Thursday, August 4, 2011

Harvest Meal: Pad See Ew

There are two topics I want to cover in today's post: a new variety of broccoli that I'm growing this year, and the dish I keep making with it. Let's start with the crop.

It's a Brazilian variety of broccoli called piracicaba.  Yes, it's a mouthful.  Say: "peer-ah-SEE-kah-bah."  Piracicaba is referred to as a non-heading broccoli, but what that really means is that the heads it produces are quite small.  The largest ones I've seen on my plants are the first ones formed in the center of the plant.  They're big enough to divide into two or maybe three good sized spears.  When that one is removed, more heads start to form on the outer branches, each one smaller than the last.  The salient point here is that piracicaba broccoli was bred for its leaves, not its florets.  I learned to love broccoli leaves when I lived in the city and shopped at a good farmer's market.  There was a vendor who sold "baby broccoli leaves" which I used for stir-fries.  Maybe that vendor was hip way back then, and they were piracicaba leaves.  They were certainly addictive.  So growing a variety of broccoli which can deliver a steady supply of small and tender leaves all through the summer is a real joy.

But wait, there's more.  Perhaps it wouldn't surprise you to hear that a Brazilian broccoli variety is exceptionally tolerant of heat and drought.  The extent of this plant's endurance is on display this summer.  We've had scorching heat and very, very little rain; and the piracicaba couldn't care less, apparently.  Given the way our summers are trending with the global climate weirding, this is an attribute that has my full attention and respect.  Piracicaba is also fairly cold hardy.  I grew some last year as a trial and found that it held on till the first frost.  That did surprise me.  That's still not all though.  The most amazing thing about this brassica variety is that the cabbage moths (small whites) utterly ignore it.  I mean they have NO interest.  None, zip, zilch.  The only damage I find on the piracicaba leaves is from flea beetles, and that's pretty minor. 

Noticing this lack of damage from the cabbage moths last year, I resolved to grow no cabbage at all in the spring this year.  My spring brassicas therefore consisted of Tuscan kale, piracicaba, kohlrabi and a few turnips.  Without the cabbage in the garden to attract the moths, all the other brassicas took much less damage than usual from them.  I've got my fall cabbages under a row cover now, to protect them from the depredations of both moth and heat.

Piracicaba & pad see ew ingredients
So how do I eat this stuff?  That brings me to a harvest meal that's been in heavy rotation this summer: pad see ew, a Thai noodle dish.  I grew to love Thai food in those years I lived in the city.  Now I indulge in some of my favorites at home.  Thai cuisine is well suited to summertime in Pennsylvania, since I don't want to heat my house up any more than strictly necessary.  Thai cookery usually relies on lots of ingredient preparation followed by a very short cooking period which brings everything together into a delicious whole.  This describes pad see ew to a tee.

This dish is not at all spicy-hot, and can include meat or be vegetarian.  I've been making a vegetarian version, so that's what I'll describe.  What follows will prepare a generous single serving.  Scale up proportionally to feed more people.

Place 2 ounces of celophane (transparent) rice noodles in a pot.  Cover with cool water and soak for at least one hour before cooking.  The longer the soaking time, the less you'll need to cook them.  I've seen this dish most often prepared with the widest rice noodles.  These will require some heating to fully cook through.  Medium cut noodles require less, and the thin cut noodles can skate by with no pre-cooking if you soak long enough.

Prepare all your other ingredients.  Slice one or two shallots, and mince three large cloves of garlic, or as much as you like, according to your tastes.  Wash 3-4 ounces of piracicaba leaves and florets, or an equivalent amount of any other type of broccoli.  Trim them into small pieces that will cook quickly in a stir-fry.  In a small bowl measure out 1 and a half teaspoons of fish sauce, and add 2 tablespoons of soy sauce.  Keep both sauces on hand in case you want to add more during cooking.  Beat one egg in a small bowl.  Measure out one tablespoon of sugar in another small bowl.  Coarsely chop several stems of cilantro.  Have all these ingredients and some cooking oil laid out near your cooking area.  A long handled spoon or cooking chopsticks will be useful, and you may want tongs for serving.

Check your noodles.  If you are using any but the smallest of the flat rice noodles, put the pot of noodles on the burner and warm the water, giving the noodles a gentle stir from time to time.  You will not even need to bring the water to a boil.  (Don't put rice noodles you failed to soak into boiling water.  They'll just stick together in a tangled mess.)  Make sure they are well softened, but keep in mind they'll get a final cooking as part of the stir-fry.  Do not overcook them or they will fall apart when you cook the rest of the dish.  When softened, turn off the heat.  Have a colander in the sink ready to drain them at the last moment.

Preheat your largest heavy skillet over high heat for at least four minutes.  Add a generous amount of cooking oil to the pan and immediately add the garlic and shallots.  Stir these only long enough to separate them in the hot oil.  Then add the piracicaba and stir it very gently around the pan so that it just begins to wilt.  Drain the rice noodles, shaking off excess water, and stir them to combine with the broccoli.  Sprinkle the sugar over the ingredients in the pan and continue stirring until the broccoli is wilted.  Push all the ingredients to the edges of the pan, forming a ring of ingredients with a hole in the middle.  If the pan looks very dry in the center, add a little more oil.  Pour the beaten egg into the center and let it sit for a moment.  Pour the fish sauce and soy sauce mixture in a circle over the mixture of noodles and broccoli.  When you can see that the bottom of the beaten egg has begun to set up, mix all ingredients thoroughly in the pan.  The uncooked egg should coat the noodles and broccoli.  Check the color of the noodles.  They should be brown from the soy sauce.  If they are very pale, add a bit more soy sauce and mix well.  Cook just long enough that the eggs have cooked and excess liquid has evaporated.  Turn off the heat and mix in the chopped cilantro.

If you're a strict vegetarian you can leave out the fish sauce.  If you're a committed carnivore you can add small pieces of raw meat to the center of the skillet before the eggs go in.  Cook the meat thoroughly and push it to the edges with the other ingredients before adding the beaten egg.

Ugly picture, yummy food
I count this as a harvest meal for us since we produced the shallots, garlic, eggs, cilantro, and piracicaba that goes into the pad see ew.  The rice noodles, sugar, oil, fish sauce and soy sauce are purchased.   This is another one of those dishes that I just can't seem to get enough of.  Fortunately our six piracicaba plants produce very steadily.  From those six plants I can harvest enough leaves every three or four days to prepare a meal for my husband and myself.

I plan to have some piracicaba plants in the hoop house this winter.  We'll see how long they hold on in there, and perhaps they'll even overwinter with enough protection.  Piracicaba will definitely be a mainstay brassica in next year's garden.  I recommend it to anyone who loves broccoli and lives where the summers are warm.  Seeds are getting easier to find.  Fedco has carried them for at least the last two years.

What harvest meals are you preparing these days?


GoFaster said...

That looks delicious!

Homemade Alaska said...

Thanks so much for sharing this! My daughter orders is EVERY time we got out for Thai food. I'm going to surprise her and make it.

Unknown said...

We've had leek and potato soup which is bizarre in the middle of the english summer but I could eat soup all year round.

A great post!

Dmarie said...

that actually looks good to me! I included some green pepper and tomatoes from the garden in a Wild Turkey and Pineapple mish mash for lunch. Turned out pretty well despite me! ;)

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

I am SO in. I'm going to do it wtih our kale.

Anonymous said...

A brassica the cabbage moths ignore? SIGN ME UP!!!

Anonymous said...

So, what were your highest temps while growing this baby broc? How were the temps when you planted it? I'm in Texas and just scattered some seed yesterday. I didn't use all of it in case it freezes down and I need to replant. Our spring and summer weather are so erratic it's hard to time things. I sincerely doubt it's heat tolerant enough for our summers. Usually 100 + degrees. Would have planted in the fall last year but had some health issues. But, I'll definitely be trying this at different times of year to test it out.

Thanks for any additional info.

Tammy in Texas

Kate said...

Tammy, our high temps for the entire summer are usually around 100F. Consider though that this variety was developed in Brazil. I'm guessing the broccoli is well bred to take higher temps than it was exposed to here in PA. It was utterly indifferent to the heat we had. So be of good hope.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your quick reply! That is encouraging and very surprising!!!! Woo hoo, can't wait to see what happens.