So this woman comes up to a farmers’ market and points to the rainbow Swiss chard.
“I really like the leafy colors and the stems,” she says, “but I don’t know how to cook it, and my kids will never eat it.”
The farmer says, “Wait a minute, here’s a recipe: white wine vinegar, olive oil, some garlic, a pinch of salt and pepper; sauté stems first, add greens, cook only a couple minutes or so.” He gives her some of the chard to try for free.
The woman comes back the next week and says, “Oh my God, the kids loved it. They want me to cook it again.”
This story could have happened anywhere in Western New York, but it took place on the West Side, a slice of the region that has become both food desert and melting pot in the last generation.
Tyler Manley, Mobile Market director for the Massachusetts Avenue (MAP) urban farm, was the storyteller, but any farmer who hawks his or her wares in the region could share a similar tale.
“What you’ve done there is you’ve exposed this woman’s kids to Swiss chard and they’ll always want it when the summer comes around,” Manley says. “And then they’ll cook Swiss chard for their kids. It’s the cycle. I know it sounds dreamy, but it’s important.”
That’s why MAP developed a Growing Green Youth initiative that shows teens how to make a better life with help from local food. Every summer, MAP uses city youth money to hire about 30 children ages 14 to 18 to work on their urban farmstead, help sell fresh fruits and veggies at their farmers’ market and – most importantly, as far as Manley is concerned – try their hand at cooking, often with ingredients that are unfamiliar to the teens.
He, AmericaCorps Youth Enterprise Educator Margaret Wenger, and several members of Growing Green recently shared some of their favorite recipes while in the kitchen at Pilgrim-St. Luke’s United Church of Christ, in the hopes you will consider trying them at home.
“Cooking is fun,” Wenger said. “They have a ball with it.”
African rice and beans
Alex Gahungu, 18, who lived on a farm in Tanzania before moving to Buffalo when he was 8, showed Growing Green members how to cook this family recipe.
• Use 2½ cups of rice, white or healthier brown rice, with 2 cups of water and ¼ cup of olive oil and bring to a boil. Reduce to medium heat.
• Add two 8-ounce cans of kidney beans, half a large chopped onion and half a chopped garlic clove as the rice begins to thicken. Add peanut sauce, or other spices, including cayenne pepper, as the dish nears completion in about 20 minutes.
This recipe starts with several cloves of garlic, chopped in a food processor and mixed with basil, oregano, thyme and sage. Add salt and pepper to taste.
• Take whole wheat pizza dough and brush with olive oil.
• Add an assortment of vegetables, and don’t be afraid to experiment. Among those Growing Green youth employees sliced, blended and sauted this summer were zucchini, summer squash, peppers, onions, collard greens and boiled beets.
• Grate mozzarella cheese, crumble feta cheese and sprinkle atop the veggies.
• Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.
Tong Mawien, 18, a Sudanese native who moved to Buffalo when he was 6, and Lamar Rice, 17, who was born in the city, joined forces to make this dish last week. It was inspired by a recipe at inspiredtaste.net.
• The pair cut up Swiss chard, yellow squash, garlic, onions and parsley – but any combination of vegetables will do, according to your taste. Zucchini, roasted red peppers, mushrooms, spinach and carrots are other possibilities.
• Other Ingredients included lasagna noodles, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, oregano, sage and minced garlic.
• Also needed were a 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes, chopped basil, a 15-ounce container of ricotta cheese, 2 eggs, 1 cup of Parmesan cheese and 8 ounces of shredded mozzarella.
• Cook lasagna noodles, drain them and place them in a baking dish coated with non-stick cooking spray.
• Meanwhile, mix the olive oil, garlic, onion and other veggies in a large frying pan over medium heat, stirring occasionally until soft, but with some crunch remaining. After about five minutes, add roasted red peppers and crushed tomatoes. Simmer 5 to 8 minutes until the mixture has thickened. Add basil and, if you’d like, season to taste with salt and pepper.
• Mix ricotta cheese and eggs in a bowl and mix thoroughly.
• Spoon the three cheeses over a bed of noodles in the baking dish, then add the vegetables. Repeat twice, then top with the cheeses and veggies.
• Cook for about 35 minutes, covering with aluminum foil during the first half of that time. Let rest for several minutes until serving.
Sweet potato fries
Several Growing Green teens spent a recent Thursday peeling sweet potatoes and slicing them into strips. They plunked the pieces into a bowl, drizzled them in olive oil, and sprinkled them with garam masala, a spice mix that includes coriander, red chili powder, cumin, cloves, fennel, bay leaves and cinnamon.
They laid the strips on cookie sheets and baked them at 450 degrees for 30 minutes, turning them when they were halfway done.
Growing Green Youth also makes and markets three Growing Green Works products every year. This year, it’s Super Duper Salsa, an Amazing Chili Starter and a raspberry apple vinaigrette dressing whose label reads, “With love from Buffalo.” All are available at Wegmans, Globe Market and the Lexington Co-op.