Archive for June, 2020

Got Milkweed?

I’ve written before about my efforts to grow milkweed, not just because it’s one of my favorite wild edibles but because I would like to be part of the chain that helps the monarch butterfly survive. Monarch larvae can only survive on milkweed, and so for years I’ve been nursing along milkweed plants as if they were orchids, never eating any myself because I needed them to grow and spread and maybe offer a home for some monarch larvae. This year, six years after this project originally began, I saw adult monarchs fluttering around my blooming milkweed. I ran for my phone but couldn’t get a good picture, so I borrowed the one above.  It remains to be seen whether larvae will make their appearance, but I’m delirious with hope. If you have naturally occurring milkweed in your area, treat it like the resource it is. If you don’t, consider planting some seeds, with the understanding that it may be years before you see blooming plants. Do it for the monarchs, and one day there may be enough for you to eat some too.

 

Using What You Have X: Double Layers of Vegetables

I’ve been yapping on for ten posts now about using what you have, and it occurs to me that today’s post shouldn’t be a recipe per se, but a series of comments about how I’m incorporating more of what I have into what I eat. So today is practical stuff about making sure you use the veggies and eggs that you grew or bought at the farmer’s market.
I have gorgeous broccoli in the garden right now:

One of the best ways to make sure that broccoli or any other fresh vegetable gets used is to prep it immediately. Cut off the florets, steam for five minutes, cool, and store in the refrigerator in a plastic bag, ready to be added to a dish on short notice. If you plan to use the broccoli stem, peel it, cut the crispy inner pith into matchsticks or other convenient shapes, toss with a bit of lemon juice, and refrigerate for up to 2-3 days. If you don’t prepare the stem ahead of time, you are unlikely actually to use it. I have a pet goat to take care of such utilization emergencies, or you can compost it, so either prep it right away or just dispose of it in an ecologically sound fashion without getting all guilt-ridden. Life is too short to worry about whether you utilized every last fragment  of your vegetable.

Right now I have a lot of eggs handy and use them wherever a protein source is called for. Often I cook the yolks and a few whites into a sort of pancake and then cut it in strips to be added to stirfries, but in this case I didn’t want to bother and just scrambled two eggs and two yolks with some soy sauce and scallions in the wok and put them in a bowl to be added back to the stirfry later. This is much like the way that eggs are added to fried rice, and you can see in the photo above that it is not pretty and uniform but tastes fine.
Next let’s consider the Permaculture Pasta that I wrote about before. If you have some in the freezer, clearly, an Italian or Asian noodle dish can come together almost instantly. But if you don’t, fresh pasta is still a possibility. Today I timed myself from beginning to end making a batch exactly as described in that post but a little bigger, and I had pasta ready to cook in less than an hour. Admittedly, I have my set-up worked out and know all my moves, which saves some time. But my point is that it did not take that long to make enough leafy noodles for four, which for two people means that you have a good meal and another meal to serve a few days later. Also, there’s no need to fool around with tree leaves if you prefer not to. Any mild flavored green leaf is good here, and chard is a wonderful ingredient for making green noodles. Just remove midribs, steam it for five minutes and proceed. If you are wondering what to do with those leafy greens that you bought at the farmers market, this is a good use for them. I often use Lambsquarters to make green pasta.
I won’t say that much about stirfrying because I think most people know how to do it already and I have written about it recently. I will just say that keeping the heat high helps keep the sauce clean in flavor. Don’t lose your nerve and retreat to a simmer. Have everything ready, and then stop for nothing and the cooking part is all over in a few minutes. Your mis en place is more important here than maybe anywhere else in cooking.

This particular stirfry uses lavish amounts of garlic, ginger, and oyster sauce along with a little chile paste as the seasonings, and the only vegetables used are a large amount of steamed broccoli florettes and a small amount of chopped scallion. The “juice” is half a cup of broth with a teaspoon of cornstarch, two teaspoons of sugar or equivalent sweetener, and a tablespoon of rice vinegar. Soy sauce is added as needed during cooking. The eggs were pre-scrambled and ready to add at the end.

A pot of salted water is brought to a boil and the noodles boiled just until barely done, less than a minute in the case of this delicate green fresh dough. Drain the noodles quickly, return to the pot, sprinkle lavishly with soy sauce and at least 2 tablespoons of Asian sesame oil, and toss around a little to keep the noodles from sticking to each other. Set aside, covered. Now quickly, heat your wok  over highest heat, put in some cooking oil of your choice, sauté the chopped garlic and ginger for several seconds until the pieces start to look opaque and the fragrance comes up, add the scallions, chile paste, and oyster sauce, throw in the steamed broccoli florettes, and stirfry for a few minutes until done to your taste. Stir the “juice” quickly because the cornstarch settles to the bottom. Toss in the scrambled eggs and the “juice“ and boil hard for another half a minute until it thickens. Divide the noodles into four bowls, or into two bowls and a container for the refrigerator, put the broccoli mixture on top, drizzle with a little more soy sauce and sesame oil, and relish your double layers of vegetables, triple layers if you count the greens that the hens ate.
For that second meal of noodles later in the week, you can cook a completely different dish to go on top or, if you are lazy or pressed for time or not too hungry, the noodles are delicious just reheated, divided into serving bowls, and drizzled generously with additional sesame oil and soy sauce and some crushed roasted peanuts on top. A generous grating of white pepper is good with this. If you want to drizzle in some chile oil, be my guest. A good grade of roasted sesame oil is essential to a good flavor, and I like the Japanese Kadoya brand best.

Using What You Have IX: Pantry Stuff

Now and then I run into new must-have pantry items, and recently I had a throw-together meal that incorporated several of them, so here are some brief descriptions. I do not accept any advertising, free samples, or other freebies. If it appears on this blog, I paid full price and thought it was worth it.
First, the beans: any black bean from Rancho Gordo is going to be delicious. They are always the current year’s crop so you never heard the problem of beans that cook forever and never get soft.  I like a bit of epazote from the garden cooked in with black beans, and if you have some homemade chicken broth and home-rendered lard, so much the better. Nothing else but salt to taste. Delicious. Rancho Gordo works with some farmers in Oaxaca to give them a good market for the heirloom beans that they grow, and I’m happy to help out on the eating end.

The chilequiles are made with nixtamalized heirloom corn tortillas from Masienda.I can get the tortillas at Whole Foods. Or, if you’re a purist and plan to eat lots of tortillas, you can go to Masienda’s shop and buy heirloom corn, ingredients and instructions to nixtamalize it, and even a mechanical stone grinder that will set you back over $1500. Personally I eat tortillas once every two or three weeks at most, so I keep a packet of their fresh tortillas in the freezer for when the mood strikes.
In making the chilequiles, the tortilla pieces are fried crisp in avocado oil or lard and then turned in a hot pan with chile or salsa. My current pantry pet is salsa from Barnacle Foods made from kelp. No kidding, kelp, and it tastes good and not like seaweed, even though kelp is the main ingredient.

I’m increasingly interested in seaweed and filtering shellfish because they are products that can be ocean-farmed and will clean their area of ocean rather than polluting it further as fish and shrimp farming does. You can read more about this in the entrancing book Eat Like a Fish, which I plan to review soon. But while I recognize this as ecologically sound, I dislike the taste of most seaweed quite a lot. Here, however, is a food based on kelp that I can eat and enjoy.

Finally, I try to keep a bag of Stahlbush Island Farms Crazy Corn in the freezer for special treats. I don’t grow corn because I try not to eat corn too often, but when I do, this mixture of white, yellow, and purple corn is the corn I want. Just stirred over medium-high heat until cooked, with minimal water and a little butter and salt, it completes this brunch extravaganza.

For the fried eggs, a good sprinkle of fleur de sel on top is necessary, in my view.

It probably goes without saying that any two of these dishes would be enough with the fried eggs, maybe even just one extra dish. But I like extravagance at times, perhaps even frequently, and after a meal like this, a light snack in the evening will finish the day. Plus- here is the best part of being an adult- you don’t have to clean your plate. Our foremothers may  have thought that was virtuous, but we have refrigerators for leftovers and no need to eat more than we want.

 

Using What You Have VIII: Permaculture Pasta

I wrote several posts ago about elm leaf pasta, and the idea of using tree leaves has continued to intrigue me. The use of trees avoids soil disturbance, adds a vertical element so that  more food can be grown in less ground space, and provides shade and nesting sites for birds as well as leafy greens. As far as which leaves to use, my usual warning applies: all decisions about your safety are up to you, and research is necessary. I choose those that have mild flavor as well as a good safety profile. Tree leaves tend to be too tough to enjoy as cooked greens, so applications like pasta where they are finely ground are the perfect way to use them. The previous post describes the proportions, but with this attempt I decided that I wanted the leaves more smoothly ground and a result more like spinach pasta. I used the same proportions: all the leaves I could tightly cram into one hand with a heaping cup of flour, and this time used half elm leaves and half young mulberry leaves. The leaves were steamed for seven minutes, drained and cooled, and then the leaves and flour were put in my Vitamix blender instead of the food processor. Grinding the leaves very finely into the flour requires stopping the blender several times and stirring the jar right to the bottom with a long handled fork. But eventually the mixture is very smooth and homogenous and powdery, and can be transferred to the food processor and the necessary number of egg yolks added to form a firm but flexible dough. Roll into a thin pasta dough by whichever means you prefer; rolling pin (skill required,) hand-cranked machine, or for me definitely the rolling attachments for my Kitchenaid mixer. I rolled this dough thin, to produce a delicacy similar to spinach pasta. Cut into fettuccine with a roller or by hand, and freeze immediately for later use or use within a few hours.


Garlic bulbs are coming in from the garden right now, and I decided on garlic cream sauce. The flavor of the newly harvested cloves is wonderful. I peeled two cloves and sliced them into micro-thin transparent slices with my sharpest knife.They were sautéed in a small heavy saucepan with two tablespoons of butter. When cooked through but not colored at all, I added a quarter cup of good white wine and turned the heat up briefly to let the wine boil away. Then half a cup of heavy cream was added and brought to a boil. The heat was turned off and a few small sprigs of finely snipped tarragon added. I like to add an egg yolk at this point too, but make sure the saucepan has cooled down enough to prevent scrambling.Have some of the best Parmesan you can obtain, coarsely grated, and a small handful of lightly toasted pine nuts.
Drop the pasta into rapidly boiling water, and it is so thin and delicate that it will probably be done by the time the water returns to a boil. Taste to make sure, drain, sauce, toss with some of the cheese, and put the rest of the cheese and the pinenuts on top. Grate fresh pepper over the top for a touch of piquancy and serve. It’s a wonderfully comforting meal and, once you know what you’re doing and have the pasta ready, comes together in the time it takes to bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. A good handful of shelled peas or snow peas would be a lovely addition, and I wish I had thought of it at the time.

I’ve decided that my tree leaf pasta can be styled “Permaculture Pasta.” My plans for the future include making more of it to freeze, and finding out more about leaves that could be used.There is not much data around about the edibility of tree leaves, and under no circumstances should you wander around experimenting without data. In my own yard there are two trees, black locust and almond, that have toxic leaves. You were only issued one liver, so treat it with a little care and respect. Leaves of perennial plants known to be edible are a good possibility. In my own yard, scorzonera leaves are common and abundant. I’m also thinking about bronze fennel, which I’ve used to wonderful effect as a pesto, and may try incorporating it into the pasta itself. Grape leaves might add an interesting slightly tart note, Although you would need to remember that they turn yellow brown, not bright green, uncooked. Maybe add some last Sonado kale leaves to improve the green color? although you would need to remember that they turn yellow brown, not bright green, uncooked. Maybe add some lacinato  kale leaves to improve the green color? As always, the possibilities are limitless as long as you operate rationally and safely.