Tag Archives: Permaculture

Red Lettuce Day

Thai Chicken, Mango and Noodle Salad

A spicy salad with a difference

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

Ingredients

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)

Method

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.

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Garden Companions and a Lemony Salad

Foraging Spot, De Bretten, Netherlands

Pretend it’s a Salad!

Well, it has been a little while since I posted, which I blame on having broken my camera. It also means that I am about to do something that you should never do on a food blog, and that is publish a post without a photo of the food. I did have a corker to share, but it is lost, so you will have to wait until next I make this recipe. In the meantime, please enjoy the view from one of my favourite foraging spots, complete with convenient resting place for my containers.

In this area, people have also planted a guerilla garden. It has been here as long as I have been coming, and probably longer. You may be able to make out Jerusalem artichoke in the picture, and there are potatoes, pumpkins and corn at various times of the year. There is also a lot of mint, which I think was planted initially, but the conditions in the Netherlands are perfect for this herb, and now it is running rampant.

I may have mentioned that we are trying to eat healthily but with all the flavour, and one of the salads that really fits the bill is fattoush. This is a Lebanese salad that uses sumac and lemon to give a really zingy dressing. I have been buying sumac, but I’m delighted to learn that you can actually forage for this plant. It is a native of North America, but apparently it has been a popular garden and municipal plant in the UK. I shall be looking out for it here too.

Despite trying conditions for many of our crops this year, our herbs have gone crazy. So, I didn’t need to forage the mint for this recipe, but at least I’d have known where to go. I don’t take any of the other plants in the guerilla garden, because they are clearly loved and cared for, but there is enough mint here to keep Cuba in mojitos for a decade.

I am also proud to say that this salad contained my first ever Little Gem lettuce.

Since my course back in March, I have been trying to garden according to permaculture principles.  Part of this is that you try to avoid bare soil in an effort to preserve the soil microbiology, take advantage of microclimates, and to prevent the army of local cats from pooing near your veg.

OK, that last one is more a principle of mine, since they used to see our dug over soil as a litter box, little*ahem* darlings. But it does adhere to the principles of  using and valuing diversity, letting a problem become the solution, and (literally) reducing waste 🙂

Based on companion planting charts that are widely available on the internet, I decided to underplant my asparagus with lettuces, marigolds, and chicory. These included red velvet, a leaf lettuce called “Australian Yellow”, a mixed salad, and the aforementioned Little Gems. Most of them have done well, apart from the red velvet. I think this is because a cat got to the spot that night I planted the seed.

So with parsley and mint in abundance and Little Gems and radish doing well, garden fattoush was the salad of choice. A lot of flavour, with the potential of foraging. Could you ask more from a salad?

I’d be really interested in hearing about other people’s efforts at companion planting. Do you have any particular favourites that grow well, or help against pests? Please do share them in the comments.

Recipe: Fattoush Salad

Ingredients

2 pita breads, diced

1 tsp oil for frying

2 Spring onions (or more if really like them), finely sliced

Zest and juice of one lemon

3-4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp sumac

200 g cherry tomatoes (or baby plums), halved

½ cucumber, chopped into large dice

small bunch radishes; roots quartered lengthways, and smaller leaves

2-3 Little Gem lettuces, leaves only, chopped in half

Large handful of flat leaf parsley, leaves whole and stalks finely chopped

Smaller handful of mint, leaves only, roughly chopped

Method

In a frying pan, heat a little oil until it is quite hot. Fry the diced pita breads until they are golden. You will need to stir them occasionally. Drain onto kitchen paper.

While the bread is frying, mix together the lemon juice and zest, the good olive oil, the sumac and the spring onion. Leave aside for a  few minutes to take the raw edge off the onion.

Combine the tomatoes, cucumber, salad leaves, herbs and the radish roots and leaves in a large bowl. Dress the salad with the dressing, and toss well.

Add the pita bread, stir briefly, and serve immediately.

Sounds appetising, doesn’t it? I’m sure you can picture this one without a photo.

 

 

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Seeds with a Story

Seedy Packet August 2012

A Packet of Seeds

I am pleased to report that Sally got my seeds on Tuesday, and she sent me a lovely e-mail to say that she enjoyed my packet. I did my best to include seeds with a story, since I struggle to find heirloom varieties over here.  I often have to get them from the UK, and all the suppliers that I talk to laugh, since a lot of their seed is grown over here in the Netherlands. I find this pretty frustrating, as there are very few varieties on offer here and even less choice if you want organic seed. Not to mention the crazy seed miles that they have to travel. Anyway, I’m glad that Sally liked her parcel; I hope to be able to save some more seed, so I should have some more variety in the future.

Yesterday, it was my turn. As I mentioned in my last post, my penpal Charlotte has been to India. Lucky me, I got lots of lovely seeds from India, and some from elsewhere too. Charlotte was really good at getting plants that suit my shady garden, or my sunny windowsill, as well as being some of my favourite things to eat.

From India, I got:

  • Bangalore cucumber mix – with a random tomato seed. Charlotte picked up a pack of cucurbits, including some oblong ones, and there were a few random seeds in the pack, which she shared with me too.
  • Ash gourd, which is a popular Ayurvedic plant in India, particularly good for strengthening the digestive system, and protecting against indigestion and urinary tract problems. I am lucky not to currently suffer frequently from either, but now I can make sure they stay away!
  • Unknown squash, Charlotte couldn’t be sure of more than that, because the packet was in Mayalam. She postulates it is a winter squash, and recounts an unsuccessful attempt at explaining what a courgette is when she was trying to find out more.
  • A variety of yard long beans. Unknown, as again the packet was in Mayalam. I can’t wait to be able to grow these, I love beans and surprise varieties are always welcome.
  • Some Lab Lab beans. I am assured that these have beautiful flowers. I am already trying to think of some construction that will show them off near the house.
  • Palak Bhaji and Dhanta Saag, both of which are leafy greens, possibly amaranth types. They will be a different flavour to add to my salads and as cooked greens.

And it doesn’t stop there, Charlotte also sent me seeds that she enjoys, and that she chose because I prefer things that you can eat. All of the seeds she sent have a story, but I particularly enjoyed some of the stories with these seeds.

The stories and the seeds are:

  • Kimberton tomatoes; a yellow tomato variety developed by the members of Camphill Village, an intentional community in Kimberton, Pennsylvania for people with developmental disabilities. They grow their own fruit and veg, and develop varieties of plants. Charlotte is actually from a town very near to this community, so these are seeds from both her home and her homeland. She mentions that the packet says “Grown and selected for many years by the late Hupert Zipperlin from Camphill Village, Kimberton”, so thank you to Hupert for these seeds too.
  • Sokol Breadseed Poppy. Charlotte sent me these because the seeds are easy to collect, due to the unique way the seed heads form. She thought that they would be interesting for me, despite the fact that I don’t grow many flowers. I have previously not seen much point in flowers, but I am trying to garden using permaculture principles. I am seeing increasing uses for many flowers, and have learned a lot about edible flowers, and parts of flowering plants. I’m looking forward to benefiting from an abundance of beauty as well as the tasty seeds next year.
  • Nautica Beans, which are a particular favourite of Charlotte’s. She says that they are thin, tender and tasty, and remained so for the duration of her trip to India. She says she thinks they are amazing, and may not grow any other variety of bush beans. High praise indeed, I’m looking forward to these in a thousand different dishes already.
  • Minutina (Buckhorn Plantain) was chosen because I like to eat weeds. Or what others may consider weeds, in any case. I have found most of them to be delicious. Foraging is even better when you don’t have to look too hard.
  • Radish Munchen Bier, which are podding radishes. You don’t eat the root; you wait until they go to seed and eat the seed pods. I’ve never tried these before, so I’m looking forward to these too. Charlotte recommends stir frying them.

I also got Nardello peppers to grow indoors and some bunching onions and mixed lettuce, which will be great for the 52 week salad challenge.

You may have noticed the glorious yellow scarf underneath the seeds in the photo. Charlotte also sent me this, another present from India. Isn’t it beautiful? And as we head into winter, or even if we get another summer like this one, it is a vibrant reminder of sunshine, and happy hours in the garden.

Thank you, Charlotte. There is certainly a lot to challenge me, and a lot of brilliant plants to look forward to.

Anyone can join the Seedy Penpals, whether you have a window box or a wood. I can vouch for the fact that people have enjoyed the first one, and that you get some great surprises and new and interesting plants. If you are interested, see here for more details and how to join up for the next swap, which will be in the spring. New seeds, new varieties, new friends. What’s not to like?

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We Need to Talk About Salad

Wild Garlic & Qualis Egg Salad With Wild Garlic Pesto

Salad as Celebration

I have been neglectful of my salad posts and chat of late, which I undertook to do as part of the 52 Week Salad Challenge that was issued by Michelle at Veg Plotting. This is not to say that I have not been diligently sowing, foraging and eating at least one salad a week, but I have been away a lot of late, and even without internet for a lot of it (and enjoyed it, actually!) so I haven’t really had the time to tweet and post about it in time for the monthly Salad Days round up that Michelle takes such care over every month.

To make amends, I am doing a bit of a salad round up in time for this week’s Salad Days, and I look forward to reading all of the links and the discussions from all of the others who are joining in with the challenge on Friday.

Where to start then? The last time I blogged specifically for the challenge (as opposed to cheekily tagging it onto other posts), I had been finding and eating the weeds in my garden.

Clockwise from right: Hairy Bittercress, Wood Sorrel, Chickweed

Salad as Weeding

Clockwise from right: hairy bittercress, wood sorrel*, chickweed.

The weeds have continued to form a part of my salads, but since then, the hedgerows have burst forth, and there has been plenty to eat, from there and from my garden.

Wild Garlic

Salad as Wild Food

We have been eating hedgerow staples, such as the carpets of wild garlic (pictured, in my favourite spot), sorrel*, jack in the hedge (aka garlic mustard), and nettles. all of these have appeared in a variety of tarts, salads, fritters and as side dishes in their own right.

The first of these was the wild garlic. For my celebratory birthday meal, back in March, I made a starter of poached quails egg on a bed of salad, including wild garlic leaves. I dressed this with a really lovely wild garlic pesto, which used hazelnuts instead of the ubiquitous pine nuts. The quail’s eggs are slightly richer, and much smaller than hen’s eggs, and the soft yolks were a perfect foil to the pesto.

At the permaculture course I was eating a variety of the salads that they grew there, as well as a number of edible flowers, including nasturtium, herb flowers, those from the various brassicas that had been allowed to go to seed, and borage. If you have never eaten a borage flower, I suggest you give them a go, they are surprising, they taste almost like cucumber, and are a lovely bite to have in a salad. I also found some very old borage seed this year, which I have given a go. I was given this packet of seeds years ago, so I have lost nothing if they don’t come up, and if they do, they will form part of the new polyveg system I am putting in place this year. Hopefully, it will seed itself and attract bees as well as looking beautiful and being really tasty. Apparently, it is a good pot herb to. If the seeds are too old to germinate, then I’ll get some for next year in any case.

Duck Salad

Salad as a Project

I have already told you about the duck salad I made as part of my duck week. On the 2nd week of April, we held our first barbecue of the year, by way of a baby shower for my friend. It was flipping freezing, but it was dry, and a good time was had by all. I made my go-to barbecue salad of radish, cucumber, feta, parsley and mint. This is based on a quick and easy dish by Nigel Slater. I was very proud to be able to feed my guests with homegrown parsley and radishes in this salad. It went down so well, I didn’t manage to get any pictures.

Things are continuing apace in the garden. I have been eating lots of rocket and cut and come agains, as well as the odd leaf chicory. Because of my desire to embark on a polyveg system, I have also been sowing a number of other salad things this year. I have multiple lettuces, beets, and turnips for some tasty salads, well as a number of herbs. I have also discovered that you can eat poached egg plants, so I’m going to give them a go. Inspired by all the people following the Salad Challenge, I’m also giving a few new leaves a go – notably some of the chinese greens, and shiso. I also got hold of some morning glory, which features in Japanese cuisine quite a lot, I think. I am hoping this is the right one, as I really enjoyed it in soups and salads when I was over there a couple of years ago.

Although I love foraging, I would love to be able to grow sorrel in my garden. To date, I have been unsuccessful, although the partially shady conditions are more favourable for me growing sorrel than tomatoes (which I can manage). I have tried for the past three years to no avail. Do any of you have any tips? I don’t even think I have seen any germination. Do you pre-soak? I have been using the same packet, and suspect that it may all be sterile, but any other ideas will be gratefully received. I hate to see seeds go to waste as much as I do food!

Garden Salad with Caesar Dressing

Salad as Supper

Tonight’s effort was garden leaves and some of the aforementioned weeds (all my own), with a mix of tomatoes, cucumber, broad beans and asparagus (sadly not my own, mine aren’t ready yet, and the asparagus won’t be available this year) in a caesar dressing. I cannot really call this a caesar salad though, since it didn’t have any romaine lettuce, which I planted a bit late, and haven’t even made decent baby gems yet. I ate it with a potato salad and a soft-boiled egg, and it really hit the spot – satisfying, yet cool for the hottest day of the year so far.

One of the great benefits of growing-your-own is the tops off the broad beans. Mine are almost ready, although the cold spell put them back somewhat. You can hopefully expect them in a salad post very soon.

* Please note that neither wood sorrel or sorrel should be eaten in large quantities, due to containing oxalic acid, which can inhibit calcium uptake by the body. They can aggravate kidney stones, gout, rheumatism, arthritis and hyperacidity, so should be avoided by people with those conditions. The amount of oxalic acid does reduce with cooking, but wood sorrel would wilt to nothing at all, as the leaves are not very big in the first place.

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Roots and Permaculture

Varzea da Gonçala

Where I Have Been Lately

Hello! I am back from a little sojourn in the Portuguese countryside, where I have been on a fantastic Permaculture Design Course.  I intended to get a load of posts done to be posted over the time that I was away, but as usual, I was behind, and doing them on the journey. I got to the venue to discover that there was no frivolous internet access (due to the tariff system in rural Portugal) and no mobile reception, so things didn’t work out as I had planned (and not planned, in many ways). I am not sorry, it was glorious to be away from it all, and was incredibly good for the soul.

Fig tree at the Varzea, Late March 2012

The View From the Classroom

I will post those other posts over the coming days, along with a few Easter posts, which should probably come first,  but I really want to tell you all about the course and what I got up to first. Partly by way of explanation for the absence, but also because I really want to recommend a permaculture course. This was a birthday present from the Big Guy, so I knew little about it before then. Lucky me!

Me & Permanent Varzea Residents

Me & Permanent Varzea Residents

The course itself was run at Varzea da Gonçala, a lovely small holding just outside Aljezur in the Algarve, and set in a valley (hence the lack of phone reception), not too far from the Atlantic. The Varzea operates on permaculture principles, producing its own fruit, vegetables, and eggs, and they have chickens and pigs to help work and feed the land. It is important to the people who  live and work there to demonstrate that permaculture is effective for everyone, and that it really works. It is why they have called their website ‘I Can Feed Myself’, to underline the point. Chris and Kris, who run it, along with the people who work with them, are excellent hosts and teachers. We also had  amazing food for our stay.

Feast Fit for a King at the Varzea

Feast Fit for a King (Our Last Night)

We ate like kings, with everything from jacket potatoes, to lasagne, to beautiful fresh salads of rocket, mustards, chard, lettuces, fresh herbs, nasturtium leaves and flowers, borage, peppers, you name it. I may not have sown these seeds, but I definitely got my hands dirty to tend to them, so these will form part of the 52 week salad challenge for me, and I don’t feel like it is cheating. The food was fantastic, prepared with love, and was so fresh.

Peter Cow Giving a Lecture

Teacher!

Our main tutor was Peter Cow, who runs Living in Circles, and there were sessions from other permaculturalists, including the people who live on the Varzea.

The Big Guy really couldn’t have chosen a better course. We learned about the principles of permaculture, and the design method, as well as putting it to practical use. I got to play with the compost and do some gardening, and I have learned some valuable skills. Peter is also keen on applying permaculture to the wider world, as well as the personal one. I will admit that I was not really looking forward to this, but I actually found it immensely useful. I have been able to get a different perspective on a couple of things, which have been holding me back in many ways.

The group of people I was on the course with were also brilliant. I have never worked with a group that was so on track, and with no little fighting and falling out, despite being such vastly different people.  Each of them brought a lot of different knowledge to the course, and it was so great to share this with everyone. One guy also lives in the same town as me, so I hope that we can continue to meet and maybe do some digging together!

Making a Wooden Spoon

Spooning!

We even practiced some new skills – both on the course, and in the breaks. As well as learning about swale construction, and building a stackwall. I got an insight into perspective in drawing, which has inspired me to give sketching a go – something I never felt equipped to do before. I helped to teach others how to make pasta. I even know how to make a wooden spoon. I’m just putting the finishing touches to one, albeit that it was produced with a little help from my friends. I really feel like I came away a craftswoman.

Constructing a Stackwall from Cordwood

Constructing a Stackwall from Cordwood

In fact, I have been so inspired by the course, I am trying to expand my use of permaculture and permaculture design. I have some plans for friends’ balconies – and before any of those said friends start to panic, don’t worry, permaculture has a lot to do with water catchment and no-dig, so you won’t become slaves to your pot plants. I am planning to implement my own polyveg system in my own garden, and I will be blogging about it here. I had intended to start a new blog for the gardening stuff (and had a great name lined up…) but the idea of permaculture is that you should take advantage of and increase beneficial relationships, and to me there is no better relationship than that between food and food production. So I am going to capture it here, and try to expand the communities of interest that could talk to each other. I am even going to try and design myself into a new career and direction, but I need a bit more work on that.

Finished Stackwall

Look What We Made!

Peter runs and collaborates on a number of permaculture courses, all of the details of which are available on his website. He is also really in tune with group dynamics and very skilled at getting very different people to work together and gel. You might like to go along to a course, or ask him to teach at one of yours.

Drying Homemade Pasta (No Pasta Machine)

Look What Else We Made!

The Varzea also offer a range of courses, as well as holiday accommodation and camping, for groups, individuals or families. You can get hands-on experience and teaching in permaculture practice. As well as having access to delicious, organic food from the land that they work. An ideal get away from the petrochemical farming and urban landscapes we have come to know, I really cannot recommend this place enough, not to mention the hospitality and the welcome you will enjoy here.

I hope that you will also come to share my enthusiasm for permaculture, and share the fruits of my labour (and the recipes that they inspire). Thanks for coming this far.

Contacts for Varzea da Gonçala

Contacts for Peter Cow

NB: I do not represent, nor am I being paid to blog about the permaculture course,or the Varzea.  I am just so enthused by the experience, and the people I met that I wanted to blog about it.

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