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Food Forum

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Early greens from garden and field

Last week might have been frigid and raining, but at my house it might as well have been summer. We were finally eating out of the garden.

OK, it was just a modest spring salad. But, not counting asparagus, which grows all by itself, it was our first harvest meal of the season. And it was delicious.

We had mixed lettuces — a nice red-tinged romaine, some frilly dark-leafed variety, some young oakleaf — mixed with some baby spinach and kale. We supplemented the salad with stuff from the herb garden — lemon balm, oregano and chives — and with wild things growing in the lawn.

Dandelion time

This time of year the wild things we’re eating include dandelion leaves, wild mustard and lamb’s quarters. Dandelions have to be eaten early, preferably before they flower, or they are too bitter. That’s no problem for us, since we live so far north we might as well be on the tundra. There are still young dandelions popping up, in addition to those that have already flowered and gone to seed.

Mustard greens are spicy, too spicy for some members of my family, so I have to go real easy on them.

Lamb’s quarters are our favorite wild green. Also known as pigweed and wild amaranth, the plant is short and leafy this time of year and pops up in all our gardens before they are tilled. We start eating the tender young leaves now, raw in our salads. In a few more weeks we’ll be cooking them, putting them into quiche and freezing bags of them like spinach. They taste like a mild spinach, and are full of vitamins (A, C and some Bs) and minerals, including calcium.

The plant is considered a noxious weed by many commercial growers, particularly because it is not at all bothered by Roundup, and so grows even in cornfields sprayed to prohibit weeds.

On the edge

We like lamb’s quarters so well we always let some grow on the edges of our gardens. Once the plants get to be a foot or two high, the leaves are tougher and not good for eating. We start pulling them up then and feeding them to the chickens, who strip off the leaves, and the ox, who eats the entire plant.
We always end up leaving some of them — by accident or design — to grow to full height, 4 feet or more. By then they’ve gone to seed and while the ox loves them that way, we should really be harvesting some of those seeds ourselves.

The seed heads are the grain amaranth, and can be eaten too. The seeds are tiny, high in protein (for a grain) and can be ground into a flour, boiled into a porridge or toasted and added to salads for a bit of crunch and protein.

Right now I am topping our homegrown and wild salads with some toasted sesame seeds, and tossing them with just a dash of olive oil and vinegar. The fresh young greens are so tasty they don’t really need anything else.

More to come

Soon enough we’ll be adding peas, mint and nasturtium to our salads, but it will be a long time before tomatoes and cucumbers come in. Luckily, we like our salads just as well when they are all green.
And that’s not just me talking. At dinner when we ate our first salad of the season, everyone at the table had seconds, and thirds.

Me, I had fourths too.

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