Sooth Your Strung-out System with Winter Veggies

food for your soul Sooth Your Strung out System with Winter Veggies

As we transition from Fall to Winter our bodies naturally start gearing-up for the time to draw inward and gather strength for the cold season ahead. Even in Austin, TX, or at least we can pretend can’t we? According to Ayurveda, it’s the time of year to start incorporating rich sources of protein, grains, and hearty vegetables.

Ayurveda is India’s ancient health system that focuses on balancing the body and mind through diet, herbs, lifestyle, and yoga.

 

So let’s take a look at what we’re growing out there in our gardens. Deep-dark-nutrient rich leafy greens, peas, and root veggies like sweet potatoes. All things that naturally grow during this time help our bodies sustain through the corresponding season and climate.

The qualities of winter are cold and dry.

 

Yes, it does rain during winter, but in general it has a drier quality when we add in frost and wind.  Balancing foods are ones that will warm us, ground us and provide a healthy dose of nourishing fats and proteins.

Fats are fabulously soothing to the nervous system.  When I spent 2 years living at a yoga community I was practicing a number of Ayurvedic remedies.  During this time I learned about the different qualities of oils and their effects on the body.

Here’s a great remedy I learned after going through a bout restless sleeping.  Rub sesame oil on the bottoms of your feet and/or your forehead.  Trust me, it really works! Sesame oil has a warming quality that soothes the deeper nerves.

In Ayurveda the bottoms of the feet are thought of as the body’s internal pharmacy and entrance into the body.  As for the forehead, this will soothe mental activity and nerves associated with the head.

roasted veg Sooth Your Strung out System with Winter Veggies

Another thought is to drizzle some olive oil on your wintry meals.

 

By ingesting the oil we are nourishing the internal tissues, which is an important part to staying healthy during the harsher winter season.

When looking at what to do with all those fabulous winter roots and hearty greens there’s no need to be daunted.

 

Bake ‘em. Bake ‘em all; potatoes, beets, carrots, celery root, burdock root, radish, turnip, rutabaga, cauliflower, broccoli, herbs, even greens.  Toss them in a baking dish, don’t over crowd, give them space to breathe as this will help create a caramelized flavor.

To start, toss them with salt, pepper and olive oil. Bake at high-ish heat, 400 degrees, until looking good and toasty and easily pierce-able with a knife.  Serve with a hearty grain if you wish.  Maybe add a protein rich piece of meat or some well-cooked legumes.

You’ve got a winter meal that will help calm and ground even the most strung-out of us.

 

Paying attention to what’s growing and in each season gives us insight into the effect it can have on our bodies. It’s really an experiential concept, so give it a shot and see how you feel.

A Garden Is The Perfect Holiday Gift!  We Have Options For All Wallet Sizes.  See Your Options Now!

 

Root to Flower

Fennel Root to Flower

Fennel

As I chopped vegetables Thanksgiving day for my grandmother’s giblet gravy I couldn’t help but think about our food traditions.

Upon occasion we find ourselves eating a whole turkey and preparing every part.  We use the giblets and the neck to make a gravy.  We cut off all the meat and enjoy it as a meal.  Afterwards, we take the bones and what’s left on them and make a soup.

To me this is part of what I love about Thanksgiving.  

Not only do I get a whole day devoted to cooking, drinking wine, and spending time with the people I love.  I get to prepare a whole animal and explore all the uses I can find for it.

“Nose to Tail” is the term coined by Fergus Henderson to refer to using all of the parts of an animal.  Slowly this became a popular concept among chefs and foodies today.  Personally I love the fact that people are trying to challenge themselves this way.

Nose to Tail, is not a new concept just a new term referring to the rethinking of traditional regional cooking from various cultures. 

So maybe you’ve heard of this concept.  Maybe you like pate and sweat breads and giblet gravy!  Not only do those things taste awesome and are fun to experiment with in the kitchen, but they each are packed with various vitamins and minerals that we can use.

I love to experiment in the kitchen and hardly ever follow recipes, but cooking the whole animal or even parts I’m unfamiliar with I reserve for the weekends.

On the weekdays I like to keep it simple.  An easy saute with a few veggies and herbs from the garden, paired with some quinoa and a sausage I bought at the farmer’s market are a usual meal for me.  If I can I will cook it all in the same skillet to minimize the mess..  I am just one person.

The veggie saute is where we as home cooks can really put the Nose to Tail concept to work every day.  I like to call this my Root to Flower cooking strategy.  When getting veggies and herbs from the garden I try to find uses for every part in my sautes, soups and roasts.  Things like radish tops, broccoli stems and cauliflower leaves can all be used.  Here’s a list..

Roots

  • Fennel, Cilantro, Celery, Parsley ::: Braise, mash, roast, or use in soups

Stalks

  • Broccoli, Cauliflower, Collards, Kale, Chard ::: Saute, roast, use in soups, or braise

Leaves

  • Broccoli, Radish, Turnips, Carrots, Beets ::: Saute, braise, or add to a soup
  • Brussel Sprouts, Cauliflower ::: Braise
  • Celery ::: Eat fresh in salads or add to soups as an herb

Peels

  • Citrus ::: Zest or candy the peel, or soak in water to make a natural cleaner/pest repellent
  • Potato ::: Bake potato peels and stuff them, or make them into crispy chips
  • Watermelon ::: Pickle, or use the white part in place of cucumber in salads

 Seeds

  • Melon, Squash ::: Roast
  • Herbs ::: Herb seeds can often be used fresh or dried as a more concentrated version of the herb itself, some herbs double as spices like fennel and cilantro/coriander
  • Broccoli ::: I’ve seen the seed pods sauteed and used fresh in salads

 Flowers

  • Melon ::: Add to soups, ice cream and deserts
  • Squash ::: Eat fresh in salads, or stuff/batter and fry them
  • Lettuce ::: Add fresh to salads for a spicy kick
  • Herbs ::: Add fresh to soups and salads for a delicate touch of flavor
  • Pansies ::: Candy or just add fresh to deserts and salads

These are easy ways to get more out of your garden and farmer’s market finds.

To celebrate this concept I along with Jess Moss from Hotline Ink have created a shirt diagramming a fennel plant and all it’s edible parts from Root to Flower.

 

We have a limited quantity with our first printing so snatch one up to share with your friends and family.

Making Pesto Like an Italian Grandmother with 101 Cookbooks

We grow a lot of basil for people!

Right now in the Seedlings Greenhouse we have about 40 basil plants mostly Thai Basils and Genovese Basil with some Holy Basil and Lemon Basil.  To keep them in a bushy shape I prune them regularly so they will branch out and not be “leggy.”

I went back there last night to do my regular pruning and ended up with a plethora of basil.  The last few times I did this I made a basil puree with olive oil and garlic to use in a pasta salad and a quinoa salad.  They turned out so tasty!  This time I wanted to make pesto.

So I googled pesto…It’s been awhile since I’ve made it.

I found a post on 101 Cookbooks where Heidi Swanson’s friend came to visit from Italy with her baby and her mother.  The mother cooked with Heidi.

101 cookbooks pesto copy Making Pesto Like an Italian Grandmother with 101 Cookbooks

If you haven’t seen this blog and you love to cook you must check it out.  Heidi has been chronicling her cooking since 2003 and pretty much anything you can think of is included.  I’ve been using this blog as a cooking reference since 2007 and found it when trying to cook my first pork chop.

Basically Heidi says there are two differences between Italian pesto and the way we make pesto in The States.

In Italy they chop every ingredient by hand.

When you put all the ingredients in the blender they all become the same size almost like a paste.  If you take the time to hand chop things *with a sharp knife* the the pine nuts and garlic will be a little chunkier giving your pesto more texture.

I don’t have a sharp knife, so I cheated a bit and put the basil in the blender with olive oil and chopped the other ingredients, combining them with the grated Parmesan and salt in a bowl.

In Italy they use young basil leaves, or new growth.

basil 1 Making Pesto Like an Italian Grandmother with 101 Cookbooks

The young basil leaves have a lighter fresher flavor giving your pesto that WOW factor.  This is another reason it’s important to prune your basil on a regular basis.

Pruning stimulates new growth and helps with the production of your basil plants.  When left un-pruned basil plants will spend their energy producing flowers and seeds, and all the leaves on the plant will be older with a slightly different type of flavor.

The Recipe

1 large bunch of basil, leaves only, washed and dried
3 medium cloves of garlic
one small handful of raw pine nuts
roughly 3/4 cup Parmesan, loosely packed and FRESHLY GRATED
A few tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

Now, who knows how much a large bunch of basil is?  I certainly don’t.  I am no chef so don’t take my word for it, but I just added the ingredients until it looked and tasted the way I wanted.

After I was finished I had about 12 oz of pesto.  I took most and put it into small jars to freeze for later.  This winter I will not miss basil when it’s out of season!

pesto Making Pesto Like an Italian Grandmother with 101 Cookbooks

If you need to get your knife sharpened take it to Assured Sharp at the Mueller Farmer’s Market.  He just sharpened some of my gardening tools the other day and they are awesome! 

Harvesting and Cooking all that Eggplant!

When I was growing up I loved to eat.  I grew up with a Lebanese grandmother whose sole mission it was to fatten us up.  She was always preparing food and trying to force it upon me.  I have so many fond memories of sitting at her dining table with the family eating Stuffed Grape Leaves and Stuffed Zucchini with Lebon, Humus and Baba ghanoush with Pita Bread, and tons of Olives and String cheese.

I loved it all except the Baba ghanoush.  For some reason I just didn’t have a taste for it.  A couple of years ago I tried it again after refusing for years.  Now I love it!  I can’t get enough, but I’ve never made it.

Cooking eggplants has always bewildered me.  I’ve tried several times and they always turned to mush.  The only time I made good eggplant was when I marinated it and put it on the grill.

As a Texan in the summer you can’t get away from it.  Whether it’s in your garden, in your CSA box or just at the store, it’s everywhere and I am determined to conquer it.

That’s why when my Cookbook Club chose Jerusalem by Yottam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, I flipped through happy to see several simple eggplant recipes.  One of which was a version of Baba ghanoush and another was Stuffed Eggplant that reminded me of the stuffed zucchini I enjoyed as a child.

One thing that I liked about Jerusalem was that their seasons seem pretty similar to ours here in Texas.  Meaning that when they have traditional recipes they usually use seasonal ingredients.  Well, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but here in Austin our seasons are so extreme that we don’t always have all the things growing in our gardens for seasonal recipes coming from New York, San Francisco or other places up north…

eggplant Harvesting and Cooking all that Eggplant!

Harvesting eggplant is quite simple.

You can harvest an eggplant at any point like a zucchini.  Make sure the skin is shiny and taught.  When the skin starts to wrinkle the eggplant has started to go bad.

Many gardeners harvest eggplant young for less bitter tasting fruits.  Cut the eggplants at the stem and watch out for possible thorns.

Don’t eat any of the leaves or flowers on your plant.  Eggplants are members of the nightshade family and could be poisonous.

Eggplants are full of vitamins and minerals such as protein, vitamin C, fiber, iron, folic acid and potassium.

There are also several uncommon varieties we like to grow in gardens including Thai Green Eggplant and Turkish Eggplant.

I chose to make the Baba ghanoush

I didn’t mean for this post to endorse the book or anything, but we all loved the book.

The recipes weren’t too complicated and I liked getting history about some of the ingredients and cooking techniques.  The two chefs are from different sides of the city, Yotam the Jewish side and Sami the Arab side.  The recipes take influence from both backgrounds with stories from each.

This Baba ghanoush recipe was not super traditional, or maybe just not what I’m used to.  They explain ahead of time that there is some discussion over whether Baba ghanoush should have tahini or not.  This one does not.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed the process and the dish was good.  I’ve never burnt eggplant before, and had no clue you could drain them afterwards.

4 large eggplants (3-1/4 lb before cooking; 2-1/2 cups after burning and draining the flesh)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
grated zest of 1 lemon and 2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
5 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tbsp chopped mint
seeds of 1/2 large pomegranate (1/2 cup)
salt & fresh ground black pepper

This was my first opportunity to use the Syrian mint that I transplanted from my grandfather’s garden.  The family says it comes from Syria and he’s been growing it ever since my dad can remember.  He’s not around to ask, but it’s damn good mint and I love the story.  I’m growing it now and hope to have it as a special offering to clients as soon as I can produce enough.

The basic cooking technique used for the eggplant was burning.  Two ways are given to burn the eggplant.

  • Burn it over the gas burner without a pan turning it regularly for about 20 minutes.
  • Burn it in the broiler turning it every 15 minutes for an hour.  Make sure to score the eggplant first on this one.

 

burnt eggplant Harvesting and Cooking all that Eggplant!

After burning the eggplant let it cool for a bit.  Then open the eggplants and scoop out the insides.  Make sure to separate them into strips with your hands.  Throw out the skin and let the innards drain in a colander for at least an hour.

I’ve never drained an eggplant before and we were in a bit of a time crunch so we only drained it for about 45 minutes and it seemed good.

Put the eggplant in a bowl and add the garlic, lemon zest and juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.  Mix it all up and let it marinate at room temp for another hour or so.

When you’re about to serve the dish mix in the herbs, and taste it for seasoning.  Mound it up on a plate and scatter the pomegranate seeds and some remaining herbs.

We also mixed in pomegranate seeds and added extra on top for visual affect.

baba ghanoush Harvesting and Cooking all that Eggplant!

Choosing the Right Size Container

Sometimes the perfect container is something you already have lying around your house.  Any container that is wide and deep enough will work.  Do you still have one of those old recycling tubs the city used to give out, leaky watering can, wheelbarrow? You can also ask around town for containers.  White condiment buckets from local restaurants work great.  Or, if you are going for a certain aesthetic just make sure you buy containers large enough for the crop you want to grow.

home containers Choosing the Right Size Container

 

wyatt horse trough Choosing the Right Size Container

herb planters Choosing the Right Size Container

 

Here’s a chart to help you out.

PLANT

MIN  CONTAINER  DEPTH

PLANTS  PER

12” WIDE CONTAINER

MIN  SUN  HOURS

Basil

8”

2

6

Beans (Bush)

8”

9

6

Black-eye Peas

8”

9

6

Chard

10”

4

4

Chives

6”

9

4

Lettuce

6”

36

4

Melons

12”

4-6 with trellis

6

Mint

6”

4

2

Oregano

8”

6

3

Parsley

8”

4

3

Peppers

10”

1

6

Rosemary

12”

1

2

Sage

10”

4

3

Squash

12”

1

6

Thyme

8”

6

3

Tomatoes

12”

1

6

 Tips

  • Mint, Oregano & Thyme if given time will spread on their own.  If you want the pots to look nice and full sooner add more plants, but if you’re ok with waiting just put one plant per container and wait for it to spread.
  • Melons & Cucumbers grow well on trellises.  Use a small tomato cage to fit more plants per container.
  • Basil & Lettuce will get quite large if not harvested often.  Keep in mind how much you will be using and plant the appropriate number of plants.  If you plan to use a lot of basil put more plants per container.