Posts Tagged ‘eat your weeds’

Still more greens, and notes on solar cooking


Since I got a solar oven, I no longer find it difficult to cook chickpeas, and so I’m looking for new ways to use them. I especially like combinations of greens and beans, partly because these primal and earthy dishes are found all over the world wherever people need healthy cheap food, and partly because they taste good. I’m cooking my way through a huge patch of lambs-quarters and amaranth (common pigweed) in my back yard, and getting healthy food from weedy places always satisfies my sense of economy. If you’re not a weed-eater, just use Swiss chard. I like a little smoked meat with greens, but if you don’t eat meat, just leave off the final garnish of bacon. This makes two large main-course servings with leftovers.

One pound young leaves and tender tips of lambs-quarters and amaranth, OR one large bunch of swiss chard, stems removed, chopped coarsely.
One pint cooked chickpeas, with just enough of the cooking liquid to cover them (see Solar Beans, below.)
3-4 tablespoons good flavorful olive oil
1 large onion, finely sliced
2 large cloves garlic, chopped finely
1 tablespoon of fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons Spanish Pimenton de la Vera, or smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes
salt and pepper to taste
a little of your best olive oil for drizzling
1 thick slice bacon, fried crisp and crumbled (optional)
Wash the greens very well, make sure to remove any remaining large stems, and blanch them in boiling water for 1 minute. Drain, press out extra water, and turn out on a cutting board and chop coarsely in both directions. Meanwhile, heat a heavy pot (I like an unglazed clay 3 quart pot) over medium heat, warm the olive oil, and saute the onions in the oil until translucent and cooked through but not browned more than a little. Add the chopped garlic and saute until garlic is cooked. Add the smoked paprika, thyme leaves, and chile flakes, saute a minute but no more, and promptly add the chickpeas and their liquid. When this mixture comes to a boil, add the blanched and chopped greens, salt to taste, turn the heat to low, and let it all mellow together for 10-15 minutes. Check the seasoning, add pepper to taste, and serve with a good drizzle of very good olive oil on each serving and the crumbled bacon on top if you’re using it. With a hunk of good baguette and a glass of full-bodied straightforward red wine, it couldn’t be better or healthier. Without its bacon topping it’s vegan and can be served to people of that persuasion, with the bacon fillip for the carnivores at the table. People who are vegetarian but not vegan will enjoy a pat of butter melted on top to give a little richness. Hedonists will like both a little butter and a little bacon.

Solar cooking is a natural here in New Mexico, where we have more sunlight than we know what to do with.
So, how do you cook solar beans? Fist you catch your solar oven. There are lots of easy plans on the internet for making them, but I chose to buy mine from the Solar Oven Society. Their solar ovens are capacious, lightweight, and every one you buy helps the society provide solar ovens to the third world, which avoids some deforestation and greenhouse gases from cooking fires. Their ovens are cleverly designed with two potential bases to provide a summer sun-catching angle and a winter sun-catching angle. Optional reflectors are available to achieve higher temperatures. You may want the optional reflectors for other purposes, but for cooking beans you won’t need them. Two graniteware pots are included with the oven, and you can put a pint of dry chickpeas in each one, cover with cold water by at least 2″, and set the oven up facing south in the morning with the two full pots inside. Then employ my special cooking technique: walk away, laughing a carefree laugh, and go to work or just get on with your life. On a reasonably sunny day, the oven without reflectors attached will reach a peak temperature of about 250 degrees and will stay in that range for much of the day. When you get home eight or nine hours later, you will find two steaming pots of perfectly cooked chickpeas, and you can salt them to taste, let them cool, and use immediately or freeze in pint containers with enough of their pot-liquor to cover. I love the oddly meaty-tasting cooking liquid and often use it as the broth for the finished dish, as I do above.
The directions that come with the oven imply that you need to turn it a few times to keep it facing the sun, but at least in summer I just point mine due south and forget about it. Other types of beans are also naturals for this solar slow-cooking, but they take less time, so I do them on weekends when I can check the oven in 4 hours or so to see how they’re coming along. For readers at lower altitudes than our 5500 feet, cooking times would tend to be much shorter. If the day clouds over, you may need to finish inside, or just put the pots in the refrigerator overnight and try again the next day. Don’t forget and leave the beans in the cool solar oven overnight, since some very nasty bacteria including botulinum could grow in room-temperature aqueous solutions. Cool them and pop them in the fridge or freezer when they’re cooked. Eat in the knowledge that you’re taking in all sorts of nutritive and cholesterol-lowering compounds that cost you no energy and very little trouble to cook. Beats canned, doesn’t it?

The Greens of Summer: greens for hot weather


From a nutritional standpoint, one of the best things that we can do for ourselves is eat leafy greens. Most people eat fewer leafy greens than they think they do. Recently my mother assured me that she ate lots of them, but when I pressed her about exactly what she ate, the only thing she could come up with was “spring mix.” Salads are nice, but they’re just the beginning of the leafy green vegetable story.

In Central New Mexico, it is easy to grow leafy greens in the spring and fall. It’s a little harder to keep a steady supply of nice tasty greens through the summer. Many greens such as collards and kale will grow through the summer but don’t taste good then. Fortunately there are a number of choices, and two of them will be with you whether you want them or not, so you might as well eat them. These are the common weeds lambs-quarters and pigweed. In my opinion only the tender tips taste really good, so I keep cutting them back to produce plenty of tips. Both are inclined to shoot out of bounds and get too big, and in that case I just pull them out and feed them to the chickens, since there will always be more young weeds coming along. Consult two good books on wild foods to help you identify them. Lambs-quarters is a mild green that can be blanched and used in any way you would use spinach. Pigweed, which is a variety of amaranth, is still fairly mild but has an earthy flavor rather like beet greens. Most kales taste too strong to me in hot weather, but Tuscan kale is pretty good in the summer, although I still like it better after the weather turns cold. Swiss chard is delicious all summer. The leaves of the common sweet potato, Ipomea batata, are a delicious and especially nutritious green vegetable relished in hot countries all over the world. As long as they get plenty of water, they thrive in our heat. All of the mallows are good heat tolerant greens. They are mild to the point of blandness and a little bit muciligenous. I use them as about 25% of greens mixtures to “smooth out” sharper greens, and as long as they are a quarter of the total mixture or a little less, they add a plush mouthfeel that makes the others taste better. . New Zealand spinach is delicious all summer as long as you keep the tips packed so that it stays bushy and tender and doesn’t go to seed.

This year I am trying some new ones. None of them are big enough to eat yet in my garden, but I mention them to get other gardeners thinking beyond the usual possibilities. Chayote, the mirliton of my Louisiana childhood, is widely grown in Mexico and the greens are used as often as the squash-like fruit. I am sprouting some to grow as greens, but they aren’t big enough to cut yet. I’ll. report on the flavor later. Quailgrass, Celosia argenta, is a heat loving green which is also very attractive. The winged bean and the cowpea are two legumes relished in Asia and Africa as leafy green vegetables, and they love heat. I am also trying Ethiopian cabbage and two fascinating tropical trees, Moringa and Chaya, which are valued as green vegetables in many parts of the world. Again, I will write a post about them when I have tasted them. If you are interested in expanding your range of possibilities I would refer you to the interesting website of ECHO; they have a display food garden in Florida where they grow many of these “alternative” possibilities and they do sell seeds for some of them. Bountiful Gardens is another good source for unusual seeds, and Baker Heirloom Seeds always has some interesting goodies to consider.

Having caught your greens, you now need to wash and cook them. Gritty greens are gruesome. My own method is to soak them in enough cold water to cover them generously for at least one hour, stir them around with my hands, lift them out of the water and discard it (put it on a garden bed, not down the drain,) rinse the bowl clean of grit and cover the greens with cold water again, stir with the hands, lift them out and discard the water again, and repeat the whole process once more. I have an 8-gallon plastic food grade bucket for this purpose, which I got at a brewing supply store. I don’t do it in the sink because then I couldn’t use the water to water the garden. Using this method, I never have any gritty particles in my greens. The initial soak seems to be important in loosening any attached dirt.

Now, on to the cooking part. My website and blogsite (click “greens” under Categories) are full of recipes for greens, but often I just blanch them until tender and serve with butter, a squeeze of fresh lemon, and a little salt and pepper. I picked up another good simple method in Hawaii, where many cooks have found that a combination of butter and a little soy sauce tastes wonderful. It doesn’t taste particularly Asian, just delicious. I like to add a little garlic to the combination. This is too simple to present as a formal recipe. Blanch 1 pound of greens until tender, drain them and press out all excess moisture, and chop them. Chop up one large or two small cloves of garlic, sauté them in 3 tablespoons of good grass-fed butter until cooked but not colored, and a tablespoon of best soy sauce, and toss with the cooked and chopped greens. Reheat briefly if necessary and serve.