Listen To What The Flower People Say

The garden inspires. Besides its inherent goodness–the exercise of maintaining it, the healthfulness and flavor of what comes out of it, the incredible multi-level teaching tool it offers for parents–at the end of the day (often quite literally) it’s just the act of working in it and seeing what’s coming in, what’s peaking, and what’s going out that gives me the most ideas for immediate meals and more ambitious longer-term projects. One of the great beauties of growing food is that even things well before or past their prime can be used to great effect to flavor, garnish, or otherwise complete a meal. This dinner represented a good example of me just listening to the garden and letting the fridge and pantry do the rest.

I got a fair amount of work done today, including building a bamboo trellis for the climbing beans. I thinned the carrot bed, and weeded it, which was made extra fun by the facts that the baby carrots are big enough (barely) to qualify as carrots and that all of the weeds in that bed are (were) purslane, so by the time each carrot had some space of open soil around it I had a pile of real food ready for washing. I cut the rest of the scapes from the garlic bed and grabbed some selvetica arugula, fennel fronds, and green coriander seeds from the cilantro that self-seeded in the fall. One of the benefits of expanding the garden is that I can leave a few winter beds to flower while still having enough room to plant everything I want in time for the new season. Besides saving seeds to grow, I’m finding more and more culinary uses for them and have some posts planned that will cover some of what I’m playing with.

Meantime, here’s what I did with the haul. I began by flouring some chicken thighs (with some salt and pimentón in the flour) and giving them a thorough browning on both sides. I removed them to another pan, and added a sauce made of cider vinegar, orange juice, ketchup, soy sauce, fish sauce, sriracha, and chicken stock, into which I stirred a bit of corn starch. I let them simmer happily while I used all the rendered chicken fat in the big pan to make crispy little “latkes” out of leftover amaranth I had made the night before. These did not suck. Many of them didn’t survive even to see a plate; my diminutive sous-chef and I accidentally put away a few while we got everything together.

In the same pan, now with quite a lot less chicken fat in it, I added the scapes, carrots, and peas, followed by some vinegar and stock after everything brightened and the scapes began to color and wrinkle a bit. You can see just how tiny the carrots were. I removed the mixture to a bowl in which I had put purslane and arugula so the heat would wilt them but not cook them much past that point.

The vegetables were done just as the sauce for the chicken had thickened to a lascivious viscosity, so it was time to eat. A spoon of ragout, a thigh (anointed lovingly with extra sauce) and a latke adorned each bowl, and I added some raw purslane and fennel fronds for ornament, bright crunch, and flavor. The thighs had a nice escabeche thing happening, which played beautifully with the vernal splendor of the ragout. The crispy grain cakes were pretty great–who knew starch fried in fat could be good?–and inspired some ideas for future versions. A Marsannay rosé did an excellent job with this, and it took some serious effort to save enough for the kid’s lunch.

5 comments to Listen To What The Flower People Say

  • El

    Gardens do a hella lot to help our cooking.

    I do think something’s lost to those of us who may not have grown up gardening, taking it up instead as hardened cynical adults. You know, those slap-the-forehead moments wherein you learn a plant can be eaten at any stage (radish seed pods perfect example) and are often miles better at stages not found in stores/farmers’ markets (that blooming kale, those leek bulblets growing below ground). Perhaps we’d already know all this if we’d done it as kids?

    But you are quite correct in noting that one can’t, you know, write a cookbook based on 3 snips purslane/5 balls coriander/handful of peas/16 wee carrots in a splat of schmaltz…people are often too damned literal for such cookwithwhatyouhaved-ness. More’s the pity, so I just say get out and garden. It’ll improve your cooking.

  • Peter, thanks for stopping by… I have tried many of the wines of many old vintages in my time… not able to do it at the moment… although I do have ancient madeiras on hand that bring me no end of joy… that said…

    Love your post. I have been able (thanks to a loosening of the noose of the coop board) to plant many herbs in the front garden. It has been wonderful to use the herbs in my food. With a great CSA I feel a new vigor in my cooking… i do look wistfully at your garden. You do magnificent things with it… bravo!! I am a great fan of good fat… crisped grains are brilliant.

  • Peter

    El: I found the seeds! I’m mailing them tomorrow.

    Deana: Next time you open an 1877 Yquem or the like, I expect a call beforehand.

  • A gorgeous dish. I’ve heard over and over that purslane can be eaten so I thought I would give it a try. It’s OK and it’s an attractive enough garnish I guess but I need an outlet to sell it. I still think of it as a weed it’s so damn prolific in my garden…where I still don’t want it!

  • Peter

    It makes a great gazpacho.

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I'm a painter who happens to also spend a lot of time growing, making, and writing about food. I'm particularly interested in the intersection of frugal peasant cooking techniques and haute improvisation. And I have a really great personality.

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