Posts Tagged ‘leafy green’

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, ┬ásince 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. ┬áThen 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.

 

Another Great Green


One of my new trials this year was the Asian hybrid green Misome. I got my seed from Nichols Garden Nursery, one of my favorite sources for unusual and useful seeds. It’s a hybrid of tat soi, a vegetable that I love but can only grow in the fall. I planted Misome in earliest spring and it grew beautifully, producing deep green savoyed leaves that shone in the sun like the deepest jade. It had no insect or disease problems. Like many mustards, the only secret is to plant it early enough. The flavor was mild and ever so slightly mustardy. I used the youngest leaves in salads and the older ones stir-fried. It held for a surprising time in the garden, considering our early and very hot and windy spring, and when it bolted a few weeks ago, I pulled up the plants and fed them to my goat Magnolia, who was ecstatic over them. I like to believe that the dark green color indicates a high level of beta-carotenes, but I have no data to prove that. I do know from experience that it’s delicious. I’ll be planting another crop in early fall. Keep it in mind for next spring, or order some seed now while you’re thinking about it.

One of many ways to stir-fry greens:
This is too simple to be written as a recipe. Think of it as a basic technique that works for a wide variety of greens. Peel and chop a clove of garlic, a 1/2″ piece of ginger, and a 1″ piece of turmeric. Have ready a tablespoon of Thai fish sauce, a tablespoon of palm sugar or agave nectar (a surprisingly good substitute) and half a cup or so of coconut milk (not the low-fat kind). Thoroughly wash a pound of misome leaves, whirl them dry, and cut them across in 1/2″ slices. Heat a large wok very hot, put in about 2 tablespoons of canola oil, and dump in the chopped garlic, ginger, and turmeric and fry, stirring constantly, for a minute or until the fragrance comes up, which may be less than a minute. Be careful not to burn them. Now put in the strips of misome, fry a few minutes while turning regularly, and then add the fish sauce and coconut milk. Continue to stir-fry over very high heat until the coconut milk thickens, taste and adjust the seasoning if needed, and serve immediately. This is surprisingly satisfying by itself with jasmine rice for lunch. If you can’t find fresh turmeric, leave it out. Do not under any circumstances use musty dried turmeric instead.
Dishes like this will give you a glow of virtue and good health that goes on for hours. Perhaps it’s a true virtue of the greens, or maybe it’s just the glow of achievement that comes of eating what you grew. Either way, it feels good.