Archive for the ‘cooking’ Category

Early Spring: Collards

My yard is full of perennial greens ready to harvest, but the first greens I harvest every year are last year’s collards. Kale may be a good winter green in snowier areas, but in my nearly snowless windy desert, kale has desiccated to death by mid-December. My winter stalwart is collards, and I’ve never had a year in which they didn’t live through winter and produce a good crop. I plant in summer, harvest the majority of the leaves in late summer and fall for chicken greens but don’t remove the topmost leaves or the growing crown, and leave the stalks in place. By late February each stalk is crowned with a cluster of leaves like a loose cabbage. The leaves are thick, crisp, meaty, and sweet. Nothing tastes quite as good as late-winter collards. I often cut the leaves in strips and sauté them with green garlic, which appears around the same time, and a little salt. I seldom get any fancier than grating a little top-quality Parmesan on top. At this point in the year I haven’t had fresh greens for a couple of months, and gorging on them in their simplest form tastes best. If I have leftovers I toss them with homemade egg noodles, good olive oil and Parm, and a generous quantity of freshly ground black pepper.

In my area, by April aphids have moved in, so I make sure to eat them up while the nights are freezing. Any that I don’t eat go to ecstatic hens.

 

Semi-Permaculture Garlic


Glorious spring is here. There are no leaves on the trees yet, but the fruit trees are starting to bloom, and the perennials are starting to show up. 
Green garlic is always the first vegetable of my gardening year, and it’s one of the most welcome. I have seen “green garlic” in stores and farmers markets that was an elongated stalk with an actual bulb of garlic, and that isn’t what I’m talking about. At that age, the green parts are too tough to be of any culinary interest. The green garlic that I relish is tender and sweet. 
I grow my garlic in permanent beds that  are enriched every fall with top-dressings of manure but are no longer ever dug. There are three sections. The first and largest section is planted in fall with seed garlic of whatever type seized my fancy when the catalog arrived. The cloves are pushed down through the mulch into the rich earth below. Spacing is about 8”x8”. Once planted, the bed is topped with some mixed alfalfa and manure from the goat and chicken areas, about an inch thick, with a thin cover of grass clippings or similar over the top. By mid-March it looks like this:

This bed will be harvested as fresh bulbs in summer and replanted in fall.

The second bed, shown at the top of the post, was created by planting whole bulbs in late summer one year when I had a ridiculous excess. They were spaced 8” apart each way, and top-dressed with rich stuff as described above. In mid-March I start harvesting big luxurious bunches of green garlic from this bed. I dig each clump carefully with a thin-bladed trowel as I need it, taking care to leave one large plant with its roots undisturbed and tucking the dirt and mulch back in around it and water it to resettle the roots. This stalk will produce a garlic bulb, which will be left in place to become next spring’s clump of green garlic. There is technically a bit of digging with the trowel in this patch, which is why I call my methods semi-permaculture; I am not interested in tedious arguments about what constitutes “true” permaculture, I’m just interested in good food and good soil.

The third patch is truly perennial and the roots are never disturbed. It was started by planting a few whole bulbs of garlic in fall and just leaving them in place for a few years. Treated this way, they produce thick clumps of tender thin leaves every spring.

I cut the leaves and slice them finely crosswise to make “garlic chives,” sweet and delicious with a sublime essence of garlic. When I sauté’ chopped green garlic stems and leaves from patch #2 I often add a handful of chopped leaves from patch #3 after cooking is completed for a “pop” of garlic flavor to freshen the effect. The flavor is mild overall, and I love sautéed green garlic as an omelet filling, maybe with some crumbled feta if I’m especially hungry.

Green garlic is wonderful in early spring, tougher as the days grow warmer, and by early summer is not of culinary interest. I harvest pounds of it in its glory season, sauté in olive oil with some salt, and freeze it to eat later. It’s delicious in greens mixtures and terrific tossed with homemade egg linguine and some very good Parmesan. You can click “greens” in the sidebar for other uses, and there is a little more about it here.


I have been asked if viruses will kill my permaculture garlic beds eventually, and I really wouldn’t know. So far they’re doing fine. I guess if that happens I’ll start over in another part of the yard, but meanwhile I’ll have enjoyed years of largely effort-free harvests.

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 VII: Primary and Secondary Consumption of Elm

I’ve become more and more intrigued by culinary uses of tree leaves, since there is nothing more ecologically sound: the soil is never disturbed, carbon is sequestered, soil biota is preserved, and a small tree can produce an awful lot of leaves. The drawback is that there is little information about how to use them or even which ones are safe to use. I’ve written recently about my elm leaf pasta.  Today I experimented with spaetzle, the firm eggy dumplings made in Eastern Europe but highly adaptable anywhere.

Here I will make my usual disclaimer about eating wild foods or foods that you have never eaten before: never trust your safety to a stranger on the Internet. Do your own research, be aware that your tolerance may be very different from mine, and experiment cautiously before you eat a lot if you do decide to eat wild foods. All green leafy foods can be laxative to people who don’t usually eat them. The decision is yours.

I refer in the title to “primary and secondary consumption” because not only do I eat the leaves directly in the spaetzle but the eggs come from my chickens, who eat a lot of elm leaves. So this is double-layered tree-eating.

I couldn’t find my spaetzle maker, so I tried a potato ricer, which I had read would also work. It doesn’t really. Have a spaetzle maker and life will be simpler.

This was a freewheeling experiment and quantities aren’t exact. Basic proportions for spaetzle are a cup of flour, two eggs, a quarter cup of milk, and a half teaspoon of salt whisked together, but this one is different because of the leaves. I started with all the elm leaves that I could squeeze into one hand, about two cups when fluffed up more loosely. They were steamed for seven minutes and cooled.

Then I put one and a quarter cups of flour in the blender, added the leaves, and chopped as finely as possible. This is a bit tedious, with some stopping and stirring required. Then I added half a teaspoon of salt and five egg yolks, and just enough water to make a very thick batter. Run the batter through the spaetzle maker into salted water at a fast simmer, cook until the spaetzle rise to the top, and simmer until done. Take one out and bite it and examine the interior. They should be cooked through when finished, no longer wet and sticky inside. This is usually 2-4 minutes tops. Drain, and spread out on a flexible cutting board to cool. Don’t use wax paper, as I show here, because it turns out they stick to it and it is a bit annoying getting them off again.

At this point you can proceed or refrigerate them for a day until needed. I wanted to try them right away, so I heated up a skillet to a bit above medium and chopped up a bit of celery, two healthy sprigs of marjoram, and two small cloves of garlic. Two tablespoons each of butter and olive oil went in the skillet, the garlic went in to sizzle for a few seconds, and the herbs were added and tossed around for a minute. Then the spaetzle went in. At this point you can either cook them at medium heat until heated through as seen here,

or do as I prefer and keep cooking until the little dumplings have some browned spots, as shown here:

Serve as a landing with something nice on top. My preference is fried eggs with runny yolks and nice crisp brown rims. My husband’s plate is shown at the top of this post, and yes, he really does like that much pepper on his eggs. I can also imagine the assemblage looking even more colorful with some deep red chile drizzled over the green dumplings and eggs.
There is no strong or objectionable flavor in elm leaf spaetzle, and there are certainly far more fiber and fewer carbohydrates than in all-flour spaetzle. My mother’s objection to nearly all my leafy foods is that they are green. Well, leaves are green. Maybe we just need to get used to eating some green food, and given that people love some odd colored things like deep blue potatoes, I don’t see any reason why green food is beneath consideration. Green is the color of growth, so maybe we can come to think of it as “growth food.”

no doubt it goes without saying that if you don’t wish to experiment with wild foods, you can use chard or similar mild greens instead. Steam, squeeze dry, and proceed as above.