered greens, are becoming more commonly known and eaten.

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Often called raab or rapini, they may come from any number of brassicas or greens — turnips, kale, arugula, and so forth. The unopened flower buds and stalks can be treated much like the leafy greens, and make a tasty addition to the limited offerings of spring.

Garlic scapes are another. The long flower stalk put out by some types of garlic in an attempt to bloom are an attempt the garlic-grower typically wishes to foil so the plant’s energy will go instead into making big, healthy heads of garlic. However, those flower stalks are edible, and tasty, and sometimes now appear at farmers markets. Chop them up and saute like garlic.

You can also pull your garlic early and use it as green garlic, a wonderful spring treat. The bulbs don’t separate at this point; just slice or mince the whole bulb and use.

Leeks will bolt, too, if you wait too long in the spring to harvest them, and those stalks are also deliciously edible. As with garlic, cut them before the flowers develop and open.

You can grill or roast them as long spears or slice and saute them, add them to stir-fries, treat them like regular leeks, or add to whatever dish you need something oniony in.

The remaining leek may or may not be usable; they tend to get hard and woody. And let that be a lesson to you for not using them in February — although the scapes are so delicious, you may want to leave a few to bolt. Sometimes, even if the outside is hard, you can peel down a few layers to the tasty scape inside. If you do end up with more leeks than you can immediately use, slice them finely and freeze them.

Saute some sliced leek scapes and a bit of green garlic in butter until nicely browned, and serve with a fried egg on top for a wonderful spring breakfast.

Chard stems are perfectly edible. The greens are often called for by themselves; if this should happen, don’t discard the stalks. Set them aside and use them in something else — stir-fry, a casserole, a pot pie, wherever you need some additional vegetable bulk. They have a mild, slightly earthy flavor.

Beet greens are well known for being as delicious as the beets themselves, but don’t overlook the turnip greens, either. Little white salad turnips, often available in the spring, are indeed lovely in salad, but they also make a terrific soup, together with their greens.

Cilantro is notorious for bolting early; it is very much a cool weather plant. But don’t pull it out when you see those seed stalks going up — you’re on the way to growing one of your own spices, a lovely coriander. Harvest the seeds when they turn brown. Coriander has a sweet, lemony fragrance that lends itself beautifully to both sweet and savory dishes. Grind it finely in a spice grinder to use. It may help to toast it lightly first.

Once summer arrives and the zucchini blossoms, more feasts await. Zucchini flowers make wonderful breakfast food, stuffed and served whole or added to scrambled eggs. Use the male blooms and pull out the stamens first. They must be harvested early in the morning.

Enjoy the challenge of exploring ways to eat all of your vegetables.


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