Roots, Shoots, And Garden Based Broths

Daikon, Ginger And Lemon Grass

My town is blessed with some awe inspiring restaurants, among which my favorite noodle joint stands out. This humble place offers the usual assortment of pho dishes, all very tasty, but their vegetarian broth is so good that people order veggie pho with meatballs or whatever, just to savor the delectable broth. It’s silky, spunky, and gently pungent without being particularly spicy. It’s mainly made from daikon, a huge Asian radish (see below if you want to grow your own). I’ve been experimenting to try and make my own version of that broth, and here’s what I’ve got so far!

Savory, Satisfying Vegetable Broths

Savory, clean tasting broth is the chief building block for nearly all soups. I find commercial brands rather nasty, either greasy and muddy or weirdly sweet and metallic tasting. Happily, utterly delicious vegetable broths are ridiculously easy to make. You can make one from scratch as detailed below, but if you cook a lot, you can make excellent broth by packing a pot with vegetable scraps, adding water to cover and half a teaspoon of sea salt, then covering the pan and simmering on low for an hour or two. Strain and season to taste and you have a base that can take you pretty much anywhere you want it to go. I keep a container in the fridge where I put onions and garlic skins, roots and outer layers, celery roots and tops, carrot tops, and the parts of leeks that are too tough to eat. Since I make soup every few days, this stuff never gets funky, but it freezes just fine if need be.

These simple and very common ingredients are the basis for all sorts of soups, which can be elevated by later additions, from ginger and chili peppers to mushrooms and winter greens. However, some otherwise very pleasant soup ingredients do not contribute to good broth. I’ve learned not to add scraps of cabbage, kale or chard, all of which can overpower the pot. Peppers, eggplant, asparagus, beans, mushrooms and squash can also come on strong, so I stick with the basics for broth and embroider the soup later. If a vegetable broth tastes thin, add a little miso or flaked nutritional yeast (NOT brewer’s yeast), both of which offer rich flavor and a lot of umami. You can also stir in some vegetarian refried beans for body and depth, or kombu (edible seaweed). Pescatarians can add dried bonito flakes too (kombu and bonito flakes are the ingredients for traditional Japanese dashi broth).

Vegan Broth For Pho Noodles

1 onion, chopped, with papery skin
4 fat cloves garlic, chopped (with skins)
2 cups chopped unpeeled daikon radish root
2 inches unpeeled ginger root, chopped
1 unpeeled carrot, chopped
1 leek, chopped, including roots and all green parts
2 stalks lemon grass, cut in 2-inch pieces
1 teaspoon sea salt

For Pho

1 cup diced tofu
1 cup julienned carrot
1 cup coarsely chopped cabbage
1 cup snow pea pods
1 cup shiitake mushrooms (or sliced baby Portobellos)
2 green onions, thinly sliced
4 cups pho noodles

2 cups bean sprouts
1 lime, cut in 8 pieces
1 jalapeno pepper, sliced
4 large sprigs thai basil

Make broth by combining all ingredients with 6 cups water. Bring to a simmer and cook, covered, over low heat for an hour or two until vegetables are tender and broth is golden (onion skins add a lot of color). Simmer over lowest heat for an hour, then strain. Return broth to pan and season to taste with salt. Bring to a boil and add the tofu and vegetables, cook for 1-2 minutes, add pho needles and cook for a minute, then serve with garnishes. Serves 4.

Growing Daikon

Daikon (Raphanus sativus var. longipinnatus), sizes up fast (about 60-70 days from seed). You can find seed of various heritage daikon strains, some best for growing in hotter weather, most for the cooler months. Most are tastiest when harvested before they get more than a foot long. They’ll happily grow longer, but lose their crisp texture and develop woody cores. Because the root is so large, it grows best in deep, open soil, not easy to come by in my part of the world. I’ve had the most success growing daikon in spring and fall, in my deep berms of sandy loam.

On the other hand, daikon is a favorite crop with permaculture fans, who use it as a “vegetable drill” to open heavy, compacted soils. If you don’t care about getting perfect roots, go ahead and grow it anywhere! My most successful daikon crops have been sown in late winter and harvested before summer heat hits, or fall planted and harvested in early winter. A hard freeze turns them to mush, but recent winters have been good ones for daikon.

Growing Ginger…Or Not

Another key ingredient in that mildly addictive broth is ginger. There’s been a mild fad for growing your own from starts taken off grocery store ginger roots, but that’s not a great idea. For one thing, unless it’s certified organic, it’s probably been treated with fungicide as well as growth inhibitors that suppress sprouting. If you really want to try it, look for certified organic ginger “seed” (really small starts).

Like daikon, ginger prefers an open, nutritive soil, though ginger wants more fertilizing than daikon. It grows out rather than down, so it doesn’t need the depth that daikon does, but it definitely needs extra calcium, especially in the maritime Northwest, where calcium levels tend to be low. I admit to having grown some just to see what it was like, with moderate success, but unless you live in Hawaii, I’d say you’re better off getting good organic ginger from the grocery store.

Sprouting Lemongrass

The third magic ingredient in the pho broth is lemongrass. Like ginger, lemongrass is too tender to be perennial in the Northwest, but it’s easy enough to grow indoors. Again, look for certified organic lemongrass, choose a few plump stalks, and stick them in some water on a sunny windowsill (south or west facing works best). Change the water daily and in a week or so, you’ll see roots at the base of the stalks. Keep changing the water and in a few weeks, the stalks will be well rooted enough to pot up.

When the roots are ready, plant your lemongrass in a large pot, as big as you might use for a major houseplant. Use a nutritive potting soil, and give it a similarly sunny window. These guys get quite large, and need both deep soil and good drainage. Keep them moist but not soggy, and fertilize with 5-5-5 every few weeks. As they settle in, you’ll find new shoots coming up beside your starters. When you want to harvest, use a very sharp knife to cut a few stalks right at the base. Once lemongrass is established, cutting will encourage new growth, so you can harvest freely as the plant matures.

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Gardening In Deer Country

Protecting Plants While Sharing

Until last week’s wind and relentless rain battered blooms and leaves away, the new plantings in my island bed were looking surprisingly mature. The back half of the large, horseshoe shaped bed was planted in February of 2015, the front was planted this February, in mounded beds of sandy loam topped with fish compost and dairy manure. In all, we brought in 80 yards of sandy loam and some 40 yards compost and manure. In this salubrious mixture, the woody plants are growing slowly but very strongly, while the perennials and grasses are thriving.

So, however, are the deer. Indeed, since the wind whipped away all lingering foliage, I can plainly see a narrow track cutting through the remains of my stockpiled heap of digested dairy manure. This slender trail leads into the back of the island bed, ducking under the sweeping lower branches of a Blue Ice Arizona cypress. Now I understand why two of an otherwise flourishing swath of Euphorbia Ascot Rainbow faltered, fell, and eventually failed; the deer path cuts smack between them. Each time I carefully reset the euphorbias, they would end up flat on their faces, but I was too busy blaming my resident mole family to realize that the pressure was coming from above the soil, not below.

Deer Daunting Deterrents

Since we see deer daily, I planted the outer perimeter of these new beds with plants that deer do not favor. For starters, I ringed the sides of the upper bed with privet honeysuckle, Lonicera pileata, a handsome evergreen that grows into a dense mound, ranging in size from about 3 feet high by 5 feet wide to nearly twice that in rich soil. Between the clumps, I tucked in a new Dutch form of catnip called Meow that gets 3 x 3 feet and blooms continually from late spring into autumn.  Across the back of the bed I transplanted some huge clumps of Fatsia japonica that were plastered across the front of the house. Between these, I placed a combination of evergreen and deciduous barberries, from Rose Glow to Berberis Darwinii. Sadly, these barberries are not growing as fast as I’d hoped, and the deer have wriggled between them very successfully.

In the front bed, I used a mixture of the privet honeysuckle, evergreen barberries, and sacred white sage, Salvia apiana for the perimeter hedge. These are growing fast, but so far, they aren’t big enough to keep the deer from strolling in to sample the salad bar. They ignore the soaring Joe Pye and the towering Thunderhead thalictrum in favor of the tender frills of my Tiger Eye sumac, which in other settings they’ve never bothered. I thought I had successfully hidden some soft coral roses salvaged from my Mom’s behind huge clumps of a particularly vigorous heritage rhubarb, but no such luck. This rhubarb is locally famous as a relic of a long-ago islander whose penchant for homemade rhubarb wine caused her husband to toss her beloved plants over the fence, where the neighbors happily grew the monster on and passed it around the island.

What’s A Gardener To Do?

In my experience, very little is truly deer proof. Plants deer gorge on one year may be ignored the next, while plants they have disdained for years suddenly become irresistible. Young deer are more adventurous than their elders, happily taste testing almost everything that comes their way. To be lastingly effective, deer fencing must be at least 8 feet high, and 10 feet is better. That’s why my preferred solution is to provide an assortment of plants that I don’t mind sharing and to plant them out elsewhere. As the deterrent shrubs grow, they slowly habituate the deer away from their accustomed superhighways while providing acceptable fodder to lure them elsewhere.

For instance, deer adore our native red twig dogwood, which normally grows to 8 feet high and wide. I was able to use this pattern to advantage years ago. The planning department ordered me to put in an 8-foot visual screen of plants to hide my garden school parking lot from the road. The local police department, however, ordered to me plant a screen that was no more than 3 feet high. To satisfy both requirements, I used our native red twig dogwood (Cornus sanguinea), which was on the planning department’s list of acceptable choices. That got me the vital permit required to open our school. The helpful deer kept the dogwood trimmed to a height of 3 feet, which made the police happy and allowed a clear view of the road from the parking lot. The presence of ample twiggy dogwoods also reduced depredation on many other, more ornamental plants, which were barely touched when the deer changed their traffic pattern. I consider this win-win planting.

Deer & Dog Roses

There are of course other good solutions. In one garden I know, a thoughtful young boy planted a hedge of “dog” roses around his mother’s garden. These were not the wild dog roses of England’s’ hedgerows, but a mixed assortment of free give-away roses that nobody really liked much. He figured (quite rightly, as it turns out), that the deer would nibble these and leave the choicer ones inside his mom’s beloved garden alone. Another neighbor’s woodland garden is similarly protected by an irregular “hedge” of recycled plants, including many roses, that distract the deer from the garden’s more valued flowers.

By offering a small smorgasbord, gardeners can generally escape the wholesale damage that occurs when deer find a concentration of one special plant they really love. Rose gardens are notable for attracting deer with sorrowful results. When we incorporate our roses and lilies and other delicious plants into naturalistically layered gardens, where they share the borders with many other kinds of plants, the delicious are less likely to be found than when they are temptingly massed. It’s silly to set tasty plants out like a salad bar, then get angry when something takes us up on our offer. Mixing deer-favorite plants into mixed borders makes them harder for pests to find. However, if you really, really want to keep the deer away, get a dog. Or two.

Posted in Garden Prep, Gardening With Children, Pets & Pests In The Garden, Soil, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living | Tagged | 4 Comments

Sushi For Vegetarians & Vegans

Sushi From The Garden

Years ago, my friend Noyuri taught me how to make simple sushi. The process is engaging and the result is toothsome and beautiful, so garden based sushi has become part of my regular kitchen repertoire. Once I have a batch of sushi rice prepared, I can wander the garden, selecting some peppery mustard greens, a crisp cucumber, some baby carrots and tender young squash or a handful of snap peas. When I trade neighbors plants or produce for eggs, I make some egg pancakes to slice up and tuck in with the vegetables for a hearty breakfast sushi.

Leafy mustards are among the most versatile of winter greens, lovely to look at and spunky in flavor. Osaka Purple mustard looks hand crafted, crinkled and cupped and tinted in mysterious shades of burgundy and merlot. Red Kingdom produces smaller, tender leaves of deep velvet red with a vivid bite that adds snap to almost anything, from tuna or egg salads and cheese and bacon sandwiches to green salads. Shredded mustard greens make a wonderfully crunchy, spunky garnish for soups and stir fries and are lovely with grilled fish or vegetables like asparagus and young peas. I also grow a lot of arugula for much the same uses, including a new favorite called Arugula Wasabi, with toothed leaves and little white flowers. It makes a pretty garnish that packs a flavor wallop, the taste unfolding in the mouth from tart to fiery.

Rolling Along

Here on Bainbridge island, we can buy traditional bamboo rolling mats at the grocery store. If you aren’t so lucky, be assured that you can roll your sushi perfectly well using a clean tea towel (see below for more specifics). We also have our choice of nori, or seaweed sheets, which come in several sizes (these are available online if not locally for you). Try a few kinds to discover your own preferences; the Chinese sheets tend to be thicker and on the chewy side, while Japanese brands are usually thin, crips, and melting in the mouth.

When you get down to production, it’s best to have all your ingredients prepped and ready to use. Because the temperature of your ingredients makes a big difference to the end product, have everything at room temperature, neither hot nor cold. I start by cooking and seasoning the sticky rice, then letting it cool, since using it hot can distort thin nori sheets, which buckle and shrink when you try to fill them. Next, I make the egg pancakes, which also need to cool. Then you can chop your fresh vegetables and shred your greens. If you like to add avocado, cut it last so it doesn’t discolor before you can use it.

You can find very complex sushi recipes, but I find myself to be more than satisfied with simple variations on some basic themes. Here are some great starter recipes to try:

Garden Sushi Rolls

1 English cucumber, sliced into long, thin pieces
10-12 snap peas, ends and strings removed
1 red or yellow sweet pepper, sliced lengthwise
1 cup thinly julienned carrots
6-8 green onions thinly sliced lengthwise
1 tablespoon ponzu or sweet rice vinegar
Nori wrappers (package of 10)
2 cups sushi rice (see below)
1 cup cold water
1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds
10-12 leaves mustard greens
1 egg pancake, sliced (see below)

Combine sliced vegetables and ponzu or vinegar, set aside. Toast the nori wrappers for a few seconds over a hot oven burner (electric or gas). Place one sideways on a tea towel or bamboo roller (the orientation is landscape rather than portrait). Dab four blobs of rice (about a tablespoon each) in the corners of the nori wrapper. Dipping your fingers in cold water (often), smush rice thinly over the whole sheet, leaving about 1/2 inch bare at the top. Sprinkle a band of sesame seeds about 2 inches from the bottom, then arrange slices of vegetables sideways across the sheet. Add mustard greens and egg pancake slices if desired, tuck in tightly and roll up, pressing gently to close roll. Slice completed rolls with a VERY sharp knife, starting with a center cut (slice, don’t saw) and rounding each piece as you go. Each roll makes either 6 or 8 pieces, depending on the size of your nori wrappers.

Variations On A Theme

Other good additions include sliced radishes and radish sprouts, sliced raw yacon or jicama, asparagus, green beans, sweet onion slices, very thin slices of sweet potato, almost any kind of pepper, pickled onions or peppers, and pickled ginger slices.

Traditional Egg Pancake

1 teaspoon vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Heat oil over medium high heat in a covered pan. Whisk eggs, sugar and salt and pour into heated pan, tilting to spread evenly. Cover and cook over medium heat until puffed. Cool and cut into 1-inch strips.

Sticky Sushi Rice

You can buy seasoning packets for sushi rice or use this traditional recipe and season to taste.

2 cups Niko Niko or Japanese sticky rice
12.5 ounces (360 ml) water
4.5 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt

Rinse rice until water is clear, drain and put in rice cooker. If cooking in a pan, bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to simmer until water is absorbed (about 15 minutes). Let stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Combine vinegar, sugar and salt. Put rice in a bowl and fold in vinegar mixture with a wooden paddle (don’t stir) and let cool.

Make Inari With Leftover Stuffing

Chop and mix all extra stuff with rice and tuck it into Inari wrappers (I like the refrigerated kind, especially the brand Hikari Inari). These are little pockets, like bite-sized tofu pita, that come soaked in soy sauce and mirin. They are irresistible!

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Green Soups Galore

Autumn Garden Soul Soups

Autumn is nipping at the heels of summer, the nights are getting chilly, and the days are suddenly shorter. In the garden, summery abundance is giving way to cover crops and winter greens, and in the kitchen, the counter is hidden under a boatload of roots and greens, as well as squash, tomatoes, and fat red paprika peppers. Most of my paprikas get smoked, but I am loving Hungarian Paprika Soup, a tantalizing take on the usual potato leek blend. A big bunch of parsley turns it a gentle green, a soft, summer’s end color that signals the coming segue into richer, heartier meals.

Green Heaven Soup is mildly addictive, so be warned! It’s kind of amazing that something so wholesome and healthy can also be almost impossible to stop eating. Just…one…more…spoonful… I’m also swooning over a gingery Broccoli Bliss Soup enlivened with coconut and lime. These soups are all vegan as is, but if you want a lusher flavor, you can gussy them up with yogurt, sour cream, and/or grate in some  hard cheese such as Asiago or Mizithra.

The Soup Pot Is Simmering

For starters, here’s the irresistible paprika offering. Like most peppers, paprikas get hotter as they get redder. ** They are actually very flavorful at every stage, from soft cream to the flaming red of full ripeness. If you are a heat weenie, stick with the creamies, adding a few pale orange ones for zip. If you like it hot, go for the screaming reds and have a cold beer nearby, just in case.

Hungarian Paprika Soup

2 tablespoons avocado or olive oil
1 teaspoon butter
1/4 cup shelled pistachios
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 plump leeks, thinly sliced
2 cups chopped paprikas **
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, chopped
1 large bunch flat Italian parsley, chopped

In a small saute pan, melt 1 teaspoon oil with the butter over medium heat. Add half the garlic, a pinch of salt, and the pistachios and cook, stirring often, until lightly browned and very fragrant, then set aside off the heat. In a soup pot, heat remaining oil, leeks, remaining garlic, and the peppers over medium heat and cook until soft (6-8 minutes). Add celery and potatoes, cover pan and sweat for 5 minutes. Add 4 cups water, bring to a simmer and cook until potatoes are tender (15-20 minutes). Add parsley and cook until lightly wilted (3-5 minutes). Puree soup with an immersion blender and serve, garnished with pistachios. Serves four.

My Green Heaven

This next ambrosial soup balances the deep, savory flavor of caramelized onions with the bright zip of fresh lemon juice and garlic. Smoky paprika gives it extra body, while the greens mellow everything into a harmonious whole. Crisp tart-sweet apples make a perfect garnish, but you can also use Mexican Sour Gherkins or halved cherry tomatoes if you have any left.

Green Heaven Soup

2 tablespoons avocado or olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 organic lemon, juiced, rind grated
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
2 large Yukon Gold potatoes, chopped
1 bunch spinach, chopped
1 bunch kale, chopped
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 cup diced Honeycrisp apple

In a soup pot, heat oil and onions over medium heat until pale golden and soft (8-10 minutes). Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt, reduce heat to medium low and cook, covered, and stirring occasionally, until onions are lightly caramelized (25-30 minutes). Add lemon rind, garlic, and potatoes, cover pan and cook until potatoes are sweated (8-10 minutes). Add 4 cups water, bring to a simmer, add chopped greens, cover pan and cook until greens are lightly wilted but still hold their fresh green color (5-6 minutes). Puree soup with an immersion blender, season to taste with paprika, salt, and lemon juice and serve, garnished with apples. Serves 4.

Broccoli Bliss Soup

2 tablespoons avocado or olive oil
2 plump leeks, thinly sliced
2 shallots, chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 inches fresh ginger root, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
4 cups chopped broccoli florets
4 cups chopped chard or kale
1 can coconut milk (13-14 ounces)
1/4 cup tahini
1 small ripe avocado, diced
1 lime, quartered

In a soup pot, heat oil and leeks and shallots over medium heat until pale golden and soft (8-10 minutes). Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt, add ginger and cumin and cook for 5 minutes.  Add broccoli, cover pan and cook until florets are sweated (6-7 minutes). Add 4 cups water, bring to a simmer, add chopped greens, cover pan and cook until greens are lightly wilted but still hold their fresh green color (5-6 minutes). Puree soup with an immersion blender, stir in coconut milk, bring to a simmer, adjust seasoning and serve, garnished with a swirl of tahini, a generous spoonful of avocado, and a slice of lime. Serves 4.

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