Posts Tagged ‘arugula’

Permaculture Salad

It occurred to me this morning that my lettuce won’t be ready for weeks but there’s no problem at all in filling the daily salad bowl. After years of practicing semi-permaculture  and using the results in the kitchen I have strong opinions about salad greens, so I thought it might be worthwhile to go through the ones that I use most.

Major greens: these make up the bulk of the salad.

The picture above is blue mustard, one of my very favorites. It makes up about half of the bulk of any salad in our household this time of year.  I wrote about it at more length in my previous post, so what I will say here is that it is a recent invader in my area.  It first showed up along the ditch banks about four years ago, and now it is a common “weed“ in my yard.  I have no idea where it came from, but I’m glad it’s here.  Get it young, before you notice the tiny blue blooms, and I usually harvest with scissors, cutting about 2 inches off the top of the thick clumps.

The second bulk green right now is scorzonera.  I have written about it elsewhere, so all I will say here is that although it is often grown for the root, I find the root not worth the trouble, but the spring leaves are mild,crunchy, tender, and excellent to make up the majority of the salad mix.  The bloomscapes that come up a little later, harvested before the buds swell too much, are among my very favorite vegetables, so at this stage I harvest individual leaves to make sure I don’t hurt any potential scapes. Take the wider upper half of the leaf,  and leave the long stringy stem bit where it is.

it takes a few years for scorzonera to establish and make nice full clumps. I advise against cutting it at all the first or second year.

My third bulk green right now is bladder campion.  It took me a few years to get this one established, but now it is a thriving weed and comes up everywhere. The roots are deep and tenacious, so be sure to pull the roots out if you do want to get rid of it.  I pull it out of my raised beds but let it romp away everywhere else. Cut off the top 2” and discard any bare stems.   During the summer it is weedy and flops all over other plants, to their detriment, so you have to whack at it a bit. But it is always my first green of spring and the last one of fall,  so I would never want to be without it. I have heard the taste of the young sprigs described as “exactly like green peas.” I beg to differ. They do have a hint of green-pea flavor but they aren’t sweet and do have an undertone of faint bitterness. I find them delicious, and they are mild enough to go with anything else.

Minor greens:delicious when used in smaller quantities.

Sow thistle has thick leaves with an intensely green flavor. In some soils I’m told that it’s bitter at all stages, but in my yard it’s mild when young. I don’t have much of it, but enjoy what I have.

Arugula has been allowed to self-seed in my yard for so long that it’s now a common weed. I throw leaves in the rosette stage into salad, and any that get past me produce small white flowers that bees adore.

Alfalfa is nobody’s idea of an edible, apparently, but I like a couple of sprigs per serving. I pinch off the top rosette when the first shoots are about 4” high. Only the first growth of early spring is suitable for this use, and no stems.

Oxeye daisy delights the bees when it blooms, and the earliest spring shoots delight me in salads. They are tender, sprightly, and vaguely sorrel-like in flavor. I would eat a lot more of them if I had more. I’m putting in a larger patch this spring.

I use dandelions in limited amounts, maybe 10% of the total salad, but I miss them when they aren’t there. Once or twice a season I eat a big salad of pure dandy greens with a garlicky dressing and a side of bacon, but I don’t often have the materials available. Believe it or not, dandelions aren’t common in my area, and the eight plants that I have were started from seed and fussed over like orchids. I let them go to seed, and hope that eventually my yard will be colonized and I can eat dandy salads whenever I crave them.

Pea greens are a delicious tender green that really does taste like green peas. I plant my peas very thickly, almost touching in the furrow, and then harvest about half for spring salads, leaving the rest to grow and bear.

Seasonings: these have more distinctive flavors. Don’t be too timid with them though, because the dressing is going to mute them quite a bit.

I grow the sorrel variety called “Perpetual,” which doesn’t go to seed. It has the zingy lemony taste of garden sorrel but has thicker, more tender leaves and is a much smaller, less robust plant. I definitely need more plants of this one.

I grow parsley in a semi-permaculture fashion. Planted in spring, I use it all summer and leave it in place in winter. The following spring I get lovely bunches of early leaves to chop over salad and other stuff, and then it shoots to seed and reseeds itself.

This photo has three of my favorites. To the right are perennial green onions, which I have written about so much that here I’ll just remind you to sliver some into salads. In the center are young shoots of bronze fennel. Later in the year I would chop them up, but at this stage they’re so mild that I just cut each small leaf in 2-3 pieces. To the left is the first spring growth of Angelica archangelica, which I haven’t used until this year. The first tender leaves of spring have strong notes of celery and juniper. I tear them into pieces about an inch across. When they start to get tough, the stems chopped in thin cross-section will give a similar effect.

The earliest shoots of French Tarragon add a lovely anise flavor. I pull the new sprigs into individual leaves and toss them in whole.

I have heard people say that each dish or salad should contain only one herb, so as not to “muddy” the flavors. I couldn’t disagree more, and have seldom made a spring salad that didn’t contain at least three. Chopped finely the flavors can muddle up and become undistinguished, but left in large distinct pieces as I use them, they are vivid and impressionistic on the tongue.

 

My Life With Invasives

I’m reading Beyond the War on Invasive Species, an interesting book by Tao Orion that, among other things, recalls some of the horrors that the native plant ecomovement fell into, such as “nuking” large areas repeatedly with Round-Up so that they could eventually be replanted with “pure” native species. The whole issue of how to think about invasives is complicated, and I will not approach it here. But the role of invasives in my own yard is one that I feel able to tackle.  My yard is happily multicultural and can absorb almost any invasive that has a use to me, my livestock, or our local pollinators. Over the years I’ve been surprised by plants that came with warnings about their aggressive nature, but in my yard struggled or even died.

There are lots of invasives here, mostly introduced by me and mostly cherished. To have dandelions, I had to pay good money for seed and then wait impatiently as they took three years to get large and lush and edible. Now they are finally self-seeding a bit and are welcome almost anywhere they appear.

Gojis took a while to settle in but now come up everywhere, which is fine since I like the leaves and young shoots as well as the berries.

Nettles, shown at the top of this post,  are my favorite spring greens, and it has turned out to be very possible to manage them for a fall crop of greens as well. They aren’t found in my high desert area and I had to buy plants to get them. They are probably my favorite invasive.  The first nettle patch was located in an area that has concrete walkway all around it, to foil its dreams of world domination. I have started a couple of other nettle patches this spring in large containers. I’ll report back on how this works out.

Arugula  comes up everywhere, and is welcome almost everywhere it appears. It is one of my favorite salad greens, and makes a fairly good cooked green as well, best with stronger seasonings like garlic and cayenne. The flowers are very attractive to bees  and open at a time when little else is flowering, so I always let plenty of it go to seed.

At this point I would have to classify elephant garlic as an invasive, because no matter how much of it I pull up, I always seem to have even more the following year.  When I threw an arm full on top of straw mulch just to get rid of it, it sent roots down  through the mulch and took off as you see above. I don’t mind it, though. It isn’t much use as a bulb and does not compare to true garlic, but I like the early shoots for green garlic, so it does have a use, and the bees enjoy any flowers that I allow to form.

Speaking of attractive to bees, cardoon has become quite an invasive in my yard but one that, as you see above, has its admirers.  I loved cardoons when I ate them in Italy, and brought back seeds from there to make sure that I got the edible kind and not the florist kind, but I have never been able to eat my homegrown cardoons. No matter how carefully blanched, they are inedibly bitter. They do provide one wonderful vegetable, the peeled top of the bloom scape before the buds swell, but that is one small serving per very large plant. I still let them seed themselves around though, because the bees and my goat adore them and even in my desert climate and alkaline soil, they come up in odd corners and require no care or attention whatsoever. The huge jagged silver leaves are strikingly ornamental.  When they come up in the middle of garden beds, I let them reach a good size and then pull them for the goat. I have read that the large parsnip-like root is edible, but when grown in my yard it is as bitter as the leaves, and is a flavor that only a goat could love.

Scrawny little Phyllostachys dulcis “invading.”

I love bamboo shoots and can seldom  find fresh ones locally, so growing them seemed obvious.  I planted  clumping bamboo and the famously invasive running sweet shoot bamboo.  The latter is famous for overrunning its boundaries and forming 30 foot high jungles, so I sited it in a part of the yard up next to the goat paddock, figuring that I could always turn her loose on it if worst came to worst.  Three years later, each plant now has two or three wimpy looking canes about 5 feet high, and I have eaten exactly one bamboo shoot. It was very good, and I was glad to have it,  but I am still waiting for the abundant shoots that I was told would pop up absolutely everywhere.  The aristocratic clumping bamboos took one look at their pedestrian setting and refused to go on living.

Burdock bloomscape at right stage for peeling and cooking.

Burdock has done a better job of becoming an invasive. I don’t care for the roots that much, and planted it because the peeled bloom scape is a fair vegetable, and I assumed that since I was eating it before the flowers formed, I would be able to keep the plant from reproducing. It fooled me. If you keep cutting off the bloomscape, it forms little short bloomscapes down under the huge leaves where you don’t see them, and seeds itself thickly all around the parent plant.  Dogs wandering through the patch pick up the burrs and plant more elsewhere.  Still, the leaves are a favorite goat treat, and I don’t mind having it around.

Common milkweed is one of my favorite wild edibles, as well as being a great bee plant and the chosen food of the monarch butterfly larva, and for years I have been trying to get it to become invasive, but in my yard it remains as fussy as orchids.  Ordinarily I run a Darwinian garden and will not make great efforts to keep any plant going when its natural inclination is to die, but I have really gone out of my way for the milkweed, and it has not reciprocated. Finally, this year it is beginning to spread a little bit, but there is still not enough to eat any.

Silver nightshade is the only invasive plant in my area that I truly despise and can find no use for, which is a shame because it’s everywhere. If you think it looks pretty, you haven’t gotten to know it. The roots lie several feet underground and are invulnerable. The plant comes up everywhere, and is covered with small prickles that are not only painful but break off in your skin with any touch and cause irritations that last days. The leaves are poisonous to livestock. There is no argument to be made for its existence except that, unfortunately, it does exist.  It does not seem possible to have less of it. I blush to admit that once, many years ago, I was so infuriated by it that I tried spraying some with Round-up, and I must say that it shriveled up over the next several days in a very satisfying way. Unfortunately, within a few weeks it had rebounded and was growing up happily and thickly from the roots, seeming invigorated by the experience.  So do not bother sacrificing your organic credibility, because it won’t work anyway.  Every now and then I run its scientific name through the medical databases, hoping that somebody somewhere will have found a chemical in it that treats a rare cancer or something like that, so that I will feel differently about its general uselessness. But so far, it remains one of nature’s blights. It seems to be highly aggressive in dry soils and doesn’t compete well in damp areas, so maybe as humus and moisture increase in my soil, it will be less of a problem.

Read the book if you are really interested in a different way of thinking about invasives.

An Assortment of Shoots

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Last night I decided to try a grand assortment of the shoots found on or near my property right now. All would be oven-roasted in olive oil and salt at 500 degrees except for the garlic shoots, which are getting a bit tough this time of year as they elongate toward making scapes and need gentle stewing in olive oil over low heat for a long time, 25-30 minutes. They were cooked sparately on the stovetop.

The materials that I had to work with included a good-sized bundle of hops shoots, which I have shown many times before, and all of the following:

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Tender cattail shoots are shown in the upper picture. The one below shows, from left to right:

  1. Annual arugula shoot with buds only just beginning to show.
  2. Dock shoots harvested before any flower buds show.
  3. Carrot shoots from some roots that I didn’t get around to harvesting.
  4. Stalk of a sunflower picked at about 18″ tall and the very fibrous outer layer carefully peeled off.

They were tossed separately in olive oil and a little salt and kept in separate piles on the baking parchment so that we could discern the flavors accurately. All but the arugula were cut in sections an inch long or less to mitigate possible stringiness. I added a couple of chard stems cut in 1/4″ cross sections, after I used the leaves for something else.

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Roast away in a preheated 500 degree oven, checking frequently and removing each at its preferred stage of doneness, i.e. when it looks roasted but not burned.

Consensus:

I have been writing about green garlic all season, so no need to say anything more except that, as always, they were delicious.

I love cattail shoots but my husband finds them only passable. Probably for solitary dinners in the future.

Love hops shoots with their feral, mildly bitter, “unimproved” flavor. Love them.

Sunflower stalks have a pleasant enough, rather innocuous flavor and nice texture when carefully peeled. There are those on the Internet who claim that they just pluck them and eat them. These people have probably never been near a sunflower. More on this later.

I have not yet found any way that I like chard stems except roasted and  ground into a fairly good baba ghanoush. Eaten alone, there is a touch of dirt in the flavor that doesn’t do it for me.

Dock shoots were amazingly good, with a soft center tasting of lemon with a strain of bitterness. Be sure to cut into sections before cooking to eliminate the stringy factor, and pull large leaves off. Smaller ones can be left in place and are tasty.

The arugula shoot was very slender but a bit stringy anyway. They, too, need to be cut into sections. Delicious though, although they are small and it would be tedious to pick enough for a meal.

Carrot shoots were the real surprise. When roasted in sections they were tender, sweet, and full-flavored with a touch of the terpene scent that makes carrot foliage smell aromatic and carroty. The remaining leaves got brown and crisp during roasting and added textural interest. I liked them so much that I am going to leave the rest of the row of woody second-year carrots in place until they produce shoots. Even when the roots are at this advanced stage my goat loves them, so the roots will not be wasted.

Initially I wanted to taste each type of shoot individually, but I will make a grand mixture in the near future by sorting sections roughly according to size, i.e. thin, medium, or thick. Then I’ll pan-fry them in olive oil in my biggest skillet, putting thick ones in first, then two minutes later mediums, followed by thin bits in another two minutes, then cook until done. Yum.

Look around you and see what’s producing shoots right now. If (and only if) you’re certain that the foliage of that plant is edible, try them out in hot olive oil. I enjoyed goji berry shoots a little earlier in the season, and will be trying wild lettuce and sow thistle within a week or two. Some grapevines produce delicious shoots, although some ( most notably my Concord vine) have so much papery fiber in the leaves and shoots that I consider them inedible; read more here.

 

 

 

The Offbeat “Broccolis:” brocolettas in the spring garden

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Broccoli is widely touted for its nutritional content and culinary versatility, and my garden beds are full of broccoli-in-waiting, but there is also “broccoli” to be had right now. All the common garden crucifers produce bud clusters when they shoot to seed, and all of them are good to eat when snapped off before the flowers open. Some go to seed the first year, and some have to go through a winter before they bolt. I try to use cover crops that will be edible as greens and also offer me a “second harvest” of bud clusters. Currently I am harvesting bud clusters from arugula, daikon, and the collards that I over-wintered for seed production (they make a huge amount of buds, and a few clusters will never be missed). Arugula is especially good for this purpose, because first you get those exquisite nutty-peppery salad greens, second the top-bud harvest with its wild, unimproved, bitter-edged flavor, then the remaining buds open and are wildly attractive to bees, and finally the remainder of the plant enriches your soil when chopped and dug in, all in the span of a few months. I buy the seed in bulk and cover-crop it whenever a piece of garden bed is going to be empty for a little while. You can also harvest buds from bolted radishes and wintered-over kale, and probably a lot of things that I haven’t tried yet. Be aware that they are tiny, and you need a lot of plants to have enough to cook. I have heard these offbeat buds referred to as “broccolini” or “brocoletta.” I call them brocolettas, because “broccolini” really refers to a form of domestic broccoli with long, small stems.

When I call the flavor “unimproved,” I am referring to the fact that our common domestic vegetables are bred for the mildest flavor possible. The things that I grow and forage for are not. They have very pronounced flavors from their protective phytochemicals, and can stand assertive seasoning. Think garlic, red pepper, thyme, and other strong flavors.

My favorite way of cooking the washed bud clusters is to throw them in a hot pan of very good olive oil with a little washing water still clinging to them, salt them, turn frequently and keep the heat fairly high, and serve them when the green parts are crisp-tender and there are crisp brown areas but no blackened spots, and eat them in their feral glory with some extra olive oil on top and a twist or two of the pepper-mill. They can be a “hot salad” on their own, or complement a flavorful entree. Take that, flavorless baby spinach!

Nose-to-tail vegetable eating stretches over each vegetable’s growing season, in my view, rather than meaning that every single part of the vegetable is edible and choice. Arugula’s leaves and buds are very desirable eating, the flowers are excellent bee forage, and then the remaining plant offers biomass for mulch and compost, or you can let them self-seed first and have your next crop planted. Now that’s multi-purpose.