Radical Root Organic Farm and Broccoli Raab

I had the pleasure of meeting with the Radical Root Organic Farm family at the Green City Market this past weekend. After taking a couple laps and buying a few things, I decided on a little tent in the back corner of the market, where the staff looked super friendly and the produce green and fluffy. I was right! These guys were awesome. While Alex, the owner and farmer, was off perusing the market for a cheeseburger, I chatted with Maureen and Karen, who are some local Chicago girls who help out in the summer months at the Grayslake, IL farm just an hour north of the Green City Market.

Radical Root Organic Farm is a five acre plot of land on the Prairie Crossing Eco-Community, an eco-conscious community in Grayslake. Alex was kind enough to put his cheeseburger on hold and chat with Brian and me for a bit about his life as a farmer, (turns out Brian and I make a pretty good interviewing duo). Alex and his wife Alison started farming together after both landing in Chicago from DC and San Antonio.

Being a newer farm, they are making big steps quickly. It's their debut year at the Green City Market, and also have a stand at the Logan Square Farmers Market. They initially considered working with Whole Foods Market to distribute their tomatoes (they grow 16 varieties!), but decided to hold off for another year.... maybe it had something to do with the little surprise they just got? (Huckleberry- their new baby boy!) It's probably a lot of work to run a farm with a large variety of vegetables with only three full time employees and a handful of volunteers from the CSA. Just guessing. As for their CSA distribution, they're shooting for 80 customers this season. Not bad!

They're not stopping there though. They plan on expanding to become a mid-size market in the coming years. A mid-size market, according to Alex, is between 20-50 acres. Large farms are 50-100 acres, and he considers anything over 100 acres to be commercial. But in the mean time, they're churning out veggies by hand. Nothing mechanized just yet. All hands and all environmentally friendly and sustainable. So, hats off to these guys. I look forward to seeing how their farm grows and how they make an impact on our local markets in Chicago.

Now back to the food. I initially stopped at the tent because the produce was so green and plush. I did a lap around the market and made my way back because it was the best looking broccoli raab I saw. After chatting with Alex about his farm and family, I wanted to know what he liked to make with broccoli raab. It just so happened that he had used it the night before to make an Indian spiced lentil and rice dish with mushrooms and carrots. Okay, yum. Great idea. He also mentioned that many Italians use broccoli raab like any other leafy green they use. Give it a quick saute in some olive oil and garlic.

I loved Alex's idea of using the raab wilted down in some lentils, nice and spicy. So I made a Curry Lentil Soup with Broccoli Raab. Brian helped make it and test it with me.

Curry Lentil Soup with Broccoli Raab

 2 stalks celery plus leaves (chopped)
2 carrots (peeled and chopped)
1/2 Spanish onion (chopped)
3 Russian potatoes (washed and cubed)
1/2 lb. fresh cremini mushrooms (whole if small, or cut in half)*
1 big bushel broccoli raab (rinsed and stems trimmed)
3 cloves garlic (minced)1 cup uncooked lentils
4 cups low sodium organic chicken broth
2 cups water
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 can whole tomatoes (with juice)
2 tbsp red curry powder
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground red pepper
2 bay leaves
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
olive oil
*delicious fresh cremini mushrooms also purchased at the market

In a large soup pot, heat a hearty amount of olive oil over medium heat. Add celery, carrots and onions with some salt and pepper to release the liquids from the vegetables. After cooking for 5-7 minutes, add tomato paste and garlic and stir to combine. Cook for 3 more minutes. Add the curry, cumin and red pepper and mix to combine. Let cook for 3 more minutes.

Add the whole can of tomatoes, including the juice, bay leaves, and salt and pepper and give the pot a good mix. Bring to a simmer (about 3-4 minutes). Add the lentils to the tomato and vegetable mixture. Stir in and let cook for 3 minutes.

Add the chicken broth and water to the pot, turn the heat to medium high and bring to a boil. This will take about 10 minutes. Lower to medium, but the broth should still be lightly boiling. Once boiling add the mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes. Next, add the potatoes and let cook for about 5 minutes or until potatoes are soft enough to eat. Lastly, add the broccoli raab and mix it in. It will wilt really quickly, so once you add it, lower the heat. Serve immediately!

Now, I know I'm biased about everything I cook, but this was darn good. A little spicy, tons of flavor, and the broccoli raab has such a nice bitter flavor, it evened all the ingredients out. A big thanks to Alex for the inspiration! Look forward to stocking up on tomatoes throughout the season!

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