Posts Tagged ‘salad’

Arugula: Still a Favorite Weed


The post below was one of my very first blog posts back in 2008, and it remains true that arugula is one of my favorite early spring greens and grows everywhere that it is allowed to seed, even in my high-desert climate. I still let it seed itself around in the way described below, but I also reserve a few square feet of bed space to grow it’s specifically for salads. Enrich the soil in the fall, and in late fall or early spring scatter arugula seed thickly around, scratch it into the soil surface or cover it with some compost, and water the area about once a week if you live in a climate as dry as mine. Bymid-spring it will be 4-5 inches high. To gather, hold clumps of leaves with one hand and use scissors to cut them off at the bottom of the leaf, leaving the stems behind. They will still be young and tender and will be quite clean because the closely spaced plants hold each other up off the dirt, so after a rinse and drying in a salad spinner or towel, they will be ready to eat.

In my view it isn’t worthwhile to try to get a second crop, because they are so closely spaced that they are eager to shoot to seed. I just dig up the area and plant something else. They are delicious with a good simple vinaigrette made with some garlic or green garlic and your best red wine vinegar and olive oil. Don’t forget the salt. Do  note that once the dressing is put on it arugula wilts very quickly, so don’t dress it until the last minute before serving. If you are making a mixed salad and want to dress it ahead of time, combine the other greens, dress the salad, and toss in the arugula just before serving.

Once you have it washed and handy in the refrigerator you will find other uses for it, such as scattering around the plate to serve chicken or fish or nearly anything else on, or stuffing into pita with hummus and some tahini dressing. It is one of the joys of spring, so use it instead of those commercial salad mixes.

Arugula, my favorite weed

Posted December 12, 2008 by wooddogs3 in cookingedible landscapingfront yard gardeninggreensherbspreservingrecipesaladsurban homesteadingvegetable gardening. Tagged: arugulacooking greensleafy greenslocal foodpancettapastasaladssustainablevegetable gardening1 Comment

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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, or go to the categories in the sidebar, 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.

Pasta with cooked arugula: For two hungry people, or four if using as a first course, Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, chop up a slice of good pancetta about 1/4 inch thick into 1/4 inch cubes (or chop up two slices best bacon, if you don’t have pancetta, but the pancetta is better here.) Render the little cubes in a skillet over medium heat until the fat is released. Don’t drain off a single drop of it. Toss in two cloves of garlic, chopped,  and stir briefly. Add half a teaspoon or so of red pepper flakes, stir in, and immediately pour in half a cup of good dry white wine. Boil vigorously for a minute, add salt to taste, and take off the heat.

Meanwhile, your big pot should have come to a boil. You did salt it, didn’t you? Few foods are worse than bland pasta. Throw in half a pound of good pasta. Whole wheat pasta is good here if you like it, but get a very good brand or it can be gluey and awful. When the pasta is about 2 minutes short of done, ie there is a bit of white core remaining when you cut or bite a piece, throw in the arugula greens, stir them in, and continue boiling until the pasta is done to your liking. Drain the pasta and arugula together, toss them with the pancetta mixture, and toss in a generous cup of the best Parmesan you can get, grated. Plate the pasta, grind a little pepper over the whole, shave a few artistic slivers of Parmesan on top, and bear to the table.

A vegetarian version can be made by starting with 1/4 cup of butter in the hot small skillet, stirring in a teaspoon of chopped fresh rosemary and two teaspoons of fresh thyme leaves with the garlic, and proceeding as above.

Permaculture Salad

It occurred to me this morning that my lettuce won’t be ready for weeks but there’s no problem at all in filling the daily salad bowl. After years of practicing semi-permaculture  and using the results in the kitchen I have strong opinions about salad greens, so I thought it might be worthwhile to go through the ones that I use most.

Major greens: these make up the bulk of the salad.

The picture above is blue mustard, one of my very favorites. It makes up about half of the bulk of any salad in our household this time of year.  I wrote about it at more length in my previous post, so what I will say here is that it is a recent invader in my area.  It first showed up along the ditch banks about four years ago, and now it is a common “weed“ in my yard.  I have no idea where it came from, but I’m glad it’s here.  Get it young, before you notice the tiny blue blooms, and I usually harvest with scissors, cutting about 2 inches off the top of the thick clumps.

The second bulk green right now is scorzonera.  I have written about it elsewhere, so all I will say here is that although it is often grown for the root, I find the root not worth the trouble, but the spring leaves are mild,crunchy, tender, and excellent to make up the majority of the salad mix.  The bloomscapes that come up a little later, harvested before the buds swell too much, are among my very favorite vegetables, so at this stage I harvest individual leaves to make sure I don’t hurt any potential scapes. Take the wider upper half of the leaf,  and leave the long stringy stem bit where it is.

it takes a few years for scorzonera to establish and make nice full clumps. I advise against cutting it at all the first or second year.

My third bulk green right now is bladder campion.  It took me a few years to get this one established, but now it is a thriving weed and comes up everywhere. The roots are deep and tenacious, so be sure to pull the roots out if you do want to get rid of it.  I pull it out of my raised beds but let it romp away everywhere else. Cut off the top 2” and discard any bare stems.   During the summer it is weedy and flops all over other plants, to their detriment, so you have to whack at it a bit. But it is always my first green of spring and the last one of fall,  so I would never want to be without it. I have heard the taste of the young sprigs described as “exactly like green peas.” I beg to differ. They do have a hint of green-pea flavor but they aren’t sweet and do have an undertone of faint bitterness. I find them delicious, and they are mild enough to go with anything else.

Minor greens:delicious when used in smaller quantities.

Sow thistle has thick leaves with an intensely green flavor. In some soils I’m told that it’s bitter at all stages, but in my yard it’s mild when young. I don’t have much of it, but enjoy what I have.

Arugula has been allowed to self-seed in my yard for so long that it’s now a common weed. I throw leaves in the rosette stage into salad, and any that get past me produce small white flowers that bees adore.

Alfalfa is nobody’s idea of an edible, apparently, but I like a couple of sprigs per serving. I pinch off the top rosette when the first shoots are about 4” high. Only the first growth of early spring is suitable for this use, and no stems.

Oxeye daisy delights the bees when it blooms, and the earliest spring shoots delight me in salads. They are tender, sprightly, and vaguely sorrel-like in flavor. I would eat a lot more of them if I had more. I’m putting in a larger patch this spring.

I use dandelions in limited amounts, maybe 10% of the total salad, but I miss them when they aren’t there. Once or twice a season I eat a big salad of pure dandy greens with a garlicky dressing and a side of bacon, but I don’t often have the materials available. Believe it or not, dandelions aren’t common in my area, and the eight plants that I have were started from seed and fussed over like orchids. I let them go to seed, and hope that eventually my yard will be colonized and I can eat dandy salads whenever I crave them.

Pea greens are a delicious tender green that really does taste like green peas. I plant my peas very thickly, almost touching in the furrow, and then harvest about half for spring salads, leaving the rest to grow and bear.

Seasonings: these have more distinctive flavors. Don’t be too timid with them though, because the dressing is going to mute them quite a bit.

I grow the sorrel variety called “Perpetual,” which doesn’t go to seed. It has the zingy lemony taste of garden sorrel but has thicker, more tender leaves and is a much smaller, less robust plant. I definitely need more plants of this one.

I grow parsley in a semi-permaculture fashion. Planted in spring, I use it all summer and leave it in place in winter. The following spring I get lovely bunches of early leaves to chop over salad and other stuff, and then it shoots to seed and reseeds itself.

This photo has three of my favorites. To the right are perennial green onions, which I have written about so much that here I’ll just remind you to sliver some into salads. In the center are young shoots of bronze fennel. Later in the year I would chop them up, but at this stage they’re so mild that I just cut each small leaf in 2-3 pieces. To the left is the first spring growth of Angelica archangelica, which I haven’t used until this year. The first tender leaves of spring have strong notes of celery and juniper. I tear them into pieces about an inch across. When they start to get tough, the stems chopped in thin cross-section will give a similar effect.

The earliest shoots of French Tarragon add a lovely anise flavor. I pull the new sprigs into individual leaves and toss them in whole.

I have heard people say that each dish or salad should contain only one herb, so as not to “muddy” the flavors. I couldn’t disagree more, and have seldom made a spring salad that didn’t contain at least three. Chopped finely the flavors can muddle up and become undistinguished, but left in large distinct pieces as I use them, they are vivid and impressionistic on the tongue.

 

Ditch Dinner, with notes on blue mustard

My home area near the Rio Grande has an elaborate venous system of acequias, the irrigation ditches that move water out to farms and fields. Further south, they make local agriculture possible. Even now that my area is urbanized, the ditches are lifeblood. They maintain our water table, and the dirt maintenance roads along them are walking paths where we enjoy fresh air, exercise our canine companions, and encounter our neighbors. For me, there’s an added dimension. They are kept dry in the winter, and the east or south-facing side side of the banks are where the earliest greens appear. By scrambling to the bottom of the dry ditch and walking along the bottom, I can harvest greens growing halfway up the steeply sloping bank, where dogs can’t urinate.

The first plant to appear, often in February, is tumble mustard, also known as London rocket. It is a very hot member of the mustard family, and I don’t much care for it in any form, but the amazing John Slattery can tell you more about its culinary uses: https://www.desertortoisebotanicals.com/blogs/news/urban-foraging-for-london-rocket. Despite my disinterest in it for table use, I gather bushels of it for my chickens, who adore it. Within a couple of weeks I’m gathering eggs with the deep gold carotenoid-packed yolks that I associate with the growing season. So the ditch banks benefit my chickens directly and me indirectly in the earliest weeks of the season.

This week the dock plants on the ditch banks have leaves 6-8”long and are ready to harvest. I made a greens cake based on green onions and dock greens, using five eggs and five egg yolks for an 8” square pan. The flavorings were thyme and black oil-cured olives. The cheese was a grass-fed cheddar. It was utterly delicious but needed a side salad to brighten up the plate and provide even more greens. Enter blue mustard.

By this time the banks have large patches of blue mustard, Chorispora tenella. It’s shown above in flower, which is when you are most likely to recognize it for the first time. I haven’t seen it in foraging books and I have no clue why, because it’s delicious. The young leaves and stems are tender when gathered less than 6-8” high, and have a delightful tiny nip of the characteristic mustard flavor without getting carried away. They are fine cooked but lose their character. Salad is the way to go. Look for dense patches where the plants are shading each other’s stems, and cut off the top 3” with scissors. If the plant is forming buds it is past its tender best and should be left to seed itself for next year. Wash and dry your blue mustard, combine with a few other mild tender shoots ( I used bladder campion shoots,) dress with a good red wine vinaigrette, and dinner is served.

I have moved some blue mustard into my yard too, which germinates later than the acequia population and extends the season a little. It’s pretty in the blooming stage but gets weedy and unattractive when forming seed pods. This is one for the weed patch, not the front yard.

 

Dandelion Time

Just after the first nettles, the first dandelions are ready to eat. This happens about the same time that the earliest daffodils bloom.

I have mentioned in another post that dandelions don’t seem to occur naturally in my neighborhood, and I went to a ridiculous amount of trouble to have them and paid good money for seeds that people in other climates would pay to get rid of.  Surprisingly, they take a long time to establish. I find that they are extremely straggly and thin the first year, and only a little more substantial in the second year. But in the third year, they make beautiful thick rosettes of spring time leaves that are perfect for salads.  Interestingly, the dandelions growing in my garden beds are not bitter, although in general dandelion leaves are famous for bitterness.  This may have something to do with my alkaline and highly mineralized soil. I’m really not sure. But it is a nice bonus. If yours are bitter, check out Dr. Kallas’s excellent book Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods From Dirt to Plate, which contains a number of sensible suggestions about making bitter greens more appealing.

All sorts of medicinal properties are attributed to dandelions,  and if you’re interested in that you can read up on it. Personally, as I have said several times before, I think that all leafy greens are medicinal in that they are really, truly good for you. Eat them all, lots of them.

The early spring leaves are both tender and substantial in texture. I like them in a salad either by themselves or with a little bit of outer leaves of romaine lettuce added.  But if you want to add them to a more traditional mixed salad, they add a nice amount of “lift“ to the mixture at this stage.  At times when I lived where dandelions or more bitter,  I was very fond of adding crumbled bacon and hard cooked or Friday eggs to dandelion salads. With the nonbitter leaves that grow here, I prefer to eat them just with a good vinaigrette, and maybe a few bones’ worth of roasted marrow alongside to complete the meal. I roast the bones with salt and seasoning, then dig the marrow out and plop it on a pile of dandelion leaves dressed with good vinaigrette. Grind some pepper over the top, and yum.  It’s a delicious way to stay ketogenic, but if you are not a low-carbohydrate eater, you can enjoy the marrow spread on elegant little pieces of sourdough toast.

Incidentally, if you are a fan of bone marrow, you might want to keep marrow spoons around, as shown above. They have long, narrow bowls that are specially designed for digging this delicious substance out of the bone. You can get heirloom sterling silver ones from England for $700 or more apiece, or you can do what I did and buy stainless steel marrow spoons on Amazon for less than $10 each. They work just fine.