Year of Grace, Day 159. Rübestiel: Rhineland spring greens

The subject of greens and how delicious they are (and oh so good for your health too!) has been very popular among my group of friends lately. The earliest of leafy vegetables here in the Rhineland are Rübestiel, which translates into English as root stalks, and are also known as turnip greens. (Incidentally, beets are also called Rübe.) However I believe the Rübestiel plant does not develop the swollen root balls that we recognize as turnips but I could be mistaken, as I have yet to grow them.

These greens are rarely seen in supermarkets, and the first time I spied them was at Schneider’s, a greengrocer chain in Bonn that specializes in locally grown, mostly organic produce. (Btw, there is a Schneider’s stand in Dottendorf, near the cemetery; another in Venusberg, near Casselsruhe; and another close to Wachtberg.) The unfamiliar greens looked so like Oriental leafy veggies that even without knowing what they were, I was instinctively drawn to them and compelled to buy them. There is such a lack of choice of fresh leafy greens in standard supermarkets here that my fallback greens are rucola, as arugula are known here. But one can get jaded with the same leaves all the time, no matter how delicious. So when spring comes, I am excited at the thought of fresh Rübestiel.

I’ve always cooked them simply – a quick stir-fry with garlic and perhaps a few flakes of dried chilli. Passing by the Schneider’s stand on an empty lot just outside Wachtberg the other day, I was delighted to come across a fat bunch of Rübestiel. I remembered I had some frozen prawns and was inspired to make a Thai-style green curry. I also had on hand green curry mix to which I added a tablespoon each of “fresh” ginger, galangal, and turmeric. I say “fresh” as I keep these roots in the freezer and just grate what I need on the spot and put the roots straight back in. I was delighted with the outcome, and the Rübestiel, darker green than the usual, were rather sharp and mustard-tasting. Lovely! If you wish to recreate it, here’s my recipe. You may omit the prawns for a vegetarian option and use any greens you’ve got on hand, even rucola. Just the thing to gladden an Oriental green vegetable lover’s heart!

Rübestiel and Prawn Green Curry

2 – 3 tablespoons coconut oil

1 onion, finely sliced

1 teaspoon Thai green curry mix (available at Asian food shops, a level teaspoon for two people is as hot as we want, but you can add more if you like it really sizzling)

1 tablespoon each fresh ginger, galangal, and turmeric (you may use powdered turmeric but only a scant teaspoon)

1 lemon grass stalk, cut in half crosswise then lengthwise, and crushed (but keep intact so they can be taken out before serving)

1 tablespoon s’chug (prepared cilantro-garlic sauce from Middle Eastern food shops; substitute finely chopped cilantro and garlic)

2 cups thick coconut cream (I used powdered coconut cream dissolved in hot water)

salt or fish sauce (patis, nuoc mam, nampla) to taste

1 kg fresh Rübestiel (substitute any fresh leafy greens: mizuna, mustard greens, pak choi, kai lan, pechay, etc.), separated into stalks and leaves and sliced into 5 cm (2 inch) lengths

150 – 400 g ( ~1/3 ~ 1 lb, as little or as much as you like) shelled prawns (frozen or fresh)

Preparation: in a wok or large saucepan, heat the coconut oil; add the onion slices and stir over medium heat until wilted and aromatic.

Stir in the curry mix, the rest of the condiments and coconut cream, and season to taste.

Reduce the heat and when the cream starts to boil, add the stalks and the prawns. Stir to prevent the cream catching and scorching.

Once the prawns have turned pink, stir in the leaves, and cook for just 1 or 2 minutes more, then turn off the heat.

There is enough heat to finish cooking the leaves. The stalks should still be crunchy and the prawns juicy and not overdone.

Serve at once with plain, just cooked rice.

Guten Appetit!