A few days ago on Facebook I made a comment that I was very glad that I am not limited to the produce of my garden because my diet would be chile peppers, pumpkin, lambsquarters, fresh herbs, and a handful of cowpeas and butter beans every day. Then I went outside and walked all the way around the house, noticing all of the edible plants that I could harvest at that moment, and started thinking about what I could make.
Harvestable right now: black-seeded cow peas, speckled butter beans, lambsquarters, chimayo chiles, Thai chiles, oregano, sage, culantro, lemongrass, thyme, rigani, rosemary, pumpkins, eggplants, young luffa gourds, ginger, turmeric, and mint. There might be some edible cassava by now. There’s also tea and medicinal herbs like lemon verbena, raspberry leaf, and rose hips. We’d be shooting squirrels for meat, but at least the squirrels would be well-seasoned!
The harvest that had to be used immediately was the lambsquarters. The plants had reached ten feet tall and then partially flopped over. This unsightly behavior was beautifully silhouetted against the white front of the house for all the neighbors to see. They were also going to seed, and I didn’t want lambsquarters coming up all over the yard. They had to go. So before I got home from work my husband chopped the towering plants down, and the kids started stripping the tender leaves off the stems and then cutting the branches down to add to the compost bin. They were mostly done before I even got home! We harvested about 6 cups of tender leaves, tightly packed, and then put the rest in the compost.
Look at my pretty beans! Beans are not a money crop. They’re not flamboyant like fancy tomatoes or trendy like kale. They take work since they have to be picked every other day and shelling takes time. The plants ramble and climb. But I have to say, so far I am enjoying growing legumes and look forward to trying other varieties. There are so many polyculture opportunities here, I just have to keep experimenting. That jar of beans above are beans that I grew, harvested, dried, and shelled, and I decided to make them the stars of the recipe, with all of the other flavors supporting them. After some harvesting and some thought, I finally decided what I wanted to do.
Late Summer Peas & Greens Curry
This dish is inspired by saag chole, my favorite Punjabi dish. It’s a bit involved, but once all the chopping is done the dish comes together quickly. I served this with a harissa-slathered roast chicken and buttery mashed sweet potatoes, but you could also serve it with plain steamed rice. Ingredients in bold and italic came from my garden, ingredients in bold came from local farms. This is what “here” tastes like!
1 c dried cowpeas and/or butter beans, or 1 1/2 c fresh field peas or cow peas
6 c packed lambsquarters or any other tender summer greens like callaloo
2 tbl butter or ghee
2 small onions
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 small tomato
2 chimayo chiles, or any mild fresh red chile
1′ knob of ginger
1 small whole turmeric root
1 cup of whole milk (or cream if you’re feeling decadent)
1/4- 1/2 tsp Jamaican curry powder
Culantro and plain whole-milk yogurt
Soak the beans for at least 12 hours. Drain and rinse. Put in a pot with plenty of water and a tablespoon of salt. Bring to a boil and then simmer for an hour, or until the peas start to split open a little. Drain and set aside.
Take another pot with a tight-fitting lid large enough to hold the volume of greens. Fill halfway with water, cover, and put on high heat.
While the peas are cooking you make the rest of the dish. Chop the onion and tomato and put them in separate bowls. Then mince the ginger, turmeric root, and chiles together and place in another bowl. Heat a large pan over medium heat. Add the butter. When the butter starts foaming, add the onion. Fry the onion, stirring often, until it starts to turn nice and brown. Add the coriander and cumin. Stir until you can smell the spices clearly, just a few seconds. Then add the fresh chile/ginger/turmeric mixture. Fry for a minute or two, just until everything softens and releases the aromas. Watch the mixture carefully so the ground spices do not burn. When the mixture starts to brown, add the tomato. Turn the heat down to low.
By now the water should be boiling in the pot. Put a colander in the sink. Stir the greens into the boiling water and watch them carefully. As soon as they are wilted and bright green- usually less than two minutes- immediately pour them into the colander. Transfer the greens into a blender. Add 1/2 c of milk. Puree the mixture, adding milk as needed to make a smooth puree. Scrape the onion/tomato/spice mixture into the blender and pulse briefly to smooth out the sauce. Put the frying pan back on the burner, turn the heat up to medium, and pour the greens mixture back into the pan. Bring the mixture up to a simmer and cook, stirring constantly, until it thickens- about 10 minutes. Add the cooked peas to the greens and stir. Add salt and curry powder to taste.
Serve with a large dollop of plain yogurt or sour cream and plenty of chopped culantro.