Posts Tagged ‘broccoli’

Breeding Your Own Landrace

image
A plant variety is carefully selected to be as uniform as possible, so that each plant you grow of that variety will resemble the others fairly closely, with allowances for growing conditions.A landrace is a different and more chaotic and vibrant thing. A landrace is expected to have a high degree of variability, with the idea that you can plant it in a variety of different conditions and at least some of the plants will grow under those conditions. One way to look at a landrace is that it’s the widely varied genetic material from which varieties can be selected. So why would you want a non uniform seed stock? Well, does your weather change from one growing season to the next? Some members of your landrace will take the changes in stride. If you move, your landrace will go with you, and you will get some plants that adapt well to your new location. Hardcore survivalist types want landraces that can adapt to the challenges of a post-catastrophe area. Those of us who think in terms of smaller catastrophes still want to know that in a bad or atypical growing year our garden food supply will come shining through, or at least some of it will.

Currently I am trying to create my own overwintering brassica landrace. Overwintering doesn’t sound like a big deal among the brassicas, because many of them will overwinter in very cold climates, but our desert climate is a little different. Our winters are very dry and windy, and we have no snow cover, and so many plants like kale that overwinter well under snow will desiccate to death in our conditions.

I started my project last year, by planting four different brassicas and leaving them in place over winter to see which ones survived. I chose to start with collards, Portuguese kale, Tuscan kale,and sprouting broccoli. Selection this spring was easy, because only one of the four survived. The Portuguese kale (also known as Tronchuda) came through the winter and put out a very nice crop of leaves during the late February and March “hunger gap.” I cooked some of the leaves to make sure that they were tasty, and they were sweet, mild, and very good.I let the plants go to flower, and found that bees mobbed the light yellow flowers. The buds were also a good addition to vegetable stir-fries, although they have to be picked small because they toughen quickly, and of course you have to leave a lot of them on the plant to get your seeds. The plants get huge as they set seed, and I trained them into the paths so as not to lose too much bed space. I let a spring planted broccoli go to flower at the same time, to try to introduce more genetic variability, and let the bees do the cross pollination. The plants set thousands of seedpods each, and I found that when the seedpods are about 2 inches long and very slender, they make a very nice stir-fry, with much the same flavor as the leaves but a different texture. Currently the seeds are ripening on the plants, and when they are dry I will plant some for fall eating and send them through the winter to see how they fare.

I hope to end up with plants with at least some variability. We do have a number of wild brassicas that grow in the area, so a little bit of outbreeding could occur even if I had not let the broccoli into the mix, and variability is what I’m after. Selection comes later; right now my interest is in having brassicas that overwinter in our difficult climate but aren’t uniform, and might even provide specimens that I want to select and stabilize for different purposes, maybe one type for hunger gap leaves and one type for masses of buds, for example. I have already spent happy hours researching the possibilities, and happy time is among the benefits that my garden provides.

image

 

 

 

Leftovers Wraps for One

image
After I ate last night’s broccoli side shoots for one, I had several shoots left over, and tonight I pulled them out of the refrigerator for another veggie dinner. I also had last night’s Semi-Korean dipping sauce chilled, a couple of leftover hard-boiled eggs, a handful of roasted peanuts in my snack bag, and a head of romaine lettuce in the garden begging to be used. With the addition of a green onion from the onion row, my meal came together.
First I rinsed the biggest outer leaves of the lettuce quickly and set them in the dish rack to drain. Next, I thinly sliced the white part of the green onion while a small heavy saucepan heated up. I sliced the green parts separately, and chopped the cooked broccoli and eggs roughly. By this time the pot was hot, and I put in 2 tablespoons or so of oil and threw in the onion whites. They sizzled furiously as I stirred for about one minute, then the peanuts went in. After another minute, I added the chopped broccoli and about a quarter cup of the sauce, plus a glug of good soy sauce from the bottle that hangs out by my stove. After about one more minute of stir-frying, I turned the heat to medium, cooked just until the broccoli was hot, and stirred in the green onions. The chopped eggs were tossed in after the pot was removed from the stove. It was plated, wrapped in the romaine leaves a spoonful at a time, drizzled with more of the sauce, and eaten. Prep time and cook time together totaled twenty minutes.
Cooking for yourself is a great time to go improvisational because if something goes wrong you can shrug and, in a worst-case scenario, eat something else. That’s not so bad. And odds are that you will make some delightful discoveries along the way. The more you think through your available ingredients, putting them together on your mental palate, the less likely you are to make awkward combinations. And I want to put in a plug for prepping vegetables and possibly cooking at least some of them as soon as they hit your kitchen, so that you have fodder for really fast, really good meals. I recommend that any aspiring improvisational cook, or for that matter any cook, read Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal. It’s a delightful read and a quick education in skilled use of leftovers.
Incidentally, when you find a sauce that suits you like my sort-of-Korean sauce suits me, make it in larger batches, keep it in the refrigerator, and see how many different ways you can use and enjoy it.

Veggies for One, or Two

image
One of the joys of early summer is seeing gorgeous big heads of broccoli “crowning” above the leaves. After you’ve cut the central head, the fun is just beginning. Keep replenishing fertile mulch around the plants and keep them watered, and soon a ring of side shoots will appear above the foliage. Cut the shoots with their long stems, being careful not to harm the main stem of the plant. Rinse them off and peel the stems carefully with a vegetable peeler. Steam to taste. In my opinion, broccoli should be steamed for eight minutes, and raw broccoli is not a vegetable at all. Your mileage may vary.
My favorite way to eat these long elegant stalks is with a quasi-Korean dipping sauce. I was particularly hungry and added a fried egg (double-yolked, so I got a bonus) and drizzled it with the dipping sauce too. The sauce is flavored with gochujang, a lovely deep-flavored fermented sweet chile paste that is unlike any other form of chile. Currently the only brand of gochujang I use is from the quirky company Mother-in-Law’s Kimchee.it contains rice powder and sugar and has some carbs, but you don’t use that much and it doesn’t have any corn syrup. I make this sauce by the pint and keep it in the refrigerator. The recipe as given here makes just over one cup.
The sweeteners that I use are oligofructose, a chicory root derivative, and liquid stevia, because I’m a ketogenic eater. If you don’t worry about carbs, you can just add sugar to taste at the boiling stage. If you do use oligofructose, I recommend the Sweet Perfection brand. Other brands have a bitter taste to me.

Dipping sauce
3×1″ piece of ginger, peeled
8 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons coconut oil
2-3 tablespoons gochujang depending on your heat preference
1/4 cup rice vinegar
3/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup Sweet Perfection oligofructose
Drops of liquid stevia to taste

Chop the ginger and garlic while a small saucepan heats up over medium heat. When hot, add the coconut oil, let it heat a minute or two, and add the chopped ginger and garlic. Stir-fry until they are cooked and fragrant but haven’t colored at all. Add the rice vinegar and soy sauce, bring to a boil, and slowly pour in the oligofructose with your nondominant hand while whisking rapidly with your dominant hand. It will form awful clumps if not handled this way. When it is all incorporated, remove the pan from the heat, let stand at least ten minutes to cool, and add liquid stevia just 2-3 drops at a time, tasting to make sure you don’t go too far. Serve in neat small bowls with nearly any meat or vegetable that could use some quick perking up. It seems tailor-made for broccoli, but a big glug poured over rapidly stir-fried greens is also pretty damn good, especially with chopped hard-boiled egg on top to complete the meal, and a salad of leftover thinly sliced steak or chicken, fresh sliced romaine, and this sauce as a dressing makes a beautiful lunch.
image

The Offbeat “Broccolis:” brocolettas in the spring garden

image
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.