Onion Flowers

imageimage

 

 

 

I have written about onions and onion scapes, but what happens when a scape gets past the busy gardener and blooms? Well, then you have onion flowers. Harvested shortly after they open and clipped off the bloomscape with kitchen shears, they taste of onions but light, a bit floral, delicate. They are delicious in salads, and I love them showered over any of the delicious herb-laden southeast Asian dishes. Here, you can see them garnishing Thai-ish grilled salmon. Try them on burgers or steaks, sprinkled lavishly over a dollop of good butter melting on the hot meat. They are a great addition to grilled chicken. Just don’t let them bloom in vain!

 

Semi-permaculture

imageimage

Every now and then I encounter some committed permaculturist who earnestly wishes to educate me about planning guilds (functional plant groups) in my garden. I just don’t think this way. It seems to me that, if you love to grow food, have a fairly high chaos tolerance, and live somwhere long enough, you will naturally and accidentally discover what thrives in groups in your area, as well as what you really like to eat. Take the large pot above, which has been next to my back patio for four years. It is a microcosm, or micro-cosmos, of my interests over the time since it was placed. In it you can spot the gorgeous leaf lettuce Merlot that I’m growing this year, chickweed that I planted three years ago and which is self-seeding nicely,  moringa that I started experimenting with last year (which, incidentally, wintered over in a pot that isn’t watered in the winter and survived a very cold winter,) Shirley poppies from four years ago when this pot was placed, and wild lettuce which seeds itself all over at my house and which I tolerate because I like it in cooked greens. My planned combinations haven’t come out nearly so well. Everything in this pot is edible; yes, even Shirley poppy leaves are fine in cooked greens. But it all happened through planting things, not weeding too assiduously, and seeing what happened. If you have a poor memory and are prone to planting things in spots where you already planted something else and then forgot about it, some further felicitous combinations will occur.

A linden planted for its edible leaves has a bird-sown wax current bush growing in its shade, bearing more heavily than its siblings in full sun. Bladder campion seeds itself into the shady north corner under the linden. Siberian elms, self-sown all over, can be coppiced for free goat feed. A bird-sown mulberry nearby can be coppiced for tender edible green shoots to use in cooked greens. Stinging nettles, struggling in the baking desert sun, root their way into the shade of the elm and mulberry coppices and begin to flourish. Stems of oyster mushrooms, dug into garden beds in the fall, produce a few nice oyster mushrooms in the shade of lettuce the following year. A single lambs-quarters is allowed to seed, and late-spring crops of mild and nutritious greens show up all around your intentional plantings for years.  A Russian olive that grows smack in the middle of a garden bed despite years of cutting it back and cursing it, can be pruned into a support for climbing snow peas. A really poor clump of garlic at the base of a tree, left by the last owner, turns out to be indestructible through baking summers and perfect for green garlic. Scorzonera and wolfberries make some good food out of baking unimproved spots where you can’t get anything else to grow. A local non-edible legume, the desert bird-of-paradise, springs up and offers light shade to the wolfberry, giving it a new lease on life and more tender leaves that you can toss into greens mixtures.  None of this is especially tidy, and the straight-row sort of gardener would never tolerate it. But for those of us who love a bit of natural mess and take our vegetables and our epiphanies where we can find them, it works.

 

Salmon in Springtime

image

Here in central New Mexico we are enjoying a cool and unusually wet spring, and the romaine lettuce is still in great shape. Our local Fishhuggers are back at the markets with lovely Alaskan sockeye salmon caught by Kenny, and there is no healthier meal. For some reason I like my warm-weather lunches to lean Southeast Asian, and this one is a bit Thai-ish.
I used romaine, green onions, and cilantro from the garden, a fillet of sockeye salmon, crushed peanuts, and the vaguely Thai dressing below, which I keep jars of in the refrigerator in warm weather. Put generous heaps of sliced romaine on plates, rub the fillet with salt, grill quickly ( on a hot Green Egg grill, about 2 1/2 minutes each side will do it,) let cool a bit while you chop the cilantro and green onions ( green part only,)break up the fillet and remove all skin and put chunks of warm salmon on the lettuce, scatter on a handful of chopped cilantro and green onions, dress generously, and sprinkle crushed peanuts over the top. Delicious and very quick as well as insanely healthy.

Sort-of-Thai dressing:
Large chunk of ginger, about 1″ by 3″, peeled and sliced
7-10 large cloves of garlic
1/4 cup coconut fat
1 tablespoon green curry paste
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 cup water
1 can full-fat coconut milk
Sriracha sauce to taste
Artificial sweetener ( I use liquid stevia,) or sugar, and more fish sauce to taste

Finely chop the ginger and garlic, heat the coconut fat in a saucepan, and stir-fry the garlic and ginger until cooked and fragrant but not browned. Add the green curry paste, stir-fry about another minute, add the fish sauce and water and bring to a boil, add the coconut milk and cook just until it’s all melted and creamy, then remove from heat. Let it cool to lukewarm, taste, and add more fish sauce if indicated. Add some sriracha if you like it hot (I love hot food and use about a tablespoon,) and then add sweetener, if you are ketogenic or low-carb, or sugar if that’s still in your kitchen, slowly, tasting frequently. I like mine on the sweet side, to balance the heat. Let cool all the way and use or keep in the refrigerator for later use.
This makes a perfect lunch to eat outside.
image

Improvisational Cooking: Greens on the Table

imageimage
I am always yapping on about eating more leafy greens, and periodically I like to write about how I put leafy greens on my own table. Here is a low-carb recipe that even greens-phobes tend to like, and leftovers make wonderful lunches and snacks. It is improvisational in nature and you can substitute at will: this is a skeleton recipe and you can flesh it out any way you like.

The basic ingredients are greens, alliums, flavoring leaves, oil, cream, eggs, nuts, seasonings, and cheese. The greens, alliums, and flavoring leaves can be varied endlessly, except that the bulk of the greens should be relatively mild.

First, catch your greens. I carry a white plastic food-grade 3 gallon bucket out into the garden and pick it full, with the greens loosely thrown in and not packed down. Today I picked mostly lambs-quarters leaves, with some late spinach and early chard. If I was working from the farmer’s market or grocery store, I would choose a very large bunch of chard and Tuscan kale, and would tear out the large central midribs. Wash the greens twice. Grab them by handfuls and, on a BIG cutting board, chop them coarsely.

Second, decide on your alliums. Today I picked two big green onions and a couple of very big stalks of green garlic. If you don’t have a garden, a large onion and three cloves of garlic would work. You could use two cloves of garlic and two bundles of onion scapes from the farmer’s market.  Shallots are good in the winter. Don’t use garlic scapes in this recipe, because the texture doesn’t work.  Chop your alliums finely.

Third, consider your flavoring leaves. Think in terms of adding herbal, sharp, aromatic, and sour flavors. Today I picked several large young wine grape leaves for the sharp-sour note, a few leaves of lovage and a handful of parsley for green-herbal tones, and a few sprigs each of thyme and fennel for aromatic notes. Possibilities are endless. If working from the grocery store shelves, I would often choose a small bunch of parsley and some tarragon and thyme. Chop your flavoring leaves finely.

For the oil, I use top-notch extra virgin olive oil.

For the cream, I chose a can of coconut milk because I had one on hand, but heavy cream would do just as well, and if you insist on almond or cashew milk you can use that. You need a cup or a little more of your cream of choice.

For eggs, I use three whole eggs and nine egg yolks. Do be sure to get the best pastured eggs that you can get.

For nuts, I always use about half a cup of pine nuts. If you choose some other nut, chop them coarsely.

For seasonings, I used about a teaspoon each of red pepper and Urfa pepper flakes. I seldom vary this, just because I love this combination with greens. You may prefer freshly grated black pepper.

For the cheese, I nearly always use 6 ounces of finely grated Parmesan and eight ounces of the wonderful Mt. Vikos feta, crumbled.

Having made your choices and prepared your ingredients, preheat the oven to 375 and generously grease a pan about 10 by 14 with olive oil. Sprinkle the bottom of the pan with some of the Parmesan. Beat the eggs and egg yolks together and salt them a bit.

Heat some olive oil, about a quarter cup, in your largest skillet and sauté the alliums until they are softening. Add the coarsely chopped greens and salt rather generously, and cook turning frequently and carefully as the greens shrink. Cook them 15 minutes or longer, until they taste good when you eat a bite, and then add the flavoring leaves and sauté about two more minutes. Now add the cream. Boil a minute and take them off the heat and let cool 10-15 minutes.

When the greens are just cool enough to handle, stir in the crumbled feta and then the beaten eggs and yolks. Spoon the mixture into the greased cheesed pan, smooth out a bit with a wooden spoon, and sprinkle with the red pepper and Urfa pepper flakes. Then sprinkle on the pine nuts, or whatever nuts you chose.  Top with the rest of the Parmesan (I like to drizzle on a bit more olive oil, too) and bake at 375 until the mixture is firm and a knife tip comes out clean, about 18-20 minutes for me. then, if you like, run under the broiler until the top crisps a bit. Be careful not to burn the nuts. Let it cool a little and serve in generous squares, jam-packed with nutrition. Smaller squares could be used as a finger food.
image

Scorzonera Finds Its Purpose

image

Five years ago, when we first moved to our current property, I planted some scorzonera with the idea that it would be a good root vegetable for fall. When fall came, I dug up a root and prepared it, and found it stringy, hard to prepare, and not all that interesting to eat. I had two good-sized plants, and I never got around to digging up the second one. The next spring it sent up attractive green leaves, and although it was in a spot that I never remember to water, it flourished all summer on the 11″ of rain that we get in an average year. Impressed with its stamina, I left it in place. By the time it came up the third year I had read that the leaves were edible, so I tried them but found them undistinguished and didn’t bother with them again. The plant continued to earn its place by being bright green and trouble-free. This year, its fifth year,  the plant began to send up bloomstalks at a time when I had a free afternoon and a propensity to experiment, and I discovered scorzonera asparagus, the plant’s culinary reason for existing. Gather the top 4-5 inches of each scape while the buds are still tightly closed and held close to the stalk, wash well, and toss into a hot skillet with a generous glug of good olive oil and salt to taste. Turn the heat down to medium now. Turn them often so that they brown in spots but don’t blacken. Don’t walk away from the stove! They are done when the leaf tips are fried brown and crispy, and the stalks are just cooked through. Eat promptly, as the semi-wild treasure that they are. I made a little plate of them to be a “cook’s treat” in the kitchen while I was cooking something else, and unwisely offered my husband a taste, which resulted in him eating most of them. They’re good.

This tough-as-nails perennial grows in the desert with little care besides the initial planting and weeding when it’s small, and I plan to plant more. I do offer it some water to make it grow big and bountiful.  I may have called the leaves “undistinguished,” but if other spring greens ever fail me, I guess I’ll be glad to have them. It took me a while to learn to use it well, but this plant earns its place in the food garden.

 

image

Pleasures of the Garden: Solo Specials

image
If you have the habit of solitude, there is no better hobby than gardening, and cooking for one can be a real pleasure too. Today I noticed that the radishes which I plant in my carrot rows ( one radish seed every four inches or so, to break the soil up and offer some shade and shelter for the tiny infant carrots) were ready to pick. Only four were ready, and I’m on my own today, so I began planning my solitary lunch, based on very flavorful (somewhat bitter) greens. I had the four radishes and their tops. I also picked the tops of several infant carrots ( they needed thinning and didn’t yet have any roots to speak of,) two large leaves of spinach, a couple of leaves of arugula, and a few large sprigs of lambs-quarters from the weed patch, to offer a mild cushion for the stronger greens. I also grabbed tender tips of alfalfa and a stalk of green garlic. A still-warm egg from the henhouse completed my outdoor prep.
image
Indoors, I washed the radishes and greens, sliced the radishes in half lengthwise, chopped the stalk of green garlic finely, and then chopped all the other greens together more coarsely. In a small skillet, I heated a couple of tablespoons of good olive oil and started sautéing the green garlic. When it started to look a little cooked, the rest of the greens went in. Then I added some salt and cooked over medium-low heat for a little over 15 minutes, until the greens were softened and mellowed but still had plenty of character.

image

Meanwhile, I spread the sliced radishes with good grass-fed butter and sprinkled them lavishly with my best fleur de sel. When the greens were ready, I turned them out onto a little warm plate, added some more olive oil to the skillet and quickly fried the egg in it, and added the radish slices that I hadn’t already eaten to the plate.
image
Yum. There is absolutely nothing like a fried egg to mellow the flavor of strong bitter greens. And now, filled with bubbling good health, I can go on to an afternoon of further garden chores.
I eat a ketogenic (ultra-low-carb) diet for health and weight reasons, but if bread is still in your kitchen, a couple of slices off a good baguette would add heartiness to this perfect little impromptu meal.
Ah, the witchcraft we perform in our gardens and kitchens when nobody’s looking.

Eat Your Allicin! Notes on Green Garlic

image
Garlic went through a period of being a fad health supplement for its allicin content. Allicin is an antioxidant to which miracles were ascribed at the time. Now that the fad is long over, maybe we can return to the subject in a more measured way, and eat some delicious food while we’re at it.
There is relatively little allicin in mature culinary garlic, since it is found mostly in the skin. But there’s a way to eat a lot of it and enjoy it: eat green garlic, which is also a culinary delight. Garlic cloves are planted in early fall, and the greens shoot up in early spring. They vary in size according to variety. They are edible at any stage, from the tiny ramp-like beginning to nearly-mature but still soft-skinned bulbs as shown above. When the stem begins to thin and wither and the leaves look distinctly un-fresh, it is maturing and should be used as bulb garlic rather than green garlic. And here’s how to get your antioxidants in full: in the green garlic stages the whole plant is edible and tasty, and the leaves, shoot, and tender skin contain most of the allicin (reference below). The leaves, stem, and skin( after the outermost layer is peeled off) all go into your sauté pan. Cut the root end off, trim the leaf tips, wash well, slice very thinly the whole length of the nascent bulb, shaft, and leaves, chop finely, and sauté in butter or olive oil with a good punch of salt until tender. Keep the heat medium to medium-low and plan to spend 15 minutes or so on the process, lowering heat as needed. It is done when it tastes rich, garlicky, mellow, and a little sweet. Do note that slicing it very thinly crosswise in the beginning is key to the shoot and leaves being pleasant to eat, since they contain strong lengthwise fiber. They can be used as the basis of any dish that includes garlic, unless the green color would be a problem, in which case just use the bulb and tender inner skin. I also like the whole sautéed plant as a vegetable side dish when it comes from the milder varieties of garlic. If I am going to eat it by itself, I slice thinly crosswise but don’t chop the slices up, so there is some textural interest in the finished dish. Also, make sure to salt to taste during cooking, not when finished, so that the salt can penetrate. This is really good next to a lovely steak.
image
Don’t forget that you can tuck a useful amount of green garlic into flowerbeds and at the bases of trees. Just don’t confuse it with daffodil foliage or other poisonous plants with similar long narrow leaves. If in any doubt, tear a leaf and sniff. Garlic leaves smell like garlic!
I have heard that the leaves can also be dried, powdered, and used as a seasoning, but I’ve never tried it and don’t vouch for it. I go for fresh stuff.
Here’s your reference on the allicin content:
“Department of Pharmacology, School of Medicine, Ardabil University of Medical Sciences, Iran
Food Chemistry (Impact Factor: 3.26). 05/2010; 120(1):179-183. DOI: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2009.10.004
ABSTRACT The presence of allicin in green garlic plant extracts was investigated. Allicin in aqueous extracts from green garlic leaf, shoot and young bulbs were determined by HPLC. Allicin was present at highest level in extracts from whole green garlic plant at 0.48 ± 0.01 mg/mL, followed by that in shoot and leaf extracts at 0.44 ± 0.00 and 0.26 ± 0.01 mg/mL, respectively. The results obtained in this study offer green garlic as a new source of allicin, as green garlic plant is used as a favourite vegetable in many countries.”
image

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 31 other followers