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The lure of vegetables!

Bhaji e, Bhaji e, Aji pahije ka Bhaji…., Tondli, Gavar, Palak, Methi, taze tamatar…(translated as: Vegetables, vegetables, Grandma, would you like some fresh vegetables…and the names of different veggies) and the Bhaji wala would go on on until my mom would give in to the vision of fresh vegetables and the clever persistence of the vegetable vendor who cycles his way along the clean swept street where my mom’s home is tucked in.

Despite the refrigerator being quite full of vegetables that she bought from the same vendor on the previous day, my mom will be back in her kitchen with at least another kind or two from him again.

Usually, the leafy greens that are bursting from canvas bags he carries on both sides of his bicycle handle, topped with an old scale, whose calibration only he knows of! This bhajiwala is a door-to-door vendor who stops by every morning (all 7 days of the week) and makes it easier for many of the residents who are unable to go to the market everyday to get their nutritional fix, fresh, every day.

The variety is endless, and is always fresh from the farm and green, muy verde. Farm to table…in it’s pure sense. That is how we have eaten and hopefully will always eat. I am a vendor at two local farmers markets here in the U.S. and often think of the bhaji wala and street lined vendors, farmers really, themselves or their older kin, who sit right there on the sides of busy roads, each with a self designated spot. It’s been done for ages. You see them sell their fresh produce…leafy vegetables, red, green, dark green, purple and all shades imaginable…glistening with freshness, interspersed with purple beets, red radishes, delicate young okra, all kinds of squash, you name it, beckoning you to take them home with you.

Memories from each visit to those streets only emphasize the importance of eating such a varied and healthy diet. Something we are fortunate to savor in this part of the world not only through farmers markets, but also through new local stores like The Maple Avenue Market and The Local Market in Northern Virginia that bring in their wares from farms close by or even their own. The word "fresh" has more meaning having visited the farm and then seeing the harvest from it! Gone are the days when I was new to this country. A short time of my life when I would gape at the packaged foods in the grocery store chains, wanting to buy anything new to try it. Now, I clamor for fresh produce and have often been enticed enough by whatever has come in from the farm that day! I realize how grateful I am to be able to carry on what has been ingrained in me for life….the lure of vegetables!

This ode to vegetables will be complete if I add one or two simple recipes that I have demonstrated to my cooking class when we were in the company of beautiful, fresh baby kale and radish greens. I do not intend to give in to the measured performances of chefs. As a cook, and I believe we all have it in ourselves to be good ones, blessed with varied senses of touch and most importantly smell, I prefer to help folks understand how one would like to imagine those greens feel when eaten. Thus I lead you on…

Baby kale with garlic, onion, cumin and cayenne pepper

Use fresh baby kale as is, without chopping. If you have kale of the giant size, no worries, just cut it into fine strips. I use the whole leaf, veins and all…just remove the tough stems at the base. Use onion and garlic so not to overwhelm the leaves. They are there only to add flavor, so giving in to measures, I would say, for a bunch of kale, use about half a medium sized onion or less. Remove the skins from 2-3 cloves of garlic and either crush them or cut them fine. Heat olive oil or any other oil you have in a pan. Add garlic and onion and saute until soft without burning either. Add the kale. Mix, cover and cook until the greens wilt. Add salt to taste, a pinch of cayenne pepper, another pinch or two of freshly ground cumin and heat through. If there is liquid from the greens, uncover the pan and saute until it evaporates. And it is done, takes about 10-15 minutes to make this "good for you" side.

Radish green, potatoes and spiced mustard

The second recipe uses potatoes to offset the slightly bitter taste of radish greens. This is paired with a nutty and smoky spice blend like spiced mustard. You could use either regular potatoes of any kind or sweet potatoes of any shade, or even yam. Again, take a bunch of well washed and rinsed radish leaves (from long white or red radishes); chop them fine. Dice potatoes – one medium sized for greens from red radishes or two medium sized ones for greens from white, long radishes, into small, thin cubes, so they cook fast. Set aside. Heat 2-3 teaspoons of oil in a pan..peanut oil pairs well with this combination, if you do not have it, no worries, use whatever edible oil you have on hand. Add onions, saute for for 2-3 minutes. Add diced potatoes, saute, covered until almost done. Then add the greens and saute covered until they wilt completely and the potatoes are cooked through. Sprinkle with spiced mustard blend, about 1/2 tsp. for beginners, to taste for those used to this spice and add salt to taste. Viola, its done. Excellent as a side dish. Also very healthy!

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