Don’t Call It A Comeback

As I wrote in the garden post—and countless times beforehand—spending time in the garden (or outside in general) every day inspires plentiful ideas for the evening meal. In any given week (once things get growing) one is confronted with an array of plants at different stages of their lives: sprouts that need thinning, bolting things that need eating, things that bolted and didn’t get eaten so now they have pretty flowers or pungent seeds to use, and always various plants at peak maturity that are ready for their closeup.

Living plants inspire in a way that frozen ones do not, even if those frozen ones grew in the same ground the year before. My winter process involves a trip to the basement to see what combination of foods from the freezer and pantry I can combine; during the growing season all I want to do is improvise or riff, inventing new dishes with what’s growing all around me and filling in any gaps with food already in the house. It’s a much more rewarding way to cook.

This soup, for example, grew out of the exigency of pea removal. One bed, planted super early but with year-old seeds, did not germinate well. As a result, I pulled out the intermittent plants to make room for climbing beans: scarlet runner and Jacob’s cattle. (There are two other full beds of thriving peas.) The plants I ripped up became this soup, in conjunction with a solitary stalk of green garlic which regrew in that same bed from an errant unharvested clove, plus a bunch of cilantro, also growing in that bed, which volunteered as is its wont all over the place this spring. Cilantro is one of those wonderful plants that you only buy seeds for once.

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I blanched all the greens in water with a few ice cubes of pork stock, then blitzed it all in the blender and strained it into a pot. Seasoned with a little fish sauce and vinegar, it made a most springy beginning to the meal. The remainder, blended with yogurt, made a spiffy first course for another meal a few days later.

Next up, an invention born of having lots of sourdough starter on hand. If you feed your starter every day (even twice a day, like the pros do) but don’t bake every day it’s easy to end up with more than you can handle. The solution: make crêpes with it. To roughly two cups of my starter, I added two eggs, a glug of olive oil (could also be melted butter), and a fat pinch of salt. They’re sour, soft, and fantastic: almost halfway between crêpes and injera. We treated these more like the latter, rolling them up around a bean salad I made with dried Jacob’s cattle and dragon’s tongue beans from the garden and a few store bought chickpeas. Once they were all tender, I drained them and tossed them with olive oil, sumac vinegar, copious herbs, cured chilies, and sliced radishes. If your starter is thicker than mine (which is 100 percent hydration) try making thicker pancakes with it.

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Last, meatloaf. I had been talking to Ric the day before, and the conversation turned to meatloaf, as it so often does. So when it came time to deploy the ground beef in the fridge, that’s what I made. For the panade, I soaked some fantastic rye bread a friend had baked and brought over in milk and a beaten egg until it got soft (which, for 100 percent rye, is a while). Then I blended it all smooth and mixed it into the meat with some herbs, garlic, and fish sauce. Because a pound of meat doesn’t make a whole lot of meatloaf, I assembled these in the little loaf pans I use for pâté. Which makes perfect sense, because meatloaf is pâté. I lined the pans with bacon because I had bacon. The best thing about the little pans is that I could bake them in the toaster oven; the second best thing about them is that I put one in the fridge and we ate meatloaf sandwiches the next day for lunch. The sauce was a mixture of tomato paste, gochujang, and ketchup with a little smoked salsa mixed in.

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