Garden News

As the cucumber vines die back after producing like champs through the beginning of August, the long beans are just coming into their own, and we have 1 (count it, 1) bitter melon on the vine. We’ve had 2 small harvests of amaranth and Japanese spinach, and it looks like we might get one more batch from the amaranthdespite the heat. Bunching onions and Chinese chives are coming along, but I think the heat is definitely disagreeing with them. The biggest treat has been okra, which is producing so that we might have enough for a dish every other week – I’ve never seen it growing before, and was amazed at how beautiful the flowers are! The tomatoes are coming in droves, but unfortunately most seem to have acquired a blossom-end rot (uneven water supply? damage during transplanting?). No matter – I’m madly harvesting, cutting out the ends, and cooking up a batch of sauce as I type.

We have a few more months to go in the garden, and I’m thinking of planting fall garlic. And I’m definitely inspired to try again next year – with a new, improved, and expanded set of raised beds! Ready to double the number to four 3′ x 3′ beds and experiment with more vegetables…. I can see how gardening becomes an addiction.

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Garden update

We’ve harvested our first cucumber from the garden! It was fun to see the kids’ eyes widen with the first bite – even Nikolai ate it, and he is NOT a fan of cucmbers as a rule. I planted a longer, thin-skinned, less “seedy” Japanese variety and it looks as though we will have quite a harvest from our 3 plants, which I’ve trained to a trellis to take up less space in my raised 3′ x 3′ bed.

The one casualty in the garden has been my crop of pea shoots – some critter mowed each plant down at the base and then didn’t even eat the shoots! Instead of fulfilling my visions of a large dish of stirfried pea shoots, I had to satisfy myself with using what had been cut down for mixing with salad greens. From this I have learned a bit about what sort of plants can live together in a small bed – I should have relegated the pea shoots to the same bed where the spinach, amaranth, basil and onions are thriving, since I can keep that bed covered. Apparently the garden raiders consider my cucumber, bitter melon, and long bean plants too tough for grazing already, so when that bed was uncovered, they still left those alone.

Other than the rodent-type marauders, the garden seems to be suffering only from slugs, and they have been taken care of with a very low-tech solution: glass jars buried so that the lip is even with the soil and filled with beer. I comfort myself with the thought that at least the slugs die drunk and happy.

Menu: Spring Stirfry Supper

Amaranth is back at the farmers’ market – certainly a sign of spring when the leafy greens start reappearing! And “Colleen the Tomato Lady” is back up to her elbows in gorgeous beefsteak tomatoes. I added those ingredients to the fact that I’m starting to clean out my pantry in preparation for our move and came up with a quick ovo-vegetarian meal that used some of the fresh stuff and some of the dry goods I have on hand, namely seaweed and mushrooms. The menu rather breaks the rule that not all dishes should be stirfries (to cut down on last-minute work), but the 2 side dishes can be done ahead, and if you do the stirfries in the right order, everything still works out. In fact, since I’d done most of the prep in the afternoon, this turned into a great after-after-school-activity dinner!

the recipes:

the strategy:

  1. Soak the mushrooms and seaweed, then complete these recipes up to 4 h in advance. Both can be refrigerated or left at room temperature for up to 2 hours.
  2. Up to 1 h in advance, soak and pick the spinach leaves off the stem, peel the tomato, and julienne the potatoes.
  3. Complete the rest of the preparations for the 3 stirfry dishes.
  4. Stirfry the potatoes (they will hold their heat for the longest time).
  5. Stirfry the spinach.
  6. Stirfry the eggs with tomatoes – this one is last because there aren’t too many things less appealing than cold scrambled eggs….

Stirfried Chinese Spinach (Amaranth)

If your farmers’ market has one or more vendors of Asian vegetables, pay them a visit and just browse the offerings – you may discover a few varieties of greens that you’ve never tried before. One of them, called amaranth or calaloo, is often labeled Chinese Spinach. It has bright green stems and slightly darker green-edged leaves with a splash of pink in the middle. When it’s cooked, you end up with silky dark green leaves in a shockingly pink juice – my husband and I joke that if only our daughter were younger and still into pink, we could serve this up as princess spinach!

In Mandarin, it’s called hancai. It’s late in the season for it in Southern California just now, but I imagine in the rest of the country it still has a few weeks to go. The preparation of this vegetable, one of the simplest in Chinese cuisine, can be used to cook most tender leafy greens (spinach, etc.) The vegetable shrinks considerably, so if you’re only doing 2 dishes with rice, consider upping the quantity you use and cook it in 2 batches.

The flavor is cleaner than that of spinach, and as we say at our house, “It doesn’t leave sweaters on your teeth” like spinach does. My kids love this vegetable, and even the younger one (not a huge vegetable fan) will take multiple servings – here’s proof:

ingredients:

  • 12 oz amaranth (or other tender leafy green – but you won’t get the pink juice!)
  • 1 T oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1/4 tsp salt (or more to taste)

method

  1. Soak the amaranth in as many changes of cool water as it takes to end up with no grit on the bottom of the sink, then remove the stems almost up to the leaf – the stems are very tough for a stirfry. Shake the leaves gently to remove most of the water, but leave some drops clinging to them.
  2. Heat the wok, add the oil until it shimmers and “explode the garlic until fragrant” without letting it brown.
  3. Add the amaranth leaves and quickly stirfry until coated with oil. Be careful – the remaining water droplets will make this sizzle and pop a lot.
  4. Add the salt, 1/4 tsp at a time, and keep stirfrying until the leaves wilt, turn darker and release their glorious pink juice.