Archive for July, 2013

After a long enough try period, it seems sometimes things just go to sleep. Gardeners included.

That’s how it’s been for us this exceptionally weird summer. First, really cold, wet weather delayed spring planting about as late as I can ever remember for this area. Then the spigot just turned off and things quit.

But we got an inch and a quarter of rain the past two days, so it’s time to wake up and celebrate.

Today we’re feeling thankful for some changes we’ve made that have enabled us to do something we’ve never done before–eat garden fresh greens all through the hot season.

No, it doesn’t involve any special indoor growing equipment or hoop houses to shade out tender lettuce and spinach. We’re generally too lazy and poor for those things.┬áBut read on.

The past few years have been very frustrating for what we usually grow as greens. Lettuce, arugula, spinach. We’ve either had a very late, cold spring jumping directly to 90-degree heat, or an early spring jumping directly to 90-degree heat in April or May. Those tender greens do not do well in the dry, windy heat that has come to characterize our springs lately.

So this year we changed things up. We still planted the usual, and they did okay. Not great.

But this year we added something called malabar spinach and it has been a huge success.

Malabar spinach is nothing new. It’s been advertised in seed catalogs for years as the hot-weather solution for spinach lovers. But I’ve always resisted it because I figured something that grows as a semi-succulent vine would probably have a powerful flavor that would make it unsuitable for salads.

Oh, how wrong I was.

Malabar spinach, or Basella alba, is native to tropical Asia. Sounds about right for this area, yes? But it looks nothing like spinach. Direct seed it in little hills, like you would cucumbers or any other vines. Then when it comes up, put a tall stake nearby. It’s dark red vine stems wrap round and round the stake with no training or tie-ups necessary.In fact it’s quite pretty, maybe the perfect plant for a “stealth” vegetable garden if your homeowner’s association is picky.

Malabar spinach

Malabar spinach

What you get are heart-shaped leaves that can be eaten raw or cooked, and there’s a long list of Asian dishes that use this plant. The leaves don’t taste like spinach. But they are very mild with hardly any defining taste we could identify. We’ve put them on sandwiches in place of lettuce and today, I’ve made up a salad mixing them with some chard leaves, fried halloumi cheese bites (leftover from another dish last night), peaches and puffed rice from the Indian grocery for garnish. I’ve got some good blueberry salad dressing to go with.

You can also cook them, but I’ve not tried that yet. One thing that gave me pause: A clear, somewhat sticky liquid oozes out when you snap the stems. This can allegedly be used to thicken some dishes, I imagine, a little like okra. So that will be something to watch out for if you, like me, are not a fan of the okra slime.

We have a few other leafy vegetables out there as well. I mentioned the chard, which is not doing nearly as well as other years but still okay. And then there’s the kale. I’ve always been led to believe that kale is no good in the warm months. I planted ours in an area that doesn’t get quite as much sun. But wow. It’s still going strong. No sign of buds or bolting and still tastes great.

So it’s off to the MLS Allstar game tonight with my malabar spinach salad. Go USA!

Posted by: Roxie



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