Monday, June 20, 2011

Climbing spinach adds earthiness to salad

My friend Joan gave me a few seeds earlier in the spring for vegetables I had not planted

before, including a climbing spinach called Malabar. I love spinach and never seem to get enough to satisfy from my garden so I decided to plant this in a pot that I could keep on the step leading to my kitchen. I’ve been watching it grow for a couple of months and the pot is now filled with thick, shiny, green leaves with red stems. Some of the leaves have also turned a deep, greenish pink. It’s a beautiful vegetable that, if nothing else, is quite pleasing to the eye next to the flowers I put into another pot.

Today I decided to pick some of the leaves and add them to my lunch salad. Biting into them is satisfying because of their bulk and earthy flavor. So I searched for more information about this plant. It turns out that it’s tropical so it likes heat and should produce that wonderful flavor all summer. The nutritional value of this beautiful plant is also impressive. While being a low-calorie vegetable it is also high in Vitamin A with a good amount of Vitamin C, calcium and iron.

I just checked to see if I have more seeds. I might commandeer another pot and plant more. I don’t think I can go wrong with beauty, taste and nutrition all in one easy-to-grow plant.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Lentil Apple Potato Salad

Sometimes I crave beans of any sort. I recently bought some pretty, orange lentils and decided they would make a refreshing salad. It would also be a good way to celebrate my freshly plucked green onions and just-dug new, red potatoes. The dish was easy and turned into a great side or main dish to take for lunch.

1 cup lentils
1 apple
1 ½ cups diced, boiled potatoes
3 green onions
¼ cup fresh parsley
1 lemon
Your favorite vinaigrette

Cook the potatoes until just done. Remove from water and immerse in ice water to stop cooking. Cook lentils in the same water until done (15 minutes or less).

Meanwhile, chop the apple and put into the salad bowl. Squirt fresh lemon juice onto the apple chunks and stir. Chop the onions, including some of the greens, and parsley and add to the bowl. When potatoes are cool, cut them into bite-size pieces and add. Rinse lentils in cool water then combine with other ingredients, plus salt and pepper to taste. Top with your favorite vinaigrette.

It’s easy to make your own vinaigrette. Just remember it’s three parts oil to one part vinegar. I used red wine vinegar and that worked well with this salad.
Jim rated it a winner when I sent it with him and his co-worker for lunch. If it helps two hungry men get through a hard-working day, then it has something going for it!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Live with nature

As I sat writing on my porch this morning I noticed an insect with a hard-shell lying on his back and flailing to right himself. I was absorbed in the story I was writing and went back to it. A few paragraphs later I glanced down to see if his determination had paid off. He had rocked himself close to one of our old metal chairs and looked as if he were about to succeed to when a spider dropped from her home. At first, it was a battle as the larger insect continued to struggle and the spider slowly dropped closer. Then the spider reached the insect. He fell lifeless instantly. I assumed she ended it with her venom.

I couldn’t take my eyes off of the drama. She worked until she had him in the right spot then quickly pulled him up into her web, hungry for a meal I imagine because her belly was clearly filled with babies soon to be born. If someone comes to join me on the porch I’ll have to tell them not to sit in that chair for I will not be the one to destroy the home of such a resolute creature.

My recent interview with Jeannie Kirkhope of the Appalachian Catholic Worker Farm in West Virignia reminded me of how much more magical life is when we truly live with nature. It’s one thing to tend the garden but it’s quite another to remember to look for the same sort of life and death cycle on my front porch, my outside summer office.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Vegetarian night makes for colorful plates

Everyone who pays attention to food these days is talking about the new food guidelines in the U.S. that trade in the visual image of a pyramid for a plate with proper proportions of each food group. When I look at a plate I’m less likely to see food groups and more likely to see colors. Eating a rainbow of foods means you’re getting an array of nutrients that your body needs.

My eye was quite pleased when we had vegetarian night, thanks to the bounty from the garden. On the menu: Roasted Vegetables with Penne and Spinach Crostata.

I had been wanting to try the Spinach Crostata recipe since I watched Lidia make it on Lidia’s Italy a few weeks ago. She makes cooking look so effortless! When I read the recipe it didn’t appear as quick and easy as it had seemed on television, but it still wasn’t difficult.
For the Roasted Vegetables with Penne I adapted a recipe from Giada de Laurentis. I tend to add more vegetables than some more traditional pasta recipes call for and since I’m cooking for only two of us, I almost always have to cut down the amounts. With credit to Giada for starting me off on this idea, here’s what I did.

Roasted Vegetables with Penne
4 cups seasonal vegetables
1 chopped and sautéed Portobello mushroom
½ pound whole wheat penne pasta
½ cup olive oil
1 cup Italian bread crumbs
1/3 cup rehydrated sun-dried tomatoes
1/3 cup chopped almonds

Cut the vegetables to bite-size, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle on salt. Roast in 400 degree oven until tender. I used butternut squash (left from last season) and asparagus and they were ready in about 20 minutes. Be sure to stir them a couple of times so one side doesn’t burn. In the meantime, toast the chopped almonds, sautée the mushroom and re-hydrate the tomatoes.

Cook pasta in salted water. Remove pasta with large pasta dipper and place in warm bowl. Sprinkle with bread crumbs and mix. Mix in olive oil to coat the pasta with oil and crumbs. Toss in vegetables and almonds. Salt and pepper if needed. Enjoy!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Compost surprises

As I walk through my garden looking for weeds and where I might need to water, I notice the squash plant beginning to reach out from beneath the green, potato leaves. Amidst the asparagus patch there are at least three tomato plants stretching for sun. And throughout the kale and spinach is cilantro, cilantro and more cilantro. What surprises a garden can offer!

This year we spread what had decomposed in our compost bin over much of the garden. It took me awhile to realize that must be where all of these volunteer plants came from. And if they were able to survive the heat of that jumble of persistently life-giving decay, who am I to pluck them out?

Volunteer plants that return from the previous garden season, regardless of how they arrived, seem to have such a strong will that I can rarely pull them up. They often turn out to be the best producers.

In the meantime I look at the growing beans that have also been diligent in their quest to greet me. After our monsoon-like spring rains we now haven’t had rain for 10 days or so but the beans don’t seem to mind. I love the way my garden not only nourishes my body but also provides me with lessons in tenacity that I can use every day.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Don’t miss out on salad season

Spring is such a wonderful time for salads. Garden leaf lettuces are tender and sweet, an entirely different eating experience than the head lettuce I grew up eating. There are also plenty of other garden goodies to add to your salad. And if it’s a hot day, you can combine these ingredients for a wonderful meal without ever turning on the stove.

Here’s one way to think about creating a spring salad.

Step 1: Choose lettuce, spinach, arugula or a combination. If cutting from your own garden, remember it’s best to cut it in the morning. I sometimes water mine the day before cutting to add to its goodness. When the summer sun begins beating down on it, the lettuce will get bitter so cut it all or cover it.

Step 2: Choose a fruit. I’ve been adding strawberries since they’re in season. Later I’ll try blueberries, apples, peaches, whatever I can find.

Step 3: Add something acidic. I like throwing on Kalamata olives. You might also try capers.

Step 4: Add cheese. This can add another texture to tempt your tongue. I typically use cheddar, Parmesan, feta or goat cheese. I was thrilled to find the delicious Bluegrass Chevre at Marksbury Farm Market.

Step 5: Add more protein. The cheese will give you some protein and staying power, but you can also add tuna, chicken, bacon, whatever you like. I oftentimes only add walnuts or almonds to make it more filling.

Step 6: Top with croutons or another grain if you like. I often skip this step.

Step 7: Finish with your favorite dressing. You can easily make your own or squirt on something you already have.

For this salad, I used a variety of leaf lettuces, strawberries, Colby cheese, walnuts, Kalamata olives and Italian dressing. It was the perfect lunch for a warm day.