Monthly Archives: July 2012


When the early green beans arrived at our Farmers Market I posted a Tabouli inspired recipe, Green Beans & Bulgar. On this hot Summer day, I’m lacking in green beans, but overloaded with small tomatoes. We’ll have a healthy salad made from bulgar wheat, tomatoes  and basil.

On a seriously hot day, the kind of heat that might send you to a restaurant just to avoid cooking anything, bulgar is a must have pantry staple. Unlike pasta, bulgar (cracked wheat, also Bulgur) does not require cooking. Bulgar is whole wheat. Nothing is added to wheat to produce bulgar. Don’t get me wrong, I like rice and pasta, but bulgar is a terrific no-cook option.

Ingredients
  • 5 cups small tomatoes or tomatoes cut into 3/4 inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup bulgar wheat (can substitute couscous for bulgar, cooking method is the same)
  • 1/3 cup chopped basil
  • 1/4 cup chopped sweet onion
  • 1/2 cup chickpeas (optional)
Dressing
  • 1/3 cup Olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • salt & pepper

If you make this recipe ahead, it’s better. But don’t refrigerate it- never refrigerate tomatoes.

While it’s berry season, stock the freezer with bags of berries. Why? Haven’t you heard? Blueberries are a “Super Food”.

As a rule I don’t usually follow food trends. Following food trends and diets just confuses me. Lately though, I’ve been reading statements trumpeting the sensational health benefits of the simple blueberry. I have to admit, I’ve been intrigued. I rarely write about nutrition – I leave that to the scientists. They love to write about antioxidants, nutrients, vitamins and minerals. I know because I’ve been reading quite a few of their studies regarding berries.

I’ve found there are a lot of studies and scientific papers addressing preventative, curative and therapeutic properties of berries. While I haven’t found any scientific papers stating, “blueberries fight cancer,”  many feel comfortable stating that phytonutrients (compounds found in berries) have demonstrated an ability to protect against diseases.

Science not folklore:

Dark red and purple berries contain the phytonutrient called anthocyanin. According to Mary Ann Lila, Director of Research for the Plants for Human Health Institute at the North Carolina State University, Anthocyanin pigments and associated flavonoids have demonstrated an ability to protect against a myriad of human diseases, yet they have been notoriously difficult to study with regard to human health. Anthocyanins interact with other phytochemicals, thus effects of individual components are difficult to determine. The complex, multicomponent structure of compounds makes precise assignment of bioactivity to individual pigments inconclusive.(a)

Phytonutrients(b), antioxidants(c), fiber and vitamins, all reside inside berries. While studies continue, we’ll just keep eating berries. I’ll assume the berry, in it’s entirety (the “whole-food”), is a “Super Food”.

Since almost all berries contain those finger-staining phytonutrients, I remain uncertain as to what makes the blueberry unique. Why are blueberries enjoying superstar status among berries? There are certainly studies that examine the health benefits of “berries” as a group, making little distinction between varieties. A paper from Tufts University cites preliminary findings of a variety of studies that do not singularly focus on blueberries: Reminding us that research continues into the potential health benefits of blueberries, strawberries, cranberries, blackberries and more.

We love berries of all kinds. Berries are an A-list snack ’round here. I’m buying berries now at their peak freshness and flavor from a local farm and our farmers market. And I’ve made space in our freezer to save some of the sweetness of Summer for the Winter months.

(a)Mary Ann Lila

(b)The term “phyto” originated from a Greek word meaning plant. Phytonutrients are certain organic components of plants, and these components are thought to promote human health. Fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, and teas are rich sources of phytonutrients.

(c)Antioxidants are substances that may protect cells from the damage caused by unstable molecules known as free radicals. Free radical damage may lead to cancer. Antioxidants interact with and stabilize free radicals and may prevent some of the damage free radicals might otherwise cause. Examples of antioxidants include beta-carotene, lycopene, vitamins C, E, and A, and other substances.

American Society for Nutrition, 2008, health benefits of nutrients in berries and other foods.

If you’ve never canned anything, consider beginning with green beans. Canning vegetables couldn’t be simpler – provided you have access to a pressure-cooker. The “pressure method” is a requirement when you’re canning low acid foods(1).

What you’ll need:
pressure cooker
canning jars, new/used. You can use undamaged jars again and again.
jar rings, new/used. You can use undamaged rings again and again.
jar lids, must be new.
canning salt or course sea salt

 

A local farm stand sells bushels and half bushels discounted from their per pound price, making canning and freezing produce for the Winter months very economical. Plus, I like going into the cellar and seeing rows of MY preserved fruits and vegetables; beets next to peaches, pickles, tomatoes and green beans.

There are at least two methods for preparing green beans for canning, I prefer the “cold pack” method. I like to retain as much crispness as possible: when you use the “cold pack” method, the beans are only cooked once, in the pressure cooker.
Begin by washing, and snapping off the stem end of each bean. Earlier this Summer a farmer laughed at me for sorting peas by size before freezing them, nevertheless I sort. As I snap the beans I toss the small and broken beans into a separate bowl.

Now “cold pack” the beans into jars. I use wide mouth jars so I can better fit my fingers inside the jar. However today, Stevie has volunteered to pack beans. His small hand has no trouble standing beans upright in the jars.

At this point, it’s a good idea to start heating the water in your pressure cooker. The jars will be hot once you’ve added the boiling water, and you’ll want to set them into hot water inside the pressure cooker. You can set the canning lids in the water so that they’ll be hot when you’re ready to place them on the jars.
Remember the small and broken beans that I set aside? I use some of those broken (or just short) beans to top off the jars.

Add a teaspoon of canning salt or course sea salt to the jars. You can use ordinary table salt, but additives in table salt have a negative effect on the color of the beans. They’ll taste fine, they just wont be as pretty.

Bring a kettle of water to boiling. Pour boiling water into the jars, leaving an inch of space at the top of each jar. Hint: the neck of a canning jar is 1 inch from the rim.

 

After adding boiling water to all the jars, use a wood skewer or the handle of a wood or plastic spoon to help release air bubbles that may be trapped in the jar. Because I pack green beans vertically, air bubbles are not usually “trapped,” they rise to the surface between the beans. Tapping the jars, gently on the counter top, is usually enough to remove air from the jars.

 

With a clean dry towel, wipe the rims of the jars. Set a hot canning lid on each jar and screw on rings. Remember your lids have been heating along with the water in your pressure cooker. The rings should be secure but not too tight. What does that mean exactly? I don’t really know – all canning instructions advise against “over tightening.” Remember the 1 inch of space between the contents and rim of your jars? That’s air; and it should be pushed out during processing. Putting rings on too tightly will prevent the air from escaping during processing.

 

Gently lower the jars into the pressure cooker. (use the directions included with your pressure cooker. You will need to achieve 10 pounds of pressure and a temperature that exceeds 240º) Secure the pressure cooker’s lid. Once the pressure cooker indicates the pot is pressurized, begin timing:

  • General processing times are:
  • 20 minutes for pint jars
  • 25 minutes for quart jars
  • high-altitude times are generally 10 minutes longer

After your cooking time has passed, allow pressure to drop. (use the directions included with your pressure cooker.) Carefully lift jars and gently place them on a kitchen towel. If all the windows are open, I set the jars in the oven, fearing a cool breeze in the kitchen could crack the jars.
Once the jars have cooled, check the seals. The lid should be firm and slightly concave. If any of the jars have not sealed, refrigerate the jar and plan to use it within a week.

(1) Low acid foods, requiring the pressure cooking method;

  • asparagus
  • beans
  • corn
  • cucumbers
  • garlic
  • green beans
  • onions
  • peas
  • pumpkins
  • squash

 

Foods that are safe for water bath canning

  • apple sauce
  • tomatoes
  • berries
  • figs
  • papaya
  • peaches
  • pears
  • pineapple

My favorite resource for everything “canning”: Simply Canning

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