Archive for the ‘herbs’ Category

A Hundred Kinds of Chimichurri

I love chimichurri, the ground herb table sauce of Argentina, but I am by no means faithful to the Argentinian version. If you have an active garden, spring offers the first of infinite variations of chimichurri to accent any grilled meat or poultry. These savory herbal sauces also dress up baked and roasted foods, and are a great way to perk up hard-boiled or fried eggs. People who don’t have to stay low-carb may like them drizzled on bread or rice. Vegetarians will like chimichurri on roasted vegetables, and for that matter ardent carnivores would love it on roasted carrots, broccoli, and other meaty veggies. I can imagine it freshening and enlivening roasted or grilled oyster mushrooms.

The basic necessary ingredients are olive oil, garlic, an acid, salt, herbs, and embellishments. Variables are the herbs, the texture, and the embellishments and degree of heat, if any.

So here’s a menu for infinite improvisation:

Oil: I say very good olive oil is a necessity. If you choose to fool around with other oils, feel free. Plan on between a half cup and one cup.

Garlic: green in spring, mature cloves later on. 2-3 large stalks of green garlic or 3-4 cloves of mature garlic.

Acid: vinegar is traditional but lemon juice is delicious with the more delicate spring versions. Consider wine vinegar or sherry vinegar.  Plan on about 2 tablespoons and have extra available to add if needed. Please, don’t use sweet caramelized ersatz “balsamic” vinegars. Yech.

Salt: “Plenty” is the important concept here. Some chimichurris that seem like failures come alive when enough salty element is added. Remember, this is a seasoning sauce, not a main dish.Your salt element may be sea salt, but a good dab of anchovy paste or a glut of the salty-lemony fermented liquid from preserved lemons may attract you.

Herbs: parsley is traditional and great, but don’t feel bound. Cilantro is a great alternative for the “bulk” herb, of which you’ll need a bunch (from the store) or a large handful (from the garden.) Oregano, sweet marjoram, summer savory, thyme, and lemon thyme are great options for the subsidiary herb, of which a small chopped handful (combined if using multiple herbs) is plenty. Combos are potentially wonderful. I don’t recommend tarragon for this sauce, but feel free to prove me wrong, and I think rosemary should be limited to a chopped teaspoon or two if used at all. Some mint is a possibility if used judiciously. Sage is difficult to use and, in my view, not a good possibility.But suit yourself, as long as you are pursuing a coherent taste-vision. Wander your garden, be seducible, and work it out later.

Embellishments: Heat is an important possibility. Hot sauce, harissa, and ground dried chiles can all work wonders, and fresh chopped jalapeños (seeded or not per your preference for fire) can do real magic. Anchovy fillets mashed can add a savor and tang that are the making of rich meats like roasted  lamb or goat. Preserved lemon peel, finely chopped, is highly nontraditional but extraordinary in the right circumstances. A pinch  of toasted cumin seeds, finely ground, can give an earthy, sweaty, quintessentially masculine note that makes a simple grilled steak or chop memorable.

Texture: can be anywhere from medium-fine grind to as coarse as a chopped salad. It all depends on your mood and your main dish.

Procedure:

Chop your garlic coarsely or slice finely crosswise if using green garlic and put in a large mortar or small food processor; I invariably use my little stoveside Mini-prep. Chop or pound to desired degree. Add herbs, salt,  and embellishments and process only until you like the texture. Add the acid and salt, process briefly, and work in the oil. Now taste, and think. If you are sure it didn’t work, think about how to rebalance and save it. Sorry to harp, but insufficient salty element is a common fault. Increase the salt, anchovy paste, or preserved lemon juice, or add a bit of the latter two if you didn’t use them before. If overly salty or acid, add more oil to smooth it out.  If bland, add a little more acid. If just not that interesting, consider stirring in more chopped herb or some heat.

This sauce can be refrigerated overnight and may be even better the next day, although cilantro-based versions tend to lose freshness and pizazz and are best consumed on sight.

“Processed” Food

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Like everyone else who works, I have a lot to do when I get home and some nights I need help to get a healthy dinner on the table. I eat a ketogenic (low carbohydrate) diet and don’t have pasta and rice and bulgur to fall back on. For those nights I keep some “fast food” in the freezer, like riced organic cauliflower. If I’m thinking ahead, I leave a bag out to thaw in the morning. More often I didn’t think ahead and need to thaw it quickly in the microwave. Either way, if you just cook it as is, you are going to have a rather damp mess on your hands, in my opinion anyway. So take the thoroughly thawed cauliflower, bundle it in a dish towel, and squeeze the water out of it. You’ll get a surprising amount out. Now you can throw it in a skillet with some salt, sliced green onions, chopped herbs, olive oil, and sliced almonds, and cook over medium heat for about 20 minutes with regular stirring. Don’t add water back. Cauliflower loves to go soggy if it gets a chance. It’s done when the cauliflower grains are done to your preference. I like mine a bit on the firm side, holding their shape briefly to the tooth without any hint of raw crunch.  Check whether it needs more salt before you serve. Meanwhile, grill some salmon as shown here, or warm up leftover chicken thighs, or slice up some warmed leftover meat. Land it on your cauliflower pilaf and flavor it with finishing butter (Montpellier butter with green garlic is shown here) which also lives in the freezer in convenient individually wrapped portions, or just drizzle with your best olive oil.
Some would say that I should grow, grate, and freeze the cauliflower myself if I’m going to use it, and when such people get hold of me, I always suggest that they invite me over for a meal 100% produced from their yard so that I can write about it😉. So far, those invitations haven’t arrived. I am not a believer in making the perfect the enemy of the good, and we are not full-time yard farmers and have to make our modern lives work. Besides, grating cauliflower is one of the few kitchen jobs that I hate and one that I outsource whenever possible. I grow things that are unobtainable at markets or distinctly better when home-grown, and cauliflower is neither. So let somebody else do the work for you.
Regarding the finishing butter above, I am used to horrified shrieks of “It’s GREEN!” Indeed it is, and so are a lot of other good things. Expose yourself (and your family and friends) to green food until you get used to it, and your health will benefit. After all, nobody has ever looked at wild-caught Alaskan salmon at my table and said “Ugh, it’s PINK!” Good food is good food. Close your eyes if you really must, but getting over biases about green is better.

Here’s another version tricked out with capers, green garlic, thyme, pine nuts, and castelvetrano olives.

Spring Alliums

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One of the many reasons that I love green garlic and green alliums generally is that they are among the earliest things to come out of the garden, assuming that you planted in early fall. I have plenty of summer veggies in my freezer, but as the days start to lengthen I get ravenously keen for the first real, fresh greens, and by mid-February I’m eating out of the garden again.

For early green alliums, plant some in a block that you can cover with Agribon or other frost blanket material. I like to put a short row of my regular yellow storage onions in this block in September, and each will divide and make four or five superbly sweet green onions in early spring.

Garlic is another must, and my favorite for early green garlic is Chinese Pink, because it is super-early and is eight inches tall and half an inch in diameter by mid-February if frost protection is used. Plant your early block with the cloves about three inches apart each way. When I’m ready for green garlic I pull alternate stalks, and leave the rest 6″ apart to mature for my earliest garlic bulb harvest.

In the case of leeks, there isn’t even any need to replant in fall. Plant extra in spring, cover with frost blanket in late fall, and they will winter over nicely for February eating.

Contrary to much popular advice, I don’t suggest that you even think about cutting the green leaves off and discarding them. They are delicious. They are also the healthiest part of the plant, full of the antioxidant allicin which has multiple health benefits. Do cut them in fine cross-sections, about a quarter inch long, to  eliminate  any possible stringiness  in the leaves.

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I love a good assortment of green alliums chopped up and sautéed in butter with salt to taste until they are succulent and sweet. Keep the heat medium-low and let them cook at least twenty minutes for best flavor. I eat them as a side dish, but they would also be great on slices of crisp baguette, in an omelette, over scrambled eggs or rice,  on a broiled fish fillet, or nearly any other way that you can imagine.

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Two years ago I stuck some garlic cloves in a flower bed planning to harvest them for green garlic, but forgot all about them in spring. After two growing seasons they’ve divided so much that the leaves are as fine as grass. I’ve started harvesting the tops and chopping them finely to use as a fresh seasoning. They have a stronger but cleaner flavor than garlic chives. I love them over egg salad, green salad, broiled or grilled meats, on soup, or anywhere that you might crave a hit of freshness and garlic. They give some distinction to a regular or low-carb pizza.

A Grand Mess of Greens

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I love the various vegetables that the seasons offer me, and for the most part prefer to eat what my environment is offering me fresh that day. I do freeze greens mixtures, though, so that I never run short and have them all winter. Recently I came across a forager’s description of his “56 species calzone” and it made me want to count up the number of species in the large batch of cooked seasoned greens for the freezer  that I’m working on today.

The main components: chard, dock, lambs-quarters, spinach, nettles

Seasonings and minor components: mulberry leaves, hops shoots, lettuce ( about to bolt,) dandelion,  scorzonera, salsify, sunflower, green onion, young leeks, elephant garlic, corn poppies, young grape leaves, marjoram, mint, fennel, mustard, cattail shoots, pea vines, broccoli leaves,  arugula, sow thistle, wild lettuce

Sauteed separately and added: chopped broccoli stems, grape leaves, green garlic

So, 30 species, a thoroughly respectable count for an average early summer morning,  and a potential treasure on winter days when I need to be flooded with the antioxidants of summer. In general I blanch the bulk greens in a fairly small amount of water which I later drink or make soup from, saute the chopped alliums and seasonings, then combine all and saute together for five-ten minutes or until the flavors have blended.
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The true Cretan diet, the one that nourished some of the healthiest and longest-lived people in the world, was based on huge numbers of wild mountainside greens. It’s said that over 300 edible greens grow on Crete, and the average citizen can recognize over a hundred, making my 30 seem limited. But be assured that if you can learn to recognize ten of your local edible weeds and know when to harvest them and how to prepare them, your health and table will improve.  I’ve been tracking the preferences of a vegetable-despising friend, and he will eat greens, sometimes even second helpings, if they don’t look like greens on the plate. An example is the horta egg cake that I make often. He will even eat plain greens if they have a sweet component and a bit of texture, and an easy way to provide this is to douse them in the Quasi-Korean Sauce that I always have in the refrigerator and put a handful of roasted peanuts on top. If you eat bread, toasted sourdough bread crumbs provide delicious crunch on greens sautéed with garlic and chile flakes.
Be aware that greens have a remarkable capacity to absorb and mute flavors, and may need more seasoning than you think. Salt seems to disappear into them, and enough seasoning may be key to getting your loved ones to eat them and even like them. So keep tasting and adjusting until the flavor is right.
If you want to learn to identify some wild greens, gather them at the right stage, and cook them well, there is no better foraging author than John Kallas.

More on Scapes: Scape Powder

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Lately I’ve been experimenting with dehydration, and it occurred to me that I object to the mucousy quality of cooked onion scapes and dehydration often solves such problems. So I put a large bunch of scapes in my dehydrator to see what happened.
Lesson learned: they really are juicy inside, and in future I will split them in half lengthwise before dehydrating, because it took about twice as long as it should have to dry them thoroughly. The bulbous tops should also be cut off at the time of initial preparation.  But I did eventually achieve brittle-dry scapes that I could grind into a fragrant green powder.
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The powder is tasty and sweet, and I’m still considering how to use it. I started with the ultra-simple scramble above: four whole eggs and four yolks beaten with a couple of tablespoons of heavy cream and a dash of salt, then scrambled in butter with one large green onion leaf chopped and four ounces of smoked salmon chopped, finished with pepper and a lavish sprinkling of scape powder. Yum.
This is my favorite way so far to use onion and shallot scapes and the remaining ones will all become scape powder. I think it would be delicious if used to finish chicken, fish, and seafood, and might be good on a steak as well. I have heard of dehydrating garlic scapes, and I tried a couple but didn’t care for the result and will continue to gobble them up as a fresh vegetable.
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The Season of Scapes

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Back in 2009 I wrote a post on onion and garlic scapes that you can find here, and all I can say is that if I had known that hundreds of people were going to look at it and it would still be going strong in 2016, I would’ve been more thorough. But then, when I think about it, I think my advice to get young tender garlic scapes, chop them in about 1 inch lengths, and pan fry them in hot olive oil is still my favorite way to use them. These days I usually cut the whole bud off before cutting them up to cook. It has a slightly starchy quality that does not, in my current opinion, go well with the greenness of the rest of the scape. Try it both ways and see what you think.
I also still enjoy putting them under roasting meat and poultry to stew in the juices, and in fact tonight I will be having roast chicken thighs on a bed of garlic scapes, almost exactly as I described in that post seven years ago. Make sure that they get 20 minutes or more to cook. If necessary, you can take the meat out to rest and continue roasting the scapes until done. Make sure the pan doesn’t get dry, which will cause them to burn. Add a little water or broth if needed to keep things a little juicy but not soupy.
I can also add that allicin, the antioxidant in garlic and other alliums that is thought to have many health benefits, is present in much higher levels in the green part of the garlic plant than in the cloves that you typically cook with, so eating the plant bits is good for you as well as tasty.
I am also experimenting with dehydrating scapes and grinding them into powder. I am not doing this with garlic scapes because I prefer to eat them as is, but I have been dehydrating onion and shallot scapes so that they can be ground into an attractive green powder that, I hope, will be useful for seasoning. So far, I have sprinkled some over salad with good effect. I am thinking about using it to coat chicken thighs, along with salt, and then searing them in olive oil and finishing them in the oven. I’m not sure how the green color will play out in this context, but I think it will brown enough that it will not be particularly startling.
The best advice that I can give to vegetable gardeners is: grow green garlic. Grow a lot of it. Use the greens, and ignore any rigid advice to use the white parts only, because you would be missing the best part of the garlic. Remember to slice crosswise in 1/4″ slices when using the whole stalk and leaves, since they are not as tender as the scape, and once the scape appears, the stalk and leaves are too tough to use. Try it every which way, because you are probably going to love at least some cooking methods. Click the tag for “green garlic” at the head of this post to look at all my various experiments with it.  If your space is limited and you can’t grow enough for your yearly needs, you can eat all your garlic as green garlic and then buy heads of garlic at your farmers’ market, grocery, or food co-op for winter use. If you are limited to a small space, there is no point in using it on storage vegetables.
Be aware that you can create a very long season by choosing a number of different varieties. My green garlic season starts in mid-March with the very early Chinese Pink, and right now in late May the late Mount Hood and elephant garlic are still providing wonderful green garlic. I buy all my garlic from Territorial Seeds, and I strongly recommend getting your order in by June because the most interesting varieties sell out quickly. It will be delivered in fall in time for planting. This year I have finally planted enough that I think I will be able to replant from my own stock; in previous years, I’m afraid I have gluttonously eaten it all.

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Early Harvest: Green Garlic

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Other than herbs and alfalfa tips for my chickens, green garlic is always the first thing that I harvest from the garden.  In my climate, which is more or less USDA zone seven, I plant in October and nearly always harvest green garlic the first week of March.  The part of the garlic patch that I plan to harvest green is planted very closely, about 2 inches apart each way, which is plenty  of room for this purpose.  Every year I plant more. It is really good stuff. For a long time I thought that it might not really be worth the trouble, because I was harvesting and eating only the white stem and incipient bulb and composting the greens.  Duh. The greens are the best part, as well as being full of allacin and other antioxidants, and any part that is bright green rather than yellow or brown can be used. You can grow a useful amount in a few square feet if your soil is rich, and it is harvested and out of the way in time to plant something else for the summer.

In the picture above you see a stalk of green elephant garlic, which is really a leek relative rather than a true garlic.  It is typically a foot or more tall and an inch or so in diameter at the green stage.   It has a slightly different flavor from true green garlic but is equally delicious.  I once bought green garlic at a farmer’s market that was bitter, but I have never tasted any other that was bitter. It may have had to do with growing conditions or variety. I have heard of people chopping garlic leaves into salads as a seasoning, but personally I don’t care for the taste raw and only use them cooked.

With all green garlic, I trim the roots and leaf tips and wash, then line them up and cut them in cross-section into slices about a quarter inch thick.  I sauté  in either butter or olive oil, whichever will suit the rest of the meal, slowly until the greens are tender. A little salt is thrown in along the way. They become soft and sweet and delicious, and I enjoy eating them as a vegetable on their own.  They also go very nicely into all kinds of other vegetable dishes.  If you are a carb eater, they would be delicious with fresh handmade egg pasta, butter, and a discreet amount of Parmesan, or tossed with new potatoes and butter. I love them in mixtures of cooked greens, too, and they are a lovely complement for fried eggs.  I plan to make a cream of green garlic soup  at some point this spring.  A few stalks sautéed in your smallest skillet while you are cooking other things also make a very nice cook’s treat  to eat standing in the kitchen, as a sort of tapa for one. After all, the laborer is worthy of her hire.

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Like all the rest of us, green garlic will lose its youthful bloom sooner rather than later.  When the bulb is swelling and the leaf tips are turning progressively more yellow, it is past the point of being worthwhile to eat green.  In its brief season I harvest 10 or 12 stalks whenever I have some free time, clean and sauté them, and have them waiting in the refrigerator.  If I haven’t use them within a day or two, I vacuum seal them into neat little packets and keep them in the freezer to go in summer dishes.