Savory Ways With Ubiquitous Veg

Getting People To Eat Splendid Squash

I love squash. From the moment I set the starts in place, I get a kick from the exuberance of squash spouts, the luxuriant foliage, and the crisp, slightly salty snap of the questing shoot tips. Shoot tips? Yes, really; they add a refreshing new element to salads and stir fries and pruning those long, sprawling arms can help to dial back some of that familial joyous abandon. This year I planted two kinds of summer squash; a classic green zucchini and a pale yellow version gifted to me by a friend whose grandparents grew it in Italy. Well! No surprise, both are prolific, already producing more than I can keep up with.

Sadly, nobody else in my family appreciates summer squash. My daughter diplomatically offered to eat any that I could add to dishes where she wouldn’t have to notice. My son and his wife both ardently denied any interest in taking a few home. Dang! How can I have failed to pass along my deep love for summer squash? Yes, I know, there’s always zucchini bread, but that seems like a sorry way to treat this delicious vegetable, as if it could only be palatable if blended invisibly with lots of sugar and butter. Not that there’s anything wrong with sugar and butter, mind you. But let’s consider ways to make this humble vegetable shine as well as ways to use it unobtrusively, shall we?

Flower Power

Since squash are so very prolific, you can harvest squash blossoms freely, especially if you stick to the males, found on slender stems. Females grow on thicker stems and often have a tiny squash already forming while the flower still looks fresh. Squash blossoms must be picked and used as soon as possible; to keep them for a few hours, remove the stamens from each flower, rinse blossoms well and gently spin dry in a salad spinner lined with paper towels. Add raw squash blossoms to salads, use them to garnish soup, or stuff them with ricotta blended with chopped olives, or goat cheese, salsa, and green onions. Both zucchini or straight neck squash and flowers work well in this zippy raw salad, which I make with Kosmic Kale, an especially tender perennial variety with lovely variegated leaves.

Squash & Blossom Salad

1 4-inch summer squash
3-4 squash blossoms, stamens removed
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes (mixed colors are nice)
1 cup kale chiffonade (cut in thin ribbons)
1 cup basil chiffonade (loose, not packed)
2 ounces fresh goat cheese, crumbled
2 tablespoons roasted, salted pumpkin seeds
2-3 tablespoons citrusy vinaigrette

With a sharp vegetable peeler, slice the squash lengthwise into fat ribbons. Sliver squash blossoms lengthwise. Gently toss all ingredients and serve at once. Serves four.

Bare Naked Squash

My favorite way to eat summer squash is this classic Italian treatment. Absolutely simple yet unforgettable when well made, this recipe turns plain old zucchini into heavenly fare. Make this with small, just-picked zucchini or use another recipe; this one is best with perfect ingredients.

Zucchini Perugina

1 tablespoon fruity olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 6-inch long zucchini, quartered lengthwise
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon, cut in wedges

In a wide, shallow pan, heat oil and garlic over medium high heat. Add zucchini, stir to coat with oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook, shaking pan now and then, until barely tender (4-5 minutes). Serve hot, garnished with a lemon wedge. Serves four.

Ready, Set, Grill

Ridiculously rich and flavorful, this just-try-it-you’ll-like-it garden burger tastes amazing made with any kind of squash.

Grilled Squash Sandwich

2 4-inch summer squash, thickly sliced lengthwise
4 hoagie rolls or 4-inch chunks of baguette
1-2 tablespoons avocado or olive oil
4 slices provolone cheese (or your favorite)
1/4 cup aioli (garlic mayonnaise)

Brush squash and inside of split rolls lightly with olive oil and grill both squash and rolls for 2-3 minutes per side or until grill marks show and squash is fork-tender. Put cheese on one side of hot rolls, spread the other side generously with aioli, top with grilled squash and serve hot. Serves at least one.

A Snappy Thai Salad

Crunchy with crisp Romaine and red onions, bright with sweet peppers and shredded carrot, zippy with a Thai-inflected dressing of sweet chilli sauce, chives and mint, this spunky, speedy salad tastes best at room temperature.

Thai Garden Salad

4 cups Romaine lettuce, thinly sliced crosswise
1 4-inch summer squash, julienned or thinly sliced
1 cup shredded sweet carrot
1 red onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
1 cup chopped sweet peppers
1/4 cup stemmed cilantro OR parsley
1/2 cup roasted, salted peanuts
1/3 cup Spunky Thai Dressing (see below)

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients, toss gently and serve. Serves four.

Summery And Saucy

Lively with lemon, mint and chives, this sassy, sparkling Thai Dressing is equally delicious with buckwheat noodles (soba) and roasted vegetables or drizzled over grilled fish. For a lovely entree salad for a hot night, toss this with shredded chicken, roasted sweet potatoes, fresh corn, cilantro and sweet onions.

Thai Sweet Chiili Dressing

1/4 cup rice vinegar
2-3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1-2 teaspoons honey
2-3 teaspoons Thai Sweet Chilli sauce
1/4 teaspoon tamari or soy sauce
2-3 tablespoons finely chopped mint
1-2 tablespoon chives, finely snipped

Starting with smaller amounts, combine all ingredients in a jar and shake well to emulsify. Adjust seasonings to taste. Makes about 2/3 cup. Refrigerate leftovers for up to 3 days or go ahead, just drink it.


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Pickling Almost Anything

Cucumbers Galore

A reader with a boatload of cucumbers asked for some recipes to help preserve the bounty. As it happens, I have an abundance of cucumbers as well, and spent a happy morning turning them into snappy garlic dills. While I was at it, I also pickled several other things, because I love the contrast a piquant pickle provides to a rich or lean meal. Spicy, savory or sweet, pickles can be made with fruit or vegetables and sometimes combine both. Back in the day, our ancestors pickled lemons, onions, and watermelon rind, and enjoyed garden-based concoctions like chow-chow, piccalilli and relishes. Before refrigeration, pickling was an easy way to preserve fruits and vegetables well into winter. Every well-stocked larder boasted rows of pickled beans, pickled peaches, pickled lemons, and even pickled eggs. Whether tart-sweet or savory, pickles graced American tables nearly every day of the year.

Today as then, salt-cured pickles are bottled in brine, while vinegar-cured pickles are generally made with distilled white vinegar, which remains clear. White vinegar may turn garlic blue or green, but it is perfectly safe to eat, just colorful. Specialty vinegars will work as long as they’re 5% acetic acid; many fruity vinegars are not, and low-acid vinegars don’t always preserve pickles adequately. Kosher or sea salt is best for pickling, as table salt can darken pickles and make brine cloudy. The best pickles are made with freshly picked fruit and vegetables in prime condition. You can always soak limp produce in ice water for an hour to crisp it up, but imperfect fruits and vegetables are better used in relishes and chutneys (cut out dings and bruised bits for the chickens).

Preserving Cucumbers

Cucumbers don’t keep well, even with refrigeration, so only pick as many as you plan to eat fresh or preserve. If you prefer very crisp pickles, cut a thin slice off the blossom end (not the stem) of your cucumbers, because it contains an enzyme that can make pickles turn soft. Young cukes, 3-4 inches long, make the crispest pickles. Slice larger ones lengthwise to make spears, the classic garnish for sandwiches and burgers. Prepare jars and lids, and your canning tools (jar funnel, tongs, ladle) before pickling, and always prep an extra jar or two as volumes can be tricky to estimate.

Snappy Garlic Dill Pickles

4-6 pounds small (3-4”) cucumbers
6-7 dill seedheads plus sprigs of dill foliage
12-14 cloves garlic, peeled
3 cups white vinegar
1/4 cup kosher or sea salt

Cover cucumbers with cold water and soak for several hours. Drain and pack into sterilized pint canning jars, adding dill and garlic to each jar. Bring vinegar, salt and 6 cups water to a boil and pour over cucumbers, leaving an inch of headroom, and seal, tightening jar bands well. Process sealed jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Makes about 6 pints.

If you enjoy sweet pickles, here’s a very fast and tasty version:

Cucumber & Onion Refrigerator Pickles

1 English cucumber (unpeeled), thinly sliced
1 Walla-Walla or any sweet or white onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
Pinch (about 1/8 teaspoon) each of: kosher or sea salt, mustard seeds, celery seeds, and ground turmeric

In a jar or bowl, layer alternately cucumber and onion slices. Bring remaining ingredients to a boil, boil for 1 minute, then pour over the vegetables. Cool to room temperature, cover tightly and refrigerate for 4-5 days before eating. Keep refrigerated and eat within 30 days.

Zucchini Pickles?

To expand your pickle repertoire, explore the possibilities offered by your garden harvest. Old time pickle relishes often combined sweet corn and peppers, pickled pears made a grace-note side for grilled meat, and roasted Brussels sprouts might be tossed with pickled peaches or tart cherries. Experiment freely to create your own signature recipes: add brown mustard seed and hot pepper flakes to give pickles a lively kick, or tuck in cardamom pods and slices of lemon peel when pickling small beets or carrots.

Pickled Zucchini Spears

2 pounds 4-5 inch zucchini, quartered lengthwise
2 cups white vinegar
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons coarse kosher or sea salt
1/4 cup fresh dill sprigs
1 tablespoon whole mustard seed
1 teaspoon whole fennel seed
4 whole cloves garlic, peeled

Soak zucchini in ice water to cover with half the salt for an hour. Combine vinegar, sugar, remaining salt and 1-1/2 cups water, bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Divide seeds and garlic between 4-5 pint canning jars. Drain zucchini, pack into jars, pour in hot vinegar. Seal jars, then process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Let cure for 2-3 weeks and refrigerate after opening.

Pickled Green Beans

2-1/2 cups cider vinegar
1 tablespoon kosher or sea salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 pounds green beans, trimmed and halved
1 large white onion, cut in wedges
1 tablespoon pickling spice blend

Combine vinegar, salt, and sugar, and 1-1/2 cups water and bring to a boil. Add beans, cover pan, bring to a boil, boil for 1 minute. Drain into a colander set over a bowl, return liquid to pan and bringing back to a boil. Divide pickling spices between 2-3 pint or 4-5 half-pint jars and pack with beans and onion wedges. Cover with hot vinegar, leaving at least 1/2 inch head room. Seal jars, then process in boiling water bath for 5 minutes. Let cure for 2-3 weeks and refrigerate after opening.

Pickled Baby Carrots

1 pound 2-3 inch carrots, peeled
4 sprigs oregano
4 small cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 cup chopped red sweet pepper
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
1-1/2 cups white vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt

Boil baby carrots in water to cover for 2 minutes, drain. Divide herbs and spices between 2 pint or 4 half pint jars. Pack jars with carrots, leaving at least 1/2 inch head room. Combine vinegar, sugar, and salt with 1/2 cup water, bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Pour hot vinegar into jars, leaving at least 1/2 inch head room. Seal jars, then process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Let cure for 2-3 weeks and refrigerate after opening.


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Singing With the Bees

And that salad recipe too…

Tomato Picking Time In The Key Of C

Though summer arrived with warmth in its wings south of here, cool nights and grey days are still the norm for my island home near Seattle. Indeed, around here, folk wisdom considers July 5 to be the first day of summer. Sadly, the warm up memo seems to have gotten lost this year, yet despite the chilly weather, my tomatoes are growing strongly, thanks to their grafted super roots. Since my new home has the tiniest of yards, my tomatoes are right out front in large galvanized troughs. The full southeast exposure gives them plenty of light and reflected heat from the gravel parking pad and the aluminum house siding offers extra warmth as well. Thanks to that, my plants are already loaded with ripening fruit, and I’ve been harvesting juicy little Gold Nugget cherry tomatoes all week.

As I thinned the vigorous stems, I found tomatoes ripening on every plant. As always, I interplanted annuals and a few perennials with my edibles and am happy to see them alive with bees and other pollinators. While tomatoes are self-fertile and pollinated mainly by wind or vibration, it turns out that fruit set is greatly increased by the presence of certain bees, who vibrate their wings to the tone of middle C. In this case, the beneficial bees are not European honeybees but native bumbles and mud bees as well as various other native pollinators. To encourage the bees, I’m planting lots of annuals, and to encourage great tomato set, I’m humming favorite songs. Fortunately, the key of C is nearly universal; you can sing almost anything in C, as lots of folk songs demonstrate. Can’t sing? Use a middle C tuning fork to help tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and blueberries shed way more pollen by vibration, aka buzz pollination. Isn’t that so amazingly marvelous?

Bee Alert: Middle C is the World’s Pollinator!

For even more fun, watch this intriguing little bumblebee video:

The Dirt On Native Bees

While bare dirt in general is not a great idea in terms of carbon draw down, it does make good habitat for mud bees and other ground dwellers. Though specific species vary from region to region, the Left Coast hosts a number of bees that nest underground. Some are very good pollinators, more efficient than European honeybees, and unless their habitat is disturbed, they are mild mannered. Most of the aggressive bee species are colonial, protective of their shared hives. Solitary bees like Mason bees and mud bees don’t have that kind of social structure and their small egg caches don’t attract honey-loving critters, so they don’t need to be fierce.

In my new place, I’ve left a little sloping bed mostly unplanted under my dear neighbor Olga’s huge hydrangea. For now, I’m filling it with dormant bulbs, but come autumn, I’ll plant oreganos and thymes there, as well as some native milkweed (Asclepias speciosa is the only one found west of the mountains in Washington). My plan was to avoid watering the bed through the summer, as moisture could compromise the slumbering bulbs. Bare earth isn’t usually a good thing, but it’s been too dry for weeds to sprout and this weekend I noticed a few mud bees making their way from my little dirt patch to the tomato plants. Yay! I look forward to even better yields thanks to them, especially since I’m growing quite a few cherry tomatoes and native bees can be particularly helpful there.

Soulful Paprika

Though my garden is too new to have much in bloom yet, my emerging annuals are already attracting bumbles as well as honeybees, hoverflies, and a few butterflies and moths. Zinnias, California poppies, nasturtiums, love-in-a-mist, rosemary and oregano blossoms are especially popular, though portulaca will also attract lots of attention when it gets going (I sowed it rather late). My little lemon tree produced a zillion flowers in its new sunny spot and the fragrant, starry blossoms were never without a bee companion (especially bumbles). Now there are so many tiny lemons forming that I’ll need to support the flexible branches; what a problem! Thanks to the musically buzzing bees, my peppers and eggplants are also setting well, with the reliable, productive Alma paprika leading the way.

Alma means soul, soulful, or inspiriting in several languages and this lovely little heritage pepper is well named. Alma goes through a series of color changes as it ripens, the flavor deepening as the peppers shift from cream to orange to red. Tasty at every stage, ripe red Almas are the best ever for smoking (as in fish, not joints); alderwood is my current favorite but cherrywood also lends a delicious depth to the flavor. Dried while still orange and finely ground, the resulting paprika will be sweet and mild, while dark red Almas are spicier, hotter and especially full flavored. After a few slight kitchen incidents, I now use a dedicated coffee grinder for peppers and spice blends. Domestic harmony is such a blessing.

Midsummer Meals

Ongoing temperature swings are just part of summer up here, and after many disappointments, I now grow mainly grafted tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. Thanks to their robust roots, I now harvest enough of all of these heat lovers to enjoy fresh almost daily, with enough over to roast, freeze, and can as chutney and salsas. To keep their strength up, I give these extremely productive plants a midsummer pick-me-up. This blend of liquid kelp, humic acid, and fish fertilizer is gentle but encouraging for pretty much everything. I spray it on tomato and pepper foliage and also use it as a root drench after watering my pots. Do, however, label your container; once I made it in an empty maple syrup container and it ended up on my son’s pancakes, which didn’t go well.

Midsummer Plant Elixir

1 tablespoon liquid kelp concentrate
1 tablespoon humic acid concentrate
1/4 cup liquid fish fertilizer
1 gallon water

Combine in a gallon jug and let stand overnight. Store in a cool, dark place. Shake well before using. Give each tomato plant (or hanging flower basket) 1 cup and each basil plant 1/2 cup of mixture every 2 weeks. Plants in 2-5 gallon containers get 1/4 cup each on same schedule.

Favorite Summery Salad

Several sharp eyed readers noticed that the salad image I posted wasn’t one of the recipes. This one got crowded out last week but it deserves space as it’s  one of my almost-daily treats at this time of year. I make this without oil but you can certainly add some if you prefer it that way. See what you think:

Raw Tomato Salsa Salad

1-2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
2 cups halved cherry tomatoes (use several kinds)
2 ears sweet corn, kernels cut off
1 cup chopped sweet red peppers
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1/2 cup stemmed cilantro
1 pinch sea salt

In a serving bowl, toss all ingredients gently and let stand for 10 minutes. Add lettuce, toss gently and serve. Serves at least one.


Posted in Annual Color, Care & Feeding, Early Crops, Grafted Plants, Pollinators, Recipes, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living, Tomatoes | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Summery Meals Without (Much) Cooking

Splendidly Satisfying Entree Salads

When hot weather arrives, meals at our house center more on the fridge than the range. I mainly cook early in the morning, especially things like grains and beans, which make great salad starters. Soaked overnight, they cook faster and are more easily digested to boot. An overflowing garden or good local farmers market makes it easy to come up with a variety of plant-based meals that are tasty and satisfying. A few simple substitutions can even make them vegan, with no loss of flavor, texture, or beauty.

When the heat is on, everyone gets thirsty so it’s wise to have plenty of cooling drinks on hand. I make cold brewed barley tea, a classic field worker’s favorite, by tucking a tea sachet into a jug, filling it with cold water and chilling it overnight to develop its fullest flavor. Though it has no caffeine, barley tea tastes as robust as a cup of coffee and is a lot more refreshing. It’s also good hot, for those who need warming up, and it brews in about 10 minutes when you use boiling water. I’ve tried making my own barley tea, but most of the time I buy the House brand (from Korea), which comes in generous sachets that make a quart each.

Lemon Tree, Very Pretty

I was recently gifted a large and heavily laden lemon tree by dear friends moving to Montana, not exactly citrus country. Delighted by the unexpected bounty, I’ve been leaning into the lemon even more than usual. Here’s a refreshing and sparkling version of lemonade made with a simple syrup infused with a hint of mint:

Fizzy Minted Lemonade

1 cup cane sugar
1 cup spearmint sprigs
2 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 quarts plain sparkling water (such as Talking Rain)

In a small saucepan, combine sugar with 2 cups water, bring to a simmer and stir until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat, add 1/2 cup spearmint sprigs, cover and steep for 10 minutes, then strain into a pitcher or large jar. Add lemon juice and sparkling water to taste. Serve cold, garnished with fresh mint leaves. Makes about 2 quarts.

Vegetarian (Mostly) Entree Salads

Here are some simple summery salads that taste as if you spent a lot more time on them than you really need to. I love recipes that earn more credit than I deserve! I always make some version of the first one for the Fourth of July, changing up ingredients but keeping the intriguing contrasts of flavor, color and texture.

Fabulous Summer Salad

Slivers of red cabbage, Walla-walla Sweet onions, and blueberries marry surprisingly well in this invigorating salad, which goes well with anything you care to serve. Lemon Shallot Dressing adds a pleasantly piquant note. Vegans can exchange the hardboiled eggs for chickpeas and add a few tablespoons of nutritional yeast to the dressing for extra protein.

Red, White and Blueberry Salad

4 cups young salad greens
2 cups red cabbage, finely shredded
1 cup cilantro OR flat Italian parsley, stemmed
1 cup basil, stemmed and shredded
1 Walla-walla Sweet onion, halved and finely sliced
4 hard boiled eggs, cut in wedges
OR 1 cup cooked chickpeas
1 pint blueberries, stemmed
1 cup coarsely grated asiago or pecorino cheese
1/2 cup Lemon Shallot Vinaigrette

In a serving bowl, toss all ingredients and serve. Serves 8.

Lemon Shallot Vinaigrette

1 large organic lemon, juiced, rind finely grated
1 teaspoon finely grated shallot
1 teaspoon maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup olive or avocado oil
pinch of smoked paprika
1-2 tablespoons nutritional yeast (optional)

In a jar, combine all ingredients and shake well to emulsify. Adjust seasoning to taste. Makes about 1/2 cup.

Smoked Salmon Salad With Pesto Dressing

This rich, hearty salad tastes like summer itself. Add halved cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, and a handful of pumpkin needs for extra crunch.

Sumptuous Salmon Salad

2 cups cooked brown rice (or your favorite kind)
1 cup basil pesto
1 tablespoon capers, drained
1 cup thinly sliced sweet or red onion
1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives, quartered lengthwise
2 cups fillet beans, thinly sliced on diagonal
1 cup chopped sweet peppers
8 ounces soft smoked salmon, skinned and flaked
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped chives

In large serving bowl, combine first three ingredients, thinning with a splash of water as needed. Add onion, olives, fillet beans, peppers and salmon and gently toss to coat. Adjust seasoning and serve at room temperature, garnished with chives. Serves 6-8.

Garden Potato Salad

This hearty potato salad is a family favorite, and tastes lovely warm or chilled. Vegetarians can leave out the bacon of course….

Picnic Favorite Potato Salad With Bacon (Or Not)

8 cups chopped yellow skin potatoes (1-inch dice)
1/3 cup cider or rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup avocado or olive oil
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 sweet red pepper, seeded and chopped
6 slices lean pepperback bacon, chopped
2 large onions, cut in half and thinly sliced
1 large bunch kale, stems trimmed, cut in fine ribbons

In a saucepan, cover potatoes with water and 1/4 teaspoon salt, bring to a boil over high heat, then simmer until fork tender (about 12-15 minutes). Drain potatoes, sprinkle lightly with 1 tablespoon vinegar and 1/8 teaspoon salt, set aside. In a jar, blend oil with remaining vinegar, celery and red pepper, set aside. While potatoes cook, fry bacon in a heavy pan over medium high heat, stirring often. When crisp, remove bacon to a paper towel to drain. Add onions to pan and cook, stirring often, until tender and golden (3-4 minutes). Add kale and cook until barely limp (2-3 minutes). Pour oil and vinegar mixture into onion pan, stir to blend, then combine with potatoes in a serving bowl, gently tossing to coat. Serve warm or chilled, garnished with bacon. Serves at least one.


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