Shopping around guarantees the best of every grocer

It turns out that one of the most difficult things about trying to eat in a plant-based, whole foods way is the shopping.

I sometimes have to go to several stores to find ingredients for just one recipe. I don’t have time to go to one grocery store, never mind three. But one carries the short-grain brown rice, another has the frozen pearl onions, while a third has the dandelion greens.

Geez! It’s like geocaching but without the helpful hints from other adventurers.

I’ve learned quite a bit about our local stores though. For instance, the Big Y in Groton has the best selection of organic produce by far, when compared to our other large grocers. Mustard, collard and dandelion greens, beautiful bok choy, always crispy kale and broccoli rabe. They do a very nice job in the greens department.

They also note when a particular crop is from a local source. And they sometimes post cheeky little signs boasting when their price beats their competitors’.

Big Y also has a very large, diverse selection of ethnic foods. All kinds of interesting things have a regular presence on their shelves — grains, spicy sauces, and an enormous variety of dried and canned beans, many I’ve never seen before.

I also love the two local McQuade’s Marketplace stores — in Mystic and in Westerly — mostly for their meat departments. At the Westerly store, you can always buy a lamb shoulder roast, and both stores feature freshly caught fish and shellfish, and that wonderful Bell & Evans free-range chicken.

And in the Mystic store, they make delicious lamb burgers with ground lamb, feta cheese, garlic and something green — spinach maybe, or parsley? They’re so delicious. We throw them on the grill and serve them on a bun with some tzadziki sauce and it tastes as if you’ve been cooking for hours. (You can make your own tzadziki or you can buy a tub of it. It’s usually sold near the humus.)

I also love McQuade’s store-made spiced apple chicken sausage. It’s so good. When you have a recipe that calls for a premade sausage, you really have to choose carefully. In most cases, the sausage provides a major flavor contribution. I think McQuade’s does a great job with their sausages and their store-cured meats. In Mystic, they also carry the Groton-made Orsini’s sausage. Yum!

I also frequent the Stop & Shop in Westerly, which recently — thank goodness — has renovated its produce section. When the new store on Airport Road opened about two years ago, the produce was abysmal. There was very little variety. The greens were always warm and wilted. Not good. But recently, they’ve put in new refrigerated cases and they’ve really improved the selection. I also like the Stop & Shop on Route 2 in Stonington, mostly because it’s in Connecticut, so it sells beer!

Yes, I complain, but I guess I’ve come to enjoy the grocery hunt. As in the art supply store, the grocery shelves seem packed with potential. Take a little of this, a bit of that, and add your imagination. Even if it doesn’t taste great the first time, it probably was fun to make.

Here’s a recipe that has become a staple for us. It’s especially delicious if you travel the region to find the crispiest, freshest kale and you frequently check in at the Mystic McQuade’s until you find some of that spiced apple chicken sausage. The original recipe is from a long ago issue of Martha Stewart’s “Everyday Food” magazine. This is my version, as it has evolved over the years.

Sausages with Kale and White Beans

1 large or 2 small bunches of kale

4 cloves of garlic

1 pound McQuade’s Spiced Apple Chicken Sausage (or your favorite)

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper

1 can cannellini beans

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar or rice wine vinegar

Remove the stems from the kale. (Just grab the stem of one kale leaf in one hand and curl your hand around the base of the leaf with the other. Pull the stem and as it passes through the grip of your other hand, you’ll strip off the leaf.) Discard the stems. Roll up the leaves into a roughly gathered bunch and coarsely chop them with a big knife. I soak them in cold water while I prepare the other ingredients.

Meanwhile, peel and coarsely chop the garlic.

For the sausages, I cook them whole in a big cast iron skillet over medium to medium-low heat. You want them to sizzle and brown, but you don’t want them to dry out. So cook them slowly, until they brown on all sides and are cooked all the way through.

Remove the sausages from the pan and set aside. Add the garlic. Drain the kale, but no need to spin it or dry it. It’s fine to have some water on the leaves. Add the kale to the pan. You may have to add it in batches, waiting for it to wilt down so it all will fit. Add some salt and pepper and anywhere from ¼ cup to ½ cup of water. Cover the pan and cook, tossing or stirring occasionally, until the kale is wilted and tender, about 10 minutes.

Turn the heat up a bit to boil off most of the remaining water. Slice the sausages and add them with the beans and the vinegar to the kale. Cook, uncovered, until the beans are heated through, about 2 minutes. Enjoy.

Jill Blanchette is the night editor at The Day. Her column appears in The Times every other week. If you have any comments or recipes to share, send them to j.blanchette@theday.com.

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