Archive for the ‘salads’ Category

Permaculture Salad, and Notes on the Siberian Elm

Spring on the urban homestead is so beautiful and bountiful that I can hardly believe it, and I spend more time than I care to admit just wandering around dazed with the wonder and joy of it all.  But there is a practical aspect to my trance, because while giving thanks to the cosmos for the life that surrounds me, I am noting what can go in the salad bowl that evening.

The salad shown above is a pretty typical urban homestead salad. It contains a handful of lettuce, some early arugula, and a lot of biennials and perennials that wintered over and got an early start.   Tiny leaves of curly kale that began to leaf out as soon as the weather got warm are good salad material, still sweet from night frosts, although I don’t like older kale in salads.  There is a little chervil because I threw the seeds around in warm spots last fall.

So here’s the species list for tonight:

Lettuce

arugula

chervil

scorzonera

salsify

wild lettuce

sow thistle

dandelion

Siberian elm samaras

Bladder campion

tarragon

mustard (one Southern Giant plant overwintered somehow)

Green perennial onions

A few further notes on the ingredients: in the past I had tried cooking scorzonera greens and thought they were fairly uninteresting, but for some reason I never tried them as salad material until this year. They are very mild in flavor and have a nice slightly substantial and tender texture, and I am using them a lot now.  They make a good base for some more flavorful greens like dandelion and mustard and arugula.  I have written in the past about how much I love the elongating flower stalks when pan grilled in olive oil, so this is a very good dual purpose vegetable. I plan to plant more of it.

In the past I have mostly used Siberian elm samaras as a “hand salad” eaten spontaneously on walks when  they presented themselves.  They are too mild to be of much interest cooked, although I do use them in greens mixtures sometimes, but I have found that I like them in salads in rather substantial amounts, probably a cup of washed samaras in a salad for two.  There is something about the texture that I enjoy, provided you pick them at the right stage, when they are about the size of a dime and the edges are still fresh green and have not yet grown at all papery.  They need a little bit of cleaning, but most of the debris can be floated off once you have broken up the clumps with your fingers, and 15 minutes of preparation is not too much for a vegetable that cost you no effort or money whatsoever in the growing.

Have a  look at what’s available to you in field and forest and in your own yard.  Learn how to make a really good vinaigrette. Use common sense, and don’t eat plants unless you are completely sure that they are edible.

Seasonal Reminder:Tarragon

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Tarragon is at its beautiful peak in my garden, and if you have a goodly bush of it yourself, don’t forget to fill a jar with sprigs and cover with wine vinegar so that your salads next winter will carry that delicious flavor. Your own red wine vinegar is preferable but any good grade of wine vinegar will do. If you don’t already have a favorite vinaigrette recipe, try my Opinionated Vinaigrette.

Crazy Salad

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“‘Tis certain that fine women eat
A crazy salad with their meat…” Yeats
And so they do, sometimes crazier than others. The one shown above is one of my weirdest so far, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
When cooking dolmas recently I felt the need for a Cook’s Treat, and there were some nice grape leaves left over that I had no other immediate use for. I heated my little 6″ skillet over medium heat and, when hot, brushed a grape leaf generously with good olive oil on both sides and put it flat in the hot pan, pressing down a bit with a spatula to make sure the leaf cooked evenly. Flip and repeat. Put on a paper towel and sprinkle with salt. If the heat is right, the leaf will cook in about 20 seconds or less per side, will be darkly browned in spots but not blackened anywhere, and will be crisp as an ultra-thin potato chip, with a light, delicate crunch and a hint of lemony-sorrel flavor. Have at least 3-4 extra leaves to get the heat right, but once the heat is adjusted, you can make and plate a serving in a couple of minutes. It is easy to do for two but would be fiddly for four. I like to oil all the leaves at once and then have nothing but the frying to concenrate on.
Why do it? Well, it’s different and it tastes good, at least if you like grape leaves and olive oil. The texture and flavor are not quite like anything else, and pleasant novel experiences delight me even when they’re minor. I can imagine a more substantial meze made by adding delicately spiced little fried meatballs to the plate. Little cubes of marinated feta would be another option.
Incidentally, the grape leaves that you use must be suitable for cooking. Please see my notes from my dolmas post on choosing grape leaves for cooking. A grape leaf that has papery unchewable fibers when raw will chew like a fried paper bag when fried.
I also tried frying a pruned tendril. The stemmy part was tough chewing. It looked charming in a rather baroque way, but probably should be considered a garnish rather than part of the Crazy Salad. That said, I ate mine.
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Nose-to-tail Cilantro

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Cilantro is a lovely and evanescent thing. It is a major seasoning herb in Thai and Indonesian cuisines, is widely used in China and Southeast Asia, and fills me with wellbeing whenever I eat it. It was a few years, though, before I learned how to make it pay for its garden space.
First, choose your variety carefully. You need a bolt-resistant type that can be bought in ounces, not packets. Don’t plant the seeds sold as spices. Currently my favorite is Calypso. Second, forget rows. Plant it in bunches that you can harvest all at once, and only have as many bunches maturing per week as you will actually use. I like the bunches to be spaced 8-10″ apart each way, and I plant 15-20 seeds in each bunch, all clustered into an area about 2″ in diameter. I plant 4 bunches a week, every week that I remember and have some bed space available, starting well before the last frost because cilantro likes cool weather and stopping as the days heat up. They will not occupy their real estate more than a couple of months, so I plant them in places where big heat-loving crops like tomatoes or zucchini will take over the space. In the picture above, you see the stem of the young tomato which will spread out when the days heat up. You may also note the early lettuce that occupied the tomato’s space over the winter, now serving as a light mulch.
When the plants are 7-8″ high, I harvest the bunch by cutting about two inches above the ground. They are quite clean because the crowded plants hold each other up, and just need a quick rinse before being used in your favorite way. Cut the bunch rather than pulling, because those stems will keep on working.
Leave the cut stems in place. When they show a good amount of new growth,you will notice that the leaves are finely cut and feathery rather than looking like grocery-store cilantro. This new growth doesn’t have the full cilantro flavor by any means, but I still like to throw chopped handfuls into salads and pounded green herb sauces. But what we are really after at this point is not the leaves. When some of your bunches are tall and starting to bolt, pull them for the roots and lower stems. Scrub the roots and thick lower stems well, cut off the finer roots and discard (into the compost, of course) and chop the roots and stems thinly crosswise. This is your supply of cilantro root, which is used extensively in classic Thai cooking, while the leaves aren’t used in authentic curry pastes etc. In fact, make sure that no leaves get into your root, because the flavor is different and not right for this use. Thai cooking aficionados refer to it as the “unobtainable, mythical coriander root,” but it is highly obtainable if you have a garden. Now you can pound your roots and stems in your faithful mortar and pestle to make curry and seasoning pastes, or freeze them in little plastic bags in quantities of about 4 tablespoons. I tend to use mine up during the summer, which is when southeast Asian cuisine tastes best to me.
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But don’t pull every bunch. Let some bolt, because you want the green seeds.
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These have a flavor in between the leaves and the dried coriander seed and are delicious sprinkled over salads, used as a garnish on grilled meats, or tossed over bulgur or rice dishes.
Now you are finally done with your cilantro plants and can pull them and compost them, unless you want to let some set and dry seeds to use as coriander seed. I don’t dry and save seeds, personally. I can buy seeds easily, and prefer to use my own seeds green, when they are a fresh treat that can’t be bought.
For more on using the roots, check out David Thompson’s huge and highly addictive “Thai Food,” the best Thai cookbook in English in my opinion, although it does assume a scary amount of kitchen time😉

Onion Flowers

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I have written about onions and onion scapes, but what happens when a scape gets past the busy gardener and blooms? Well, then you have onion flowers. Harvested shortly after they open and clipped off the bloomscape with kitchen shears, they taste of onions but light, a bit floral, delicate. They are delicious in salads, and I love them showered over any of the delicious herb-laden southeast Asian dishes. Here, you can see them garnishing Thai-ish grilled salmon. Try them on burgers or steaks, sprinkled lavishly over a dollop of good butter melting on the hot meat. They are a great addition to grilled chicken. Just don’t let them bloom in vain!

This makes onions a true nose-to-tail vegetable, with every part both edible and desirable.

 

Salmon in Springtime

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Here in central New Mexico we are enjoying a cool and unusually wet spring, and the romaine lettuce is still in great shape. Our local Fishhuggers are back at the markets with lovely Alaskan sockeye salmon caught by Kenny, and there is no healthier meal. For some reason I like my warm-weather lunches to lean Southeast Asian, and this one is a bit Thai-ish.
I used romaine, green onions, and cilantro from the garden, a fillet of sockeye salmon, crushed peanuts, and the vaguely Thai dressing below, which I keep jars of in the refrigerator in warm weather. Put generous heaps of sliced romaine on plates, rub the fillet with salt, grill quickly ( on a hot Green Egg grill, about 2 1/2 minutes each side will do it,) let cool a bit while you chop the cilantro and green onions ( green part only,)break up the fillet and remove all skin and put chunks of warm salmon on the lettuce, scatter on a handful of chopped cilantro and green onions, dress generously, and sprinkle crushed peanuts over the top. Delicious and very quick as well as insanely healthy.

Sort-of-Thai dressing:
Large chunk of ginger, about 1″ by 3″, peeled and sliced
7-10 large cloves of garlic
1/4 cup coconut fat
1 tablespoon green curry paste
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 cup water
1 can full-fat coconut milk
Sriracha sauce to taste
Artificial sweetener ( I use liquid stevia,) or sugar, and more fish sauce to taste

Finely chop the ginger and garlic, heat the coconut fat in a saucepan, and stir-fry the garlic and ginger until cooked and fragrant but not browned. Add the green curry paste, stir-fry about another minute, add the fish sauce and water and bring to a boil, add the coconut milk and cook just until it’s all melted and creamy, then remove from heat. Let it cool to lukewarm, taste, and add more fish sauce if indicated. Add some sriracha if you like it hot (I love hot food and use about a tablespoon,) and then add sweetener, if you are ketogenic or low-carb, or sugar if that’s still in your kitchen, slowly, tasting frequently. I like mine on the sweet side, to balance the heat. Let cool all the way and use or keep in the refrigerator for later use.
This makes a perfect lunch to eat outside.
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A Succession of Lettuce

Gardeners tend to love the first salads of spring, and many of us long for greenhouses so that we can harvest all winter. But until I get the greenhouse of my dreams, I scheme about ways to have lettuce and salad fixings as early as possible.

This year I bought a roll of frost-blanket fabric from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and on a bright day in early February I dug up my lettuce beds and pots, composted them heavily, and planted them with various lettuces, planting broadcast-style rather than in rows. Half of the garden bed of lettuce I covered with a double layer of frost-blanket, secured with stones as weights. The other half was left open to the elements, and some was planted in big black pots about 2 feet high but wasn’t protected in any other way.

I supplied them with water (no need to remove the frost-blanket to sprinkle that bed) and otherwise left them alone.

On March 28th, about 6 weeks later, here’s what the beds look like:
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This bed was under the frost-blanket. The little lettuces are over 4 inches high, and harvesting can begin.
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This one is in one of the large pots. The lettuce is about 2 inches high, and won’t be ready to harvest for a few weeks.
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These are planted in the open ground. They have survived hard freezes and an 8″ snowfall and are very small, but undaunted.

From one afternoon of planting, I will be able to harvest lettuce from late March through May, with minimal effort. I will be doing this again next year, and will also plant a bed in October and try to hold it under frost blanket through the winter, to get a jump-started bed in the spring. We urban yard-farmers have day jobs and minimal free time, and this is one way to make the most of it.