Saturday, June 28, 2008

Dinner from the Garden

Yesterday afternoon was harvest time in my garden. And last night's dinner was a big pile of Swiss chard prepared as an impromptu version of Indian saag paneer. It's been a hell of a lot of work putting in this year's garden. So I definitely appreciate the meals I get out of our backyard. Gardening may or may not not end up being the cheapest option for feeding yourself this year, though I suspect that it increasingly will be the obvious choice if we, collectively, wish to survive difficult economic times. Like the British during and after World War II, I think many people in the developed countries of the world are going to find it expedient to rely more on themselves than we have done in recent decades.

But I didn't mean to turn this into a political commentary. I wanted to talk about my lacinato kale and the rainbow chard in the picture above. Isn't it gorgeous? There's some enjoyment in the physical effort of the garden when the weather is pleasant. And there's sensual pleasure of eating truly fresh and healthy food. But as much as I'm a foodie, the greatest satisfaction for me is in the pride of achievement, in knowing that I grew this, that my effort produced this food in its entirety, rather than just preparing something that I purchased. Two of those three different kinds of enjoyment can't be bought for love or money. It's sometime possible to find incredibly fresh produce. But no one can buy me the enjoyment of working with my hands and back in my own garden. No one can buy me the satisfaction of seeing the results of my own labor on my own dinner plate.

So yesterday I harvested a fairly large amount of lacinato kale. If I'd found it in the store, it probably would have been about three or four bunches' worth. After picking it all, I washed it to remove any traces of a homemade bug spray, and then blanched it, shocked it, drained it, chopped it, and froze it in bags. It's a fair amount of work, no doubt about it. But there's a whole other level of satisfaction that comes of knowing I've got green vegetables put away for winter. Kale freezes very, very well.

The rainbow chard was harvested for immediate consumption. It too needed a good deal of washing before I could cook with it. I started with a sliced onion in cooking oil, then added some minced garlic. Then I chopped up the stalks of all the different colors of chard and added those. They need more cooking than the leafy parts of the plant. At this point, it looked like I had a party in my skillet. I added kosher salt and a generous amount of garam masala (an Indian spice mixture) and let that cook while I dealt with the leafy bits. After roughly chopping the leaves, I put them in a large bowl in the microwave, still damp from the washing, and cooked them down for 2 minutes. Letting the leaves sit until they cooled a bit let me press out a great deal of the moisture. Then the leaves were added to the skillet and cooked down with the spices. I added about 1/3 of a cup of Glen Muir fire-roasted tomatoes, and let that cook gently. After about 20 minutes I tasted to adjust the seasonings and added a few generous scoops of cottage cheese. I served the mixed greens and cheese in sourdough crepes. It was delicious!

The kale I grew from seed, but I bought the chard as seedlings when most of my chard seeds failed to germinate. I made a mistake in laying out the two species very close together in the garden. I need to spray my kale with a homemade, nontoxic pesticide to keep it from being eaten by bugs. I would like to be able to use the same spray on my chard, even though they have different pests. But unfortunately, the chard can't stand up to this spray as well as the kale and cabbages can. My first application caused the chard leaves to literally curl up and die. Now I have to take pains not to spray the chard that is interplanted with my kale when I treat those plants. This is no easy task since they are closely spaced and the kale needs to be liberally doused with this stuff at least every 10 days as new leaves continue to form. Next year, they won't be anywhere near each other in the garden, and I'll be able to spray away without damaging the chard. Live and learn.

I'll post a recipe for my homemade bug spray in the next few days. It's cheap, easy to make, effective, and not scary at all when you think about it being on your food.


future reference said...

I have been harvesting and eating chard all season, finally pulling up the remaining plants and preparing them for freezing. The same thing happened with my spinach a bit earlier. I got an amazingly high yield of each from two 2x2' squares- enough to feed 2ppl 3 times weekly. I couldn't be more sick of eating chard !

Kate said...

Lucky you, Emily! It sounds like your season is over, wherever you are. (Southern hemisphere, perhaps?) We're smack in the middle of ours. I hope to get many more harvests of chard this summer and into the early fall. I know the kale will produce well for that time period as well. We're far from sick of chard as we haven't had all that much of it. Our plants were hit pretty hard by some hail shortly into the peak season. I know spinach has a shorter season than chard and kale. I've never grown it though. Maybe next year!

Thanks for stopping by.