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Autumn braises combine greens, roots for easy skillet suppers

Beet, Turnip and Ham Braise (Photo provided — Yvona Fast)

Autumn is time for roots. These subterranean delights are rough, dirty, gnarled and knotty on the outside, but hold a wealth of flavor, color, and rich nutrients on the inside. Potatoes and carrots come to mind when one says roots, but there is a myriad of others in hues varying from white to red and flavors from slightly bitter to very sweet. Carrots, parsnips, beets, and sweet potatoes are full of natural sugar; rutabagas, winter radishes, and turnips are sharper and more pungent; celery root, leeks, onions and salsify bring their own unique flavors. All make delectable, hearty fare that will help you shake off the blues on blustery fall days.

Root veggies are excellent sources of fiber and vitamins, including important antioxidants. The yellow roots like carrots and sweet potatoes are high in vitamin A, while others supply folic acid and vitamin C. Beets and potatoes are particularly high in potassium, a mineral important to regulating the cardiovascular system. The allium vegetables, like leeks and onions, are known to prevent colorectal cancers and are good for heart health. Betacyanin, the dye responsible for the bright crimson color of red beets, is also a powerful cancer preventative.

Autumn is time for greens. The bright lights of multi-colored chard still adorn our garden, along with the blue-green of kale and collards. There are the choys, Oriental cabbage varieties with dark green leaves and bright white stems. Other varicolored greens include spinach, broccoli, arugula, light-green Napa, red and green cabbage, beet, turnip, and mustard greens. A trip to the farmer’s market reveals a similar assortment, accompanied by an assortment of root vegetables and various winter squash. In this medley of greens I find a braising mix with a mixture of leaves.

Greens are packed with nutrients. They’re low in calories and high in fiber. They’re a great source of important vitamins and minerals, especially the B vitamin folate (folic acid), vitamin K vitamins A and C, iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus and zinc. B vitamins like folate, B6 and B12 prevent heart disease by lowering levels of homocysteine. The chlorophyll in greens binds carcinogens, helping prevent liver and colon cancers. In addition to vitamins and minerals, leafy greens contain a host of antioxidants and phytochemicals. Experts estimate a single serving of greens provides more than 100 different phytochemicals.

The stronger-flavored greens have acquired a bad reputation for bitterness and a leathery or slimy texture. That is because plain, unseasoned, limp greens on a plate neither look nor taste good. The trick to releasing their bountiful bouquet of flavors is in seasoning and cooking: just enough, but not too much. Cooking breaks down their fibrous texture, and seasoning mellows their strong flavor. Spices and acid (from vinegar or citrus) can tame bitter greens, as can adding a sweet touch with apples, cider, or sweet root veggies like carrots or beets.

Braising is a quick, easy way to prepare delicious autumn veggies. The most time consuming part is preparing the vegetables – washing, peeling and chopping.

To braise, first cook in in a bit of fat (such as oil, butter, or bacon drippings), then add just enough liquid (broth, apple cider or water) to cook until desired tenderness is achieved.

Braises are versatile. There are so many vegetable combinations to use. They can be a side dish or main dish. Create a complete meal in your skillet by adding ham, cooked chicken, nuts, cheese, beans or grains. You can finish with a sprinkling of grated cheese for added texture and flavor – or leave it out for a lighter, lower calorie version. You can make it hot by adding spicy peppers or chili powder, or sweet-sour with a little honey and balsamic vinegar. The possibilities are limitless.

The finished product will be tender, flavorful, and succulent — as well as a nutritional powerhouse.

Kale and Walnut Braise

Carrots or sweet potatoes and apple cider add a sweet touch to the sharp taste of kale.

Ingredients:

1 bunch kale

1 or 2 sweet potatoes OR 1 or 2 carrots

1 small onion

1/2 cup quinoa (or another grain)

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt; 1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 -2 garlic cloves

1 apple

1/2 cup fresh sweet apple cider

1/4 cup raisins or craisins

1/2- 1 cup walnuts

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled (shredded sharp cheddar would also work well)

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Directions:

Prepare kale by stripping leaves from stems and washing thoroughly. Set aside, and discard the stems.

Scrub and slice carrot; peel and dice onion.

To cook quinoa, follow package directions or combine 1/2 cup quinoa, 1 cup water and a little salt; bring to a boil; then simmer about 10 minutes, until liquid is absorbed and stir with a fork.

Heat olive oil in skillet. Add carrots and onion; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover and cook on low 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Chop kale leaves; peel and mince garlic. Stir into skillet. Cook another 5 minutes.

Wash, core and chop apple; add to skillet along with apple cider, raisins and walnuts and continue cooking until desired tenderness, 10 to 20 minutes.

Stir in apple cider vinegar and cheese; taste to adjust seasonings. Serve over quinoa. Serves 2.

Also good served over pasta.

Beet, Turnip and Ham Braise

Sweet beets, pungent turnips and salty ham make a delicious combo in this dish. Buy bunches of turnips and beets with greens attached at the farmers’ market.

Ingredients:

1 or 2 beets, with greens

1 or 2 turnips, with greens

1 small onion

1 to 2 strips bacon OR 1 Tablespoon olive oil

1 to 2 garlic cloves

1 apple (optional)

2 cups diced smoked ham

Broth, apple cider or water

1/2 cup shredded mild cheese, optional

Directions:

Prepare the vegetables. Separate greens from roots. Scrub or peel beets and turnips. Wash greens and stems thoroughly; chop coarsely and set aside. Peel and dice the onion.

Cook bacon to render fat, or heat oil in skillet. Add beetroots, turnips and onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, 5 to 10 minutes.

Peel and mince the garlic. Wash core and dice the apple, if using.

Add minced garlic, apple, and reserved stems & greens with any clinging water to skillet; cover and cook on low about 5 minutes.

Dice ham and stir in. Continue cooking until vegetables are tender, 10 to 20 minutes. Moisten with broth, cider or water, if needed.

Taste and adjust seasonings. Sprinkle with cheese (optional) and cook one to two minutes or until cheese melts.

Serve with boiled potatoes or over pasta. Serves 2.

Author of the award-winning cookbook Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market, Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at www.wordsaremyworld.com or on Facebook as Author

Yvona Fast.