"Healthy eating is too expensive! I can't afford the gas to get to those fancy health stores, and even if I could, I can't pay the prices they want for that stuff. And I don't even know what stuff to buy anyway!"
This is often what I hear when I talk to folks about healthy eating. This idea that eating healthy is something reserved for the elite is a common misconception, but folks need to see for themselves that healthy eating is within their means.
Hopewell is a small city in Virginia trying to climb out of the economic and social depression that has been clouding its development for quite a few years. One of the initiatives the city has adopted is participation in the HEAL campaign. Willows Bend Farm was invited to be a vendor at Hopewell's HEAL Fest and I used that opportunity to talk with folks about incorporating herbs into healthy seasonal eating. I also kept in mind the protests previously mentioned about good food being too expensive, so I decided to illustrate seasonal eating using the humble frittata:
The Seasonal Frittata
One of the most versatile and economical dishes we love to prepare here at Willows Bend Farm is the Frittata. Prepared with our free ranging hens’ eggs with fresh, seasonal produce and herbs, the flavors really pop! By varying the add ins we can create so many different combinations that we rarely have the exact same frittata twice.
The first part of this recipe will be the frittata “template”. This is the egg part which binds all the other seasonal add-ins together. Then simply choose your add-ins according to seasonal availability. Of course not every ingredient, herb or spice has to be something you would find local or seasonal, but this template is a good way to showcase what steps you can take for preparing economical, healthful, and seasonal local food.
Ingredients: 6 eggs, ½ tsp sea salt, ½ tsp turmeric, ground black pepper, 3 T butter (or olive, or coconut oil), ½ medium onion (or scallions, or shallots), add-ins of your choice.
Directions: Choose and prepare your add-ins and spices. You will need about 2 cups of greens or vegetables and 1 tsp total dried herbs and spices. Ground spices tend to be strong, so use about ¼ to ½ tsp of each to taste. You want a tablespoon or more of fresh herbs. (I like to sprinkle in enough to cover the top of my frittata) Cut greens into thin strips. Cut other veggies into bite sized pieces. Parboil starchy vegetables like potatoes, winter squash, sweet potatoes.
Beat the eggs with the salt, pepper, turmeric, and any dried herbs and spices you have chosen, set aside. Heat a 10” or 12” skillet with the oil over medium heat. (if you want to brown the top of your frittata, make sure you use an ovenproof skillet) Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add your chosen, prepared vegetables and sauté until greens are wilted and vegetables are crisp-tender, add a few drops of water if the greens are sticking to the pan. Add more butter or oil if needed, and pour the beaten eggs onto the vegetables, tipping to distribute evenly. Sprinkle with the fresh herbs of your choice. Reduce the heat to low and cover the skillet. Cook until eggs are set (may take up to 15 minutes). Add cheese and either pop under the broiler until cheese browns, or simply replace the cover and let the cheese melt off heat. (That’s what I do because my broiler on my gas range is under the oven and I don’t care for getting down on my hands and knees to cook) If you want to get fancy, invert the frittata onto a plate and then again onto a serving plate to get the cheese on top, but I just serve mine right from the pan.
Spring: Spring is the time when shoots are coming out of the ground, springing forth with new energy. Eating these brings back our vitality that may have become sluggish over the winter months. Don’t overlook the “weeds” that come up at this time of year. Chickweed, dandelion, violets are just a few of the healthful herbs that pop up everywhere in the Spring. Just be sure that your wild foraged greens are positively identified and that they are growing in a clean area, not along the side of the road absorbing toxins.
Add-ins: spinach, chickweed, Swiss chard, nettle, wild lambs quarter, beet tops, baby lettuce, turnip greens, dandelion leaves, fiddlehead fern, sprouts of all sorts (alfalfa, broccoli, radish, pea shoots, etc), asparagus, peas, radishes, scallions and mushrooms. Rosemary stays green all year so there should be some fresh available. Violet flowers, and dandelion petals make a pretty presentation on a bed of baby greens. Serve with fresh strawberries.
Early Summer: The ground is warmed up and our vegetable flowers begin to bear fruit. This is the time to add in squash blossoms, zucchini, broccoli, new potatoes (slice into half moons and parboil first), green beans, cauliflower, kohlrabi, baby beets with their greens, and kale. All the perennial herbs should be available now, try thyme, mint, sage, chives, marjoram, oregano, fennel or tarragon. Calendula petals, borage flowers, rose petals, red clover blossoms, chamomile flowers and even a few lavender buds make a beautiful addition to a mixed lettuce salad. Serve with blackberries and blueberries with lemon balm.
Full Summer: The heat of the summer is upon us and we are seeking vegetables full of the sun. We would still include the early summer vegetables, but now we can add tomatoes, bell and hot peppers, corn, eggplant, and okra. Fresh basil now takes the stage. We also look for something to hydrate and cool us. Cucumbers with chive blossoms and dill make a delicious cool salad. Serve with minted melon with nasturtium blossoms.
Autumn: Fall is a time for gathering. We are turning our minds towards vegetables that have been gathering energy all summer like winter squash, pumpkins, celery, kale, cabbage, collards, potatoes, Brussels sprouts, Sunchokes, shell beans, sweet potatoes, rutabagas, nuts, seeds like amaranth, millet, and grains. Mushrooms make another appearance as the weather cools. Rosemary, horseradish, and yarrow (used sparingly as they are strong flavors) go well with roasted root vegetables. A cabbage and apple salad with nuts would be delicious. Serve with apples.
Winter: Winter is a time to rest, get grounded and return to our roots after our busy summer and fall. We rely on our reserves of produce that has been canned, frozen, dried, preserved, or long storing root vegetables. But we can still grow sprouts on the countertop, and baby lettuce greens can be grown in a cold frame. We can dust the snow off the kale and still harvest. Our add-ins would include dried beans (already cooked), potatoes, beets, leeks or onions. We are looking for warming herbs and spices like ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, curry. We might have cooked greens instead of a salad. Dried fruit compote, or a blackberry cobbler made from preserved fruit may be served.
All of the herbs and spices listed can grow here in Virginia, with the exception of perhaps the black pepper, cinnamon and cardamom. Cayenne pepper or summer savory can be substituted for pepper. Did you know that you can re-grow celery from a head that you buy? Simply cut all the way across all the stalks about two inches from the bottom. Set that bottom in a pot of soil or even in water. It will begin to grow and while it may not grow into fat juicy stalks, at least, you can use the leaves. The tops of beets and turnips will also sprout back up and can be used for greens. Ginger and turmeric can be grown in the ground in the summer, but need to be dug and brought in for the winter. So have fun mixing and matching for your seasonal frittata and enjoy trying new herbs, spices and flowers for fun and for health.
~ Alisa Strunk
Properties of the herbs included in this template: For educational purposes only. None of these statements have been evaluated or approved by the FDA and are in no way meant to diagnose or treat any illness. Do diligent research and consult your healthcare professional if being treated for any medical condition.
Basil- Cleanses the digestive system, reduces nausea and alleviates headaches.
Borage- Cooling properties, mental boost, reduce fevers and systemic cleanser.
Celery- Rich in vitamins and minerals, promotes restful sleep.
Calendula- Promotes cell repair and growth, anti-inflammatory, thrush remedy, nourishes and cleanses the lymphatic system
Chamomile- Cleanses the digestive system, promotes feelings of calm, anti-inflammatory, reduces pain and promotes restful sleep.
Chickweed- High nutritional value, good for liver and kidneys, mild diuretic, stimulates metabolism.
Chives- Stimulates appetite, strengthens digestive system, improves kidney function, lowers blood pressure, restorative after illness.
Dandelion- High vitamin and mineral content, cleanses liver and kidneys, relieves gallstones, helps break down cholesterol and fats, mild diuretic with high potassium content.
Dill- Aids digestion, relieves stomach ache, reduces flatulence, promotes sleep, stimulates the appetite, freshens bad breath.
Fennel- Aids whole digestive system, eliminates feeling bloated, relieves flatulence, calms hiccups, reduces nausea, reduces appetite and promotes weight loss.
Garlic- Cleanses the blood, stimulates immune system, cures sore throats, alleviate asthma, lowers cholesterol and blood pressure.
Ginger- Indigestion, reduce flatulence and diarrhea, stimulates appetite, soothes stomach, tonic, aphrodisiac, reduces fever, motion sickness, relieves pain, lowers cholesterol, blood purifier, reduces blood sugar.
Horseradish- Strong digestive stimulant, antibacterial properties, used to treat bronchitis and expel worms.
Hyssop- Cleansing properties, helps reduce fat in meat and increases tenderness, relieves asthma and rheumatism.
Lavender- Calms and soothes digestive tract, helpful in quieting spasms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Crohn’s Disease, cleanses blood, improves memory, mild anti-depressant, alleviates headaches, promotes restful sleep.
Lemon Balm- Calming, anti-spasmodic, relieves Morning Sickness, increases mental powers and aids concentration, helps ADHD, mild sedative helpful in treating grief and insomnia, effective in treating SAD (seasonal affective disorder), reduces nightmares, antiviral properties make it good for treating herpes and shingles.
Marjoram (and Oregano)- Improves circulation, boosts production of white blood cells to fight infection.
Mint- Aids and soothes digestion, relieves stomach ache, stimulates the mind, freshens breath, antispasmodic, relieves head aches.
Nasturtium- High Vitamin C content, antibiotic properties help ward off sore throats.
Nettle- Rich in vitamins and minerals, especially calcium and iron, useful for growing pains, tonic for the whole system, treats PMS, joint pain, allergies and hay fever, fertility issues, menopause, goat, and exhaustion.
Parsley- Rich in vitamins, freshens breath, diuretic, removes excess water and bloating of PMS, aids digestions and flatulence, anti-inflammatory, hay fever, fever reducer.
Red Clover- Rich in nutrients, blood and lymphatic cleanser, menopausal symptoms of night sweats, hot flashes, mood swings, helps maintain bone density, tumor preventative.
Rose Hips- High vitamin content, especially Vitamin C, diuretic to aid in kidney function.
Rosemary- Stimulates circulation, increases mental alertness, aids digestion, relieves headaches, reduces symptoms of a cold, boosts energy and mood.
Sage- Tonic, strengthens memory, alleviates cold symptoms, improves kidney and liver function, eases joint pain.
Summer Savory- Useful in treating congestion, coughs, colds, makes beans easier to digest, boosts energy.
Thyme- Antiseptic properties, alleviates toothache, enhances sleep.
Turmeric- anti-inflammatory, treats hepatitis, IBS and ulcers, antiseptic, yeast flush, expels worms.
Yarrow- Alleviates cold symptoms, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, helpful in menstrual cramps, reduces fever, stimulates liver function and digestive enzymes.