Archive for April, 2016

Integrating Your Weeds I: lambs-quarters

I decided to reblog this post from last spring because this is the time to start thinking about utilizing your edible weeds, before you have hoed them all out. Lambsquarters, also called wild spinach, is one of the most accessible of wild greens, with a mild flavor that can be used in any spinach dish that you fancy. it grows everywhere and grows with lightning speed, and so you can get an excellent crop around your standard crops. Just be sure to harvest it at about six weeks so that the other crops in the bed can take over. If you are unsure how to identify it, get “Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods  from Dirt to Plate” by John Kallas, and no doubt you will learn to identify several wild greens in your immediate area, and learn delightful ways to prepare and cook them. Just keep in mind that lambsquarters is more nutritious than many of the things you are planting on purpose.

My urban homestead

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I’ve written a lot at various times about the Holy Trinity of edible weeds: lambs-quarters, amaranth, and purslane. In this post I don’t plan to say anything much about harvesting and cooking lambs-quarters, Chenopodium album,  since I’ve said that already and the short version is “harvest them young, collect as little stem as possible, and use them like any other mild-flavored leafy green.” Personally I dislike the texture and mouthfeel of the raw leaves intensely, and only like them cooked, but others see it differently. This is their great season; after midsummer they are very eager to make seeds and are no longer very usable as a leafy green.

The focus today is on how to have them in your garden without losing everything else. They are highly competitive. First, don’t just let a nice big plant go to seed in your garden, unless you have a lot more space…

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Dietary Advice: so wrong for so long

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I recently came across a piece of investigative journalism in The Guardian that I feel sums up the problems in nutritional guidelines, and how they got so screwed up, better than any other lay article that I have read. It is also a fascinating piece on how science self-corrects, but  surprisingly slowly. It is well worth a read.

I would draw attention especially to the paragraph which reads ” This [the social community of scientists] makes scientific inquiry  prone to the  eternal rules of  human social life: deference to the charismatic,  herding toward the majority opinion, punishment for deviance, and intense discomfort with admitting error.  Of course, such tendencies were exactly what the scientific method was invented to correct for, and in the long run it does a good job of it. In the long run, however, we’re all dead, quite  possibly sooner than we would  be if we hadn’t been following a diet based on poor advice.”

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/apr/07/the-sugar-conspiracy-robert-lustig-john-yudkin

The Shoots of Spring

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This is the great season for hops shoots. I gather a large handful every day or two, taking care to snap them off where the stem is tender and brittle. I wash them, cut the bundle crosswise in pieces about an inch long, toss in a hot skillet with a generous amount of good olive oil, and sauté over medium-high heat, turning frequently, until the stems are tender and  some of the leaves are brown and crisp. Add salt and serve. They have a “wild” and slightly bitter flavor which I love alongside very flavorful meaty main dishes.

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This spring I started to experiment with other shoots. I have been eyeing the invasive tendencies of my goji bushes, which routinely send suckers out 10 feet to send a shoot up right where I don’t want another goji plant. They are turning up everywhere as the weather warms.

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I knew that their foliage was edible but had never been much impressed with the taste, and there aren’t many leaves per bush. The shoots, on the other hand, are bulkier than the leaves, green, tender, and a nuisance unless removed. Yesterday I gathered young shoots of  silene (bladder campion,) goji berry bush, perennial arugula, and alfalfa to experiment with ( shown L to R below.) I wouldn’t try cooking with any shoot that didn’t break off with a clean, brittle snap. You don’t want them woody.

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I didn’t cut them up, just washed them and let them drain. Then they were put in a skillet with some olive oil and fried over medium-high heat until the leaves were crisp and browned. I would guess that it was about two minutes a side. Watch carefully; the line between browned and burned is crossed in milliseconds.

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They were drained on paper towels, salted, and eaten.

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They were actually a rich brown in spots, not black as they appear in my photo. The alfalfa and silene shoots were crisp and pleasant enough to eat, but all I could taste was olive oil and salt. I had used a wonderful olive oil so I didn’t mind that, but I do like a vegetable to taste of itself.  The stars were the goji and perennial arugula shoots. The hot and mustardy flavor of perennial arugula was tamed and made interesting but not excessive, and the goji shoots had an herbal flavor and a delightful texture. I will definitely cook them again. I can easily cook them for my husband and myself, but they need lots of room in the skillet to crisp, so I don’t think it’s practical to make them for more than two people. They are too fragile to withstand being dipped into anything, and are best eaten on their own. They are a passing fancy and to be enjoyed as such.

I only wish that all my invasives could be dealt with by eating them.

There are many other shoots to consider, and this is a time of year for perennial veggies to shine. Meaty young milkweed shoots should be wonderful. It has taken me three years to get a milkweed patch to germinate so mine are still spindly infants, but if you live in an area where it occurs naturally, do give it a try. Asparagus, the classic shoot, is wonderful when pan-fried like this. Young slender green onions can be treated this way with good effect, and green garlic could be great, although in this one use I would use only the white part, since the leaves can seem stringy if not chopped in cross-section. I will soon be experimenting with shoots of young wild lettuce as it starts to bolt. I think these would need to be blanched first to reduce bitterness, but I’m not sure yet.  I’m very fond of using the fresh tender shoot-tips of coppiced mulberries as a green, and I think they would be very good given this treatment, but they don’t come along until about June, so it will be a while before I find out. See here for a discussion of the ins and outs of selecting and eating mulberry leaves.  The young second-year stems of chard leaves that emerge when an overwintered plant sprouts in the spring, before it starts bolting to seed,  might be good for this, trimmed of their green leafy bits and maybe cut in inch-long chunks if they seem a bit on the stringy side. And I have written before about using the young flowering shoots of scorzonera this way, and they are definitely the highest culinary incarnation of that tough perennial.

I often mention Cook’s Treats, the series of improvisational tapas for one that I enjoy in the kitchen when nobody’s looking and I’m doing other things. Four or five tasty shoots, thrown in your smallest skillet with olive oil while you’re working on other things, make a great cook’s nibble. You will need to give them your undivided attention for a few minutes and that’s all, which fits well into the rhythm if many kitchen tasks.

Diet in brief

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I very seldom talk about low carb/ ketogenic diets except with my patients because I think that your diet decisions are best made by you, in conjunction with the doctor who knows you best. But I will say here that ketogenic diet is, in my opinion, the most desirable treatment for type 2 diabetes and the only one with no side effects. I am also keeping an eye on the evidence for low carb diets in simple weight loss. So I wanted to pass on this public-information piece from the Harvard School of Public Health:

http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/low-carbohydrate-diets/
And of course, my reason for bringing this up on a gardening blog to to make yet another shameless plug for green and leafy vegetables. Your nearest farmer’s market will have them if you don’t grow your own. Just eat them. Lots of them. Eat them instead of the starchy stuff. Your body will thank you.
Kohl

A Cookbook to Make You Think: The New Wildcrafted Cuisine

 

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Some cookbooks make you cook. The recipes are smart and well-crafted and will clearly work, and you want to run to the kitchen and get started.

Other cookbooks make you think. They are provocative and, at their best, subversive, and expand your possibilities even if you never cook a single recipe.

Today we have a thinking cookbook. When I first looked at this book a few weeks ago it seemed meant to be weird. In fact, it seemed at first to have a self-consciously outré quality that set my teeth on edge. An example: “lemonade” made, not with citrus, but with 2000 lemon ants, a citrusy-tasting ant found in Southern California, crushed and macerated. Surely juicing a lemon would be quicker and better, although the image of some earnest chef-wannabe counting out 2000 lemon ants is an interesting one that will be with me for a while. The author proposes that some fermentations to make vinegar need to get started from the fruit flies that they naturally attract because the little bugs carry something (Acetobacter presumably) that start the conversion to vinegar. Yech. As I see it, fruit flies are why humans invented cheesecloth, and nothing will convince me that they are better fermented than slurped straight-up just as they land in your wineglass, an ingestion that I avoid if at all possible. There are a series of recipes with “forest floor” seasonings composed of grass and leaves found under trees, and I can’t say that I have ever nibbled on a grass that I would consider potentially useful as a seasoning. There are a lot of recipes for lacto-ferments, and having lived through the last lacto-fermenting craze, I am not very enthusiastic about having another one. Lacto-fermented elderflower “beer” might sound elegant but is nowhere near as good as a well-made wine. The current obsession with local terroir in wine often involves mediocre grapes, inferior bottling practices, and determination to drink bad wine because it somehow tastes of the locale, and I thought that author/forager Baudar’s “primitive brews” would be much like that.

In short, I thought that I would pan this book and get on with other things. Instead, after owning it for a few weeks, I keep going back to it and thinking, and gradually realizing how wrong my first impression was. I have seldom encountered a book that makes me think as creatively about possibilities, and this is after reading, foraging, and cooking for decades. Now the lemon-ant lemonade seems, not tricksy and silly and literally intended, but an invitation to explore the possibilities around you in ways that you might never have thought of on your own. In effect, the recipe tells you “Don’t limit yourself. Think about every possibility.”  Bauder’s practice of letting his gaze light on something familiar and spending some time thinking about its culinary possibilities is infecting me with new pleasures and possibilities. Make wild greens kimchee out of whatever greens suit your fancy, and not only enjoy it as is but dehydrate it to use as a seasoning? Sure. Try cold-infusing the deliciously honey-scented goumi blossoms in my front yard to make a drink, as Baudar does with elder flowers and others? Not until my bushes get bigger, but then I will. Put a few of their blossoms on salads now? Of course. The trash Siberian elms that invade the Rio Grande bosque; have I ever thought about whether their scented cambium (inner bark) had any flavoring possibilities if roasted or smoked and infused? Not until I read this book. I like to make verjus from unripe grapes in the summer and enjoy its clean sourness anywhere that I might use lemon juice, but I’ve never thought of juicing other unripe fruits for the same purpose, and I’ll enjoy testing their range of flavors. I may well try roasting outdoors on a hot stone, or cooking something fast and delicate by arranging pine needles and herbs over the food in question and burning them. It has been a decade since I made flavored vinegars for shrubs, but now I will because this book has excited me all over again about the possibilities. And yes, I will certainly be trying “primitive brews” akin to his and experimenting with my local versions of his SoBeers, fizzy low-alcohol concoctions somewhere in between soda and beer. I’ll be tasting my own local grasses and herbs again to test their flavoring possibilities. I’ll be making vinegar-based and fermented hot sauces. I’ll try vinegars flavored with an assortment of my local seeds to grind into a mustard-like condiment. In short, I will view the familiar things around me, with uses that I think I already know, with new excitement and find new uses for them. Once over my initial dubiousness, I began to think that this is one of the most exciting cookbooks that I have read in a very long time. See where it leads you. Odds are that I will never cook a single recipe from it as written, because that isn’t the point.

I trust that it goes without saying (but here it is anyway): YOUR SAFETY IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY when foraging. Study, consult guidebooks, and know for certain what you are about to taste. This book is not a guidebook and will not teach you the safety of your own local plants and animals. Don’t wander around tasting things at random, like a feckless innocent in Not-Eden. That kind of thing gives foraging a bad name.

A Cookbook to Make You Cook

Right now I am reading two cookbooks that could hardly be more different from one another. Both are large, high quality, available only in hardcover, and gorgeously illustrated. One will make you cook, and one will make you think. The think-book will be reviewed tomorrow.

The one that will make you cook:

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I have owned Sarah Raven’s addictive book about garden-based seasonal cooking for years. It has stood the test of time. Each spring I rediscover it, and it is on my bedside table right now. It seems to be neglected these days, which is why I’m doing my bit to get people to remember that it’s there. It is chock full of pretty photographs and, far more important, recipes that work and taste good. You can flip it open almost at random and come to a recipe that will become a kitchen favorite. It will help you cook your way through your garden or farmer’s market, and while your seasons might not correspond exactly to British seasons, you will cook through the seasons at your own pace in practice. The recipes are never tricksy or overly fussy, and lean toward full pure flavors.

Favorite recipes: Peaches with Bourbon, Romano Beans with Cream and Savory, Lamb with Thyme Tapanade, Cranberry Beans with Sage, Braised Celery, Parmesan and Walnut Crisps, scores of others.

Conclusion: buy it and cook from it. You will eat more fruits and vegetables and you will thereby be healthier and happier.

 

Flexible Romesco Sauce

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I’m a great fan of the Spanish Romesco sauce, and while I love it in its classic form, I also find its basic structure an adaptable framework that will support a lot of variations. Right now I’m digging up last year’s Autumn King carrots to make room  for a new planting. They are too tough now for eating fresh, but they are still sweet and flavorful, so I’m using some to make roasted carrot Romesco sauce.

To start, turn the oven on to 500 degrees. Then one large Autumn King carrot (or two regular carrots) is cut in slices. One small onion is cut in quarters. Three cloves of garlic are separated from their head but not peeled. I use two roasted tomatoes out of my freezer, but you can put in two tomatoes, either fresh or canned plum tomatoes, to roast with the other veggies. Toss the veggies lightly in olive oil and put them on a sheet pan to roast, watching carefully because they can burn quickly.

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When the carrot looks roasted but not burned and the onion is softened and translucent, take the veggies out. Skin the onion and peel the garlic cloves. Put all the roasted stuff in the food processor with half a cup of roasted almonds and grind as finely as possible. If you are using pre-roasted tomatoes, add them now and grind with the rest. Add two teaspoons of any of the following chiles: ground red New Mexico chile, or Spanish Nora chile, or half Spanish smoked Pimenton and half ground chipotle chile. This last mixture adds a beautiful heat and smoky edge, and is my own favorite. Process, and add two tablespoons of either lemon juice or sherry vinegar. I prefer the sherry vinegar, but a Romesco with lemon can be good with shrimp. Now add really good olive oil until the mixture comes together as a somewhat loose paste. Add more chile if needed. Salt to taste; it’s a condiment, and I like it on the salty side. Serve with roasted vegetables, or meat or chicken roasted rather plainly, or slices of baguette, or cold shrimp, or blackened fish, or nearly anything.

There are lots of other possibilities for a good flexible Romesco.  Roasted peeled red peppers are traditional. Roasted winter squash or sweet potato might be good, and I can imagine using roasted kale or chard leaves for a really dark, earthy, and healthy version. In my opinion the roasted tomatoes are necessary, but I’ve seen recipes that don’t include them. Some people prefer toasted bread crumbs to nuts to add body. And I can’t tell you how much sauce this will make, because I don’t know how much olive oil will taste right to you.

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I recently ate it with tiny crisp-fried bits of chicken and low-carb flaxseed focaccia and it was very, very good.