By Cheryl Forberg, RD
Growing up, both of my grandmothers had gardens, so I have lots of great memories of incredibly fresh produce and amazing meals. I started to garden about 10 years ago beginning with a very tiny backyard garden which has evolved over the years to larger spaces and a greater variety (and quantity) of vegetables and fruit trees.
This is our first summer living on a large farm. Even though we only moved 70 miles from our last home, the weather here is much different. It’s been in the 90’s and 100’s for weeks now and the garden must be watered daily just to keep everything alive. It’s too hot in fact for lettuces and most herbs so we’ve learned to be more prepared next year by creating shady garden areas.
“Picking dinner” is my favorite part of growing our own. I love walking through the garden with my morning coffee and planning my menus around what tastes best that day.
Even if you have a tiny apartment in the city, you can probably at least start with a few indoor pots of your favorite herbs. If you have a balcony or even a small patio, you can add a few of your favorite plants when the weather is warm. I think tomatoes are a really good choice for a starter plant. They’re fairly low maintenance and because the tomatoes grow above ground you can easily watch their progress which is so gratifying.
Over the years I’ve learned that people who are not veggie lovers usually had little exposure to them growing up (or they just weren’t cooked properly). For that reason, I think it’s important for parents to get their children involved in cooking, shopping and even gardening. Kids who feel a connection to their food are much more likely to try new things. A cooking class or a good cookbook is a worthwhile investment also. Most of us are busy and don’t have time to plan and consequently wind up cooking repetitive and even boring meals. A little influence from a class, book or even online recipes is a really great way to expose yourself to new ideas and expand your repertoire (and your palette!).
This summer I’m really enjoying making salads comprised of veggies, such as fennel instead of lettuce, since that’s in short supply with our current heat wave. Fennel or foeniculum vulgare, is referred to as finocchio di montagna or "mountain fennel" in Italy, where it is a popular ingredient. That’s because it’s indigenous to the Mediterranean. In Sicily for example, it’s commonly grilled or baked for pasta dishes, egg dishes (such as frittata) and served raw in salads.
This crunchy fennel salad is relatively easy to prepare and is delicious with grilled chicken or fish.
Shaved Fennel Salad with Creamy Citrus Dressing
This refreshing salad is delicious the next day – should you have leftovers. Thinly slicing the fennel is a great way to work on your knife skills. A mandolin makes it much easier though. Add a few orange segments for a Sicilian twist. The dressing is creamy and luscious - Try using lemon or orange instead of lime. Leftover dressing is great drizzled on grilled fish or chicken.
For the dressing:
½ cup plain non-fat Greek-style yogurt
¼ cup lime juice
2 tablespoons freshly chopped cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon agave nectar or honey (if you use orange instead of lime you may want to omit this)
1 tablespoon unseasoned rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon lime zest
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
¼ cup grapeseed oil
For the salad:
1 large or 2 medium fennel bulbs (with fronds)
2 cups baby greens (or spinach or arugula)
2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
Cracked black pepper
For the dressing:
Blend all the ingredients except the oil until smooth. Slowly drizzle in the oil, whisking until incorporated. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Yield: 1 cup dressing
For the salad:
If the fennel stalks are attached to the fennel bulb, trim them from the bulb and reserve a few fronds for garnish. With the bulb upright, cut the bulb in quarters and remove core (like cutting a cabbage). Slice the fennel as thin as possible. Add fennel slices to a medium mixing bowl with ¼ cup dressing and mix well. Set aside to marinate for 30 minutes before adding remaining ingredients. (Tip: at this point, I like to seal the salad in a vacuum sealer. When the air is drawn out of the bag, it forces the vinaigrette into the fennel for a faster marinade).
Add baby greens to marinated fennel and toss well. Divide between four salad plates. Top with feta and garnish with fennel frond. Reserve remaining dressing for another use.
Nutritional Analysis for one serving
Calories from fat 40
Total fat 4.5 g
Sat fat 1 g
Trans fat 0g
Cholesterol 5 mg
Sodium 110 mg
Carb 11 g
Sugars 6 g
Protein 3 g
Vit A 30%RDA
Vit C 30%RDA