Along the Grapevine


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The Greatest Scapes

scapes

In this part of the world it is scape season, and they are commonly found in markets, CSA boxes and if you grow hard neck garlic, in your own garden. They are the long shoots that bear the flower, and this should be removed from the plant when it appears and before the flower starts to open in order for the garlic to grow big and healthy.

My scapes are not quite there yet, but I did get an entire bushel from a kind neighbour who had a bit of a windfall. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I accepted them happily and then set to work.

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Scapes are a wonderful addition to the pantry in the winter. Milder than garlic, they can be added to just about any savoury dish. My usual routine is to make scape pesto, but this would have been a monumental task and required more nuts than I have. Also, I wanted to do things a bit differently this year. Considering convenience, space and of course taste, I came up with three ways to preserve them.

Freezing: Very simple, but a bit bulky, so I packed just a few bags. To freeze them, first remove the long bit on top of the flour. Chop the scapes into roughly 3 inch pieces which will make packing the bags easier. I then steamed them for about three minutes, just enough to heat them right through and kill any bacteria. Run under cold water and when cool, pack them tightly in bags and squeeze out as much air as you can.

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Drying: After removing the long bit again, chop into fine strips. I used the slicing bade of a food processor for this. Place in the dehydrator at 125 F or 52 C for about eight hours, or until they are thoroughly dried and crisp. Place in a jar and store in a cool dark cupboard.

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Fermenting: Remove the long bit and the flower. Put the flowers aside to be used later. One recipe for these follows, but they can be used to flavour soups, salads, sauces or whatever. They should not be fermented with the stalks as they are softer and will not hold up to the amount of fermentation required for the tougher stalks. I sliced the stalks as for the drying method so that they would be easier to spoon out, but if you want them larger or even whole, that is an option. Pack in a clean mason jar, pour brine over them (2 Tbsp salt dissolved in 1 litre of non-chlorinated water). To prevent them from coming into contact with air, I placed a few grape leaves on top and weighted them down. I used marbles. Place a clean cloth on top to prevent any foreign matter (like flies) getting in. They will take about five days to be ready to eat, but check periodically that none of the scapes have risen to the surface. With the grape leaves and the marbles, this is not likely to happen. The first few days, you will notice some bubbles coming to the surface. This is normal. When it subsides, after about five days, taste and see if it is fermenty enough for you. If so, cover and place in the fridge or other cool place. If you want it a little stronger, leave a day or two more. Remember that fermentation will continue as it ages but at a slower pace, so you should open the jar about once a week to allow any gas to escape.

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Scape flower butter: With the half cup of flowers I had left over from my fermented batch, I mixed them with an equal amount of butter, 2 Tbsp of olive oil and salt to taste. This all blended together made a delicious garlicky spread.

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The Greatest Scapes on Punk Domestics

Now I have enough scapes in different guises so that I can make pesto or whatever I like over the coming months, not to mention the scapes in my own garden I will have to contend with at a later date. Scapes anyone?

This time last year I posted: Plantain and Scape Pesto


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Tandoori Pickerel and Curried Spring Vegetables

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A dear blogger pal very kindly passed on to me some of her home-made Indian spices which I have been keen to feature with some of my own local ingredients. Although I haven’t posted many Indian recipes before on this blog,  South Asian cuisine is one of my favourites. I began to learn to cook during our two-year stint in Delhi, just before the craze for spicy Asian food hit North America in the 70s, and I have been at it ever since. It was in India where I really learned to appreciate local and fresh food, including home-ground spices which made everything from soup to nuts just so much tastier.

So when Sonal offered me some of her handiwork, I was thrilled. You can find her fabulous recipes on her blog, simplyvegetarian777 where you will discover some truly original recipes with a strong South Asian influence. Do drop by and check out her fabulous fare.

I met Sonal through The Novice Gardener’s weekly event, Fiesta Friday, so it is only fitting that I share these recipes with this week’s crowd. Our co-hosts this week are Effie @ Food and Daydreaming and Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook who will be working hard to keep the party lively.

The spices Sonal sent me were a tandoori masala, a curry and Kasuri Methi, or dried fenugreek. This latter I intended to use as a garnish and then unfortunately forgot, but I did taste it and it would have made a wonderful accent for the two dishes I did make.

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For the tandoori spice mix I decided to make a fish dish using local wild pickerel, but you could use any firm fish.

Tandoori Pickerel

  • Servings: 4
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Ingredients

1 lb pickerel filet, skinned and cut into serving portions

1 Tbsp tandoori masala

1 Tbsp sumac

1 Tbsp flour, rice, chickpea or jerusalem artichoke

1 tsp grated ginger

1 tsp grated garlic

1 tsp chili powder

1 Tbsp vegetable oil

3 Tbsp plain yogurt

juice of 1/2 lemon

1/2 tsp salt

Method

Mix all the ingredients except the fish in a bowl to make a paste. Coat the fish pieces with the paste and place them on a grilling pan in a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes. Turn the pieces over and continue to cook for another five minutes or so, depending on the thickness, until the fish is cooked through.

I managed to achieve a nice red-coloured paste thanks in part to the addition of sumac which also goes well with this mixture taste-wise.

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To accompany this fish I wanted to make a really green curry with ingredients all from  my garden. The scapes, garlic, mustard seed and green chili are left over from last year’s crop, but the young dandelion leaves, lily shoots, and some nettles were all picked just moments before cooking.

Curried Spring Vegetables

  • Servings: 4
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Ingredients

oil for frying

1 tsp mustard seed

1 green chili, seeded and chopped finely

1 garlic clove, minced

2 tsp curry powder

3 packed cups of mixed greens, e.g. lily shoots, scapes, dandelion greens and nettles

salt to taste

juice of 1/2 lemon (optional)

Method

Heat the oil in a heavy skillet and add the mustard seeds. When they start to pop, lower the heat to medium and add the chili and mustard. Cook for 1 minute and then add the curry powder. Cook for another two minutes, stirring continuously. Add the washed, but not dried greens starting with the sturdier ones like scapes and shoots. When they start to turn a brighter green add the dandelion and nettles, cover and cook until they are just wilted. Remove from the heat and drizzle with lemon juice.

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Plantain (Plantago Major)

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Our lawn is covered mostly with four plants. Grass, clover and dandelions I am well familiar with – but the fourth seemed barely worthy of a name. It is neither beautiful, nor so ugly that you need to get rid of it – it just is. I recently read about this plant which indeed does have a name, plantain or plantago mayor and I became intrigued by its many uses, nutritional and medicinal. All its parts are edible, and while I haven’t found any ripe seed pods yet this year, I have been using the young, light green leaves raw and cooked.

Where to find them: Lawns, fields, roads, gravel, cracks in pathways. It was brought to North America by colonizers and was referred to as “white man’s footprint” as it was found growing in all the European settlements where the land had been disturbed.

Identification:  The plant is made of a rosette of oval leaves. The veins begin at the base – the central one being straight and extending through the full length of the leaf.  The remaining veins are curved along the line of the shape of the leaf. The flower is a stiff rod, at first green and then turning brown which sticks straight up from the centre of the plant.

Uses: Young leaves can be eaten raw, while the older ones should be cooked until tender. The leaves which have antibacterial and astringent properties can be used as a poultice to apply to stings and wounds to reduce pain and prevent infection. Seed pods can be cooked much like asparagus, and the seeds are used as a substitute for psyllium. It is also a valuable weed in your garden as it breaks up hard soil and holds loose soil together to prevent erosion.

Nutritional Value: Rich in iron and vitamins A and C.

Recipes using Plantago Major

The easiest comparison of this plant with something familiar would be spinach, although the leaves are tougher, more like kale. The flavour is not strong, so pairing them with seasoning, herbs, garlic, lemon, fish sauce, soya sauce and other flavourings all work well.

I first tried steaming them in oil and a splash of water with garlic which I then combined with omelettes and pasta or just served as a side dish.

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I also made a smoothie, using 1 cup of young raw plantain leaves, 2 sprigs of mint, a little honey, 2 cups of almond milk and a banana and an apple. Pureed in the blender and chilled it made a delicious healthful drink, even if the appearance was less than stellar.

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Now that scapes are in season, I decided to augment my scape pesto with some plantain. This recipe can be frozen for several months, so I tend to make a good batch of it – by a good batch I mean enough for one meal plus two jars.

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Scape and Plantain Pesto

  • Servings: 12
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1/2 lb scapes

one handful of young plantain leaves

1/2 cups olive oil

1/2 cups walnut pieces

Blend all the ingredients in a food processor until almost smooth. Salt to taste or parmesan cheese can be added, but I usually add those when I serve them. This pesto is excellent with pasta, spread on bread or crackers, or served with fish.

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Milkweed Flowers on Punk Domestics