Posts Tagged ‘local food’

winter salads

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As part of our Christmas dinner, we had salads made entirely from our own yard produce. I had not used any season-extending devices at all, and we’d had cold weather and a few light snows, so these are the greens that thrive on cold and neglect. The “trim” is a ring of pansies, which I wrote about in an earlier post. The greens included arugula (see the post before this one,) pansy leaves (cool, tender, and delicious,) chervil, a few nasturtium leaves still surviving in a sheltered corner, my new favorite lettuce, and sunflower sprouts.
The lettuce that I’ve enjoyed most this year is a gorgeous deep red romaine called “Marshall.” I think I got my seeds from Territorial. the color is a dramatic foil for almost anything else, and it doesn’r get bitter in our sudden hot springs. It’s beautiful in the garden, too. You can see it poking up through a light mulch in the photo below.
The other photo shows my sunflower sprouts, and I wish I had known earlier how delicious they are. The first taste is pleasant and mild, but a delicious nuttiness rapidly reveals itself. These are the only sprouts that I’ve enjoyed eating out of hand, but they’re even better in a good mixed salad.
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Sunflower sprouts seem to be best when soil-grown, and they need a little light. I have a grow-light for my spring seedlings, and it usually goes unused in the winter, so I used it to grow the sprouts, but a sunny window would be fine.
Start with a large flat container. I used a terra cotta saucer intended to hold a large potted plant, just because I had one sitting around. Put in an inch of good organic soil. Scatter raw organic sunflower seeds (in shell) very thickly on top, touching each other. Pat them into the surface, cover with another 1/4 inch or so of soil, water well but don’t make the soil soggy, and wait a few days. The books say to presoak the seeds, but I didn’t and they did fine. When they start to emerge, begin giving them light, and harvest when they are green and are trying to shed their shells. I snap them off at soil level with my thumbnail, flick off the clinging shell, rinse well and dry, and start snacking. They go well with spicy mesclun mixes but can also give depth to a simple lettuce salad. Grow lots, so that you can use them lavishly.

Arugula, my favorite weed

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At times I’m very surprised by what grows well in my high desert garden. I wouldn’t have guessed that arugula would not only grow well but would naturalize and happily spread itself about. Arugula is my favorite salad green, and I’ve learned to love it for cooking too. Something about its tender nutty sharpness is like watercress gone to heaven. It likes cold weather, and manages with surprisingly little water.

First, get your seed. I don’t recommend the wild-type often sold as “sylvetta” because the leaves are small leading to low yield, and in dry conditions it can get too sharp to be pleasant. Try to get the type designated as ‘cultivated” or the named variety Apollo, although the latter lacks the frilly leaves that make such a nice show on the salad plate. In winter or very early spring, scatter the seed in drifts on prepared ground and rake them in lightly, or scatter them in prepared containers and scratch the seed in a little with your fingers. Water occasionally and keep an eye out. Early in the spring, you’ll notice the little plants struggling up bravely. Give them a little water when the soil is dry, and thin them out to stand about 4-6″ apart. Throw the washed thinnings in your salads, of course. When the plants are about 6″ tall, harvest them heavily for salads, but don’t cut the crown or pull the roots up. Use dressings containing nut oils and good olive oil. Never dress the arugula more than a couple of minutes before eating, because it wilts easily. Eventually the plants will start to bolt to seed. Do nothing to stop them. The next phase of the arugula season is starting.

The maturing plant will now stand about 2 feet high, with small clusters of buds. It’s perfect for cooked greens now. Leave one or two plants to bloom and make seed, and cut the rest down to about 3″ high, and bring the cuttings into the kitchen. Pull off and save all leaves, and break the bud sections off wherever the stem will snap without resistance. These are your cooking greens. Wash them carefully. If you want to use the large stems that are left over, cut them in cross sections no more than 1/4 inch long, because they contain strong  stringy fibers. I compost them instead of eating them. blanch the washed greens in a large quantity of rapidly boiling water for 1 minute, no more. Drain and proceed as desired toward dinner. They have a flavor a little like broccoli rabe, and I love to eat them with pasta. See recipe below, and for other recipes see my website, www.localfoodalbuquerque.com, go to the “recipes” page, and click on “greens.”

Now, what about the plants you left alone? They will develop into great wispy clouds of small white flowers, a little like annual baby’s breath. Bees adore them. Then they’ll set hundreds of tiny seed pods. When these dry out, let some spill around the mother plant (which can now be pulled up, and should be, because it looks pretty scruffy by now) and toss the rest around wherever you want more arugula. Usually these seeds will be dry and ready for seeding in late summer, will sprout by September, and will be in the salad stage by late October. Leave them over the winter, and the cycle continues.

clich here for the recipe

Thanks Giving

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What a deeply joyful Thanksgiving I was privileged to have: here in New Mexico we had both a new president and a good long soaking rain, and in the high desert it’s a little hard to say which is more exciting. The garden is still providing some lettuce, arugula, herbs, and carrots, but I have more time to reflect on what I’m doing. This has led to thinking about what, exactly, my urban homestead means. It certainly doesn’t mean self-sufficiency. That won’t happen until I can grow coffee and olive oil. It doesn’t mean grimly making do. It’s a happy celebration of what one small piece of city dirt can produce. I have a medical practice and a number of hobbies, but growing my own food in the most space-intensive way possible is a lot of fun, and I have a website and blog to let other people know that, if they want to provide for themselves a little more, they don’t need to quit their job and move to the country. I don’t even think that’s the best way to start. Start where you are, with what you have. People with no land at all can bake sourdough bread and brew beer, and those are indoor “yeast gardens.” People with a balcony can grow herbs in pots. People with a tiny yard can utilize it. In the quest for local food, we can have the most local food of all, and if we have more garden space at other points in our lives, we’ll know more about how to use it if we’ve practiced in small ways. Please go to my website, www.localfoodalbuquerque.com, for more about urban gardening, and look at my blog entries on other pages for details about the many small pleasures that crop up along the way.

Most of my winter posts will be about canning, preserving, and using what was made during the summer. That’s also a way of remembering the abundant season and being grateful for what I received. So, here’s a fond look backward at

the colors of summer.   august-08-029

pansies- more than an edible flower

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Here in Albuquerque, pansies are a pretty presence during the fall, take a brief break in the coldest weather, and then bloom themselves silly in the spring. The hot weather finishes them off. For years I’ve enjoyed their beauty and have used the edible and mild-tasting flowers to beautify my salads. It was only this year that I learned that the leaves are edible too, and in fact are very tasty, with a substantial but tender texture and a cool, slightly minty taste rather like mache’. Now I put in pansy plants in late September, let them establish themselves for a month, and begin plucking leaves and flowers at will until late November. After that I leave them alone until they show fresh growth in the spring. When making mixed salads, the mildly sweet flowers and leaves go better with lettuces than with the wilder-flavored greens like arugula or any of the chicories. Keep the flowers on top where they can be appreciated. I like to lay them on after the greens have been dressed. Gently floral olive oils like the ones from Provence and mild vinegars or a little lemon juice let these subtle flavors shine.

It’s worth noting that this triple-purpose quality makes pansies a good use of space in the cold months, and means that you can get some local food even from a pot of flowers by your door.

Some people make derisive noises about edible flowers, and think that the trend was a 1980’s California phenomenon and is now long over. Well, edible flowers have a culinary history several hundred years old at a minimum, and not likely to be over any time soon. Anything that both beautifies food and makes it taste better is worth learning about and preserving. The best culinary list of flowers that I know of is an appendix in John Ash’s From the Earth to the Table, which is a delightful cookbook in other respects as well. Second-hand copies are often available. Check it out.

If you get your plants from a nursery, ask whether they’ve been sprayed or fertilized, and wait a month or more to make sure they’re safe to eat.