Thought For Food

A significant upside to the lock-down is that more people are gardening. This makes me so happy. Of all the things one could resort to during this uncertain, scary time, gardening is perhaps one of the best activities to do. You and I both know all the benefits so I shall not reiterate them but for myself, working in my garden has been my salvation.

Vegetable gardening is what most have taken up. There is something fundamental and inherent about that. Historically, how and what we eat dictates how well we survive. In good times and bad. An unprecedented crisis such as this pandemic had us naturally look to our basic need. Subconsciously, food is always ( okay, maybe mostly) on our minds. This threat, being a challenge to our health got us to think about keeping us in good, robust condition. Growing and preparing owns own food is the obvious solution. It gives one a sense of taking charge and doing something positive. All good I say. It reminds me of the Victory gardens that proliferated during WW II.

While seed companies were suddenly faced with a run on their stock, people were (re-)discovering the joys of gardening. Friends living in tiny city apartments were growing herbs, radish and tomatoes on their window-sills and balconies. Some have been training peas and beans around their windows. A quick search on the Internet reveals a plethora of innovations for apartment gardening. I’m quite blown away by what cool stuff is available.

Others who already had a yard, have gotten busy making all manner of vegetable gardens. Raised beds, French potagers, English kitchen gardens, vegetables ‘plots’ solely comprised of pots – it’s been exciting to learn of all the activity. Even better, swathes of lawn have been turned over to rows of vegetable plants, pollinators have been encouraged with the addition of native flowering plants, organic practices have been adopted, composting has become routine – my goodness! We are already doing better.

I myself upped my veggie game this year. For the first time, I started growing peas and micro-greens, increased the number of tomato and zucchini plants and added more herbs. In the fruit department, a long desired persimmon tree joined the apple, pear and fig trees already in residence. FYI – While we get a nice amount of produce, the garden in no way covers all our vegetable needs as we follow a mostly plant based diet.

More significantly for me, I widened the usage of the plants and have been trying new recipes. The repertoire of family meals has grown substantially and we’re thoroughly enjoying the experience. I suspect that we have each become even more particular about where and what we select when we eventually dine out. The bar has been raised.

The CSA ( Community Supported Agriculture) Co-Op I belong to started up their 2020 weekly deliveries a couple of weeks ago. It’s a joy to get the produce from a local farm instead of the supermarket. And we’re continuing to try new recipes.

I’ve received several recipe requests so I thought I’d share a couple of old, tried and true family recipes as well as a couple of new ones that I’ve tried recently..

Cilantro Chutney – Most people think of chutneys as a sweet-salty-spicy mix but in Indian cooking, chutneys are not always sweet. This one is not sweet but is great on sandwiches, brushed on roasted vegetables, meats, fish and anything needing a little oomph.

This recipe is from my mother-in-law who was a highly gifted cook.

Jaya Mani’s Cilantro Chutney

1.

2 T oil

2 T urad dal (white lentil)

1 T fenugreek seeds  — optional

1 pinch hing (asofoetida powder)  — optional

1 large dry red chilli

 (2)

1 t black mustard

 (3)

1 medium bunch cilantro washed and drained (including stems)

Salt to taste

Fry (1) together until lentils are toasted – light brown. Strain but save the oil. Add strained mixture (1) to blender. Add (3), some water and grind to a paste. Remove chutney paste from blender. Add (2) to drained oil and fry until mustard starts to pop. Add (2) to chutney  and mix well. Use within 2-3 days or freeze.

 Suggested servings:

  • Sandwiches with thinly sliced white bread, butter, chutney, thinly sliced coriander

  • Chutney with cooked  rice

  • Chapati/paratha roll with scrambled egg and chutney

  • Crackers, chutney and cheese

Rose geranium syrup over roasted figs – This combines two things from my garden. It’s a very simple but elegant dish. Add a few rose-geranium leaves when making a sugar syrup. Once the syrup has cooked down to desired thickness, remove the leaves. Let cool.

Roast figs – Cut fresh figs in half and arrange cut side up on a baking sheet. Drizzle some extra-virgin oil over them. Roast in oven at 425 degrees for 10 minutes or until they bubble.

Serve figs with syrup dribbled over them. Add a dollop of plain Greek yogurt on the side. You feel healthy that way. To up the ante, decorate the plate with a few rose-geranium flowers.

Strawberry-Basil Ice Cream – When I came across this recipe, I was intrigued. Basil in a dessert! It is delicious and so refreshing.

Ribs with rhubarb glaze and radish-rhubarb salad – I wanted to use rhubarb in more than the usual crisp or compote. This recipe from Bon Appetit turned out well.

Strawberry-basil ice cream

Khao Soi by @miravanchiswar Recipe from dear friend @sonal.nair. Cilantro from the garden

Basil pesto

Dolma using leaves from my Concord grapevine by @muralimani

Sandwiches using the cilantro chutney

Rhubarb cake

Chive quiche @miravanchiswar

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

Having My Flowers And Eating Them Too

As a child, I’d spend endless hours in the garden. Amidst playing and puttering, I made discoveries and learned so much about plants and bugs. One of my most pleasant pastimes was to find the tasty treats that the garden served. Beyond the usual berries, fruits and vegetables.

I was familiar with the common herbs like mint, holy basil and cilantro. Nibbling on them I’d imagine I was in the forest hiding from wicked witches or, I was Mowgli from the Jungle Book savvy in the ways of jungle living. It felt more special to eat the flowers of the herbs than their leaves.

I’d pick roses and savor the petals one at a time. I learned to eat only the young flowers as the older ones tasted a tad bitter. On the other hand, hibiscus petals provided a tangy flavor. Nasturtiums were peppery but the leaves were not so tasty to my young palate.

I knew to suck the long tubular ends of certain flowers and savor the sweet nectar.

In my curiosity, I recall taste testing other flowers and leaves – some were terribly bitter. It never occurred to me that I could get sick from such experimentation. It was fortunate I didn’t come to any harm. Since I never really discussed my doings in the garden, nobody knew to stop this line of risky inquiry.

Fast forward to present day. It is now quite common to include plants with edible flowers in the garden. Adding to the roster of the aforementioned rose, hibiscus and nasturtiums, are pansies, calendula, borage, zucchini blossoms, purple tops of chives, white flowers of garlic, yellow dill heads, lavender, elderflower and more. It does one good to have these plants in your garden. Beautiful and edible – a winning combination. Of course, make sure the flowers come from organically grown plants. Pesticide and chemical free.

Note – A bonus to picking flowers is that it encourages most plants to produce more. I always leave some flowers so the plants continue to look good and allowed to set seed.

Now that we’re in the season of eating light and fresh, using flowers in our recipes adds an extra pizazz to the presentation. Flowers make everything a celebration.

So, I’m sharing with you a few simple recipes to get you started on a season of celebrations.

1. Summer = cold drinks. Add flowers to your ice-trays and right away you have elevated your drinks to a higher level. Violas and borage suspended in ice are my favorites.

2. Top salads with freshly picked nasturtiums, calendula and sunflower petals, pansies, borage or chive flowers. They make the salad look pretty and add subtle flavor to it. Nasturtiums have a peppery punch that I love. Borage has a mild cucumber flavor and pansies taste like lettuce.

3. Add pea or bean flowers to rice or couscous for a delicate flavor. Caution – Leave plenty of flowers on the plant or you won’t get any beans or peas!

4. Decorate a simple olive oil cake with whole fresh roses and you’ve now got an Instagram worthy dessert.

5. Stick a sprig of lavender in a sugar bowl. Next time you sweeten your tea or lemonade, there will be a hint of lavender to bring a smile to your lips.

6. Crystallized petals of roses and whole pansies look sensational on cakes. Here’s a link on how to crystallize.

7. Cool off with a watermelon and rose granita – scoop the de-seeded flesh of half a large watermelon ( about 2 and ½ Lbs of flesh) and put in blender with 4 oz sugar, juice of 1 large lemon and ½ teaspoon rose water. Blend till smooth and strain. Pour liquid into shallow, wide container and freeze for 30 minutes. Break up crystals with a fork and return to freezer. Repeat this process two more times till granita has formed ice crystals and there is no slush. Takes about 3 hours in total. Serve in chilled glasses. Top with a rose bud or a thin spiral of lemon peel. Fancy.

For Homemade Rosewater:

  1. Remove petals from about 7 large roses and run them under luke-warm water to remove any residue.
  2. Add petals to a large pot and top with enough distilled water ( about a quart and a half) to just cover (no more or you’ll dilute your rosewater).
  3. Over medium-low heat bring the water to a simmer and cover.
  4. Let simmer for 20-30 minutes or until petals have lost their color and are pale.
  5. Strain the mixture to separate the petals from the water.
  6. Discard petals and place water in a glass jar to store.The rosewater can be kept in a well-sealed bottle in the refrigerator all season. It can also flavor lemonade, ice-cream and other desserts.

Get started and have yourself a healthy, celebratory summer!

Note: Do peruse shop to get your gifts for all occasions. 100% of the profits goes to support the education of children with HIV/AIDS.

Enjoy the photos of edible flowers in the garden:

Nasturtium

Pansies in pots

Violas

Zucchini blossoms

Sunflowers

Serving up zucchini flowers!

Merry marigolds!

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar