Archive for category Cooking Greens

An update to my growing notes on Agretti. This looks most appetising and I am starting to wonder if the variety I grew was more related to its genetic relative tumbleweed than this succulent looking variety. I saw this for sale just a few days ago in a market in Bologna, Italy.  So harvest time must be late spring. Unfortuntely the variety name is cut short by the camera – could it be Gostrani, bostrani, Sostrani?
Agretti for sale in Bologna Italy
Agretti For Sale in Bologna, Italy

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Agretti (Salsola soda)

Family: Amaranthaceae  Subfamily: Chenopodiaceae

Agretti, also known as Salsola Soda, Liscari, Barilla (Spanish) and Barba di Frate, Roscano or Agretto (Italian). A Mediterranean vegetable with thin succulent needle like leaves that grow on small bushy plants and is used mainly in Umbria and Lazio in pasta, seafood and fish dishes [1].

History Salsola soda is native in Eurasia and North Africa. Historically, it was well-known in Italy, Sicily, and Spain. In modern Europe, it is also found on the Atlantic coasts of France and Portugal and on the Black Sea coast [2]

Site & Soil It is a halophyte (a salt-tolerant plant) that typically grows in coastal regions and can be irrigated with salt water.
Temperature Min °C
Sow ? Feb-March Sept-Oct
Plant out ? April
Spacing 30-45cm apart
Crops in: 50 days
Harvest June-July
Seed Life 1-2 years
Germination 7-10 days

Propagation I sowed ia 1/4 tray in February and planted out in April.

Direct Sow 1cm deep spaced 10-15cm apart thin to 20-30cm apart. Some sources say this plant is not a summer green and should be started early indoors or in Autumn. In hot areas I would tend to agree with that as it gets woody quickly in dry conditions.   

Care Keep weed free generally seems to be pest free

Harvest Salsola soda is harvested in bunches when small, or cropped regularly to encourage new growth when mature. Start cutting from the plants when they are about 6-8 inches tall. Cut the green tops or sections of the plant; it then will regrow

Botany and Seed Saving Franchi say agretti never has more than 50% germination due to the nature of the seed and its volatility. Wiki says the seed is notorious for poor germination at about 30% to 40% standard. The seeds I had were over 80%.

Use The plant has great historical importance as a source of soda ash, which was extracted from the ashes of Salsola soda and other saltwort plants. Soda ash is one of the alkali substances that are crucial in glass and soap making. Salsola soda has also been studied as a “biodesalinating companion plant” for crops such as tomatoes and peppers when they are grown in saline soils. The Salsola soda extracts enough sodium from the soil to improve the growth of the crop plant, and better crop yields result despite the competition of the two plants for the remaining minerals from the soil. [3]

Nutrition/Cooking Rich in vitamins & minerals. Best lightly boiled until the leaves soften but retain a little crunch, and eaten as a leafy vegetable or salad ingredient or garnish (much like Samphire). It can also be eaten raw or braised in olive oil. The flavour is grassy, salty and slightly sour and works well with seafood.

My Growing Notes

Agretti has been billed as a gourmet delicacy in Italy and in Japan, but, in truth, I didn’t really warm to this plant as a food stuff. It took a long time to develop and when it did I didn’t really like it. It had needle thin succulent type leaves on stems that became woody. It has a slightly acidic grassy taste with not much going for it at all. It is not hugely different in taste or texture to purslane but purslane is far superior in my opinion with a much better taste and crunchier, juicier texture.
I must admit I did not give it a fair go, as far as the kitchen is concerned, I did not even attempt to cook it. I munched on it as I went round the garden but, well it just didn’t inspire me to pick any and take it back to the kitchen. I could imagine using it in a late winter – early spring salad but in summer in Southern France there are too many other delicious contenders that would beat it hands down. So guiltily, knowing I hadn’t given it a fair shot, I put it out of its, and my, misery and pulled up the 6 plants and slung them on the compost heap.

I may yet give it another shot and try again and see how it crops in England, particularly in a warm wet and maritime climate like we have here in Devon. I would still like to try cooking it Japanese style or pickling it in soy or something like that. One thing for sure is that the leaves need to be used when young, 4 months after setting out and the stems were really too woody to use. This picture of the plant in early July is when, on hindsight it probably should have been picked, but it just seemed so small and hardly a mouthful

Some cultivation notes
The only cultivation information I had for it was ‘this plant is not a summer green and should be started early indoors or in Autumn’ from wiki or ‘plant as soon as ground can be worked’ from Seeds of Italy. I started mine late February and set out early April but it hardly grew until mid summer, when the heat seemed to trigger it into action. I think Colin, who I got the seeds from, had the same issue with slow growth. Here’s a link to a picture of his agretti growing Colin’s Agretti Seedlings.  I am not sure how Lieven got on. 
Germination
 was actually very good near 100% not the 30% to 40% as suggested by wikipedia 
Matures
 50 or so days according to Seeds of Italy definitely not the case in my garden.

Info Contributed by readers

Dimitris Makris wrote:  My name is Dimitris and I live in Crete. The name of Agretti here in Greece is “almira” which means salty. It’ s my favorite salad, you have to pick it up early when it’s tender avoiding the woody leaves. In Greece we cut the tender stems about 12 cm not the main stem and it grows again… how we make it as a salad here in Greece: just boil them (not much) put them on a plate and then add olive oil and lemon juice or vinegar and you’ll have the best salad for fishes or anything fried…

I also want to inform you that there is an interesting site about seeds exchange with no money here in Greece: http://www.peliti.gr.


[1] franchi

[2] info sourced from wiki

[3]

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Amaranth

A tender annual of the Amaranthaceae family, Amaranth is grown for its protein rich leaves as well as it nutritious grains. The name Amaranthus is said to come from the ancient Greek meaning ‘life-everlasting’ which probably refers to its habit of self-seeding. It is also known as Indian, African or Chinese spinach or sometimes as calaloo. This plant has everything going for it, it is easy to propagate, doesn’t much care where you put it, produces an abundance of fresh leaves to eat in summer and delicious nutty grains in autumn, it tastes great and is versatile in the kitchen and if that wasn’t enough it is one of the best looking plants you can grow in an edible garden. I got my seeds a few years back from Bob Bester in Tazmania and although there are many varieties of Amaranth I think this one is Amaranthus caudatus.


Plant History Its origins appear to be widespread; it is known to have been grown in Asia since the beginning of recorded history, there are species native to Africa and it was a fundamental food and cultural crop of the South Americas. Amaranth is an ancient crop that, along with beans and corn, was famously one of the main foods of the Aztecs. With the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors and the collapse of Indian cultures Amaranth survived only in small pockets of cultivation in scattered mountain areas. Today grain amaranth is a forgotten crop, while corn and beans became two of the leading crops that feed the world, amaranth faded into obscurity despite its potential as a global food source. Amaranth is still grown and eaten as a vegetable green in over 50 tropical countries and is a vital crop in some of the harshest growing conditions in the world.

Site and Soil Tolerates heat and drought as well as some shade. Grows vigorously and adapts well to various sites.

Propagation Very quick to crop the first young leaves can be picked in as little as 3 weeks. Sow Spring (April-May) a second crop can sown again in late summer in warm areas. Sow in trays and plant out after last frost or sow direct. Cover seeds only lightly or not at all. Germination aprox. 8-10 days at 21-24c (70-75F)

Care it seems to take care of itself and is a really easy plant to grow. It would make a good choice for low maintenance, permaculture or forest gardens as well as a kitchen garden or even flower garden.

Harvest young leaves in summer and grains in the autumn. The grains are inside the millions of tiny pink flowers, dry and shake to extract the seeds.

Storage use leaves freshly picked or blanch and freeze to store. The dry grains will store for several years.

Botany and Seed Saving [1]A pioneer species, whose niche in nature is the quick colonisation of disturbed land. Plants  produce a huge number of fast germinating seeds and use the C4 photosynthetic mechanism, common in arid-land species, which enables them to thrive in hot, dry weather.

Use Amaranth leaves are used as a ‘potherb’ boiled and eaten as vegetable greens. The stems and leaves cook quickly and become soft with a mild flavour and no trace of bitterness or squeekiness. The leaves and stems make wonderful stir-fries and, to my taste, a far superior cooking green to spinach, particularly when cooked oriental style. The grains can apparently be used in breads, breakfast cereals or as an ingredient in confections but I’ve been experimenting with them in the kitchen making the most wonderful savory seedy biscuits to eat with cheese.

Nutrition [2] Amaranth produces a gluten free high protein grain and the leaves are high in calcium and iron and vitamins C and A making it a valuable source of food.

Bibliog and further reading

[1] Lost Crops of Africa: Amaranth

[2] Amaranth Modern Prospects for an Ancient Crop


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Chayotes

Sechium edule. Cucurbitaceae Chayote, also called Vegetable Pear, Merliton, Choko or Chow Chow 

I love trying new vegetables and this is one I started growing in 2008 which turned out to be one of the best edibles I’ve grown. Chayote is not something I had grown or even tasted before 2008 but a local cheese maker, Hermine, who runs an organic goat farm nearby, gave me two chayotes.  The idea was that I could eat one to see what it tasted like and plant the other, but as they both started to sprout I planted both and just hoped that they would taste good at harvest time. The vegetables turned out to surprisingly good, crisp and delicious, almost better than a courgette or a cucumber in some ways; the flesh is denser and crisper, with a light subtle taste and smooth texture that makes them very versatile in the kitchen. The leaves were also delicious and as the climber produced tons of leafy growth it is a good source of leafy veg too.

Origin Its origins are Mesoamerican although how far back it goes is a mystery because, unlike many other vegetables, there have been no remains; fibres, seed or skin found to date its cultivation or use. It was however recorded by the early Spanish invaders as a food consumed by the Aztecs.

Propagation Chayote are propogated from the whole fruits. Keep some fruits back each season and plant as many as required. In spring plant the chayotes on their sides with the thin end facing slightly upwards nearer the surface, cover with soil, water in then add a layer of mulch to protect from any late frosts and retain moisture.

Site and Soil As with other cucurbits Chayote will grow best in rich soil. Plant the whole fruit in stations prepared with good rich planting mix. I use a mixture of manure, woodash, leaf mould and garden compost.

Care Keep moist and provide a climbing frame for the plants to grow on.  Pinch out and tie up plants as they grow.

Harvest Fruit are ready to harvest 4 -6 months after planting.

Use Most parts of the chayote are edible; the starchy tuberous parts of the roots are used like potatoes, the shoots as a pot herb, the young leaves as spinach or as a medicinal tea, the fruit as a vegetable and the nutty stones inside the fruit are prized by cooks. When young the fruit can be eaten whole but as they get bigger it is best to remove the skins as these can get a bit tough. They are equally delicious raw or cooked and go well with nutty, hot, salty, spicy or sour flavours. I particularly like to cook them with coconut, lentils, peanuts, tomatoes, chilli and citrus. Lovely grated raw, sliced in salads, stir-fried, lightly boiled, baked, candied, pickled, pureed, mashed or added to soups, curries and stews. I’ve still have lots of experimenting to do with this vegetable in the kitchen but so far it really is a winner.

Pests & Diseases keep an eye on them as with any cucurbits undercover, they will be prone to red spider mite and powdery mildew. I also had a problem with mealy bug in the polytunnel which affected the chayote plants very badly.

Lunar Planting
I have found that cucurbits sown one or two days before a full moon have a higher germination rate and crop more vigorously. I planted the second of the two chayotes on the 19th March two days before a full moon. The first I planted a couple of weeks earlier.

Sources and links for more information
wikipedia gives a good breakdown of the many names for this plant around the world.
R. Lira Saade (National Herbarium of Mexico, Mexico City) writes about Chayote as a neglected crop describing its botany, history, culture and uses in her article New Crop Chayote
Chayote is posted as a Plant of the week on Killer Plants

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Chinese Greens

Leafy green brassicas of the turnip family, which were developed in the far east and collectively referred to as: Chinese Cabbage, Oriental greens or  Chinese brassicas. This group of plants really deserve their place in any kitchen garden because they are fast growing, versatile in the kitchen and nutritious, easy to cultivate and they taste delicious. I am keen to experiment with more leafy veg in this family but here are some of my favourites so far.

Pak Choi or Bok Choy Brassica rapa var chinensis
This delightful vegetable has crisp, juicy stalks with a light, but lovely, flavour and only a hint of mustard.
Known to have been cultivated in China, since the 5th century, there are many variations of this old vegetable; ranging in height from 10cm to 60cm, leaves can be the classic spoon-shaped or thin stemmed, the leaves are pale to dark green and the stalks range from white to green. Quick growing, pak choi can be picked at the baby stage in 4 weeks, mature stage in 5-8 weeks and can be cut to grow again for a second or more harvest. In the kitchen it can be stir-fried, added to soups, used in salads, pickled, steamed or boiled and dressed as a side vegetable or cooked salad. The flowering shoots are also edible and are used like broccoli.
Varieties: Canton Dwarf is the one I seed save and grow. Short spoon shape with crisp white stems. Green Revolution small spoon shape with light green crisp stems, Mei Qing Choi small spoon shape with crisp light green stems.

Rosette pak choi, Yukina February 2008 undercover

Tatsoi or Rosette pak choi Brassica rapa var rosularis
A loose-heading prostrate rosette plant with dark green, almost black, crinkled leaves and crisp white to yellowy green stems. It has slightly mustardy leaves and a strong brassica flavour. Given enough room and cool conditions the plants will form beautiful wide prostrate rosettes, as the weather starts to warm in spring the leaves tend to grow upright. The whole plant may be harvested at once or the leaves can be picked continuously for several weeks. It can also be cut to grow again for a second or more harvest. In the kitchen it can be stir fried, used in soups or lightly boiled then dressed and served at room temperature as a side vegetable or salad. It has a more robust flavour than Pak Choi and can take a strong dressing.
Varieties: Yukina yellowy pale green stems and dark green slightly crinkled leaves. Tah Tsai a very old variety from China, pale green stems and dark green slightly crinkled leaves.

Chinese Cabbage, Green Tower February 2007 undercover

Chinese Cabbage Brassica rapa var pekinensis
Sometimes known as Chinese leaves or nappa cabbage, there are two main types of Chinese cabbage; a tall loose hearting leaf variety and a tall cylindrical cabbage where the leaves fold-in to form a dense head. Both have wide white ribs and pale green leaves. The second variety is the one most commonly found in supermarkets. Be carefull when buying chinese cabbage seeds I’ve found that often the picture or description may be of the more commonly known dense form even though the variety is a loose heading form.
Varieties: Michili has an elongated loose semi-heading shape that resembles romaine lettuce with light green leaves with broad white ribs. Green Tower a loose heading variety.

Image Mizuna showing its clump form and beautiful serrated leaves February 2008 undercover

Mizuna Brassica rapa var nipposinica or var japonica
Mizuna has green serrated leaves on slender white stems, the leaves are delicate enough to eat raw and have a slightly pungent mustardy flavour. The plants are very forgiving and vigorous. Mizuna will grow on poorer soils, is cold resistant and of all the oriental brassicas it can cope best with the hot dry conditions of our summers. It is quick to mature and picking can start in as little as 8 weeks. Normally, with good spacing the plant will form bushy clumps but it can also be closely spaced and cut young to regrow after cutting.
In the kitchen Leaves and stems can be used raw in salads and make a great addition to a mixed winter leaf salad. They are also great cooked; lightly boiled & dressed to serve at room temperature as a side vegetable, or cooked in stir-fries or soups, the young flowering stems can be used like broccoli. In Japan Mizuna is salt pickled.

PLANNING A HARVEST
Lush oriental brassicas perform best in cooler weather preferring temperatures between 15-20 Celsius. These are my sowing dates according to how they grow best in a Mediterranean climate, dates may be adjusted for cooler climates. They can be sown in cell trays and transplanted or sown directly and thinned out. Mature plants will not stand long before bolting so i find it best to sow in succession and to grow small amounts at a time for harvesting between November and April. Seed catalogues often suggest sowing oriental brassicas in April-May but they simply will not stand the temperatures in mid summer here so I grow them as follows.

Vegetable Sow Harvest Spacing
Mizuna March
April
Sept-Oct
(Oct-Nov)
April-May
May-June
Nov-Dec
(Jan-March)
Sow direct 1cm deep or in cells and TP
10-15 cm apart
Rows 25-35cm apart.
Tatsoi (Jan)
Sept-Oct
Oct
(Nov)
Mar-April
Oct-Nov
(Nov-Dec)
(Jan-March)
Sow direct 1cm deep or in cells and TP
45cm apart for rosette 15-30cm blocks for CCA
Rows 45cm apart.
Pak Choi (January)
Sept-Oct
(November)
March-April
Oct – Dec
(Jan-March)
TP Sow direct 1cm deep or in cells and TP 15cm apart.
Rows 20-40cm apart.
Chinese Cabbage Sept-Oct
(Oct-Nov)
Nov-Dec
(Jan-March)
Sow direct 1.5cm deep or TP to 25cm apart.Rows 30cm apart.

Key ( ) means sown/grown undercover. CCA means cut & come again TP means Transplant

Note
I  have tried Komatsuna and Choy Sum but neither performed well and I was not that keen on eating them either, but perhaps I should give them another go now that I have a polytunnel and know how to get the best from other plants in the same family.

Further Reading
Oriental Vegetables; The Complete Guide for the Gardening Cook Joy Larkom

Original post 9/3/2008: Oriental Brassicas

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