Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Ramp up with Spring Veggies, Kale too!

Kale Slaw jumps off the menu at Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham, AL

Spring is in full swing as restaurant menus brighten up with the bold flavors of vegetables that like to take the spotlight. Sweet onions, green onions, garlic chives and ramps jump into soups and onto salads to help waken taste buds from their winter comfort food slumber. What’s a ramp? Southern chefs certainly know and get pretty excited when these bright green wild onions with as assertive, garlicky-onion flavor spring from the ground. James Beard Award nominated Best Chef of the South, Chris Hastings of Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham ramps up the taste of pan roasted flounder with wild watercress, ramps and lemon vinaigrette and serves a zingy ramp vinaigrette with soft shell crabs. Vidalia onions have arrived on the spring scene too. All members of the allium family of vegetables onions, leeks, ramps and garlic bring health to the table too. Their strong aromas signal antioxidants and sulfur compounds are present which are associated with disease prevention and cell repair. Talk about springing into action.

Bold Taste and Bold Nutrition

Other powerful players garnering gourmet attention are vegetables from the Brassica family especially kale continuing a winter run of popularity as crunchy kale chips and braised kale into a spring fashion format. At Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham, chef Frank Stitt’s fresh kale even showed up at the bar as guests enjoyed cocktails with soft shell crab and deep green kale slaw. Dietitian Kathleen Zelman, nutrition director for WebMD, says “Kale is one of the healthiest vegetables on the planet. One cup of kale contains only 36 calories and provides 5 grams of fiber and 15 percent of your daily requirement of calcium and vitamin B6, 180 percent of vitamin A, 200 percent of vitamin C and over 1000 percent of vitamin K. Move over Popeye!”

Sometimes you have to be a little bold to get the bolder vegetables. Mark McQueen, of Atlanta looked around the room at Canton Cooks in Sandy Springs and noticed that Asian families knew to ask for Chinese broccoli instead of the regular stuff automatically served with dishes like Beef and Broccoli. “So I decided to get the Chinese broccoli with my lunch. It’s a bit bitter but tastes super fresh and it was a real bright green. I liked it.” McQueen said. Chinese broccoli and broccoli rabe often served in Italian restaurants are more closely related to mustard greens than broccoli. Their bite is as bold as their nutrition contributions as excellent sources of vitamin A, vitamin C and calcium as well as the healthy plant nutrient called lutein associated with eye health. Chinese broccoli, broccoli rabe and rappini can be steamed, stir-fried, sautéed or braised and I bet a pretty good slaw.

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