The reduce, reuse, recycle mantra combines in my life with A WWII mentality that has survived two generations (we thought about many names that played on Liberty Gardens for this blog) to make me very, very reluctant to throw anything out. In spite of many assertions as a teenager sifting through my parents’ old plastic bags drawer at that I would never ever, I wash plastic bags and reuse them. I even hesitate to toss stuff into the compost, keeping bags of carrot peels and celery buts in the freezer for stock. It’s a little obsessive. But in a creative way. So, I’ve been really struggling with all of the wasted stalks that my kale salads make. Now, add to that the thicker stems of swiss chard, beet and turnip greens that pile up when I make platters of sautéed greens with all of the spring growth that I’ve been picking up at the farmers’ market. I found a few recipes for chard stems au gratin in old school Italian and French cookbooks, but while it’s true that pretty much anything tastes good when it’s doused with enough cream sauce and melted cheese, I can only take so much au gratin, and the stems keep coming. But then I saw a container of pickled asparagus that looked a little like my stems and I decided to try. For the first batch, I made up a sweet pickle that was okay but not my favorite. For the second batch, I modified a sour pickle recipe from Linda Ziedrich’s The Joy of Pickling. The crunchy stems saturated with hot pepper, lemon, and ginger explode like firecrackers on the tongue.
Makes one small batch – double, triple, etc. at will!
Stems from 1 bunch of greens, leaves pulled off (no need to be super precise)
½ cup rice vinegar
½ cup water
3 medium garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
¾ tsp. salt
1 T sugar
Zest of ½ lemon
4 thin slices fresh ginger
1 dried hot “Chinese” pepper, opened
½ tsp. whole black peppercorns
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Toss in stems and boil for exactly one minute. Scoop out of hot water with a slotted spoon and put immediately into a bowl of ice water. Remove stems from ice water and cut into two-inch pieces. Put into a container with a lid. Mix remaining ingredients into a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and pour immediately over the stems. Close lid and let sit for about 20 minutes, then refrigerate for at least 24 hours and up to two weeks. Serve as an appetizer or chop finely and serve as a relish.