Posts Tagged ‘alliums’

Perennial Saag Paneer


Yesterday I wrote about making Paneer with my grass-fed goat milk. Today I’ll talk about making saag paneer, one of my favorite dishes, and for a permaculture twist I’ll make it with perennials as much as possible. If you don’t have a weed patch, you can use a bunch of spinach. You will also need fresh ginger, cumin seeds, garam masala, heavy cream, and butter.
Assuming that you have the paneer, the next step is to catch your greens and alliums. I used equal parts each of nettles and bladder campion, and 4 stalks each of green garlic and perennial Welsh onions. The nettles and bladder campion were blanched for about 90 seconds so that the nettles could be handled easily, then drained, pressed, and chopped. The alliums were cleaned, trimmed, and sliced in 1/4″ cross section.

When ready to cook, heat a nonstick skillet, cut the paneer in 1″ cubes and salt it, and fry in mild oil of your choice (I like Macadamia nut oil) until browned. Set aside.


Chop a piece of fresh ginger about an inch square finely, and have ready a teaspoon of whole cumin seed and a heaping teaspoon of garam masala.
Heat a saucepan, put in a couple of tablespoons of mild oil, and fry the cumin seeds briefly until they darken a couple of shades. Immediately add the chopped ginger, stirfry furiously until it is cooked but not browned, and add the chopped alliums and lower the heat to medium-low. Add a half teaspoon of salt and sauté the alliums until they are softened, lowering the heat if necessary to keep them from burning. Add the garam masala, cook another minute or two, and add the cream. Add the blanched chopped greens and cook over low heat until they are thoroughly cooked, probably about another 10 minutes. Put the paneer cubes on top, pushing them into the greens mixture a bit, and cook over low heat until they are heated through. Serve with rice or, if you are a low carb eater, gloriously naked on the plate. Drizzle some melted butter or ghee over the top.

I was taught to make this dish a few decades ago by an Indian woman in Manhattan, and I am pretty flexible about the greens used as long as they’re mild. No bitter green has a place in this dish. The green garlic and onions are great in season, but chopped garlic and onion are traditional.  I’m very rigid about the seasoning, though. Sometimes I add a chopped hot pepper but that’s my only variation. The whole cumin seeds fried quickly in hot oil are not negotiable, and burning or scorching any of the seasonings or alliums  means you need to start over, so work carefully.

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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Garlic Leaves

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My patient readers might be wondering by now why I have so damn many posts this year on the uses of green or immature garlic. The reason is simple: last summer I ordered my garlic sets as usual, forgot about it, and a few weeks later placed the same order again. When a LOT of garlic sets arrived in fall I decided to treat this as serendipity and planted them all, and the result is that I have hundreds to thousands of stalks of green garlic right at the moment. Since I have become interested in the health benefits of alliums, especially the green parts, I am thoroughly enjoying experimenting with ways to use them. Right now they are just beginning to send up scapes, and the stalk of the plant is hard and difficult to use well. But when I pull a few plants for the newly bulging bulbs, I find that the leaves are still green, and I decided to try using them as a leafy green vegetable. I washed a bunch of them, cut them in 1 inch sections crosswise, and blanched them in boiling water for two minutes.  This initial blanching seemed to tenderize them a lot, but if you insist, try cooking them without pre-blanching and see how it goes.  Then I slowly roasted in butter with a little salt and rich chicken broth for about 20 minutes, taking care that they did not dry out. I roasted them only because I was also roasting some chicken, and it would be easier to slowly sauté them on the stovetop. Make sure that there is enough broth that no part of the leaves dries out. Kept a little moist, they develop a lovely plush texture. This turned out to be a delicious vegetable, full of flavor but not excessively garlicky. The only thing I’m going to do differently in the future is cut them in shorter sections, about half an inch, since there is a suggestion of fiber in the mouth when cut to the longer length. I did not identify any actual fibers of the nasty kind that stick between the teeth, but I just think the mouthfeel would be better if cut shorter.
I am increasingly delighted to find that every part of the garlic plant is edible, versatile, and delicious, a true nose to tail vegetable with a boatload of health benefits besides. Right now garlic, shallots, onions, and multiplier onions occupy about a third of my total available garden space, and I think this is how it should be and will do the same again next year.
Incidentally, once the emerging scape begins to show at the top of the plant, the stalk is not worth trying to use except as a flavoring for broth, in my opinion. It is just too fibrous and tough. But soon the scapes will be elongating and they are eminently edible when young, so a couple of weeks of patience will provide you with a whole new vegetable.

Low Carb Colcannon

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A few decades ago when I owned a sheep farm, I grew a lot of potatoes and made a lot of colcannon in the winter. This old Irish dish combines smashed boiled potatoes with milk and cream, and incorporates other vegetables according to your fancy. Onion and cabbage are traditional favorites, herbs and greens are common, and others are possible.

These days I want low-carb vegetable dishes, but I still want my easy accommodating colcannon and I have a ton of green garlic and green onions around, so I started there. I write a lot about green garlic and green onions because they are so easy to grow and have available for earliest spring, so chock-full of allacin and various antioxidants, and so very tasty. If you grow no other vegetable, put some small organic onions and at least a few dozen garlic cloves in among your ornamentals in fall (as long as you don’t use pesticides,) and next spring you will have these sweet and delicious vegetables to work with.

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I started with six big green onions, a dozen stalks of green garlic, a head of cauliflower, half a head of cabbage, and butter and cream.

First, cut the florets off the cauliflower and put them in the steamer for half an hour. They need that much steaming time to be soft and smashable. I use my old couscousierre to steam veggies because I like to look at it, and incidental pleasures are half the fun of cooking.

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Wash the green alliums and trim off any yellowing or dry-looking leaf tips. On a large cutting board, slice the washed and trimmed green onions and green garlic into quarter inch cross-section slices.

imageHeat a large skillet over medium heat, put in about 3 tablespoons of good butter, and sauté the greens over medium heat, adding some salt and stirring frequently, until thoroughly cooked, soft, and sweet. Meanwhile, slice the cabbage into very fine slices, discarding any thick ribby pieces. When the green alliums are cooked, scrape them into a bowl, return the skillet to the heat, add another good-sized knob of butter, and put in the cabbage shreds. Cook them over medium heat with some salt, stirring frequently, until very thoroughly cooked and sweet. This takes a while, and you need to keep an eye on the time and open your steamer when the cauliflower has cooked for 30 minutes.

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When the cabbage is cooked, put in the steamed florets and start smashing them with the back of a big wooden spoon. When thoroughly smashed, add half a cup of heavy cream and the cooked green garlic and taste the mixture for salt, correcting to taste. Cook over low heat for another half hour, stirring occasionally, to let the flavors amalgamate. Stir in a generous amount of freshly ground pepper and serve.

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This is the fun part. Serving possibilities are endless. I pan fried some lardons of mild bacon to top it off and put a small steak on the side. It’s so filling that I didn’t eat more than a bite or two of the steak, so now I have leftover steak to plan another meal around.

Unlike potato colcannon, which can get gummy if reheated, the cauliflower version is even better when left over. You can top it with sautéed greens, or a fried or poached egg, or both. A bit of mild cheese could be grated in or gratineed on top, or this could accompany a roasted chicken. It is a wonderful basis for meals in mixed omnivorous-vegetarian crowds, because the vegetarians will find it satisfying on its own or with an egg and the omnivores can have meat on top or alongside and will probably not eat much meat because it isn’t needed.

I do think it’s wise to respect the essentially sweet and delicate nature of this dish, and keep seasoning simple. If you take your time with the sautéing, and use butter, the cabbage and green alliums develop wonderful depth of flavor. Heavy cream is essential in my opinion, and it has a lovely sweet flavor of its own. I also think a key step is to add some salt during the sautéing process so that it cooks into the vegetables well. Just not too much. This all takes some time, about an hour from bringing the green alliums in from the garden to finished colcannon, so there is no point in making smaller quantities. It will get eaten.