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Eating your greens like grandma said

Spring Greens Soup photographed Wednesday April 11 2012 66 E. Randolph Chicago | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

Spring Greens Soup, photographed Wednesday, April 11, 2012, at 66 E. Randolph in Chicago | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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The year-round Chicago’s Downtown Farmstand, 66 E. Randolph, offers Midwest-grown foods and other locally produced edibles, including those used in this recipe. Cooking classes are offered through the World Kitchen program ( Reach the Farmstand at (312) 742-8419, or go to

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Updated: May 19, 2012 8:03AM

‘Eat your greens.”

That was the mantra of my grandmother about this time of year, when the garden was just beginning to come to life again after a long winter.

She would round up the grandkids and take us out to the field to forage for dandelions. The timing was perfect when the leaves were about four inches long but the familiar yellow flowers had not yet appeared. Into a big pot with some bacon and broth they went for a long stew. The resulting dull green concoction was flavored with a splash of cider vinegar just before the command to “eat your greens.”

I wasn’t very fond of the dish as a child, but now I realize she was onto something very important. Those dark fresh greens contained much-needed minerals and vitamins after a winter diet of root vegetables and canned tomatoes. They served as a Spring Tonic for all of us.

Like Grandma, I’m anxious for the appearance of fresh green leafy vegetables on my spring table. While the weather still is cool but the sun has started to warm the earth, hardy greens like arugula, sorrel and spinach begin to arrive in the market. Even dandelions are now cultivated for the gourmet crowd — a fact that would surely astound Grandma.

The garlic planted last fall is small, resembling a pungent green onion, and chives are up and blooming. This is the time to appreciate them in their most tender, delicate state.

Sorrel is a little like spinach with longer leaves, and a slightly sour, lemon-y kick. It has high levels of vitamins A and C and has moderate levels of potassium, calcium and magnesium. It can be used alone as a side dish, added to salads or folded into pasta or egg dishes, but combining it with other green leaves in an emerald-colored soup is not only delicious but a very elegant way to get your vitamins.

Here sorrel is paired with early season watercress, which is a slightly pepper-y yet sweet counterpoint. Be sure to use the stems, too, for the most flavor. The combination is a winner, especially when a final flourish of cream goes on top to tame the assertive flavors.

I prefer to use Yukon gold potatoes for the thickener, instead of a more traditional roux. A cup of cooked rice could be used instead, if you prefer. A good homemade chicken stock can easily be replaced with a sturdy vegetable broth to make this a dish for vegetarians.

So grab some green in whatever combination you choose. In less than an hour, you will have a pot of nutritious goodness. Serve it at lunch with a loaf of crusty bread, or in small cups for a more elegant first course, garnished with a drift of lightly whipped cream. Although this is nothing like the dish my Grandma served, I’ll be “eating my greens” this week just like she ordered, and I think she’d approve.

Judith Dunbar Hines is the director of culinary arts and events for the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture, which operates Chicago’s Downtown Farmstand.

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