What kind of stressed person are you? Are you someone who gets such terrible knots in their stomach and waves of nausea that you can’t eat? Or are you someone who distracts themselves from stress by stuffing as much food into their mouths as possible?
Generally, I fall into the latter category, although I am way better now than I used to be. Occasionally I get such horrible stress and anxiety where I can just not bring myself to eat, but that’s rare. When that happens, I know I’m having a bad day.
I actually had one of those days on Monday. With just over a month left in the semester, I started getting into panic mode, because there is a lot to do, and some of it is really challenging. If I find myself bordering on having a temper tantrum in the morning because I cannot figure out what clothes to wear during this weird “one day it feels like July, one day it feels like January” weather, I know I am feeling overwhelmed.
But by Tuesday it had subsided back into the level of stress where I think that eating something terrible for me will make me feel better. As I headed home from school and contemplated dinner plans, it seemed like I was trying to find the worst possible thing to eat. Fast food? An entire box of macaroni and cheese? Skip dinner and just eat a pint of Ben & Jerry’s?
Fortunately I have a long enough commute that I was able to reason to myself, recognize what was going on, and convince myself that stopping at the grocery store and picking up some veggies to saute would not take much longer than sitting in a drive-thru lane, and I would probably feel a lot better in the end.
And I did. Sliced Brussels sprouts, crimini mushrooms, and shallots, sauteed and piled on top of farro, was amazingly yummy and satisfying. The dark chocolate with orange peel for dessert didn’t hurt, either. It was so good that I actually wanted to replicate the same exact dinner last night. But sadly the grocery store had no Brussels sprouts left. It’s a good thing my stress level was continuing to decline, because if I had encountered the Brussels sprout shortage on Monday, it might have resulted in a breakdown. And no one wants to cry in the produce aisle.
So I adapted. I got some fennel, more mushrooms (shiitake, this time), and some rainbow chard.
A couple months ago I was sitting in the lab when one of my fellow grad students said, “I have a question.” I was expecting something along the lines of “Do you know how to run [insert complex statistical analyses here] in SPSS?” or “What are we supposed to bring to class today?” What I wasn’t anticipating: “When you cook Swiss chard, why don’t you cook the stems?”
I didn’t have a good answer. I only warmed up to chard and kale less than six months ago and, honestly, I just trim out the stems because that’s what most of the recipes I’ve read have said to do. Besides, there are a couple rabbits downstairs who are happy to receive the leftovers.
But I know that you can eat the stems, and when I was looking at the beautiful rainbow chard on my cutting board last night, I decided it was time to give it a try. So while this sauteed chard, shallots, and fennel might not seem too different than some other things I’ve posted, I will argue that this marks an important culinary milestone for me.
Shiitake mushrooms add a meatiness to the veggie-heavy dish. In the past I might have hesitated to mix lemon and mushrooms, but after this Parchment-Baked Shiitake Mushrooms and Brown Rice recipe, I have no problems sprinkling some lemon juice over the shiitakes, which is a good thing, because I love acidity with my greens.
I was a little disappointed that the red chard leaves tinted everything else pink, so there wasn’t quite the variation of colors that I had envisioned. If I was really concerned about it, I could have sauteed the mushrooms and fennel separately, but the thought of using extra skillets (or more time) was less appealing than pink-tinted mushrooms. On the bright side, if you’re ever looking for natural food coloring, you might want to keep this in mind.
On the other bright side, it tasted delicious. I might have been converted to eating Swiss chard stems. Sorry, rabbits.
Rainbow Chard, Shiitakes, and Fennel with Farro (2 servings as a main course, probably could serve 4 as a side dish)
Cook farro according to package directions. (I bought mine in bulk, so it didn’t come with package directions…. My strategy, loosely based on Mark Bittman’s instructions in the Food Matters Cookbook: I basically measure out 1/3 cup per person, put in a pot, and cover with water about an inch above the grains. Bring to a boil, and then lower heat so that the water gently bubbles. Cook until farro is tender, but chewy. This usually takes about 20-30 minutes. If water goes below the level of the grains before they are cooked, add a little more water. If the farro is cooked before all the water is absorbed, drain the excess liquid, although I would wait until you are ready to serve. I usually wait until the farro is completely cooked, remove from heat, and let it sit, covered while I’m cooking the vegetables. By the time the vegetables are done, the seemingly excess liquid has been absorbed.)
While the farro is cooking:
Rinse one bunch of rainbow chard. Trim off the tough ends of the stems and discard. Cut out the stems, and slice into two-inch pieces. Stack all the leaves and slice cross-wise in one-inch pieces.
Thinly slice one large shallot and one small fennel bulb, crosswise.
Gently rinse eight medium shiitake mushrooms and remove stems. Slice into 1/4-inch pieces.
Once the farro is done, or close to it:
Heat two tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add some red pepper flakes, shallots, fennel, and chard stems. Saute until chard stems and fennel are tender. (This took about 8 minutes.) Add chard leaves to skillet and stir until slightly wilted. Add mushrooms, and cook until chard is more wilted and mushrooms are cooked through.
Mix in lemon juice (from either a 1/2 or whole lemon, depending on your preference) and season with sea salt. Serve over farro and enjoy, knowing that, in the long run, this will help you cope with stress and make you feel way better than donuts for dinner ever could.