Posts Tagged ‘garlic’

The Greens of Early Summer

I love leafy greens and consider them one of the healthiest foods in the world, as long as they were raised in a clean fashion.  If you are lucky enough to have a garden and an active permaculture property, you can nearly always eat some greens but the source of your greens changes throughout the growing season.  Right now, we are in the glory season for lambsquarters, and they are everywhere and are at their tender best right now. I eat huge quantities of them, but I have written so much about them elsewhere that in this post I will say very little except: for the sake of your health and your palate, learn to identify them, harvest them, prepare them, and eat them.

Today I decided to write about some uncommon greens which are unique to the season.  Americans don’t think very much about eating the leaves of trees, but some of them are very appealing, and my favorite “tree green“ is the young sprouts of mulberry trees.  It is almost never possible to gather good edible leaves from mature trees. The best mulberry greens are the tips of actively growing shoots from trees that have been cut back, and I am lucky because on the walking trail near the river in my area, several mulberry trees have been cut back to keep them from impinging on the trail. They produce a forest of new growth, and it is the tips of that new growth that are good to eat.   Harvest only as far down as the stem can easily be snapped with your fingernail. If it bends or creases instead of snapping, go further up toward the tip.

Incidentally, there is some pretty ridiculous stuff on the Internet to the effect that mulberry leaves will get you high or the water from cooking them will. Utter rot.  This is one of those unfortunate cases of one writer printing a piece of misinformation and dozens of others picking it up as gospel.  I have been eating young mulberry tips for decades, and nothing remotely interesting has ever happened as a result. Euell Gibbons ate them, Samuel Thayer eats them,they are used as a tea throughout Southeast Asia,  and there is no reliable report anywhere of them causing hallucinations. You must always do your own due diligence and make your own decisions, but I simply don’t worry about it.

For a quick lunch for two, I gathered a double handful of mulberry tips. I washed them and cut them in fine cross sections of less than a quarter inch, chopping a large bunch at a time.     Then I considered what else to add.

I could’ve used sorrel for a tart element, but since the leaves on my petit syrah grapevine are young and tender, I decided on several of them.  Wash them, stack them, roll them up like a cigar, and sliver them very thin with a sharp knife.

For flavoring, garlic is always a favorite of mine, and right now the garlic is forming bulbs but they are small and the skin is still young and tender. I pulled an entire head since they are mild this early, peeled off just the toughest outer layers, and sliced the rest finely in cross section and chopped it. The material that would later become the skins is full of allicin, and is very desirable.  But I also wanted some herbal flavor, so I grabbed the top of one of my bronze fennel plants. At this time of year, when it is getting full and bushy, bronze fennel is so ornamental that I can hardly stand to use it, but it tastes good so I try to overcome my scruples.

I decided that I wanted a texture element, and this time of year my favorite crisp texture is the scapes of last year‘s leek plants.

Cut them before the bulb on top begins to open, peel off the very tough outer skin, and then use a vegetable peeler to get all stringy bits off.

As I got ready to cook,  I decided to cut the stalks in quarter inch  cross sections because it would go better with the other textures. The taste of leek stalks is soft, oniony, and sweet.

First heat a skillet over medium heat.  Then add your oil of choice. I used a mixture of olive and avocado oil.  When the oil is hot, put in the chopped garlic, leek stalk pieces, and fennel.  Sauté until the garlic looks cooked. Add the chopped mulberry leaves and grape leaves, and because the texture of mulberry leaves tends to be dry, I added a quarter cup of water at this time.  Add salt to taste, and sauté until the greens are cooked to your liking and any added water is cooked away but the greens aren’t too dry. Personally, I like tree greens a bit on the done side, since they tend to be a bit chewy when cooked al dente.   Taste for seasoning, and then set your greens mixture aside in a bowl, reheat the skillet, put in a knob of butter, and scramble whatever you think is the right number of eggs for two people.  When cooking for my husband and myself, I always use a mixture of three eggs and three additional egg yolks, beaten together with about a tablespoon of cream.  When the eggs are scrambled and have less than a minute left to cook, return the greens to the pan and stir the mixture up together, but you want discrete lumps of egg to remain among the greens.   Serve onto plates, grind over fresh pepper to taste, and salt as needed.

Besides mulberry and  grape leaves, I’m giving thought to other climbing perennials or trees that might be useful for greens.  I have a linden tree that I planted specifically for greens, however the texture turned out to be somewhat mucilaginous and if there is one thing I dislike, it is what my husband calls the “mucoid food group.“  They are fine in a salad when young, but I don’t care for them cooked at all.  I am beginning to eye the shoot tips on Siberian elm trees that have been cut back. My goat and chickens eat them in huge quantities, and maybe I could too,  so I have been searching for data, especially because this is an enormously prolific trash tree in my area.  According to the website Eat the Weeds, run by the prolific and reliable Green Deane, the very young leaves of both Siberian elms and Chinese elms are edible and can be used interchangeably with each other. So I will be trying that in the future. I’ll report back.

Chicken with Double Garlic Sauce

Garlic is wondrous in all its forms. I called this simple chicken sauce  “double garlic” not because it contains a lot of garlic, although it does, but because it contains garlic in two distinct forms. Right now I am harvesting the bulbs of the early Chinese Pink while the late Mount Hood is forming tender scapes. So both went into this dish. For the chicken, I used some leftover plainly roasted thighs. You could also make the very quick seasoning sauce to add interest to a plainly seasoned rotisserie chicken that you bought on the way home after a busy day. Of course you could also cook chicken thighs right in the sauce, but I conceived of this as a way to make leftovers fresh and interesting.

In the spirit of easy convenience, I added some artichoke hearts marinated in oil that I found at a grocery store olive bar. If you have some leftover vegetable that isn’t too seasoned, this is a good place to use it up. Just don’t use marinated veggies that are acidic or pickled-tasting; taste to be sure.

You will need:

1/3 cup very good EV olive oil

7 cloves fresh garlic, chopped

5-6 tender garlic scapes (snap one near the base. It should snap cleanly, with no “bark” peeling at the breakpoint) Chop in bits a little more than 1/4″ long

1/3 cup salted capers, soaked and squeezed dry, or brined capers rinsed and squeezed dry

1/4 cup, loosely packed, chopped herbs of your choice. I used half thyme and half fennel

4 cooked whole chicken thighs, or a disjointed rotisserie chicken

roughly 1 cup of cooked leftover veggies, not too seasoned

Heat a skillet ovet high heat and add the olive oil. Put in the chopped scapes, fry for about two minutes stirring frequently, reduce heat to medium, and cook until scapes are crisp-tender ( the best way to find out is to chew one.)

Add the squeezed-dry capers and cook until they look a bit dry and (ideally) a bit browned. Add the chopped garlic and the herbs, sauté just until the chopped garlic looks cooked, and add about 2 tablespoons of water and the veggies and chicken. Cook uncovered over medium-low heat, stirring and turning as needed, until heated through. There should be little to no water left, just seasoned oil full of delicious bits that can be spooned over the chicken and veggies. Serve with freshly ground pepper, but taste before adding salt, because of the capers and the pre-cooked ingredients.

I have already talked about garlic and garlic scapes at length, so this a good time to talk about capers for a minute. I consider them an essential kitchen staple and my favorites come from Morocco, but they are absurdly expensive, so feel free to buy something much more reasonable. The tiny nonpareil capers are often marketed as the best, but I don’t like them except as a garnish on smoked salmon and generally prefer the largest and most herbaceous that I can find. If salted, rinse the salt off, soak in water to cover for 20 minutes, and squeeze dry. If brined, rinse the brine off thoroughly, soak in hot water for a few minutes, and squeeze dry. There is currently a lot of silly snobbery about brined capers, but they can be delicious and are far preferable to tasteless or oversalted dry capers. I eat capers all summer and try to keep a handful, already soaked and squeezed, ready wrapped in a square of plastic wrap in the refrigerator. They’re astoundingly rich in quercetin, if that’s important to you, and they taste like essence of summer.

 

Harvesting Garlic

In a way the title of this post is very inaccurate, because I have been “harvesting garlic” since February  in the form of green garlic. But this is the time of year when I start to pull bulbs, because the extremely early Chinese Pink comes out of the ground now. So this is a good time to say something about the curing of garlic.

First, the variety matters. Chinese Pink doesn’t last that long for me and is mainly to tide me over until the main crop comes in, since it’s a good six weeks earlier than any other type that I grow.

Second, harvest at the right time. Watch for yellowing, withering leaves. Generally I harvest when there are four green leaves left, but Chinese Pink is prone to splitting and needs to be harvested earlier, when about the four lowest leaves are yellow. The picture below shows “split” garlic which has been left in the ground too long. It’s still useful but harder to peel and clean.

Third, DON’T cut off the stalks. The curing bulbs draw nourishment from the remaining leaves. Do, however, remove any bloomscapes. Also leave the roots intact but shake off soil. Brush loose dirt off the bulbs.

Fourth, DON’T leave them lying in the sun, where they will “cook” and be spoiled. After pulling the plants, lay them in single layers on a dry surface (I use flattened corrugated cardboard boxes that will later go into sheet mulch) and put out of direct light in a place with good air circulation. Leave for two weeks, turning the bulbs occasionally.

Now cut the withered tops off unless you grew a softneck garlic and want to make braids. My favorite types are all hardneck so no braids for me. The remaining surface dirt is now dry and can be brushed off with a soft brush, but don’t get fanatical with the brushing because you can damage the wrapper and impair the bulb’s ability to keep. Leave in the dim airy place and bring a few bulbs at a time into the kitchen.

When ready for curing, they will look like the picture below. Later on when you clean them up and bring them into the kitchen, they will look like the picture at the top of this post.

Before you start using your garlic, be sure to set aside the largest and best bulbs with the largest cloves for replanting.

Use your garlic.  A lot. This is the fresh clean-flavored garlic that makes recipes like Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic or Chicken with Fennel, Pernod, and Garlic such a pleasure to eat. Confit some and enjoy it on toasted sourdough bread or crackers, or alongside roast chicken, or in pepperonata. To confit garlic, peel a quart’s worth of cloves, put in a small heavy saucepan, cover with good extra virgin olive oil and add a heaping teaspoon of sea salt, bring to a simmer, and simmer slowly over low heat with an occasional gentle stir until the cloves just hold their shape but are soft and can be crushed easily with a spoon. If there is any hard “core,” keep simmering. Cool and store in a jar in the refrigerator. Be sure to keep the cloves covered with olive oil and it will keep a month or more. The confiting oil is a treasure, great in dressings or for drizzling.

The image of chicken and garlic above was borrowed from Food 52, my favorite cooking site.

For a far more detailed take on garlic curing and storage, review this excellent PDF from Boundary Garlic Farm.

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.

Early Harvest: Green Garlic

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Other than herbs and alfalfa tips for my chickens, green garlic is always the first thing that I harvest from the garden.  In my climate, which is more or less USDA zone seven, I plant in October and nearly always harvest green garlic the first week of March.  The part of the garlic patch that I plan to harvest green is planted very closely, about 2 inches apart each way, which is plenty  of room for this purpose.  Every year I plant more. It is really good stuff. For a long time I thought that it might not really be worth the trouble, because I was harvesting and eating only the white stem and incipient bulb and composting the greens.  Duh. The greens are the best part, as well as being full of allacin and other antioxidants, and any part that is bright green rather than yellow or brown can be used. You can grow a useful amount in a few square feet if your soil is rich, and it is harvested and out of the way in time to plant something else for the summer.

In the picture above you see a stalk of green elephant garlic, which is really a leek relative rather than a true garlic.  It is typically a foot or more tall and an inch or so in diameter at the green stage.   It has a slightly different flavor from true green garlic but is equally delicious.  I once bought green garlic at a farmer’s market that was bitter, but I have never tasted any other that was bitter. It may have had to do with growing conditions or variety. I have heard of people chopping garlic leaves into salads as a seasoning, but personally I don’t care for the taste raw and only use them cooked.

With all green garlic, I trim the roots and leaf tips and wash, then line them up and cut them in cross-section into slices about a quarter inch thick.  I sauté  in either butter or olive oil, whichever will suit the rest of the meal, slowly until the greens are tender. A little salt is thrown in along the way. They become soft and sweet and delicious, and I enjoy eating them as a vegetable on their own.  They also go very nicely into all kinds of other vegetable dishes.  If you are a carb eater, they would be delicious with fresh handmade egg pasta, butter, and a discreet amount of Parmesan, or tossed with new potatoes and butter. I love them in mixtures of cooked greens, too, and they are a lovely complement for fried eggs.  I plan to make a cream of green garlic soup  at some point this spring.  A few stalks sautéed in your smallest skillet while you are cooking other things also make a very nice cook’s treat  to eat standing in the kitchen, as a sort of tapa for one. After all, the laborer is worthy of her hire.

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Like all the rest of us, green garlic will lose its youthful bloom sooner rather than later.  When the bulb is swelling and the leaf tips are turning progressively more yellow, it is past the point of being worthwhile to eat green.  In its brief season I harvest 10 or 12 stalks whenever I have some free time, clean and sauté them, and have them waiting in the refrigerator.  If I haven’t use them within a day or two, I vacuum seal them into neat little packets and keep them in the freezer to go in summer dishes.

More vegetable-centered meals

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This time of year, vegetables are abundant and make up the bulk of our diet. Recently I wanted to put together a meal cooked on the grill using only vegetables that can easily be found at the farmers’ market. The kitchen stays cool, and people who don’t have a garden aren’t left out. If you need to accomodate vegetarians and vegans at your table, this meal can have everyone at your table happily eating the same thing, with no need for special plates.

The only remotely exotic seasonings that you’ll need are Spanish smoked paprika, readily available as Pimenton de Vera at The Spanish Table and other specialty grocers, and some capers, preferably the kind preserved in salt.
Click here for the recipe Continue reading

My Southeast Asian Summer: lemony herbs

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Some of the most delightful herbs used in Southeast Asia have a strong, clean citrus scent. Here we’ll consider lemongrass and lemon basil, along with a Western taste-alike, lemon verbena.  My love affair with the piquant and flavorful food of Southeast Asia continues, and I’m putting more and more thought into which herbs and roots to buy and which to grow. There’s an excellent reason to grow rather than buy: these herbs are almost never available organically grown. My experiments are aimed at seeing which ones I can grow in useful quantities without a greenhouse or other specialized setting.

They are very delicious with fish and seafood. For the Lemon Shrimp above, go to the very end of the post, after the growing info.
For more about growing and using the lemony herbs, click here. Continue reading