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From Spinach to Kale, a Green for All Tastes

February 06, 1992|KITTY MORSE | Kitty Morse is a writer and cookbook author living in Vista.

It's not too late to heed your mother's advice to "eat your greens" in order to grow up healthy and strong, and follow in the footsteps of Popeye.

Fresh North County-grown green--Swiss chard, sorrel, the less familiar New Zealand spinach, or beet greens are plentiful at this time of the year.

Howard Jewett, whose hobby is experimenting with unusual plants, swears by New Zealand spinach. No one stopping by his table at the Vista farmer's market can escape a friendly invitation to sample a leaf of the spongy, spinach-like green, which, he says "grows like a weed" in moist areas of the garden. "One man's weed is another man's delight," he says, expounding at length on the fresh, juicy texture of the New Zealand vegetable, sometimes planted strictly as an ornamental.

Although many of their customers blend it with assorted raw vegetables to make a health drink, Jewett and his wife, Iran, prefer to add it raw to salads.

The plant readily reseeds itself and seems well adapted to the North County climate, say the enthusiastic growers. Collard greens, a cabbage-like, dark-green leaf also hold a prominent place in the Jewetts' garden. "They're easy to grow and very nutritious," says Jewett, "and even the flowers are edible." The greens tend to be sweeter than turnip greens or kale. Similarly, the lemony taste of French Sorrel, another spinach look-alike enters into many of Iran Jewett's native Indian dishes.

New Zealand spinach holds less appeal for Charles Ledgerwood of Reliable Seeds in Carlsbad--especially from a culinary standpoint.

"The round, succulent-looking leaves are quite decorative and grow like a vaccine," says the seed expert, in business for over 58 years. He finds the flavor rather uninteresting, however. The New Zealand plant is in no way related to the common spinach, he points out, and, like spinach, it doesn't do particularly well in the dry climate of inland North County, preferring instead moist, coastal areas. For flavor, Ledgerwood likes beet greens--and he says there is none sweeter than the Greenleaf variety. This cross between the sugar beet and the garden beet, boasts an extremely high sugar content. Beet greens should be picked when the beets are quite small, since the leaves loose their sweetness as the roots develops, says Ledgerwood.

Homer Willess always plants several rows of beets just to enjoy savoring the purple-edged beet greens. As the cackle of Willess's chickens punctuates the cool Valley Center air, a farm worker at Rancho Costa Fortune is assiduously pulling out bunch after bunch of rain-soaked greens to take to market. Tiny purple beets still cling to the roots--a sure sign that the leaves will be tender and sweet. To make sure the leaves are free of dirt and grit, Margie Oakes of Fallbrook, who, like Willess, grows several varieties of beets, precooks the tops. She then drains them, and runs them under cold running water before proceeding with her recipe.

Kale may not figure daily on everyone's table, but Joe Rodriguez, Jr. of JR Organics in Valley Center, has been familiar with the vegetable since childhood.

Some may recognize the delicate and frilly, lavender-edged leaf as the popular border plant called Flowering Cabbage or Ornamental Kale. When enjoyed as a vegetable, kale is a good source of potassium and vitamins A and C. Kale is only one of many greens grown by Rodriguez, a fourth generation farmer, who co-owns 40 acres of organic vegetables, such as red and white chard, mustard greens and the ever-popular collard greens. In the area since 1959, the Rodriguez's ranch became a certified organic facility in 1985.

"We wanted to create a safer environment for our workers," explains Rodriguez, adding that his father and brother, Raymond, co-owners of the ranch, had always leaned toward organic growing practices. In addition to supplying local health food stores in organic produce, JR Organics are found on the shelves of upscale markets in Boston, Los Angeles and the Bay Area.

Collard greens, which taste like tender cabbage leaves, are high in folic acid and Vitamin A. Swiss chard, a staple in Mediterranean cuisine, is prized for its tender, white stalk, with a taste similar to celery. A few ribbons of chard leaves add a nice flavor to soups, as do a few sorrel leaves. Both are high in Vitamin A and fiber.

Howard and Iran Jewett, 3062 Sumac Road, Fallbrook, 92028. 723-0845. Sell at the Vista Farmer's Market. Sorrel, New Zealand spinach, 10 cents a stalk.

Homer Willess, Rancho Costa Fortune, 30044 Mauka Drive, Valley Center, 92082. 749-0800. Beet greens.

Reliable Seeds, Charles B. Ledgerwood, 3862 Carlsbad Blvd, Carlsbad, 92008. 729-3282. Open daily except Sunday from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mail order accepted. Quarter-ounce Greenleaf beet seed, 40 cents; quarter-ounce white stalk Swiss chard seed, 35 cents; quarter -ounce red stalk Swiss chard, 50 cents.

Maciel Family Farm, Bonsall, 92003. Vista and Fallbrook farmer's markets. Mustard greens, 50 cents; beets, $1 a bunch; Swiss chard, 50 cents.

Joe Rodriguez, JR Organics, Escondido, 92025. Wholesale. All greens: 75 cents a bunch at Escondido Farmer's Market. JR Organics produce also sold at Community Market and City produce in Encinitas, and Cream of the Crop in Oceanside.

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