Hello! Long time no see. It’s planning season in academia, and I’ve been scrambling to pull together grants and reports and abstracts and introductions and applications. Like so many young(ish) scholars working in adjunct positions, I’ve also been struggling with job instability and will be moving to a joint position teaching in English and Comparative Literature at the university in the fall. Although I’m excited to work with colleagues I know and respect already (don’t forget Eugene is a small town, so this is like moving down the street), it will shift priorities for me as the new classes and structure will take up more time. Some additional family financial pressures mean I will need to start prioritizing stability and writing much more, both for academic journals and professional food publications to make ends meet. Having to move is a very real possibility.
Unfortunately, this will mean fewer events and volunteer projects for the community starting next year, and I’m deeply sorry about this. It’s important to give back, and the pleasures of the volunteer work I do, including the radio show, this blog, the preservation classes, the events I host at the UO through my research group, the promotion of others’ work, and volunteering at festivals and reporting on my travels and such make life worth living in Eugene. Don’t worry, I still have a few things planned for next year that are pretty fabulous. But I need to “lean out,” as they say.
So the prospect of eating from the garden is suddenly even more appealing. And it’s culling time, so here are some ideas.
- We’ve missed out on eating grape hyacinth bulbs for the season, but you might try the bulbs (tubers, really) and buds of the pretty orange day lily. Wildcrafter Hank Shaw provides recipes, and urges you not to confuse this common plant with other lilies.
- Fresh oregano salad, substituting oregano for fresh parsley in any tabbouli recipe, supposedly helps young people study in the Middle East. And who doesn’t need to sharpen up the memory? With the tender spring leaves tempered by spring onions and a lemon and olive oil dressing, you won’t be overwhelmed by the dark, musky flavor and woody stems.
- Common snails. Yes, escargot. I felt my gorge rise when I realized in France our garden pests — yes, the exact same variety — were one of the species used for escargot. But Molly Watson has published a piece in Edible San Francisco that lays out how to prepare and cook them in a rather appetizing way. And what with the foraging all around town making its way into local bistros…new business, anyone?
- Any basket-weavers who are pruning? Consider a traditional grilled fish basket made of Mediterranean bay branches (above image). We lunched on delicious salmon prepared this way on our tour of Sunset magazine a few weeks back as part of the International Association of Culinary Professionals conference. You might be able to do something similar with rosemary branches, if that’s your unruly hedge issue.
- Dandelion greens can be wilted and used as a deeply flavorful green in a stirfry or potato curry, or try my fellow Oregon blogger Dr. Fugawe’s adaptation of Duguid’s Spiced Burmese New Potatoes with dandelion greens and shallot oil.
But where it’s really at is RAAB. These are the tops of cruciferous vegetables that sweetly greenly provided iron-rich leaves all winter long, now bolting in the lovely sun. The market gives us a bunch of them, all tasting basically the same once cooked, but some sharper, some darker when raw. Try brussels sprouts raab or collards raab, my favorite (pictured first against tree — a very timely delivery by my beloved neighbor), or the lovely purple cabbage raab.
Easiest recipe? Chop up a bunch of raab with its pretty yellow flowers and throw atop fried meat, like the utterly succulent chunks of bo ssam Biancalana pork shoulder I made the other day, before wrapping morsels in butter lettuce leaves. But then there’s also
Pasta. Try it chopped and sauteed in olive oil that has been warmed up with a little chopped garlic or culled green garlic from the garden, lemon zest, and red pepper flakes (add a little anchovy if you’re adventurous and/or wise). Throw the cooked raab into a bowl of fresh pasta, something chunky like rotini, and grate fresh parmesano all over it.
You might also sample it steamed or fried with a little oyster sauce, just like the gai lan you see in dim sum houses.
Or little green potstickers, anyone? Finely minced raab works especially well with ground pork as a filling.
But best of all is this recipe for stir-fried chopped raab with pork and fermented red chili (above, photographed by the paparazzi). It’s an adaptation of Fuchsia Dunlop’s Bo Bo Cai Xin, or Stir-fried Chopped Choy Sum, from her cookbook, Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking, that just came out in an American edition. It’s a wonderful cookbook, with a big chapter on leafy greens that I’ve already explored extensively.
My palate is a bit duller than Dunlop’s so I usually use more spice and salt than she does. You might decide on your own. But either way, definitely use the pork if you’re a meat eater. Although we sliced it thickly because of gluttony for Laughing Stock Farm pork and its delicious fat, I’d recommend mincing finely next time. Another difference is that with raab, you don’t need to blanch ahead of time. It’s much thinner and more tender than choy sum. I also substituted my own fermented red ‘Facing Heaven’ chilis for plain red jalapenos, so the recipe reflects that.
Stir-fried Chopped Raab with Pork and Fermented Red Chili
Serves 2 with rice and Chinese pickles, but make several dishes and turn it into a party.
- 2 tablespoons peanut oil, divided
- 3 cups of chopped raab
- 1 tablespoon chopped Sichuan fermented red chiles, or substitute finely chopped fresh red jalapeno or even red bell peppers
- 1/2 pound ground pork or finely chopped pork shoulder meat, best quality
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger
- 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
- 2 tablespoons spring onions (good use for culled onions from garden)
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons chili oil (optional)
Do all your chopping and measuring ahead of time, and set aside each ingredient in little bowls. Heat wok to sizzling, then add a tablespoon of the peanut oil to heat, then quickly add the chopped raab and cook until bright green and still crunchy, just two minutes or so, then stir in red chiles. Set aside in a serving dish.
Add rest of peanut oil, then add chopped or ground pork and a little salt. As the pork loses its pink but is not yet completely cooked, add ginger and garlic. When everything is nicely browned, add back the raab, stir to blend flavors and cook for a couple minutes more, then remove from heat, stir in sesame and chili oil, then serve with rice.