Once a week, I volunteer at an Urbania Hoeve permaculture garden. It is great fun, and I am learning a lot. Another bonus is that I have been able to experience a number of different vegetables, as well as save the seeds from them to try them in my own garden.
As you can see from the salad photo, I have used nasturtium (leaves and flowers) in this salad. This is not new to me, I’ve been eating nasturtium for as long as I have been growing them.
Despite having called this post Red Lettuce Day, the two plants that I would like to talk about aren’t actually lettuces, but they are red, and plants that were new to me this year.
The first is Perilla, or Shiso (Perilla frutescens). Although I wasn’t aware of it, I have been looking for this plant since I went to Japan for work, and wanted to have a go at growing the fragrant leaf that you find in many of their broths and ramen. They translate it as morning glory, which I was very disappointed to find isn’t edible, after I had found and started to grow it. Following a bit of a twitter storm earlier in the year, I found and grew the green version of this, and have been eating the red version from the permaculture garden.
I really love perilla in salads. It has a distinctive perfumed flavour, with a slight aniseed kick. It is a pretty strong herb, so you don’t need a lot of this to provide you with a lot of flavour. It is also good in broths and gravies, and is used a lot in pickles in Japanese cookery.
Orache (Atriplex hortensis) also comes in red and green varieties. You may be able to find the green version in the wild over here. In other temperate zones, it is possible to find it, but it is more likely to be a garden escapee. Like most wild greens, orache tastes very irony. It can be used anywhere that you would use spinach, raw or cooked. I have some seed saved, so I hope that I can grow some here too next year.
Both seem relatively easy to grow, but they need sun, so I can only grow them in a small part of my shady garden. I don’t mind, I’m looking to use them as part of a large mix in the suitable beds anyway, and I think they’ll be fine. I hope that more people will give them a go, I can recommend them.
This is an entry for the 52 Week Salad Challenge, where there has already been much discussion about red and green lettuces, and their attractiveness to slugs. I am not sure if these plants are particularly attractive to slugs in any case, but they are certainly both very tasty in my opinion!
I made up a Thai chicken and mango salad with my haul from the permaculture garden, and I used fresh coconut, which has just hit the markets around here. I give the recipe below, but this is really easy to tweak if you don’t have your own permaculture garden to play in, or if you want a veggie version or whatever.
For example, you can substitute Thai (AKA holy basil) or even ordinary basil for the perilla; you can swap out the orache for spinach; you can use cooked chicken without the marinade; or you can even leave it out if you would like. If you don’t have fresh coconut, use coconut flakes. It’s pretty versatile. The key components are really the dressing and the mango, with some contrasting salad flavours and crunch. Whatever salad leaves you choose will need to be robust enough to stand their own against the other strong flavours.
As always, this recipe serves 2 people, but is easily scalable.
Do you have any leaves you think would be good in this salad?
Recipe: Thai Chicken and Mango Salad
If using uncooked chicken:
4 chicken thighs, boned
3 tbsp oyster sauce
2 cloves garlic, crushed to a fine paste
5 cm knob of fresh ginger
½ tbsp light soft brown sugar (lichtbastaard suiker)
pinch chilli powder
If using cooked chicken:
200 g cooked chicken, cut into bite sized chunks
For the salad:
200 g rice vermicelli noodles
150 g fresh or flaked coconut, cut in thin strips
50 g raw cashews, roughly chopped
1 mango (it can be green or ripe), diced
1 red pepper, diced
½ cucumber. diced
2 spring onions, finely sliced
200 g beansprouts, or other sprouted seeds
10-15 red perilla leaves
Bunch of red orache leaves
Bunch of nasturtium leaves
For the dressing:
3 tbsp fish sauce (optional)
1 tbsp soy sauce
Juice and zest of 1 lime
½ fresh red chilli, deseeded and finely diced, or a pinch of dried chilli flakes
Small amount of brown sugar to taste
Nasturtium flower to garnish (optional)
If you are using uncooked chicken, cut down the thighs so that they are one flat piece. Mix together the marinade ingredients and coat the chicken pieces on all sides.
Roast off in a moderate oven (about 180°C) until the chicken is just cooked. Baste it with the marinade at points throughout the cooking time. Remove from the oven, and set aside
Cook the noodles according to the packet instructions, drain, and plunge into cold water, to stop them overcooking. Drain again.
Mix up the dressing, and add to the noodles.
Dry fry the coconut, until brown and toasted. Remove from the pan, then toast the nuts in the same way.
Toss together all the salad ingredients, except the leaves, and add to the noodles. Mix well.
If you are using the marinated chicken, cut it up into bite sized dice.
Toss the chicken and the leaves through the salad. Top each one with a nasturtium flower, and serve immediately.
This makes a filling and unusually tasty salad. Perfect as an evening meal.