Thursday, May 12, 2011

Spring Greens: Pollo en Salsa Verde


I've noticed that the majority of the places and cultures I love most have several things in common: their family-centeredness, their focus on communal eating, their unabashed pride in their cultural heritage, their generosity and welcoming of guests, and their love of good, fresh, home-cooked food.  Add to this the culture and generational expertise of foraging and home-gardens and you nearly get the definition of what I aspire to in my life.

A phrase I never really appreciated until this year was the meaning of "spring greens."  Having just spent nearly a year in a land of deserts and non-greenness, I have truly begun to understand how much I personally love and revel in verdant landscapes and everything that goes with them.  This spring in Portland has been nothing short of magical for me, and I find myself marveling at the silliest things: the abundance of dandelions everywhere, the way birds are everywhere at all times of the day, the way that tree roots make the ground swell and drop, the acorns and squirrels who relentlessly scavenge them.  I was so starved of seeing nature - real, green, woodsy nature - that I'd almost forgotten what a miracle it is every single year to watch it come back to life after its long winter nap.  And I feel privileged to be able to further enjoy it in a very pedestrian city where, without plan or intention, even the spaces between two streets are painfully alive with all sorts of native wildlife - beautiful twisted trees, numerous wildflowers, wild - almost edibley green - grass.  Ah, grass.

And then I went to the grocery store and was almost blown away by the selection and availability of spring greens. Turnip greens, mustard greens, collard greens, Beet greens, Spinach, Arugula, a million lettuces, Broccoli rabe, the aforementioned Fiddlehead Ferns.  And dandelions, of course.  And thank God for the latter because it saved Matt the embarrassment of me returning to that street corner where I discovered a particularly prolific patch of dandelion greens the other day that I fully intended to pick and eat.  
Apart from it being my favorite color, I could eat greens every single day and not get sick of it.  I love them fresh, boiled, steamed, barely sauteed.  I'll take them almost any way they come and preferably with some lemon juice on top.  Hot, cold, or room temperature.  They are a Spring incarnation for me, and just one of the many things I love about this time of year.  Here is a list of five things that particularly take my breath away:

Top 5 Green and Spring-y Things I Love
because, frankly, what's not to?

Broccoli Rabe.
5. Budding Trees
It's a hopeful, almost incredible sight for me, every year, when I find there are tiny, perfect little leaves starting to sprout from what I swore was a dead piece of wood.

4. The Dandelions Before They're Fuzzy
I love and have always loved the simplicity and beauty of those little yellow flowers and their weed-like but beautifully green accompanying leaves, all of which (including flowers) are edible and very tasty.

3. Dew on New Leaves
It's still just cool enough that in the mornings the trees and grass are covered in beautiful sea-air dew.  I love feeling drops of it plop on my hair and seeing my shoes and pants stained with it, and knowing that Spring is here.

2. Herbs
 The herbs are back and all over the country people are planting beautiful new little gardens which will season and accompany their food all summer long.  One goal this summer / spring: to use parsley as a side dish or salad, all by itself.

1. Grass
It's just one of my very favorite things.  And it's brilliant and everywhere right now.

Today I decided to make a spring green stew that is a version of a Mexican recipe I love: Espinazo de Cerdo en Salsa Verde.  I used chicken instead and picked up some fresh tomatillos, some broccoli rabe (my substitute for verdolagas, or purslane, these days) and some bone-on chicken breasts. Enjoy this on a still-kind-of-chilly Spring day like the ones we've been having here in Portland.
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Pollo en Salsa Verde with Spring Greens
Serves 4

This dish is a comfort food for me.  A similar thing is often made in Mexico using pork spine - espinazo - and verdolagas, or purslane, which lend it a much heartier flavor.  I love tomatillos and they are a typically Mexican flavor which is fresh, slightly sour and pairs very nicely with slightly bitter spring greens, like broccoli rabe.
* * *

2 tbsp canola oil
2 large, bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts (or 4 small)
6-8 smallish tomatillos, halfed or quartered depending on size
1lb of broccoli rabe, washed and cut in half (stems / leaves florets)
1 large-medium or 2 small-medium potatoes, chopped into medium pieces
3 cloves garlic, crushed and roughly chopped
1/2 of 1 large can of Crushed Tomatillo Salsa
1-2 chicken bouillon cubes or 1-2 tbsp salt
2-3 cups water (as needed)
ground pepper

1. Add the oil to a large pot or dutch oven and heat over medium-high.  Add the onion and garlic then brown the breasts, skin side down, until the skin is crisp and golden brown, shaking the pot occasionally so the onions and garlic don't burn.  This should take 3-4 minutes.

2. Add the chopped tomatillos, potatoes, salsa, water (just enough to not-quite cover the chicken), bouillion, and pepper and give it a good stir; bring to a boil.

3. Turn the heat down and allow the stew to simmer for 40-50 minutes or until the meat is fall-apart tender.  Add the chopped broccoli rabe and simmer for 10 minutes before serving (to keep some crunch).  Or you can add it 30 minutes into cooking if you like soggier greens (which I do sometimes).

Serve alone or with white rice.
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  1. it isn't *just* parsley, but this salad is pretty parsley heavy and pretty good:

  2. Thanks Erin - Matt would love that salad - he's big on celery and parsley. Looks yummy :) I have a recipe in a Greek cookbook of mine that is literally just parsley sauteed in butter with a little bit of lemon, as a side dish. I am going to have that very soon, I think.

  3. I'm with you on the greens, having moved to SF from DC I missed all the green grass and trees. Sure there are some, but most people seem content to have paved over their front yard for parking and it is very unnatural to me. Your dish looks wonderful, I love tomatillos and the tartness they impart.