Archive for the ‘Nose-to-tail vegetables’ Category

Pleasures of the Grill: Oyster (and other) Mushrooms

A family member was admiring a picture of my oyster mushrooms, up to 8″ across, and asked if they were too big to eat. Not if you like to grill. I love a plateful of giant oyster mushrooms, as long as they were still fresh and moist and not dried out when picked. The big ones have leathery bases and need to have the stem (technically a stipe) trimmed off to the extent that a little semi-circle is taken out of the base.

Now the toughest part is gone. Clean the rest and rub it on both sides with basic steak marinade. Make sure that the marinade gets up in the gills, since this helps keep them moist while cooking. Sprinkle the gill side with a good smoked salt.

Heat the grill to about 300 degrees and sear nicely on the upper side. Turn and cook on the gill side until done, turning them 90 degrees midway if you want nice crosshatched sear marks. Meanwhile, preheat the broiler. Put the caps on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, gill side down. Sprinkle lavishly with grated Parmesan, making sure to sprinkle the areas of bare parchment paper to make the lacy garnish. Broil, turning the pan as necessary, until the cheese is just beginning to brown. Eat.

The argument could be made that there’s no point in fussing with crosshatched grill marks since they’re on the bottom and don’t show. This is a fair point, but in good spring weather it’s a pleasure to fuss a bit at the grill.

This is a good meal to share with vegetarians if you don’t use any fish sauce in the marinade. In my opinion the final cheese crusting adds a lot to the flavor and so it isn’t ideal for vegans, but try it if you feel so inclined. If you don’t have oyster mushrooms try portobellos, which come alive with some seasoning. If you find really big meaty fresh shiitakes, they are ideal for grilling whole. If you’re lucky enough to find some porcinis  in the woods or market in the fall, they are superb sliced thickly and grilled.

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.

Elephant Garlic in the Semi-permaculture Garden

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Last fall was the first time that I ever planted elephant garlic. This enormous bulbing  garlicky-tasting leek came from Nichols Garden Nursery. I planted in early fall and scattered lettuce seed over the bed to use the floor space in the spring. The garlic made fall top growth, but I left it to grow.

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This spring I had a bed full of thick, sturdy, radiantly healthy green garlic, or rather green leeks in this case. I pulled some to use as green garlic, and was delighted by the warm, mildly garlicky flavor when sautéed in butter or olive oil with a little salt. I like all green garlic, but this one was my favorite. I didn’t let myself eat much of it, though, because I had my eye on a good bulb harvest. The bloomscapes care along in early May, and they make a nice subsidiary harvest if picked right away. Cooked at this stage, they are crisp, oniony, and sweet. Leave them more than 2-3 days after first appearance and they develop adamantine, unchewable fibers in the outer layer. Then come the flowers, and the few that I let bloom were very pretty. I forgot to take pictures so here are some borrowed shots:

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I have verified to my own satisfaction that if they are allowed to bloom the bulbs will be much smaller, so keep that in mind. The individual flowers make a tasty crunchy garnish, and are adored by bees, so they help carry pollinators through the hottest part of our summer, which is much appreciated.

Finally the tops started to yellow and bulb harvest began. Digging them is great fun; the enormous bulbs give you a sense of buried treasure. One must be quite a gardener, one feels, to produce a plant like that. So much of the time gardening is humbling that a little ego-aggrandizement does not come amiss.

The kitchen use is another matter. After a few tries, I can’t take to elephant garlic cloves either raw or cooked. The flavor is weakly garlicky with a bitter edge whether raw or cooked and does no dish any good, in my opinion. One online gardener has suggested that I need to hold it for a month or two, until this quality subsides. We’ll see.

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The greens are so good that I’ll continue to grow a lot of it, and next spring I’ll let myself harvest a lot more greens. I plan to divide my elephant garlic patch in two, and try two different growing methods. In one half, I’ll continue to grow it in the standard garlic fashion, digging and dividing and replanting each fall, and in the other half I’ll just let it perennialize and pull green garlic at will and see what happens. Of course I’ll be reporting back.

 

Chard’s Great Moment

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In my garden, this is the time to plant Swiss chard. It grows slowly in summer heat and gets a new lease on life in the fall, which is when I start eating it.  It goes dormant for the winter, and then in spring it emerges again and gradually progresses to making enormous leaves over a foot long.  These early spring leaves are very thick and meaty, and have a taste that has the umami elements of meat, but is mild and clean.  These early spring leaves are the ones that I eat, in huge quantities.  They are great cooked, and this is the only time of year that I love chard as a salad green. As soon as the plant starts to bolt to seed, the leaves of the elongating stalk acquire a rather dreadful dirty taste.  Interestingly, the large thick leaves at the base retain their mild delicious flavor for a while, so once the central stalk starts to form, you still have a week or two to collect leaves.  Then the chard season is over, and in my yard the rest is cut and goes to the goat.  When the last chard plant has been cut, I know it is time to plant more for the following fall and spring. ‘

So plan ahead, plant now, and love your chard in its best season.

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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Dandelions Nose to Tail

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I seldom write about foraging and cooking with dandelions, because although I love them, they are the most written-about wild food and I think it’s all been said before. But yesterday I came across a patch of dandelions growing in a shady spot in moist streamside soil, and last night I challenged myself to make a dandelion dinner with dishes that I had never made before. So no recipes this time, just briefs about how a very impromptu meal came together. I had gathered flowers on the very long stems that form in shady conditions, unopened buds, and leaves.
I hard-boiled some eggs, and made a cup of sauce from 3/4 cup of soy sauce, 1/4 cup of rice vinegar, 2 cloves of garlic chopped, and a tablespoon of grated ginger, plus some sweetener. If you use sugar, to tablespoons might be about right, or just sweeten to taste. When the eggs were cooked and peeled, I set them in the dipping sauce to marinate, using a small plate to keep them completely submerged.
I prepared about two cups (loosely packed) of dandelion flowers pulled out of their bitter green calyxes. This is a tedious job and you might as well sit down for it, but I had my two cups in about 25 minutes. A few calyx tips will stay with the flowers and they don’t matter as long as none of the intensely bitter base is included. I incorporated the flowers into my favorite low-carb drop biscuit dough (use your own favorite recipe) and put them in to bake.
The unopened buds were blanched in boiling water for a minute, drained and squeezed, and put in to marinate in the soy sauce mixture with the eggs.
The stems were 8-10 inches long and barely bitter at all, thanks to the shade and wet soil. I put the stems and some leaf midribs in boiling water to blanch for one minute and drained them. In a skillet I heated coconut fat and fried a handful of 1″ pieces of green onion leaves briefly, then added the blanched stems and a couple of tablespoons of the egg dipping sauce, stir-fried over high heat until the sauce was nearly evaporated, and plated the stems with sliced marinated eggs on top and the marinated buds sprinkled over. I drizzled a bit more dipping sauce over the eggs, which spoils the neat appearance but improves the flavor. I put a Dandy Drop Biscuit on each side, and we ate.

If you question the inclusion of drop biscuits in this essentially Asian meal, well, fair enough. Sometimes my menu planning is based more on ideas I am eager to try then on careful coordination of dishes. Do not underestimate the local household joy produced by a cook who is enthusiastically trying stuff.
Take-home lessons: the stems are really fragile and can get mushy easily, and next time I will cut them in 3-4″ lengths and stir-fry them without the initial blanching. They need a lighter hand than I realized. Also, I was reminded anew how much I like the unopened buds. If I ever harvested enough of them at once, I would stir-fry some with chopped garlic and pickle some like capers.
The alert reader may note that the leaves and roots weren’t mentioned. The leaves are waiting in the refrigerator to be  cooked up tonight. I don’t care for dandelion roots, personally, but if you do, there is scads of information about using them in any wild food book or herbal. I think the highest use for the roots is to leave them in place to produce more leaves, stems, and blossoms.