Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Humble & Amazing Potato

by Maria Noël Groves, Clinical Herbalist & Co-op Wellness Educator

Just when did potatoes become a "bad food"? Spuds have a nearly iconic presence in my family kitchen. We take them so seriously that on Thanksgiving Day, the only people allowed to *touch* potatoes during their transformation into mashed potatoes are my mother and myself. Boxed potato flakes? Please.

Potatoes are such a perfect carbohydrate for the New England kitchen because they are locally abundant, whole food, amazingly adaptable to a variety of dishes, and classically delicious. Sure, they are a bit high in the glycemic index, but if you keep your portion sizes reasonable - balanced with ample vegetables and some healthy forms of protein and fat - potatoes can be quite healthy. The average tater weighs in at just 220 calories (and  large potato easily serves two - really!). It provides a modest serving of both protein and fiber (about 5 grams each), vitamin C, B vitamins, and iron.

Local potatoes are flooding the Co-op shelves right now and will often be available as late as November and December when other forms of local produce are slim. I especially encourage you to check out the purple potato variety when it's available - it has a similar antioxidant value as kale and a gorgeous, shocking hue, yet it tastes just like any other potato. Stock up, and be sure to store them in a cool, dark, dry place that is well-ventilated. Sunlight turns them green, which makes them more bitter and mildly toxic. Moisture encourages mold and sprouting. Depending on storage conditions and variety, potatoes can store for weeks to months.

Oven-roasted potatoes are a perfect pairing for a summer veggie burger or autumnal roasted chicken. Adding fresh or dried rosemary in the last few minutes of cooking takes them to a new level. Finely chopped potatoes can be cooked into the skillet for a fast, healthy breakfast featuring almost entirely local ingredients:

Breakfast Skillet Eggs with Home Fries
This recipe serves two and can be multiplied for more. Be sure that your pan size allows the potatoes and onions to be in a single layer with some space in between, otherwise they won’t brown well. Cutting potatoes small, using cast iron, and adding a lid ensures the potatoes bake on the stove top. For a crowd, bake the potatoes and onions in the oven and serve with scrambled eggs on top.

1 Tbls or more extra virgin olive oil
1 large or 2 small potatoes, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1 medium onion, chopped into about 1/4-inch pieces (cippolini onions are the best!)
1 1/2 ounce cheddar cheese, cubed (optional)
2 to 3 large eggs (local, free range, pastured)
Needles from 4 sprigs rosemary (or 1 tsp dry)
1/8 tsp turmeric powder
Two handfuls of fresh arugula or other tender green
Salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper to taste

Heat medium cast iron skillet over medium heat while chopping potatoes. Add oil, toss the potatoes in the pan, cover. Chop onions. Toss potatoes; when they’re a little golden, add onions to the pan, keep covered. Add more oil if necessary. Prep eggs and cheese. Whisk them together with salt and pepper. Add rosemary and crushed red pepper to skillet. Keep tossing the potatoes and onions, add some salt and pepper to them. When they’re cooked and golden, push them to the side of the pan and pour the eggs/cheese in the middle. Scramble everything together until the eggs are cooked. Serve on a bed of greens. Approximately 350 calories per serving.

Of course, potatoes lend themselves to a wide range of recipes. Click here for a searchable listing of more than 600 recipes from

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Eat More Kale

By Maria Noël Groves, Clinical Herbalist & Co-op Wellness Educator

Eat More Kale. It’s the mantra that’s sweeping the nation, spurred by a small-time garage business
Green, Lacinato & Red Kale
that got its start at the Montpelier farmers market 10 years ago with the now-viral, still-handmade t-shirts. (The biz is currently enduring the wrath of Chick-fil-A, which believes “Eat More Kale” sounds too much like “Eat Mor Chikin.” Learn more and buy your shirts and stickers at But Eat More Kale is more than a cute t-shirt with a compelling story, it’s the coming of age for one of the best vegetables on the planet.

My obsession with kale began almost two decades ago when I began learning how to eat these strange things called vegetables. Each week I widened my pallet with a new vegetable to throw into soup or put on pizza until my taste buds adapted to the new, green, mineral-rich flavors. Kale quickly climbed to the top of my favorites list. Why kale? I knew from working at Natural Health magazine that kale is *the* superstar in terms of nutrients and antioxidant density. But, more than that, it’s one of the most delicious, easy-to-prepare health foods, able to be grown in New Hampshire year-round (with the help of season extenders like hoop houses and cold frames), and extremely affordable. People who claim that healthy food costs too much haven’t compared the price of kale to a bag of potato chips.

If you’re a kale skeptic, start your future obsession with lacinato kale, also known as dinosaur kale, Tuscan kale, black cabbage, and nero di Toscana. In a recent survey of organic growers in New Hampshire, this variety of kale was the absolute favorite amongst farmers and backyard gardeners in terms of productivity and popularity compared to any other type of produce. The leaves are a beautiful, bumpy, verdant shade of emerald, and it keeps a tad better than some other varieties in the fridge. The flavor is milder and texture more pleasant, lending itself well to sautes, green smoothies, kale chips, tacos, egg scrambles, pizzas, stir fries, and other recipes. That said, any bunch of kale will do, and particularly lovely bunches of red Russian and other varieties often find their way into my kitchen.

Perhaps it’s the stems that are holding you back? While they are technically edible, most chefs remove the tough ribs for faster cooking and better flavor. You can trim them out with a knife, but I simply hold each leaf of kale stem-up and strip my fingers down the stem to pull off the tender leaves. Within just a minute or two, your whole bunch is ready to cook. Don’t be shy: Use that whole bunch in your recipe (or maybe two) – it cooks down quickly, and, let’s face it, we could all use a little extra green in our lives. Here's my latest, greatest kale recipe. What's YOUR favorite way to use kale? Let us know in the "Comments" section!

Kale Chips don't last long at our house!
Kale Chips
These are all the rage right now, and homemade is much less expensive and even tastier than pre-packaged because they’re wonderful still warm from the oven.
  • 2 tablespoons organic extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 head of kale, ribs removed, torn or cut into pieces
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Optional: spices, parmesan, ground nuts, etc
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Prep kale, and lay it on a large cookie sheet. Pour olive oil over the kale, and rub it into the leaves. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake, tossing every 10 minutes, until they are crispy, about 20 minutes. Watch to be sure you don’t burn them! When they are almost done, sprinkle them with spices and/or Parmesan, if using.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Gonna Eat Me Lots of Peaches

by Maria Noël Groves, Clinical Herbalist & Co-op Wellness Educator

Peach season has officially arrived in New Hampshire! My household simply can't get enough of them. These sweet treats are amazing fresh, of course, which is how we mostly eat them. However, peaches are also phenomenal grilled as a dessert (plain or served with ice cream), side dish, or salad topper. Also try dehydrating them for a post-season snack, freezing them (sliced or whole) for future use, and making jam. My mother's homemade peach jam is a seasonal favorite atop vanilla ice cream, in plain yogurt, over cake, and on toast.

Peaches are a redeeming treat. Besides being sweet and tasty, recent research shows that peaches and other stone fruits (plums, nectarines) may fight obesity-related diabetes, inflammation, and heart disease. What makes them so special?  A synergistic blend of four types of phenolic groups - anthocyanins, clorogenic acids, quercetin derivatives, and catechins - work simultaneously in different types of cells for maximum impact. This is even better if you serve up peaches in a form that doesn't contain added sugar (sorry, Mom). Yet more proof that the diversity of antioxidants, nutrients, and phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables provides maximum impact for your health... and that good health can be delicious.

Here's a yummy recipe I learned from a fellow health educator that's great for potlucks and meals this time of year. Almost all the ingredients are available from local sources, too!

Peach & Blue Cheese Salad with Maple-Lemon Dressing
Layer on salad plates or one large salad bowl:
  • Bed of tender salad greens
  • Sprinkle of blue cheese (or slices of goat chevre if blue isn't your thing)
  • Sliced peaches, 1/2 to 1 peach per person (nectarines also work well)
To make dressing, mix together:
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Enough maple syrup to make it taste good
Drizzle dressing over salad. Enjoy!