Green. This is the color I always miss when the season shrivels into the dusty summer all too quickly; time fading out in Doppler effect before it even arrives.
Like separating a child from his teddy bear, a sailor from the water, a people from their land, it is a longing that penetrates the very essence of the body. So when the rains visit this part of the world and the earth begins to breathe again, you will find me outside in the green, green world.
Within all this green, there are plants that are often overlooked, introverted and growing quietly without garnering attention. They are invisible among the loud, festive blooms of their companions.One such plant growing throughout the Mediterranean is the unpretentious wild beet (Beta vulgaris) which was domesticated about four thousand years ago for their leafy greens, predating the magenta roots which are popular today. Swiss chard has been replaced in large by spinach which the Arabs introduced to the Mediterranean region during the 7th century.
Wild progenitors of domesticated plants, such as the wild beet are an important genetic source for plant breeding to create new cultivars without resorting genetic engineering and the problems attached to it. With the current loss of biodiversity it is essential to introduce new plant species into the agricultural reservoir to stabilize food fluctuations from one-crop dependence. Ideally each region needs to implement sustainable practices by growing plants that not only are suitable for that area but are also part of the cultural and historical makeup of the region, preserving continuity on multiple levels. Although conventional agriculture continues to grow crops that have been domesticated thousands of years ago, there are still wild edible plants which have potential as a source of food and even plants that have been domesticated but later forgotten. Lambsquarters, Chenopodium berlandieri, also from the beet family is one such an example.
I made the next recipe using store bought Swiss chard but could equally have used other wild beets greens in its place.I never did do this so can’t vouch for the flavor.
Meatballs with Swiss chard is a recipe which Turkish Jews introduced to Israel, with flavors echoing Spanish and Moroccan cuisine.
Meatballs with Swiss Chard
500 grams spinach or beet leaves, without the stems (1 bunch)
500 grams ground meat
3 clove garlic
1 onion, grated
2 tablespoons bread crumbs
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon pepper
A few tablespoons vegetable or lamb tail fat for frying
Juice of one lemon
3 cloves garlic
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup of water or chicken stock
Stems of the beet leaves if using
Remove the tough stems, reserving them. Wash the Swiss chard. Without drying add them to a pot large enough to contain them and heat until wilted. Drain well and when cool enough to handle squeeze dry. Roughly chop.
In a bowl add ground meat, egg, grated onion, Swiss chard, bread crumbs and spices. Knead until uniform.
Make 16-18 flattened round meatballs and fry on a hot skillet only until each side is nicely brown. They will continue cooking in the sauce so should not be fully cooked at this point.
Wash the beet stems, cutting them in finger sized pieces. Fry the garlic in olive oil, add the lemon juice. Add the meatballs and beet stems and cover almost to the top with either water or chicken stock. Cook for 20 minutes until the meatballs are fully cooked. Continue cooking for a few more minutes with the top off to thicken the sauce. I reduced the liquid until only a few tablespoons was left, concentrating the lemon flavor.
Serve on a bed of warm basmati rice.