Kitchen Call: Lighten up heavier produce

Linda Bassett

The recent rainy weather may delay some spring produce. So while we enjoy the unexpected boost — and lower prices — the weather provided Florida and California strawberry crops, Boston lettuce and baby arugula might stretch the family budget too far.

But heftier leafy vegetables that supermarkets continue to stock can seem lighter, nearly spring-like, with a few adaptations.

Switch from stringy, mature spinach leaves to baby spinach. The smooth leaves need just a quick rinse to clean. And they cook up a lot faster. Warm a skillet and add enough olive oil to coat it lightly. Then throw in a few whole cloves of garlic, giving them a walk around the pan, pushed with a spatula, until they turn lightly golden. As soon as that happens, throw them out; they’re done flavoring the oil.

Add a few very large handfuls of spinach, cover the skillet, and steam for 10 to 15 seconds. Bless the whole thing with a sprinkle of coarse salt and a grinding or two of fresh pepper. Serve as a side dish or under a piece of fish brushed with a teaspoon or two of honey or French-style mustard, or both, before broiling. The entire recipe takes only a few seconds; the spinach retains some of its original crunch. It’s tasty and healthy.

To lighten denser greens like cabbages or even root vegetables like carrots, try a few tricks from the professionals. Consider changing texture, flavor, color and temperature of these foods.

Texture: Try a julienne cut -- very fine, matchstick-size slices.

Flavor: Think lemons and limes in place of the oranges of winter. Substitute lightly tangy Asian rice wine or cheery red wine vinegars for thicker balsamic vinegar. Choose brightly flavored herbs like flat-leaf parsley, mint, or feathery cilantro rather than earthier rosemary and thyme.

Color: Extend the color palate, adding a rainbow of colors for a more festive presentation. Chefs proclaim that we eat first with the eyes; nutritionists tout the health value of colorful fruits and vegetables. The following recipe includes yellow and red bell peppers, purple cabbage and green snow peas — a rainbow promising sunny vegetables.

Temperature. Hot food, right from the oven, can be dulling; a cold dinner may not satisfy hunger and leaves us to forage the kitchen for calorie- and carbohydrate-laden snacks late at night. Try a warm dish as an alternative to a hot or cool dinner.


Makes 4 servings

Always discard marinades from raw meats.

2 whole skinless, boneless chicken breasts, each divided in half

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves

1 tablespoon garlic, peeled, minced

2 tablespoons gingerroot, peeled, minced

3 tablespoons honey

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/8 cup soy sauce

1/3 cup fresh lime juice

1/2 cup Asian rice wine vinegar

1/3 cup canola oil

1/4 cup sesame oil

1. Place the raw chicken in a non-metal bowl.

2. Whisk together the remaining ingredients. Measure out 1 cup of this mixture; set it aside to use later as dressing for the slaw.

3. Pour the remaining liquid over the chicken; cover with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator for 2 hours.

4. Remove the chicken pieces from the marinade; discard the marinade. Broil chicken pieces, 6 minutes each side. Slice into strips; set aside and keep warm.


Makes 4 servings

Once off the stovetop or out of the oven, food will continue cooking, as it cools, from residual heat. To halt the cooking of boiling vegetable immediately in order to preserve both color and crunch, drain and put them into a bowl of ice water. Use this method for the snow peas in this recipe.

5 cups red cabbage, very finely shredded

1 yellow bell pepper, cut into very thin strips

1 red bell pepper, cut into very thin strips

1 small carrot, peeled and cut into strips with a vegetable peeler

3 scallions, bias cut into thin pieces

15 snow peas, ends snipped off

1 cup marinade from Step No. 2 of chicken recipe above

1. Toss cabbage, bell peppers, carrots, scallions together with half the marinade/dressing.

2. Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Add the snow peas and cook until bright green, about 2 to 3 minutes. Drain; immediately plunge snow peas into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Drain in a colander when cooled, then on paper towels.

2. Pile the slaw into the center of a serving platter. Fan the chicken slices and snow peas over the top. Drizzle with some of the reserved dressing.

Linda Bassett is the author of “From Apple Pie to Pad Thai: Neighborhood Cooking North of Boston.” Reach her by e-mail at