In search of healthy and fun meals to feed my family, with an eye toward sustainable living.

Here you'll find recipes & ramblings about keeping my family fed with what's available in Alaska between local produce, a little bit of wild harvest, and the modern grocery store.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Saint Patty, Greens & Omega 3s

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!
Hope you're planning a nice GREEN meal. And I'm not talking about green food coloring in your beer or mashed potatoes, I'm talking about serving and eating more leafy greens.

We KNOW that greens are incredibly good for us, but admit it, most of us don't eat enough greens! Besides the obvious benefits of fibers, vitamins and iron, antitoxins and phytochemicals, there are the Omega-3 fatty acids, which we've been hearing about more and more in recent years. Yet somehow our western (American) diet has largely selected against Omega-3. Why is that?

It wasn't until the 1980's that scientists learned the importance of Omega-3 (If you want to read about why Omega-3 are good for us, while Omega-6 are not, I recommend Susan Allport's book The Queen of Fats: Why Omega-3s Were Removed from the Western Diet and What We can do to Replace them). Scientists think now that maybe what matters most is the ratio of Omega-3's to Omega-6 (in other words, getting enough Omega-3 in relation to Omega-6 may matter more than absolute amounts of Omega-3s).

So where do these Omega-dudes hide?

Our western diet depends heavily on seeds, primarily on wheat, corn and soy. Seeds are full of Omega-6. Where do you get your Omega-3? You guessed it, leafy greens (and the wild ones are especially good sources). Omega-3's are part of the photosynthetic process -- ergo, they hide in greens and algae! And thus they work their way up the food chain: that's one of the reasons that grass-fed beef is better for you than grainfed feedlot beef. We hear alot about how seafood is a good source of Omega-3's also, but really, fish just get theirs from seaweed and algae. Green plants is where it's at! SO to get more Omega-3, cut to the chase and eat more greens -- did I mention that greens were good for you? (This is probably one of the very few things nutritionists really agree on!)

I loved Michael Pollan's book In Defense of Food. Pollan tells of how nutritionism and "Food Science" have messed up repeatedly-- the more they've tried to reduce food into nutrient components, the less healthy our diet has become! They've been telling us for years to eat a lower fat diet, and we've gotten fatter and fatter. For example, first butter was deemed bad, was replaced by margarine and hydrogenated oils, and then it turns out those are worse than the butter! Ooops. More recently nutritionists have discovered the health benefits of Omega-3, yet because Omega-3 is not very stable, plant geneticists have actually been breeding against it (because we wanted food with long shelf-lives)..! OOOOPS again.

My personal pledge is to serve more GREENS. Regardless of what the nutritionists' latest controversies over what nutrient components are good or bad, it is clear that in it's most unprocessed form, plants (esp. greens) are undeniably healthy.

Let there be something green on our plates every day -- make every day St. Patrick's Day!

Spinach to the rescue!!!
Spinach is best fresh -- no doubt about it! After my rant against processed spinach the other day, I feel I need to make amends and extol the many uses of frozen spinach. Face it, we can't always have fresh spinach & other leafy greens on hand. Still, I NEVER use canned spinach (blech!), but I do use frozen spinach, and will even freeze my own -- esp. when I have HUGE quantities from a Costco Warehouse shopping trip and realize I can't cook it all before it starts spoiling. Or when the garden produces copious quantities and I need to harvest it before it bolts!

To freeze spinach, I just steam or blanch it briefly, and stick it in the freezer in ziploc bags, or freeze in small quantities, such as icecube trays.

For something GREEN, here is a small collection of ideas & recipes that make use of generous quantities of frozen spinach (always handy to have in your freezer) -- in other words, these dishes are good places to hide large quantities of the dreaded "Spinat"!

Lasagna, pizza, calzones, quiche
Soups (esp. blended soups which have a greenish color already)
Homemade spinach pasta (yumm!)
Omelettes, "Green Eggs and Ham"
Brownies (Honeypiehorse's trick: just blend the spinach first and replace part of the butter called for, and don't breathe a word! )

Green rice

(this is my own version, there are many)

olive oil
onions, chopped
garlic, minced
greens (spinach, etc) - fresh or frozen & defrosted
fresh herbs: parsley, chives, cilantro, etc
long-grain rice (not the instant stuff!!!)
water or stock (2x quantity of rice used)
salt, pepper
parmesan cheese, grated

Saute the onions. Add garlic, greens. Cook until wilted. Pre-measure the amount of liquid needed for your quantity of rice (2c water for 1 c rice) Transfer to blender together with fresh herbs, using enough of the water or stock to be able to blend well. Return to pan, rinse blender with rest of the liquid. Add rice, cover and and cook on low for about 20 min, or until all the liquid is absorbed. Fluff rice, and add salt, pepper, parmesan as desired.

Easy Baked Fish with spinach topping

Fillets of any mild white fish (such as tilapia)
lemon juice
spinach (fresh or frozen & defrosted)
mayonnaise and/or sour cream
salt, pepper, garlic powder
parmesan cheese

1. Place fish in a baking pan and dribble some lemon juice over it.
2. Mix spinach with all the other topping ingredients, and cover the fish fillets with topping.
3. Sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese
4. Bake at 350 F until fish is cooked (test if flaky with fork) -- 10-20 minutes depending on thickness of fish.

I therefore propose a toast to St. Patty, whom I nominate as the patron saint of green vegetables:
May you ble
ss us with lots of greens in the coming year!


  1. Asian Kale:

    -bundle of kale: stalks removed, leaves shredded
    -a few garlic cloves, sliced (NOT MINCED!)
    -1" ginger, peeled and grated
    -butter/olive oil or whatever cooking fat floats your boat
    -toasted sesame oil
    -lemon juice or red wine vinegar

    Saute garlic in olive oil for a little bit. Add the ginger, saute for a little bit more. Toss in the kale, stir it up real good. Kale actually burns and crisps rather than wilts, which is fascinating to watch and smell, not so great eatins. Add the lemon juice/red wine vinegar/sour liquid and cover with a lid while it steams (check at a minute or so). Toss with sesame oil and sesame seeds, and serve as soon as possible.

    Factoid: some oils (like certain refined varieties of olive oil, peanut/canola/safflower oil, ghee) withstand heat well- they don't smell nasty and smoke at high heat. Other oils (unrefined olive oil, walnut, flax, sesame oil) break down easily, at temperatures lower than what you'd like to cook at. Use those high temperature oils to cook, add the flavorful and aromatic ones once you're done. The kitchen won't stink, the food will be tasty, and you won't be feeding your family weird compounds created by breaking down those oh-so-good-for-you oils.

  2. Other ways to enjoy kale:

    Saute it with butter, garlic, red pepper, rice, and sausage. Add beer, let cook. Recently enjoyed CAMPING in Utah.

    Put it in soup: it doesn't get slimy! I think kale goes well with chicken, sausage and tomatoes.

    Saute it with olive oil and garlic. Toss with lemon juice, feta, pasta, and optional pine nuts.