I don't know about you, but I've found myself grazing in my garden already this year. I am thrilled to see some of my greens returning after being eaten to the ground by slugs as seedings last fall, plus some surprise returns from my arugula, spinach, and collard greens.
Yesterday I snapped a few pictures as I grazed in the afternoon sun, hungry for fresh food despite the lunch I ate a couple hours earlier. Perhaps it's the change of seasons or my body's desire for more greens, but I made my way around my backyard (mostly in a squat) snacking on anything edible. It was one of the most delightful snacking experiences this year.
What's snack-worthy this time of year, you ask? A surprising amount of greens. Here's what I have growing right now (in mid-March):
If you shift your thoughts from "pesky weed" to "delicious and nutritious food source", you will view dandelions much differently. I am hungrily awaiting our first large dandelion leaf harvest so that I can cook up a batch of dandelion greens.
This super simple recipe is a must-try for all new "dandelion is a delicious and nutritious food source" thinkers: pick several large handfuls of dandelion greens, boil them for 10 minutes then run under cold water to stop the cooking process. Saute the greens and a couple cloves of minced garlic in butter or olive oil for a few minutes. Add salt to taste. Serve warm as a side dish.
Other ways to consume dandelions: add a few young leaves to your mixed green salad, remove and separate the yellow flower petals and add the petals to the batter of your baked goods such as muffins, pancakes, waffles, etc. Make a tincture out of the leaves and/or stems. For many other dandelion recipes and ideas, check out my Pinterest board called The Amazing Dandelion.
Collard Greens & Kale
Collard greens and kale are two of my all time favorite staples in our garden, particularly because they usually overwinter in Portland. My three year old daughter has been able to identify both plants since she started toddling around the garden. She picks the leaves for a snack while we're outside. Need I say more about their deliciousness?
I use collard greens and kale interchangeably in recipes and in smoothies. I add these hardy greens to soup, stir fry, and smoothies. I make a lot of smoothies and this green smoothie recipe is one of my go-to's when I need a belly-filling-pick-me-up: 4 small or 2 large collard green or kale leaves (washed and stems removed), 1 banana, 1 green pear, a handful of walnuts (cashews or brazil nuts are great too), small spoonful of coconut oil, about a cup of almond milk (or any other dairy or non-daily milk). Add all to a high powered blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Adjust liquid as necessary. Optional: add a pinch of cinnamon.
Honestly, I haven't had a ton of luck growing spinach in Portland. I think that either the slugs get to it first, it bolts immediately, or I just plant it at the wrong time. I made a weak attempt at growing it last fall and didn't have much luck... until this spring. I have a handful of spinach plants and I'm stoked! It's the perfect amount for snacking or adding to a salad. When I have a more substantial amount of spinach to work with, spinach lasagna and spinach-feta quiche are my favorite meals to make.
Another edible weed, bitter cress is a lovely addition to salads. It is a small plant with cute little leaves. The small white flowers will become seed heads that pop open when disturbed, so if you don't want bitter cress growing throughout your garden, make sure to pick it before it goes to seed!
I grow arugula about as well as I grow spinach. I tend to plant it at the wrong time and it immediately bolts. This happened last year and I let the plants go to seed in my garden. This turned out to be a great decision because I now have an early crop of arugula.
Arugula is a wonderful spicy addition to salads, soups, pizza, pasta, eggs, wraps, sandwiches, pesto, and lasagna. This recipe for Roasted Cauliflower and Arugula Wraps is amazing. I also like to make pesto with arugula and have an easy recipe for chickweed and arugula pesto below.
A few years ago I planted wild arugula and have been enjoying it ever since. The leaves of wild arugula are smaller and narrower than other arugula species I've grown. It either overwinters or reseeds itself in my garden, I'm not really sure which. I just know that I can always find some growing.
A good friend of mine introduced me to a new way of enjoying arugula. I prefer to harvest my wild arugula for this recipe. Wrap in foil: a couple handfuls of arugula, minced garlic, olive oil, and salt. Place on the grill or in the oven for 15 minutes. Enjoy warm or at room temperature as a side dish to any meal.
Chickweed's bright green leaves, white star-shaped flowers, and generous nature make me feel happy. I always smile when I see patches of chickweed growing in my garden. It has taken up residence in a container near the bottom of our deck stairs and in my herb spiral. This hardy little plant was perky and bright green late this winter, even though it was covered with snow. For such a small and delicate looking plant, it's really tough!
This recipe is so delicious, you've got to try it! One small handful of walnuts, 2-3 cloves of garlic, two handfuls of arugula, one handful of chickweed. Put it all into a food processor and blend to your liking (coarsely chopped or smooth). Stir in 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese and salt to taste. Mix into 1 pound pasta, cooked. We like to serve it with chicken sausage on the side.
French sorrel is a reliable garden plant. I can't remember when I bought my first plant, but it's been patiently growing in the same spot in my garden for years. The long, greenish-yellow leaves stick straight up in spring. As a landscape plant, French sorrel provides a lovely backdrop or could even be used as a border plant. It's nothing spectacular but it's hardy and has a nice mounded shape. Mine has slowly expanded in size and I finally dug up a couple chunks of it to put in a funky blue dresser drawer planter, attached to our fence. The new home for these plants will be an experiment, especially because of the deep tap roots.
In the kitchen, sorrel is a lovely addition to a salads, soups, stews, and sauces. It has a strong tangy and lemony flavor and is high in oxalic acid. Oxalic acid can be irritating to those with kidney stones and arthritis and in general, it's best to consume French sorrel in small amounts.
Mache, or corn salad, is like a little magical wonder. I planted mache seeds several years ago and have since reaped the benefits every year in late winter and early spring. Mache is a cute little plant with long oval leaves. It grows very close to the ground and spreads by seed. The leaves are tender, often reminding me of spinach, and have a very mild flavor. I usually just snack on it while I'm in the garden, but will sometimes harvest a few handfuls to add to pesto or salads.
Parsley is a biennial and seems to be a permanent resident in our garden. I plant it close to our back door because I'm constantly running out to harvest some while I'm cooking. I love the way parsley grows, with it's cheery upright habit and dark green leaves. It's a visually appealing addition to any garden and boy is it tasty! A common kitchen herb, parsley can be used in a variety of recipes.
Here are a few other garden staples we've been harvesting this spring:
Yarrow for nosebleeds - leaves are an amazing styptic
Rosemary - tea, in roasted veggies, soups, winter bouquets for our table, and more
Lemon balm - harvest leaves for tea
Swiss chard - harvest leaves for soups, greens, and more
Sage - harvest leaves for meat dishes, tea, and more
Mint - barely big enough to harvest right now, but it's getting close!
Oh, and I can't forget to mention that our apricot tree is now in full bloom!
NOTE: Always be 100% positive of your plant identification before consuming any wild plant - even dandelions have some look alike's!
I'd love to hear from you! What's growing in your garden right now?