Alternative greens stand in for lettuces, spinach during hot summer months

08/02/2013 1:44 PM

08/02/2013 1:44 PM

There are perks to managing a farmers’ market. Like knowing what farmers will bring to market before they even arrive, and having access to the best selection of produce first thing in the morning.

But the biggest perk is being surrounded by an innovative, genuine and hardworking community of farmers and producers. Whether it’s a new vegetable or a new way to prepare a familiar vegetable, I learn something every week.

Thanks to New Roots for Refugees farmer Nyakang Kuoth, I recently discovered Malabar spinach. It looked like spinach through the clear bag she handed me, but I remembered it was too hot for spinach. And upon closer inspection I noticed the leaves were attached to a vine the color of burgundy. My mind perplexed, I was happy to have something new to try, so I smiled and thanked her.

When I got home I did some research and learned that while it’s distantly related, and its leaves the same deep-green color of spinach, Malabar spinach isn’t spinach at all. Malabar spinach, or Red vine spinach, thrives at 90 degrees making it perfect for hot, humid summers in the Midwest. And as its name implies, it grows on vines making it perfect for tight growing spaces, so give it something vertical to climb.

At home I used the small, whole leaves in my salad mix. They were young and tender with a bright flavor not found in spinach. I took the larger leaves and cut them into thin ribbons before using them as a salad base. I also read Malabar spinach holds up better when cooked than its distant relative spinach, so throw it into soups or stir-fries.

I was curious to know if Malabar spinach was a good stand-in for greens during the hot, summer months when spinach and other lettuces aren’t in season, so I asked around at market to see if any other farmers grew Malabar spinach or if they knew anything about it.

While a couple farmers, in addition to Kuoth, said they grew Malabar spinach, they also provided me with a few alternative greens:

Purslane

Purslane, considered a weed, is high in an Omega-3 fatty acid, vitamin A, C and B. The stems, leaves and flowers are all edible either fresh or cooked. Remove the fresh leaves from the thick stems and use them in a

salad with cherries, feta, mint and lemon, garlic vinaigrette

.

Sweet Potato Greens

Subtle in flavor, and tender compared to other greens like kale and chard, sweet potato greens are a good source for vitamin K and A. Sautee the greens with butter and garlic and toss with cooked pasta.

Raised by generations of cooks, farmers and green thumbs, Andrea Shores is an enthusiastic eater and curious cook. She loves sharing her passion for local food by telling farmers’ and food purveyors’ stories.

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