Posts Tagged ‘leafy green vegetables’

Fennel in the Garden and Kitchen; a Nose-to-Tail Herb

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Fennel carries the true taste of summer. I love fennel and always have it around, and my favorite form, the only variety that I keep these days, is the subtly metallic bronze fennel. If you want fennel bulbs you will have to grow a bulbing type, but my interest is in other parts of the plant so the bronze suits all my purposes.
The first pleasure it offers is aesthetic: this is a lovely plant to have around. The color isn’t really bronze but a soft coppery-purple, and when hung with drops from a summer rain it is nothing short of breathtaking, in a quiet way. When dry, it is furry like a cat until the stalks form, and a little later the umbels of tiny yellow-green blooms look surprisingly pretty against the darker background. It would pass muster as a front yard edible in the most exacting neighborhood.
Second, it is beautifully aromatic. I brush my hand down a frond every time I pass it to inhale the anise-y scent.
Third, it’s delicious. I can’t understand why so few people eat their bronze fennel. I admit that my main use of it is to chew up a frond while weeding or doing other garden tasks. The resiny rush is succeeded by a taste of intense sweetness and herbal licorice. I realized years ago, when going through a Greek cookbook binge, that fennel and not dill is a primary seasoning herb for horta, the greens mixture that forms a part of so many Cretan meals and snacks. A generous handful of chopped fennel fronds, sautéed with other aromatics, gives the right flavor to a batch of greens mixture. Chopped fronds are also an essential part of fish marinades and rubs, in my view, and can be delicious on chicken. A little dab of herb salad, made from chopped bronze fennel and chives or garlic chives and dressed with a very good vinaigrette, is good as a seasoning garnish alongside fish or chicken. Chopped fennel fronds are lovely in mayonnaise to sit atop grilled salmon, or yo dress cold fish salad. When grilling fish, consider putting the larger stems of fennel across the grill to make aromatic smoke. I love a small handful of chopped fronds in salads. This is a nose-to-tail herb, since besides using the leaves and stalks you can collect the pollen if you have enough plants (fennel pollen is a common aromatic seasoning in Tuscany,) and the seeds can also be collected for culinary use. One cookbook writer said that she made an anise-flavored pesto from blanched bronze fennel fronds, and that sounds delicious too, although I haven’t tried it yet. On days when I’ve worked late in the garden and the late sunset finds me hot and dirty and with a poor appetite from the heat, I can throw together smoked salmon crostinis with fennel:

Cut a few diagonal slices off a good baguette or, if you are ketogenic, cut a few thin slices of ketogenic coconut bread. Toast them, spread with green mayo Or your own favorite tarragon-seasoned mayonnaise, put on one thick or two thin slices of smoked wild-caught sockeye salmon, smear with some mascarpone or creme fraiche, and top each with a couple of generous pinches of  chopped fennel. It takes five minutes, it’s cool and soothing, and yum.

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Incidentally, I remember reading somewhere long ago that fennel stalks coated with tallow were burned to summon good witches, and mullein stalks were used the same way to summon bad witches, unless maybe it was the other way around. So if you want to try it, you’ll need to get straight which is which. But I can say from experience that a couple of dried fennel stalks tossed on a dying fire in the fall give a lovely aromatic end to the evening that doesn’t summon anything but contentment and sleep.
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Notes on the Ketogenic Diet

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I have alluded several times to ketogenic dieting, and decided to say a little more before I go back to garden talk. I started eating ketogenically a little over three years ago, in response to increasing weight, blood pressure, and blood sugar. I don’t expect to eat any other way for the forseeable future, because I like being thinner, feeling better, and having no medications to keep track of. I am not making recommendations for anybody but myself. If you are interested, read the most recent Atkins book you can find, one that lists Volek and Phinney as authors since they are two of the foremost researchers in this field. For myself, I can only say that it has been exhilarating to find that the slow progression to type 2 diabetes is totally within my own control and doesn’t have to happen. I “cheat” on fruit when it’s fresh from my own yard but otherwise stay very low-carb. Deprived? Not hardly. The lovely plate above, “borrowed” from The Nourished Caveman, is just one example of what’s possible.

The bulk of my diet these days is leafy vegetables, both raw and cooked, and this is where being a gardener and forager comes in really handy. To get this quantity of greens in organic form from the store would be quite possible, but expensive. I cook them with healthy fats and any seasonings that take my fancy. I eat moderate amounts of meat, poultry, fish, and seafood. This is not an especially high-protein diet, although protein content is certainly high relative to the standard junk-food diet. I do use a few artificial sweeteners, mostly oligofructose (a natural derivative of chicory root) and liquid stevia, but I try to minimize them and I don’t obsess about making sugar-free desserts. Dessert should be an occasional treat, not a nightly right.

All of this said, I don’t intend to write much more specifically about this way of eating. It’s my lifestyle choice and not binding upon anyone else. If you’re interested, just be aware that my posts and recipes since I resumed blogging early in 2015 are compatible with a low-carb lifestyle, but older posts are not, and that green vegetables are your friends!
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For those who have tried low-carb and not gotten good results, the link below is a nice concise and useful summary of the most common mistakes.
Low Carb Mistakes
Here’s another helpful input from the Atkins forums:
Doing Atkins Right

Mulberry Heaven

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Near my home there is a mulberry tree that has delicious black fruit and low-hanging branches. When the fruit ripens, I throw my ketogenic diet temporarily out the window and go every evening to stand under it, gorging myself, while my dogs eat dropped fruit off the path. This is one of the greatest joys of the summer season. But it isn’t by any means the only use for mulberry trees.
On my own property I don’t have any mulberries big enough to fruit, but I do have two mulberries that I harvest greens from. The leaves of all mulberries are edible when young and tender, but flavor ranges from tasty to nasty. By hanging around a local organic nursery and surreptitiously tasting leaves, I got a couple that had fairly good-tasting leaves. At my last home I had a mulberry with delicious and large leaves, but alas, that tree is no longer mine, and I didn’t try rooting cuttings because I had no clue how hard it would be to replace. But the ones I now have are passable. The trees will rapidly grow tall if you let them, which I don’t. From the time they are 4 feet high I start managing them for leaf harvest by keeping them small. At first this is a matter of a little delicate trimming and weighting some branches so that they grow out nearly parallel to the ground. Later on in their lives, much harder cutting is needed, and by the time that they are 5-7 years old, they need coppicing (cutting off a few feet above the ground) to keep them in check. Coppicing keeps them from producing fruit, and incidentally they also don’t bloom and produce their incredibly allergenic pollen when managed this way. They do produce masses of young tender tips that can be pinched off at the point where they are nonwoody and break easily and cooked as a green, a good green that fills in gaps between cold-weather and hot-weather greens and contains resveratrol as a bonus.
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At the point when my coppiced trees start producing more greens than I can use (which is a few years down the road,) I will start harvesting bigger branches for my goat, who thinks that mulberry branches are the food of queens. Mulberry leaves can also be dried to make tea, although I think the resulting tea is pretty insipid stuff and needs other herbs for interest. I would also use “extra” cuttings for mulch and spare biomass.
For more about mulberry trees, see the link below for a terrific and very comprehensive post about mulberries in permaculture. Don’t miss the wonderful pictures of stuffed mulberry leaves! The recipes are available too, and I plan to try this soon.
Temperate Zone Permaculture mulberry post
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This image of stuffed mulberry leaves, poached from the Temperate Zone Permaculture post linked in above, looks especially interesting to me. Check out the recipes in that post.
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The stigmata of the mulberry fancier. Consider yourself warned.

 

Integrating Your Weeds I: lambs-quarters

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I’ve written a lot at various times about the Holy Trinity of edible weeds: lambs-quarters, amaranth, and purslane. In this post I don’t plan to say anything much about harvesting and cooking lambs-quarters, Chenopodium album,  since I’ve said that already and the short version is “harvest them young, collect as little stem as possible, and use them like any other mild-flavored leafy green.” Personally I dislike the texture and mouthfeel of the raw leaves intensely, and only like them cooked, but others see it differently. This is their great season; after midsummer they are very eager to make seeds and are no longer very usable as a leafy green.

The focus today is on how to have them in your garden without losing everything else. They are highly competitive. First, don’t just let a nice big plant go to seed in your garden, unless you have a lot more space than I do, because they get six feet tall and nearly the same across and tend to flop around, and nothing else in that bed will survive. Instead, look over your self-sown lambs-quarters (which you almost surely have,) choose one right at an edge or corner of a garden bed, cut it down to an inch from the ground, and keep hacking at it until late summer, allowing it to make exactly one branch which lies out horizontally over the ground of the bed. This branch is allowed to go to seed, and everything else is clipped off. It helps if the planned plants in that bed are large and robust. All other lambs-quarters in that bed are pulled out by the roots after harvesting. Your mother plant will dry out in early fall, very unattractively I might add, and when you are sure that it’s dropped its seed, you can dig the husk of the mother plant out. This will take a lot of effort and a good shovel.

Next spring, you will see a fine mist of seedlings on that bed. Keep them watered for tenderness, harvest them at 6-8 inches tall, and be sure to pull out the roots. If you are growing other things in that bed, be sure to give everything else a head start. In the bed shown above, I hoed up the ground when the seedlings showed and planted collards and onions. Don’t worry about hoeing the seedlings. There are millions more to come.  Then I let the second wave of lambs-quarters seedlings grow up among my plantings. Today I’ll harvest the lambs-quarters, and mulch around the remaining veggies and let them take over.

No doubt this decreases the total yield of collards and onions, but if you use a rich mulch like stable bedding they will make up for the slower start, and overall you are getting remarkable yields for the space. The returns are especially remarkable if you consider nutrient density, since lambs-quarters are among the most nutritious greens that you can eat.

You should only have to do this once, or maybe once every several years. You will then have millions of potential lambs-quarters in your soil and can grow a crop of them at any point in late spring or early summer that you have a bit of empty space. Just water the ground and stand back.

The marvelous foraging guide by Dr. John Kallas called “Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate” will enable you to identify and cook your bounty.

 

Improvisational Cooking: Greens on the Table

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I am always yapping on about eating more leafy greens, and periodically I like to write about how I put leafy greens on my own table. Here is a low-carb recipe that even greens-phobes tend to like, and leftovers make wonderful lunches and snacks. It is improvisational in nature and you can substitute at will: this is a skeleton recipe and you can flesh it out any way you like.

The basic ingredients are greens, alliums, flavoring leaves, oil, cream, eggs, nuts, seasonings, and cheese. The greens, alliums, and flavoring leaves can be varied endlessly, except that the bulk of the greens should be relatively mild.

First, catch your greens. I carry a white plastic food-grade 3 gallon bucket out into the garden and pick it full, with the greens loosely thrown in and not packed down. Today I picked mostly lambs-quarters leaves, with some late spinach and early chard. If I was working from the farmer’s market or grocery store, I would choose a very large bunch of chard and Tuscan kale, and would tear out the large central midribs. Wash the greens twice. Grab them by handfuls and, on a BIG cutting board, chop them coarsely.

Second, decide on your alliums. Today I picked two big green onions and a couple of very big stalks of green garlic. If you don’t have a garden, a large onion and three cloves of garlic would work. You could use two cloves of garlic and two bundles of onion scapes from the farmer’s market.  Shallots are good in the winter. Don’t use garlic scapes in this recipe, because the texture doesn’t work.  Chop your alliums finely.

Third, consider your flavoring leaves. Think in terms of adding herbal, sharp, aromatic, and sour flavors. Today I picked several large young wine grape leaves for the sharp-sour note, a few leaves of lovage and a handful of parsley for green-herbal tones, and a few sprigs each of thyme and fennel for aromatic notes. Possibilities are endless. If working from the grocery store shelves, I would often choose a small bunch of parsley and some tarragon and thyme. Chop your flavoring leaves finely.

For the oil, I use top-notch extra virgin olive oil.

For the cream, I chose a can of coconut milk because I had one on hand, but heavy cream would do just as well, and if you insist on almond or cashew milk you can use that. You need a cup or a little more of your cream of choice.

For eggs, I use three whole eggs and nine egg yolks. Do be sure to get the best pastured eggs that you can get.

For nuts, I always use about half a cup of pine nuts. If you choose some other nut, chop them coarsely.

For seasonings, I used about a teaspoon each of red pepper and Urfa pepper flakes. I seldom vary this, just because I love this combination with greens. You may prefer freshly grated black pepper.

For the cheese, I nearly always use 6 ounces of finely grated Parmesan and eight ounces of the wonderful Mt. Vikos feta, crumbled.

Having made your choices and prepared your ingredients, preheat the oven to 375 and generously grease a pan about 10 by 14 with olive oil. Sprinkle the bottom of the pan with some of the Parmesan. Beat the eggs and egg yolks together and salt them a bit.

Heat some olive oil, about a quarter cup, in your largest skillet and sauté the alliums until they are softening. Add the coarsely chopped greens and salt rather generously, and cook turning frequently and carefully as the greens shrink. Cook them 15 minutes or longer, until they taste good when you eat a bite, and then add the flavoring leaves and sauté about two more minutes. Now add the cream. Boil a minute and take them off the heat and let cool 10-15 minutes.

When the greens are just cool enough to handle, stir in the crumbled feta and then the beaten eggs and yolks. Spoon the mixture into the greased cheesed pan, smooth out a bit with a wooden spoon, and sprinkle with the red pepper and Urfa pepper flakes. Then sprinkle on the pine nuts, or whatever nuts you chose.  Top with the rest of the Parmesan (I like to drizzle on a bit more olive oil, too) and bake at 375 until the mixture is firm and a knife tip comes out clean, about 18-20 minutes for me. then, if you like, run under the broiler until the top crisps a bit. Be careful not to burn the nuts. Let it cool a little and serve in generous squares, jam-packed with nutrition. Smaller squares could be used as a finger food.
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Pleasures of the Garden: Solo Specials

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If you have the habit of solitude, there is no better hobby than gardening, and cooking for one can be a real pleasure too. Today I noticed that the radishes which I plant in my carrot rows ( one radish seed every four inches or so, to break the soil up and offer some shade and shelter for the tiny infant carrots) were ready to pick. Only four were ready, and I’m on my own today, so I began planning my solitary lunch, based on very flavorful (somewhat bitter) greens. I had the four radishes and their tops. I also picked the tops of several infant carrots ( they needed thinning and didn’t yet have any roots to speak of,) two large leaves of spinach, a couple of leaves of arugula, and a few large sprigs of lambs-quarters from the weed patch, to offer a mild cushion for the stronger greens. I also grabbed tender tips of alfalfa and a stalk of green garlic. A still-warm egg from the henhouse completed my outdoor prep.
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Indoors, I washed the radishes and greens, sliced the radishes in half lengthwise, chopped the stalk of green garlic finely, and then chopped all the other greens together more coarsely. In a small skillet, I heated a couple of tablespoons of good olive oil and started sautéing the green garlic. When it started to look a little cooked, the rest of the greens went in. Then I added some salt and cooked over medium-low heat for a little over 15 minutes, until the greens were softened and mellowed but still had plenty of character.

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Meanwhile, I spread the sliced radishes with good grass-fed butter and sprinkled them lavishly with my best fleur de sel. When the greens were ready, I turned them out onto a little warm plate, added some more olive oil to the skillet and quickly fried the egg in it, and added the radish slices that I hadn’t already eaten to the plate.
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Yum. There is absolutely nothing like a fried egg to mellow the flavor of strong bitter greens. And now, filled with bubbling good health, I can go on to an afternoon of further garden chores.
I eat a ketogenic (ultra-low-carb) diet for health and weight reasons, but if bread is still in your kitchen, a couple of slices off a good baguette would add heartiness to this perfect little impromptu meal.
Ah, the witchcraft we perform in our gardens and kitchens when nobody’s looking.

Books Worth Reading: Eat Your Greens!

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I am a gardener and also a doctor, so I spend a lot of time thinking about what could improve health for individuals and communities. When it comes to simple and practical innovations, I’m firmly convinced of this: there is no better thing that we can do for our own health and our families’ health than cook, serve, and eat more leafy greens. You can take me at my word,or you can read Eat Your Greens, by David Kennedy. Mr. Kennedy has collected a lot of information about why growing and eating more leafy greens is important, and gives information about some obscure greens. He is the founder/director of Leaf for Life and he wants everyone to be healthier.

Whenever I review a book, I want to talk about what it is and what isn’t. This is not a gardening book, and it isn’t a cookbook. It is a book about the importance of leafy greens to improving health worldwide. Lots of plants are given equal importance, no matter how relatively unsuited they are to cultivation in temperate America; this author thinks globally. Read it anyway, if you need to be convinced that the best thing you can do with your home garden plot is to grow a good supply of greens. A plentiful supply of fresh imageunsprayed greens is just about guaranteed to improve your health and your family’s health. There are some really good books about how to cook your crop. This one is to stretch your thinking in other directions.

Be sure to review the chapter on edible cover crops. If you want to improve your soil and eat some greens at the same time, try the cover crops that Kennedy recommends.

So, my personal opinion, after years of home gardening and given that I have trialed moringa and Chaya and many other chic greens discussed in this book, goes something like this: forget the obscure stuff unless you love to fool with that sort of thing (I do, but that’s not where the bulk of our green veggies come from.) Grow what grows well in your area. Grow kale, lots of kale, and chard and spinach and leaf lettuce, and harvest amaranth and lambs-quarters and purslane from your weedy patch. Grow any green leaves that you like to eat, and then eat them. Lots of them. Use cover crops in your little yard-farm, and feed leafy greens to your chickens and other livestock so that they will enrich you indirectly. Recognize green leaves as the most extraordinary solar collectors in the world, and let them feed you the energy of sun, earth, and water. Think about how to preserve them for winter. Keep them on your table. I will be trialing some of Kennedy’s ideas like Green Tofu, or leaf-juice curd, and I’ll let you know how it comes out for me. But please, eat your greens!

Oh, and please consider buying this book and other great books at your local independent bookstore. This is a genuine case of use it or lose it.

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