Funny things happen when I go to Tianguis (farmer’s market) without my morning cup or so of coffee. Last Wednesday I was there early, while people were still setting up their stalls. Often when I am there that early it’s hard to find some of the produce that I am looking for because it hasn’t been unpacked yet. So… I arrived at the stall of the guy I always buy my lettuce from. I needed to also buy bell pepper and spinach, and he was still in the process of setting up (and was just getting to unloading the lettuce). So, I picked out the Bell Peppers (a nice mix of red, green, yellow & orange) and then moved on to the lettuce. Just after picking out the lettuce is where things took a turn. He had not unpacked the spinach and he had another leaf vegetable in the place he often puts the spinach. I grabbed it and handed it to him. Now, this stuff is the same price, so the cost didn’t raise any red flags for me (though the really large, veiny leaves should have.)
When I arrived back at the Café and started to wash the veggies (very important here in México) when I pulled out the mystery vegetable. When I was a child my mom would use a variety of different greens, but it had been many years since I had used any other than lettuce, spinach and cabbage. I was completely stumped. I asked my husband and he said “I think that’s acelgas” but that was of no help to me, since that’s not the name in English. I tasted it, and the flavor was quite mild. The large leaves had a slightly leathery feel to them. I went ahead and washed them and then tried to figure out what to do with them.
First thing to do was try identify them, so I looked around on the net and finally found a guide on Epicurious and decided it must be either collard greens or swiss chard. At first Alberto suggested to give it to his sisters and I thought it was a good idea since they know how to cook the stuff. But then I thought, where’s your sense of adventure? Why not try creating something with this lovely, mild-tasting green stuff?
First, I decided to make something like stuffed cabbage, and I modified a recipe for a stovetop version (since my oven isn’t working – another story). I made rice the “Méxican” way cooking it in a little oil along with onion and garlic until translucent before adding the water. Then I mixed a little more onion, oregano, crushed red pepper, bell pepper, tomato, and longaniza in a large deep frying pan with a bit of water and cooked that mix until the longaniza was completely cooked. I mixed most of this into the cooked rice. While I was doing that, I removed the main rib from the leaves of the acelgas, then I dropped most of the leaves, a few at a time, into boiling water until they wilted. The next thing I did is cut up some of the smaller cooked leaves and stirred them into the rice mixture. After that I began stuffing the larger leaves (sometimes overlapping two leaves if they weren’t very large). Once all of the leaves were stuffed I placed them into the frying pan and cooked them in the remaining bits that I reserved plus a little liquid from wilting the leaves. I simmered this over medium-low heat for 15 minutes and the results were delicious.
I feel very guilty when I throw away “perfectly good ingredients”. So, I took the remaining liquid from wilting the leaves and added the veins of the acelgas, some onions and garlic caramelized in olive oil, basil, a bit of bell pepper, salt plus a hint of oregano & black pepper. What resulted was a delicately flavored vegetable stock, which I strained and reserved for later use. Last night I decided to put that stock to use. First, I seasoned some chicken breast with basil, salt, pepper, paprika and a hint of oregano. Then I began sauteing it in a little canola oil. While that was cooking, I brought the stock to a boil and added soup pasta (doesn’t really matter what shape you use really). I lowered the temperature to a slow boil, and, halfway through cooking the pasta, I added fresh chopped acelgas. When the chicken was done (just about the time the acelgas and pasta were ready) I sliced it into bite-sized rectangular strips and added that to the soup. I thought the results were delicious. Sadly, one cardinal rule that I’ve forgotten is, that when you are experimenting with a new recipe that you ought to write down the amounts of the ingredients. Fortunately I have a little of the stock left over for a taste comparison for when I try to re-create the soup tomorrow.
Once I have re-created the soup and have the measurements for the ingredients I’ll post the recipe in full. Ditto for the stuffed acelgas which, by the way, is swiss chard. Photos will be posted alongside the recipes as well.