Simply Salad

One of the delights of spring and summer is fresh green salads. A tossed green salad is very easy to make using whatever fresh greens, herbs, and vegetables you have on hand.

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There are lots of different greens that can be used to form the basis of a green salad, and if you are a CSA subscriber, you may often find yourself experimenting with new-to-you greens. In addition to the many varieties of lettuce that are available, other common salad greens include

  • spinach
  • beet greens
  • baby kale
  • radicchio
  • arugula
  • chicory
  • endive
  • cabbage (napa and savoy cabbage are tender even when raw)

Use any one green or a combination, depending on what you have on hand. A bit of grated carrot in your salad will sweeten up bitter or spicy greens such as kale or arugula. I sometimes add bok choy to salad. The leaf makes a decent salad green and the chopped up stem adds some crunchy interest.

Wild greens I commonly use include

These are good in early spring before the plant sends up its flower stalk. After that, the leaves become tough and, in the case of dandelion, bitter. There are many other wild greens but these are the two I have experience with. As with any wild food, be 100% sure of identification before harvesting and eating. And wash them well!

You can add texture and flavor by adding other vegetables, chopped, sliced, or grated, as you prefer. Good salad vegetables include

  • tomatoes
  • cucumbers
  • carrots
  • radishes
  • broccoli florets
  • cauliflower florets
  • zucchini (I especially like this grated)
  • sweet peppers
  • red cabbage
  • red onion

You can add some heft to your salad with grated cheese, sliced hardboiled eggs, or nuts and seeds. Such additions can turn a salad into a main course.  On the other hand, I find these things can distract from the delicate flavors and textures of fresh vegetables and herbs. As always, experiment to find the combinations you like best.

Fresh herbs add depth to your salad. Just snip them up with scissors. Quantity may depend on how much you have available, though as guideline, about 1/4 cup of any one herb would be a decent amount for a regular size salad bowl. Much more might make the flavor too intense. But, again,  you should experiment with quantities and combinations to find what suits your taste.

My favorite salad herbs include

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If your salad vegetables are truly fresh, meaning they were recently harvested from your garden or a local farm rather than from a vegetable producer hundreds or thousands of miles away, they will need very little dressing up. There really is no need to smother the natural flavors of fresh vegetables and herbs in lots of oily dressing. If you are a salad dressing fan, I would suggest adding only a small amount, a few teaspoons per serving perhaps, just enough to enhance the taste of the vegetables but not overpower them.  I usually find , however, that a splash of vinegar or lemon juice is enough to brighten things up. You could also add a bit of olive oil if you like it.

 

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Roasted Spring Vegetables

We got the first CSA share of the season a few days ago and, along with it, the return of my weekly challenge – how to make a week’s worth of dinners based on the contents of the basket. This week’s basket was filled with – what else? – spring greens, including that vegetable I love to hate, bok choy.  The basket also contained asparagus, a vegetable about which I have much happier feelings. So I figured – why not combine them?

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Here’s how to roast your spring vegetables: First, separate the leaves of the bok choy and lay them flat on a greased baking sheet. Prepare the asparagus by breaking off the woody ends and cutting the thicker pieces in half lengthwise, then lay them on top the bok choy. Sprinkle the vegetables with salt and pepper, minced garlic and/or onion, and a bit of olive oil if you like. Roast at 375˚ for 15 – 20 minutes, stirring once halfway through to keep the vegetables from sticking to the pan. You can sprinkle the vegetables with grated cheese after removing them from the oven. Serve with rice and a tossed salad.

 

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Simply Tea

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In just about any supermarket, you can find a shelf stocked with beautifully-designed packages of “herbal” teas.  These teas bear exotic or whimsical names that often include some kind of fruit – mango, coconut, watermelon, or any kind of berry you can imagine. The beautiful designs and imaginative names lure you into a fantasy world of flavorful pleasure. But what kind of product do these packages actually contain?

Is it tea? Is it fruit punch?

A closer inspection of the ingredients list suggests that the answer lies somewhere in between. Usually the contents include something that is actually herbal, often spearmint or peppermint or blackberry leaf, sometimes hibiscus or rooibos. They may also include added sweetness in the form of stevia leaf. And they always include a suite of “natural” flavors – vanilla, cinnamon, lemon, raspberry, and blackberry are popular ones.

I find these products very sad. It seems as if they think naturally aromatic herbs need to be covered up with extracted flavorings in order to become palatable. And don’t even get me started on the over-packaging – teabags enveloped in paper packed in a cardboard box. . . .

These over-processed, over-packaged products have unnecessarily complicated something that is really beautiful in its simple, natural state. And why buy them when you can grow your own herbal teas right outside your door or even on your windowsill?

Common tea herbs include:

  • peppermint
  • spearmint
  • lemon balm
  • bee balm
  • lavender
  • chamomile
  • lemon verbena
  • elderflower
  • rose petals (if you use garden roses, make sure they have not been sprayed)

Most of these herbs are easy to grow and use. You can brew the leaves fresh from the plant. No tea bags are required. Just use a tea ball, tea strainer, or teapot. You can also easily dry the herbs for out-of-season use. Spread the leaves out on a screen or tie small bunches of stems and hang them in a well-ventilated place out of direct sunlight until dry. Any of the above herbs used alone makes a deliciously fragrant drink. You can also try different combinations. I like to make a tea of peppermint, lemon balm, and bee balm. Lavender-chamomile tea is another common combination and makes a relaxing drink.

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The above teas are (1) peppermint from my garden (2) wildcrafted multiflora rose petals (3) wildcrafted elderflower.

 

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Convenience

Cooking special meals can be fun when you have the time to gather special ingredients and follow elaborate instructions. But of course we don’t always have the time or inclination for this, and some people shy away from regularly preparing home-cooked meals because they think the preparation always has to be so elaborate. But that is not true. Making a regular practice of cooking delicious meals with local ingredients can actually be fairly simple and convenient. Just remember, “Your freezer is your friend.”

In the summer and fall, when produce is abundant, I fill my freezer with a variety of soups and stews. When the ingredients for any specific recipe are available, I make a large pot for dinner, and since I only have to feed two people (including myself), there is always plenty left over for the freezer. You can find some of the ideas and recipes I regularly use here, here, here, here, and here. If your family is larger, you may end up with less for the freezer, or you could double the recipe. Another method is to find a day when you have plenty of time and cook up several different soups or stews purposely to freeze. I freeze my soups in pint-size plastic freezer boxes, which hold enough for one large serving or two small ones. Then it is just a short trip from the freezer to the microwave to the table, and a home-cooked meal is ready to eat.

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In late summer, when tomatoes are abundant, I make several batches of tomato sauce and freeze them in my pint-size boxes. I use tomatoes, garlic, and onions from local farms, and herbs from my garden. There is nothing easier than throwing together a dinner of spaghetti and tomato sauce from the freezer, and I still end up with a home-cooked meal made largely with local ingredients.

In the fall, I make several batches of applesauce and crabapple sauce and freeze them in ½ pint boxes. Homemade applesauce is really easy to make. It is tastier than store bought and a good deal less sweet (unless you want it to be sweet – the sweetness level is completely up to you). Crabapple sauce is not available commercially as far as I know. Applesauce and crabapple sauce are great for snacking, as a condiment, or as an ingredient for baking.

During the summer, I freeze several kinds of vegetables. Corn, green beans, spinach, kale, pureed squash, and sweet peppers are vegetables that freeze nicely and that I cook with often. When I need any of these as an ingredient, I just open the freezer and there they are, ready to add to whatever dish I am cooking.

It has been a long time since I bought canned soup, spaghetti sauce, applesauce, or frozen vegetables at a grocery store. If you can find a little extra time to cook when ingredients are abundant, you’ll find eating home-cooked local food convenient all year round, without the need to resort to commercially prepared “convenience” foods.

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Green Tomato Pizza

Fall was unusually warm this year, and we were getting ripe, red tomatoes from the CSA well into October. But it looks like tomato season is finally over – the weather has turned frosty and last week’s CSA basket included what appear to be the last of the tomatoes – green ones. So I decided to try making a green tomato pizza. The recipe below includes pizza dough made in a bread machine, because that’s how I make it. But you can, of course, use your own favorite pizza dough recipe or buy ready-made pizza dough at the grocery store.

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Dough

  • ¾ cup water
  • 1 tblsp. oil
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup bread flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp. yeast

Place the ingredients in the bread machine according to manufacturer’s instructions. Set the machine to the dough cycle.

When the dough is close to ready, preheat the oven to 425° and grease a cookie sheet. Then prepare the ingredients for the topping.

Topping

  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 medium green tomatoes, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp. each dried oregano and basil
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 1 green or red pepper, chopped
  • 6 oz. cheese, grated (I use cheddar, but you could also try mozzarella or feta, or any other cheese you have on hand.)

When the dough cycle has finished, remove the dough from the machine and roll it out on the cookie sheet. Sprinkle the garlic over the surface of the dough. Cover the dough with rows of sliced green tomatoes and sprinkle them with the herbs. Then scatter the onions and peppers and cheese over the tomatoes. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden. Cut into squares and serve while still hot.

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Tomatillos

A friend generously shared some of her surplus crop of tomatillos with us this fall — very generously — and we now have loads in the freezer.

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Tomatillos are easy to freeze. You just remove the husk, then wipe or wash off the sticky coating underneath. You can leave smaller tomatillos whole and cut larger ones into halves or quarters. Then pack in containers and freeze. No blanching is required.

I like to make a simple condiment by sautéing minced garlic and onion with some chopped tomatillos, then pureeing it in the food processor. If you add cilantro and chile peppers, you will have something approaching a traditional salsa verde. I prefer it without those additions, however. The result is a simple, fruity sauce, which we usually eat with black beans and rice. It would probably taste good as an accompaniment to chicken too, and lots of other things, as well.

Here is another favorite tomatillo dish:

Chickpea and Tomatillo Stew

  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 2 cups chopped tomatillos
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas
  • salt to taste

Sauté the garlic, onions, and green pepper until the onions are translucent. Add the spices and the tomatillos and sauté a few minutes more. Add the water (preferably the cooking water from the chickpeas), and simmer until the tomatillos are soft, about 15 minutes. Add the chickpeas and let simmer another 10 minutes or so until the chickpeas are warm and the flavors have blended. Add salt to taste.

Local analysis of last night’s stew:

Local – tomatillos (from friend’s garden), garlic, onions, green pepper (from CSA), water

Non local – chickpeas, spices, salt

 

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Spaghetti Squash

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There were two spaghetti squashes in this week’s CSA basket, so we’ve been eating a lot of it these past few days. To prepare dishes with spaghetti squash, start by baking it in the oven. Cut the squash in quarters and scoop out the seeds. Put the squash pieces face down on a greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 until soft, about one hour. Let cool, then scoop out the pulp, which will come out in spaghetti-like strands. Depending on the size of the squash you start with, you should end up with about 2-4 cups of pulp.

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What you do next is limited only by your imagination. People often take the vegetable’s name literally and serve it with spaghetti sauce. That’s a fine dish, but why stop there? Here are some other ways to enjoy this versatile vegetable.

  • To make a tasty side dish, reheat the pulp with a little butter and salt and pepper to taste. That’s it! Or, you could add a little more. Last night, I topped the squash with chopped cherry tomatoes. Check your fridge for other possibilities.
  • For a heartier dish, try this: Sauté a couple of cloves of garlic and a medium onion, minced. Add 2-3 chopped tomatoes and some herbs, fresh if you have them. I like oregano and basil. When the tomatoes are cooked, stir in the spaghetti squash and continue cooking until the squash is warm. Sprinkle grated cheese on top and serve. Add a side salad and you have enough for a complete meal.
  • Spaghetti squash pancakes are delish. I use this recipe, though I use 2 cups of squash instead of the one the recipe calls for. I serve these the same way I serve other kinds of vegetable pancakes, with applesauce and garlic sausages.
  • If you like zucchini bread, you might like spaghetti squash bread too. Just substitute spaghetti squash for the zucchini in your favorite zucchini bread recipe. I use this recipe, and spice the bread with 1/2 tsp cinnamon and 1/4 tsp nutmeg.

What are some of your favorite ways to cook with spaghetti squash? Let us know in the comments.

 

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