|Tonight's mixed home-grown garden salad, but before we|
get to that bit ...
I can't begin to tell you how much I enjoy Saturday mornings, especially ones as lovely as today's, where Sydney is working its way into a perfect, sunny spring day.
The shopping is great, for one thing. It's a 15-minute walk along bustling Illawarra Road to Banana Joes, the fruit, vegie and grocery hub to thousands of locals. Today I lashed out and paid 10 bucks for a kilo of fresh broad beans.
I love cooking something special for Saturday nights, for me it's the perfect way to finish off a day pottering in the garden. Pam sometimes laughs and says I'm a glutton for punishment, with the trouble I go to for some meals just for two, but it's my favourite dish – dinner for two, with Pammy.
And those broad beans will take some preparation, too. One friendly young Vietnamese girl manning the checkouts in Banana Joes sometimes asks me how do I cook certain vegies which aren't part of her mum's repertoire at home. In the past we've had some lovely chats about quinces and celeriac, for example, and this morning she wanted to know about broad beans.
So I explained how I open the big, long pods to extract the beans (gave her a demo on one pod!). Then how I blanch the beans in boiling water and peel them again, to expose the gleaming, shiny inner broad beans (didn't do a demo on that ...). It seemed to her like so much work that she couldn't help laughing a bit, but the old Greek mumma behind me in the queue, who was patiently enjoying the conversation, backed me up and said that's the way she prepares them, too.
That's one of the things I like about Banana Joes and Saturday mornings ... the conversations with the people you meet.
My bought broad beans (didn't grow any this year) will be going into the pot at the last moment, where lamb pieces will have been cooking for a few hours in a Moroccan spice mix, along with some zucchinis, tomatoes, eggplant and potatoes.
On the side I thought I'd offer up a light little salad of home-grown fresh mixed salad greens. With the tomatoey, spicy sauce surrounding the main dish, the salad doesn't need much dressing at all.
And so that's my home-grown content in tonight's dinner: the salad. What follows is just a few photos of how I am going about making my salads a bit more interesting.
The pot of 'mesclun' mixed salad leaves is coming along nicely. I just bought a packet of Yates Mesclun French Salad Mix seeds, sowed some, covered them lightly with seed-raising mix and watered the pot with a fine spray (for non-Australian readers, seed-raising mix is a light, fine potting mix that's very like a propagating mix).
The trick is to keep it steadily moist for the first few weeks. The seeds take about 7-10 days to sprout, then a few more weeks to get to this size. If you're slack about watering pots, your potted salad will probably cark it, but if you can remember to water it most days, it's easy to grow. A liquid feed or two helps a lot. There's all sorts of different leaves in the mesclun seed mix (Yates says it has endive, corn salad, rocket, chicory and lettuce) so if you only have one salad pot growing, make it mesclun and you're in business.
But we're watching a glutton for punishment in action here folks. Here's a pot of cultivated rocket. This stuff is fabulous as a salad on its own, provided you harvest it very young, like it is now. Later on the leaves will be too peppery when they get bigger.
Our wild rocket, which is a perennial plant, has awoken from its midwinter slumber. I ended up cutting it almost to the ground in mid July, but with feeding and watering once the weather warmed, it's becoming prolific again. Just a few leaves of this peppery zinger in a salad adds real flavour and character to your bowl of rabbit food.
Adding colour to a salad always helps, and so this red-stemmed baby spinach does the trick. This is a type of spinach called 'perpetual spinach' and it truly lasts for months. In its early days the baby leaves are fine in salads, but once they get bigger treat them like normal spinach and cook with them.
The old standby of mixed lettuce leaves helps when you're making bigger salads for bigger groups, and I've been a loyal buyer of the 'Combo' lettuce punnets from garden centres for many years. Every now and then I grow more interesting lettuce from seed, but when feeling a bit slack and lazy I just grab another Combo punnet and whack them in the ground. Never fails.
A few herby leaves never go astray in a mixed salad, adding a lot of flavour – but of course the trick with herbs is not to be heavy-handed. Just a little. My potted chives usually look disgustingly sad in midwinter, so in late July I routinely take them out of their pots, divide the crowded clump into individual chive plants, then I repot them into new, fresh potting mix. Six weeks later, with plenty of water and some liquid organic food applied, they're back in business. We roadtested our chives in last Sunday morning's scrambled eggs for breakfast, and Pammy gave them the tick of approval.
A little bit of chervil adds an aniseedy tang. Our little chervil border, grown from chervil sprouts bought from the supermarket, is looking truly luscious at the moment.
Slower to get going but now making steady, promising progress, our flat-leaf parsley border (also grown from supermarket sprouts) will also eventually make a contribution to some of our salads.
And it being early spring, there's no better time to grow some salad greens. Summer is a tougher task as it gets too hot, but right now we're truly enjoying our salad days.