Chef Iliana Regan transforms unloved kohlrabi, lamb's-quarters, purslane in Ugly Food Rescue

Iliana Regan was standing amid the Andersonville Farmers Market with one large kohlrabi, a bunch of too-small green onions and clippings of purslane and lamb’s-quarters.

“If we can find some ugly tomatoes, we can go,” she said decisively, though just a few minutes before she had seemed a little stumped by what to buy. But then inspiration struck -- I’d wager it was right around the time she found those tiny onions for half-price.

Regan decided she'd build a meal starring kohlrabi using the gas-powered grill in the backyard of her West Ridge home, cooking up kohlrabi “steaks” with a salsalike sauce fashioned from the lamb’s-quarters, tomatoes and two banged-up green apples.

Food & Dining had asked Regan, owner/chef of two well-regarded Chicago restaurants, Elizabeth and Kitsune, to take part in an ongoing video series aimed at reducing food waste, called “Ugly Food Rescue.”  Her challenge: Shop a farmers market, and buy vegetables and fruit people would pass by either because they were too “ugly” or too ripe or too bruised or too little known. These products are often referred to as seconds or, as the onion vendor from Chicago’s Patchwork Farms exclaimed, “farmer’s choice.”

Farmer’s choice indeed -- and smart shopper’s choice too. For $16, Regan managed not only to purchase the fixings for a dinner for two but had plenty left over for future meals.

Each of her market purchases was chosen for a reason. The guy selling the kohlrabi told her people didn’t know what to do with it. It wasn’t necessarily ugly but would be going back to the farm with him, she said. Purslane and lamb’s-quarters are considered to be like weeds, but Regan bought them because the vendor said people didn’t know how to use them. If the farmer could harvest it, clean it and bring it to market, she could buy it. The tomatoes were chosen because they were in “pretty rough shape,” she said, and the apples “really nice and bruised.”

Regan decided the dish she made would be vegetarian because fresh vegetables are a hallmark of farmers markets. She made certain to focus not just on the kohlrabi steaks but also the supporting elements, the quickly pureed sauce, a side salad of kohlrabi leaves, purslane and slivered apples, and a serving of the tiny green onions, whole and well-charred, as a counterpoint to the freshness of the other ingredients.

“I want it to feel like a complete meal,” she said. “People are so used to having proteins. It can still feel complete if you just put all the right things together.”

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Kohlrabi steaks with tomato and lamb’s-quarter salsa and kohlrabi leaf salad

Prep: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Cook: 20 minutes

Makes: 2 servings

A recipe inspired by the Andersonville Farmers Market from Iliana Regan, chef/owner of Elizabeth and Katsune restaurants in Chicago. No lamb’s-quarters or purslane? Use spinach and zesty green herbs instead.

1 large kohlrabi, trimmed, leaves reserved

8 small green onions (or 4 normal size)

Marinade:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon Champagne vinegar, apple cider vinegar or fresh lemon juice

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon curry powder

1/8 teaspoon each: black pepper, coriander

Dash cinnamon

Sauce:

1 1/2 cups lamb’s quarters, or spinach

2 unpeeled green apples, cored, chopped

1 large tomato, damaged areas removed, chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon sherry vinegar

2 teaspoons salt

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Salad:

7 to 8 kohlrabi leaves, thinly sliced, about 1 cup

1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1 1/2 cups purslane leaves or another hearty green

1 small green apple, cut into matchsticks

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 teaspoon Champagne vinegar, cider vinegar or lemon juice

1 Slice kohlrabi into 4 steaks 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick. You may leave the kohlrabi unpeeled for grilling, if you like, but trim the skin before serving.

2 For the marinade, stir ingredients together in a small bowl. Rub the marinade over the steaks. Pour remaining marinade over onions in a shallow dish. Set aside.

3 For the sauce, blanch the lamb’s-quarters in a saucepan of simmering water, 30 seconds; drain. Place lamb’s-quarters in a blender or food processor. Add the apple, tomato, olive oil, sherry vinegar, salt and pepper. Puree until a thick, salsalike consistency is achieved. Set aside.

4 For the salad, place the sliced kohlrabi leaves in a bowl; massage with 1/4 teaspoon salt to soften them. Add purslane leaves and apple matchsticks. Season with the olive oil and vinegar. Taste; add more salt if necessary. Set aside.

5 Prepare grill for high heat. Remove kohlrabi steaks from marinade (reserve marinade for basting during cooking), and place on the grill. Cook until the kohlrabi is tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Place the green onions on the grill, cook until softened and somewhat charred, about 5 minutes. Remove onions; let rest in marinade while the kohlrabi finishes cooking.

6 Plate the kohlrabi steaks, spooning sauce over the vegetable. Arrange the salad and the onions on the side. Serve.

Related

What's purslane? Find out here.

Find the farmers market near you with our interactive guide.

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