The Many Faces of Tofu

At the farm, we make a lot of extra-firm tofu – it’s a business of ours, so we eat a lot of it too! We had a website which had posted some of my recipes, which is being redesigned right now. I thought I’d lost the recipes, but come to find out I did end up making a backup of it! Tofu is such a blank slate that really, a lot of creative possibilities exist. Here are a few of my favorite recipes I’ve developed over the years of dressing up tofu. Really, any kind of sauce could be put on it after baking it for 15-20 minutes, sliced or cubed. Honey-mustard, BBQ, marinara, pesto, spicy peanut, orange glaze…

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Honey-Walnut Tofu

tofu, plain extra-firm, 1 Lb
oil for baking, about 2 Tb
coconut milk, half a can (shaken)
honey, half cup
lemon juice, 2 tsp
water, 3/4 cup
canola oil (gmo-free if possible), 1 Tb
salad mustard, 2 tsp
fresh ginger, 1 tsp grated
salt to taste, quarter tsp perhaps
cornstarch, 2 Tb
walnuts, half cup

Cut the tofu into bite-size pieces, such as cubes or triangles, about a half inch thick. Toss the tofu pieces in oil to coat them. Spread evenly on a baking sheet and bake at 350 F for 15-20 minutes, until golden and crispy on the outside, but still moist and chewy inside. Toast the walnuts in a cast-iron skillet, no oil, on medium-high heat. Stir them frequently for 5-10 minutes, until they are browned and aromatic, and set them aside. To make the sauce: in a small bowl, whisk the cornstarch with 4 Tb of the water til smooth, and set aside. In a separate sauce pot, combine the coconut milk, honey, lemon, remaining water, oil, mustard, ginger, and salt. Heat on medium-high heat to a low simmer. Whisk the cornstarch liquid into the rest of the sauce. Continue whisking until the sauce thickens slightly (about 1 minute), then remove from heat. Stir together the baked tofu, walnuts, and sauce. Let stand for a few minutes to allow the tofu to absorb some of the sauce. Serve over rice, best with white basmati cooked with a little shredded coconut.

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Cardamom Cream Tofu Soup (similar to the Thai Tom Kha soup)

serves 4

1 lb. tofu, plain extra firm
1 quart whole dairy milk (or almond milk)
1 can coconut milk
1 cup water
1 Tbsp butter
1 tsp salt, or to taste
1 tsp cardamom seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 dash fresh-ground black pepper
a few sprigs of fresh parsley, chopped

Cut the tofu into 1-inch cubes. Toss all other ingredients (except the parsley) into a soup pot, and heat until just below a simmer. Do not allow to boil. Add tofu cubes and heat on low, 15 minutes. Before serving, sprinkle fresh parsley on top.

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Mu Shu Tofu

Vegan, gluten-free

serves 4-6

1 lb. tofu, plain extra firm
1 head of cabbage
2 carrots
half an onion
5 florets of broccoli
4 oz baby bella mushrooms
4 oz woodear mushrooms (optional)
2 tsp fresh grated ginger
3 Tbsp non-GMO canola oil
approx. dozen mu shu pancakes, or flour tortillas
1 jar of plum sauce, or make your own, recipe follows

Shred the tofu by hand using a grater. A mandolin is perfect for slicing the cabbage, carrots, onion, and broccoli very thinly, but if you don’t have one, either grate them or slice super thin. Slice the mushrooms thinly too.

Heat the oil in a pan or wok. Add all the veggies, tofu, and ginger and stirfry until quite soft. Gently warm the tortillas. Serve the stirfy inside a wrap with plenty of plum sauce.

Homemade Plum Sauce

1 cup dried prunes (fresh can be used too, if flavorful enough – taste first)
2 cups water
half cup soy sauce
half cup molasses
2 tsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp dried ginger, to taste

Boil the prunes in the water until very soft, about 15 minutes. They should be mushy and plump. Let cool slightly, then place plums and their juice in a blender or food processor. Add all other ingredients, and puree until smooth.

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Swept Away By Spring Update: Kale, Kombucha, Sourdough Redux, & More

Swept Away By Spring Update: Kale, Kombucha, Sourdough Redux, & More

Well, it’s been a while since my last post. I should have been writing about the boatloads of kale we’ve been getting from our garden and turning into kale chips, salads massaged or otherwise, smoothies, hummus, pesto, kimchi, kale slaw, pickled stems, and just about everything we can come up with. Kale-pocalypse, as we call it, has been two weeks of Iron Chef: Kale. It is a superfood with large amounts of vitamin C, iron, and more.

There’s also been lovely spring onions :), great lettuce, and still beets & carrots aplenty. I’ve taken some not-so-super photos with my phone, but I should get back into the habit of bringing my Canon DSLR… sorry for the quality and blurriness and lighting issues. I’ve also been meaning to get out and take more photos of the spring beauty all around – flowers and the garden sprouting – and now we’ve had several days of rain. I’ve gotten a bit swept away by the beauty and peace this month, reconnected with some friends, and got out of my winter cave. I even went to an awesome indie rock concert for the first time in a long time, at Richmond’s Broadberry, Thao & The Get Down Stay Down, with Little Scream and Avers. Sometimes you gotta rock out:

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Thao & The Get Down Stay Down is touring with their new album “A Man Alive.” Their song “Meticulous Bird” has been playing on loop all week on my mp3 player.

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Little Scream (from Canada) was great too, they opened for Thao.

Anyway, here are some food things I’ve made lately:

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Kale salad with shredded beets, blood oranges, and red onion

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A bouquet of rainbow chard stems

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Chickpea salad with olives, kale, & tahini

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Potato casserole with homemade yogurt, fresh herbs (chives, chervil, parsley), eggs, & olive oil

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Fresh sourdough loaves ready for a spring picnic

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My first attempt at babka – cocoa cinnamon swirls in a banana bread dough

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Blood orange kombucha (we were recently gifted a bunch of blood oranges, which is awesome. So pretty. Cheers!

A couple of notes/corrections on my last blog, about sourdough:
– A friend found out that there is no GMO wheat grown in the US, yay!
Rye is safer than I thought. Of course folks have used rye in sourdough successfully for a long time. The concern about trippy rye mold is mostly null in modern times – the specific mold that causes hallucinations, the ergot fungus, grows on the rye while in the field. It’s removed after harvest now, and affects not just rye, but many grain crops like wheat, oats, barley, & more. Rye flour & berries mold easily if left out in the climate in VA, which should be avoided in general, but it’s not the ergot fungus.
– Some folks say it isn’t best to feed sourdough a 100% whole wheat diet, that variety is best. You’ll find that every sourdough baker has something that they prefer to feed their dough pet: white unbleached, rye, oats, leftover porridge grains. One friend swears by feeding his sourdough dehydrated potato flakes, and you know what, it tasted great and was fluffy. Just goes to show ya that many methods work.

Coming soon: More spring harvests, the herb garden, and birthday cakes.

Breadiversary re-post

In honor of my sourdough’s 3rd birthday coming up this March the 15th, I’m re-posting my first writing (from 2014) about sourdough, originally featured on Running In ZK. After the 15th, I’ll likely post more bread photos of what I’ve made during this week of sourdough celebration.
Breadiversary: the annual celebration of bread, life, & wild yeast. March 15, 2013 I began what would turn out to be a successful sourdough starter, after many false starts. For a couple of years, I had started new jars of sourdough, each only lasting 2 weeks to 2 months before meeting their various demises, either being forgotten or bubbling over or sprouting a form of life other than yeast. I had phases of discouraging feelings but persisted, getting advice from “Wild Fermentation” by Sandor Katz, and “52 Loaves” by William Alexander. Both are excellent in-depth guides, but much of the learning process must be acquired personally by each baker. I’ve been baking most of my life, bread specifically only since I came to Twin Oaks 7 years ago [in 2006]. This sourdough journey has taught me anew, mostly in patience, consistency, and perfecting the “smell test.” Kombucha has been another pet ferment of mine, and Twin Oaks can drink up to 20 gallons of it every week. For sourdough, I use 5 gallons of starter to make about 30 of the weekly 75 loaves or so that our farm’s diverse baking team makes.
How to celebrate such an occasion, of the continuousness of life: wild, tangible and tasty? I made a kind of bread that I hadn’t made before, thus honoring the ongoing learning process: Pumpernickel. Sourdough, rye, wheat, molasses, with a touch of cocoa and decaf coffee. I added cinnamon & raisins to one batch, caraway & poppy seeds to another.
I thoroughly enjoy baking for such a diverse set of tastes at Twin Oaks. Some communities, monasteries, and village bakers carry on a bread starter for decades or centuries! Let’s capture the bit of history lingering in the air of today. Maybe one day (likely a decade away) we’ll be growing & milling our own flour at the centuries-old disrepaired mill down the road and rebuilding the local bread community… I’ll be feeding my sourdough for that.
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Cinnamon raisin swirl sourdough

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5-grain sourdough: wheat, rye, barley, buckwheat, & oats, plus bran & molasses! Super dark!

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The bubbling brew – happy, healthy sourdough starter, 3 years old.

New Year, New Squash

Happy New Year! For the last day of 2015, as well as for the first day of 2016, I made lucky black-eyed peas, in the form of super spicy gumbo made with okra I’d sliced & frozen months earlier & homemade habenero hot sauce, plus a non-spicy tabbouleh salad with BEP’s & the fresh parsley that’s still growing. There’s an interesting story of the traditional Southern US black-eyed pea New Year’s luck: during the Civil War, the Confederates had taken most food supplies, leaving the somewhat less desirable black-eyed peas behind. Everyone else subsisted off of the peas that winter, and were eating them on New Year’s Day when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863, freeing slaves and ending the war.

Our food & seeds gardens have sometimes grown cowpeas, which are quite similar to BEP’s but rounder. While we freeze some of the edamame soy beans that we grow, the majority of the beans (and rice, and other staples) we find our community eating in winter come from bulk food purchases. We are still rich with veggies not only in the freezer, but fresh potatoes, carrots, beets, cabbage, many greens, turnips, radishes, garlic, sweet potatoes, and most of all, winter squashes!

Cuban Neck Pumpkin

Cuban Neck Pumpkin, photo by Common Wealth Seeds

People could probably survive a long while on just squash if necessary. Personally, by February I’ll not want to see another squash until next fall, while my undying love for sweet potatoes will carry me through winter as well as summer yearning until the next harvest. Such subtle taste & texture differences, but such vast preferences! It seems almost everyone has a favorite squash or two. Butternut seems an overall fave in fashion, but I’m glad to see many different colorful, variegated varieties around lately too – like delicata. Butternut is a favorite flavor-wise for me, but I’m fascinated by kabocha squash’s creamy texture. It’s a tough call.

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Don’t Forget Butternut Squash

 

Can you guess which squash has the highest nutritional value? I assumed that pumpkins, and similar darker orange flesh squashes, would have more dense vitamins than lighter orange or yellow squashes. As it turns out, butternut wins by far with numbers similar to sweet potato. A 1-cup serving provides a staggering 300% DV vitamin A (from beta carotene, an antioxidant which makes squash & carrots orange, and is great for the immune system & eyesight), plus 50% vitamin C, 15% potassium, 10% magnesium & B-6, plus 5% iron & calcium. Wowza! Pumpkin has less, but comparable nutritional content. Kabocha squash have comparable vitamin levels to pumpkin, but lower calories, plus more iron, protein (3.5 g vs 1.4 g – twice as much), B-vitamins & omega-3’s. Hubbard, Delicata, & Acorn squashes have about a third of the vitamins that pumpkin has. Then there’s spaghetti squash, valued for its fun noodle-like texture (makes great gluten-free noodles!), which could be considered a “diet” squash (a nice way of saying it’s nutritionally deficient compared to other squashes, and low in calories).

Thai Kang Kob

Thai Kang Kob squashes, photo by Common Wealth Seeds

Save those seeds! Roasting winter squash seeds (especially pumpkin, butternut, kabocha) takes only a few extra minutes to do, but saves a lot of extra vitamins & makes a nice addition to salads! Squash seeds are dense with vitamin K, folate, largely more omega-6 than omega-3, lots of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese, & selenium; plus more protein and fiber than even the squash itself. To prepare the seeds, scoop them, rinse them while removing the stringy flesh. Toss them with a bit of oil and salt, then spread onto a baking sheet and bake at 350*F for about 15 minutes, til crispy and lightly browned – you’ll hear popping noises coming from the oven.

When it comes to squash, I like it pretty simple: cut into a piece the size of a deck of cards or slightly larger, skin on, roasted til very soft with caramelized browning (about 40 minutes at 350*F). If it’s looking dry, add a little bit of water to the roasting pan. Occasionally, while cleaning the roasting pans, I run into a treat: “nature’s caramel,” squash drippings that set up like candy on the cooling pan… I see potential for a roasted squash creme brule which has yet to come into fruition.

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Acorn squash

Growing up, my family most often made acorn squash, roasted halved, served with a pat of butter, maple syrup, & sprinkle of nutmeg in the warm bowl of the squash. Or roasted with a spoonful of cranberry jam, an orange slice and half an apple in the acorn squash bowl (zesty, fruity flavors highlight the squash flavors!). Or sausage stuffing. Or a half a small red onion and a sprig of rosemary or thyme. Or cheese sauce. Basically, fill up the acorn squash bowl with anything scrumptious.

Another great thing to do with squash is to sneak it into other dishes, like casseroles, stir-fries, stews, pasta sauce, veggie burgers, cake, bread, cookies, biscotti, smoothies, coffee… If you like “pumpkin spice” coffee, try adding a couple spoonfuls of actual pumpkin or squash puree for a vitamin boost. A quarter cup of pumpkin contains a day’s worth of vitamin A! The simplest way to make squash puree is to halve the squashes, scoop out the entrails, and roast face-down (skin side up) until soft. Once cooled a bit, slip off the skin and scoop the squash into a food processor. Another way of making squash if you don’t care for the caramelization, or if you’re making baby food, is to peel & cube & boil.

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Some of the squashes in our kitchen, grown by Common Wealth Seeds

Another favorite dish of mine is Crispy Curried Chickpeas with Squash Slivers. Pre-soak & cook chickpeas if dry, or rinse if from a can. Peel a butternut squash and quarter lengthwise, then slice thinly to get crescent slivers. Mix chickpeas, squash slivers, a couple spoonfuls of your favorite curry powder, salt, and a liberal amount of oil – I like to use a mix of canola and sesame oil for this. Spread onto baking sheet pans (one layer, without too much crowding), and bake at 375*F until the chickpeas are crispy on the outside, about 25 minutes.

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Crispy Curried Chickpeas with squash slivers

Pumpkin butter, or squash butter, is great for toast or anything you’d use jam for. Heat pumpkin or squash puree in a big pot on the stove, stirring constantly on medium heat. Add spices to taste (cinnamon, ginger, ground cloves, nutmeg, and allspice), plus optional honey, molasses, or sugar. Cook down until the squash has thickened, which could be up to an hour or so. Put a spoonful of the squash butter on a plate and see if liquid separates out after 15 minutes cooling. Funnel the squash butter into jars, which could get canned, or refrigerated for up to a month.

African Drum Gourd

African Drum Gourds, photo by Common Wealth Seeds

Living with farmers who grow for seed, I feel lucky to get to cook with a huge variety of squashes! This includes heritage varieties which I haven’t found at grocery stores or farmers’ markets – so you might just have to grow some of your own! My favorites have been seminole squash (dark orange flesh like a pumpkin, light tan skin like a butternut), Thai pumpkins (very pie-worthy flavor, and decorative flowery shape), soler (dark green skin, with a thick three inches of flesh – a bit drier of a squash, but great for bulk recipes – you need only cook one massive slice!), and longneck Tahitian melon squash (looooongneck like the swan of the butternut world).

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Edmund and Sapphyre at the Common Wealth Booth

Some friends of mine recently created their own farmer-direct seed company, Common Wealth Seeds, with a focus on cucurbit downy mildew resistance breeding, and rare heritage varieties that you can find on their webpage. They also grow many varieties of gourds for drums and decoration. Check out their biggest and smallest varieties, the African Drum Gourd, and the Miniature Bottleneck Gourd. Other favorites for crafts are their Birdhouse Gourds and Warty Bule Gourds for making soup bowls. It’s been inspiring to see Edmund and Sapphyre create their visions, manifested from determined dreams and experiences in the fields.

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Sapphyre and Edmund with Birdhouse Gourds, last year

Turnip Recipes

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Here’s a photo I took of some of the lovely turnip greens that our garden grows. For more about our farm’s vegetable production, check out our garden manager’s blog, Sustainable Market Farming: Intensive Vegetable Production on a Few Acres. Pam published a book about her experiences growing food for our community. It’s interesting to read about the gardening aspect of the veggies I’m cooking with!

It took me about a month to realize that my previous post, Rutabagas & Turnips, was a love letter about Rutabagas that actually didn’t include any turnip-specific recipes! But the last few weeks the garden has been harvesting lovely turnips & turnip greens, so I’ve remembered a few of my favorite turnip recipes.

I can understand that turnips are an acquired taste (somewhat unpopular, bitter to some), but for me they have a fascinating, curious, slightly variable earthy taste that bounces around my palate between bitter and sweet. On the taste bud palate of the tongue, sweet and bitter are on opposite ends. Highlighting those flavors with sour, salty, or umami can tie the flavor together and balance out the bitterness.

Turnips Roasted to Perfection

Wash your turnips, trim off the ends, and chop them into 1-inch cubish pieces. Mature (larger) turnips might have a thick skin to peel off like rutabagas, while younger (smaller) turnips are tender and thin-skinned enough to not need peeling. Toss the turnip cubes with a light drizzle of oil, salt & pepper. Place in a single layer on a greased baking sheet pan, and roast in a 350-degree oven for about 25-35 minutes. There is an ideal level of doneness to watch for, when the turnips have softened on the inside, and caramelized & browned on the outside, before they’re burnt, that creates such a heavenly flavor!

Sauteed Turnips with their greens

Another classic way to serve turnips well is to combine them with turnip greens, if you can find them still attached, or otherwise fresh. Turnip greens by themselves have a strong bitter taste that, at least to me, is not unpleasant, but sharp – a bit like arugula, a radish-y flavor.

Trim the greens, wash thoroughly, and chop into 1-inch strips. Wash the turnip roots, trim off the ends, and chop into half-inch cubes. Heat a skillet, drizzle a bit of oil first and then add the turnip root chunks. They’ll need substantially longer to cook than the greens, so give them a 10 minute head start. Cover the skillet for a couple of minutes to help steam-cook and soften the turnips, stirring occasionally. When the turnip cubes are mostly softened and starting to brown slightly, add in salt & pepper, and then the greens. Saute, stirring, until the greens have softened, about 3 minutes (if they’re taking a while to soften, add a couple spoonfuls of water into the pan and cover for a minute). I like the greens to still have plenty of green color, effectively garnishing their white root. To give this dish some extra flavor, I recommend adding a sprinkle of lemon juice (or red wine, but not both) to the skillet towards the end of cooking.

Boiled turnips with fresh lemon & cilantro

Wash and chop turnips (either cubes or slices would do). Place them in a pot with water an inch higher than the level of the turnips. Boil until tender but not mushy, testing with a fork, and drain. Wash & chop one bunch of cilantro. Zest a fresh lemon, and squeeze the fresh juice over the turnips. Add salt & pepper, a drizzle of olive oil, & the chopped cilantro, & mix. The lemon & cilantro add a great kick to compliment the kick of the turnip’s taste.

Deep-fried Turnip slices

When in doubt, deep-fry it. I really like how deep-frying changes and softens the flavor of turnips. They’re especially good dipped in soy sauce with a couple slices of ginger root.

Use your favorite batter – I usually do a light, tempura-like batter with flour & cornstarch. Dip very thin slices of turnip into batter, letting some excess batter drip off. Drop into hot oil to cook for about 5-10 minutes, until the crust is crisp and golden and the turnip has softened.

A note about deep-frying setup: make sure it’s safe – as in, use a pan with at least 4 inches of height in case of splatter etc. Don’t over-fill with oil – you only need about 2-3 inches of oil to fry in, maximum. Use an oil with a higher smoke point, like canola, peanut, safflower, or (heaven forbid) lard. Pre-heat the oil on medium-high (you may need to turn down later if it’s smoking a lot). Keep an eye on the oil, and test the heat by placing your hand about two inches above the oil – when it starts to get uncomfortably hot, test the oil with a drop of batter – does the batter just sink sadly (not ready), or does it quickly sizzle and float? When you believe the oil’s ready, drop a tester slice in and see how it does. When it cools, taste it, and modify your methods as needed.

Pretty Salads Gallery

There’s nothing like a fresh salad to spruce up a table. A pretty salad can effectively garnish the whole meal. A variety of colors in salads can increase appetite, as well as providing basic fiber and raw nutrients. A medium-dark lettuce carries whopping amounts of chlorophyll; vitamins A, C, & K; manganese; folate; and more. It’s also an opportunity to add some Omega-rich healthy oil – such as extra-virgin olive oil, walnuts, or another favorite nut. Salads are fun to make here on the farm, with a full supply of super-fresh homegrown greens, herbs, edible flowers, cukes, tomatoes, and more. Sadly, cold weather is here for a few months slowing that supply down a bit. Cooler weather is actually best for growing lettuce, flavor-wise – in hot weather the flavor can turn bitter if the plant bolts or “burns.” Our farm continues to grow lettuce, kale, and other greens in the hoophouse all winter long. It’s easy to make up new salad recipes using whatever veggies look best in season. Here are a few of my favorites from the past couple of years:

Quick-pickled Radishes

This is such a simple recipe – and can be colorful, if you choose colorful radishes. Our farm grows a lovely mix of purple, pink, red, and white radishes.

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Slice very thinly, then sprinkle salt to taste and vinegar to the top level of the radishes in a bowl. Add fresh cilantro leaves, and mix well. This salad is great right away, and even better after at least a half hour of soaking. For community meals, I usually make a couple of quarts of this salad when we have enough radishes! Here’s a basic ratio for smaller proportions:

1/2 cup thinly sliced radishes, 3 Tablespoons Vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt.

I have come across many interesting variations in recipes for quick pickles, so experiment with adding things you might like in the basic recipe, like horseradish, sugar, garlic, ginger, herbs, thinly sliced carrots or other crispy veggies.

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Apple Rhubarb Flower Salad

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Some folks shy away from edible flowers, or don’t know which ones are edible. Some common back yard varieties include daylilies, violets, borage, squash flowers, nasturtium, roses, redbuds, etc. Caution is advised for unfamiliars, naturally. Edible flowers have been in food fashion for centuries, with a recent jump in popularity the past decade or so. A friend of a friend started their own edible flower business for a couple of years, simply growing what they could in their back yard, selling to the back doors of restaurant kitchens who received them with pleasant surprise. Flowers are wonderful cake toppers – seven years ago, I made a simple handfasting cake with pale yellow & pink rose petals & violets for a couple of old-fashioned friends’ special day.

This salad uses purple & white violets, plus their greens, picked fresh the day of use. Thick, reddish rhubarb stalks are best in season in the spring. Slice the rhubarb thinly, discarding the leaf (which is poisonous). Core your favorite apples (for this salad, I like the sweetness and flavor of gala or fuji), and chop into 1-inch chunks, sprinkling lemon juice as you go to prevent oxidation. Proportionally, use about 4 parts apples to one part rhubarb. The tartness of the rhubarb contrasts nicely with the sweetness of the apples. Add the violet leaves whole, or slice them. Add a drizzle of honey, a splash more lemon (to taste), sliced fresh sorrel (if you have it – a lemony leafy herb) or parsley or chervil. Mix well, and top with pretty violets right before serving (they might wilt in the fridge or heat).

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Cucumber, Apple, & Pear salad

Peeling is optional if you trust where your produce came from. Thinly slice equal amounts of cucumbers, apples, & pears (asian pears are especially well-suited with their juicy, crispy, mild flavor). Wash & mince a handful of fresh parsley. Add a splash of rice wine vinegar or fresh lemon, a light drizzle of honey, light sprinkle of salt, and mix well. Our farm grows small, yellow “asian jewel” melons that taste like a slightly sweet cucumber – also a great addition to this salad.

Massaged Kale

Kale, whether massaged, cooked, or in chip form, is definitely “in fashion” lately. As a dark, leafy green, kale provides vitamins, iron, & potassium. Massaging kale softens it while leaving it raw and its nutrients intact.

Wash kale, and strip from the stems (pulling the leaves off with your hands), or chop finely (1-inch leaf pieces, plus thinner sliced stems optional). Mince a couple cloves of garlic, and sprinkle with some salt & pepper to taste, a splash each of lemon juice & apple cider (or white wine) vinegar, plus a generous drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. With clean hands, roll up your sleeves and massage the kale as you might a person or bread dough. Turn & mix while massaging for about 15 minutes, until the kale had decreased in size by about half. Sometimes I won’t have enough room in the bowl to massage it all at once, but then I can add more kale in once there is room for more to fit.

Mixed Greens & Purples with Feta

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Purple & blue veggies & flowers are uncommon in nature. Purple vegetables contain antioxidants, a wide variety of vitamins in trace amounts, plus plenty of vitamins A, B-6, C, and potassium. They’re best served raw, with some kind of acidic element (lemon, vinegar, etc) to protect it from oxidation, for the most nutrients and health benefits.

Wash & dry baby spinach greens, or your favorite dark leafy greens (pictured above is tat soi & radish greens). Thinly slice a purple cabbage and a red onion. Toss salad with a sprinkle of coarse salt, black pepper, oregano, olive oil, and fresh lemon juice. Crumble feta cheese and fresh black olives and mix.

Tomato Salad with Basil & Tarragon

I love a mix of colors of tomatoes (Verna orange, yellow peach, big rainbow, burgundy, green zebra heritage varieties are some of my favorites), and of course any fresh red tomatoes will work. Cube the tomatoes or slice how you like. Roughly chop (or rip by hand) fresh herbs: basil, tarragon (goes surprisingly very well with tomato flavor – naturally sweet), oregano, plus salt & pepper to taste (I use sparse, coarse salt and fresh cracked black pepper), and mix. This salad could easily be sliced instead, showing the prettiest sides of the tomatoes’ colors – and then spread over some focaccia flatbread and baked. Yum!

For more texture, flavor, and protein, add fresh mozzarella cubes and sliced red onion & let marinade for a while before serving.

Wild-Harvested Salads

Like edible flowers, more back yard salad may be eluding you. Get a trail guide or plant identification book, or a neighbor, and start looking. Knowing at least a few common wild edibles provides fresh meals while camping in wilderness, and variety of diet while back home. Never be without nutritious, dark ruffage (also spelled roughage). Some common plants to look for and taste:

-chickweed (grows most of the year in medium climates)
-purslane (juicy, lemony flavor, omega 3)
-dandelion leaves (& flowers) – bitter, coffee taste, good for liver
-wild onions (easy to find shooting up above the top of the grass, almost anywhere)
-watercress (grows in or near streams)
-nettles (high-nutrient density, great for your organs)

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Green Goddess Dressing

This is a favorite dressing which can take different forms. Everyone makes it slightly different to their own taste, but the basics are to chop up lots of green things and puree into a dressing – spinach, kale, parsley, cilantro, scallions, etc. I start with a jar and fill it half to two-thirds full of chopped green ruffage, pour vinegar about halfway, add a scoop of yogurt, a scoop of tahini, salt & pepper to taste, and olive oil to fill, then puree using an immersion or standing blender.

Soup Sequel

Cream of Anything Soup

To make a cream base for whatever kind of cream soup you’re planning, start by sauteeing a diced onion and couple diced cloves of garlic in some butter or oil. Once they’re soft, add milk to fill the pan with some room left for veggies, plus salt and pepper to taste. If you can, use a ratio of three parts whole milk to one part cream. If you want a lower fat version, skim milk can be used instead of cream. Warm the milk on medium-low, stirring often.

Now for the fun part: which vegetables do you have around that are worthy of this solo? My favorites are asparagus, broccoli (with shredded cheddar), mushrooms, roasted garlic & squash, celery, or greens. Whatever vegetable(s) are the filling to this cream soup, it’s best to mostly pre-cook them in a bit of water or sautee before adding them to the cream pot. To prevent burning, this soup doesn’t get boiled much – so veggies won’t cook fully on their own.

Stir a bit of cornstarch with some cold milk in a separate small bowl, using a whisk to break up any clumps. Once the soup is near boiling (steaming, not quite yet rolling), pour the cornstarch mixture into the soup while whisking the soup constantly for a few minutes to prevent clumps and sticking to the bottom. The soup should thicken within a few minutes as the soup starts to simmer. Now, taste: does it need more salt, or anything else? Serve with a hearty bread – cream soup is great for dipping!

Chowder comes in many forms, varying by region across New England. Manhattan style chowder is a tomato-based variety. But what most people think of as “chowdah” is creamy, chunky, and if you’re in Maine, most definitely contains a sea of fresh clams, mussels, lobster, or white fish. Here on the farm in Virginia, in the absence of such luxuries, chowder comes in the form of fresh farm veggies like corn and summer squash, potatoes, chard, and sometimes savory woodland treats like wild mushrooms (chicken-of-the-woods, shiitake, oyster). Sautee all veggies in the bottom of the chowdah pot with a couple of bay leaves & some thyme, add the potato cubes & corn and just enough water to cover, and pre-boil til tender. Pour in the cream & milk, bring nearly to a boil, add the cornstarch mixture to thicken. Serve with oyster crackers and bread.

Borscht

Borscht is fun to say and nutritious! There are many ways to make borscht, with different styles ranging from chunky to smooth; vegan or with beef stock; hot or cold; sweet, sour, or savory; raw or slow-cooked; from Poland to Turkey to Russia to California. Start with fresh beets and dill, and go by what you like from there. Here is my personal favorite borscht:

Chop beets into small cubes. Chop half a cabbage into 1-inch pieces. Slice and caramelize onions, then add cabbage and two bay leaves and saute til soft with a bit of olive oil (or butter). Add beets and beef broth, plus some crushed tomatoes, a pinch of dill & tarragon, splash of vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. Boil until beets & cabbage start to fall apart, about an hour & half. Ladle into bowls, scoop a generous dollop of sour cream on top, and garnish with more dill.

To make a Thai-flavored Borscht, use handfuls of fresh cilantro instead of dill. Round off the flavor with a sprinkle of cardamom, fresh lime, and coconut milk. Add chilies if you dare.

For a smooth, vegan, naturally sweeter version of Borscht, boil peeled beet chunks in water with a pinch of dill & tarragon & mint. Optionally, add some pear chunks for more sweetness! Add a dollop of olive oil, minimal salt, pepper, and puree the soup using either a blender, food processor, or immersion blender. Chill until cold, and serve with more fresh dill, tarragon, & mint on top.

What if you don’t have all day to make a soup? Try Soup-in-a-Jar!

This soup takes less than half an hour to make, and if you’re on the go, only needs boiling water added. I make up a few jars ahead of time so they’re ready to go. I take a quart jar and fill it with thin rice noodles, spices (ginger, turmeric, pepper, salt, oregano, thyme, garlic powder), a spoonful of nutritional yeast, a spoonful of sesame oil or olive oil, plus dried seaweed and dried mushrooms. Cover with boiling water, replace lid and gently shake, and let sit for about 20 minutes until the soup is ready to eat.