When The Garden Gives You Lots Of Greens…

… start a vegetable weekly subscription and make Mongolian-style sauce (lots and lots of it!)

I certainly grow more than we can eat – and we eat lots of veggies! Yet I don’t grow enough for selling at a Farmer’s Market or to a restaurant. But even with all the preserving I do, it’s too much just for us. And let’s face it: some things don’t preserve that well anyway (lettuce sauerkraut, anyone?). Or I have no need to preserve them, because I’ll be growing them through the cold months. Why preserve when you can eat fresh? You know: the mâche, arugula, mustards, lettuces, onions, kale, turnips, spinach, Swiss Chard, and other greens.

So, what’s a girl to do?

Find a few people who don’t have a garden, are interested in super fresh food, and are willing to receive whatever I grow. That’s what a girl does.

So my mini (or rather “nano”) subscription scheme started last year. I am not a professional grower, so I do not want to commit for the entire “growing” season, and I want to give myself, and my clients, a way out if  I can’t sustain it – or if they don’t like it. So I offer the  subscription in 7 to 8 weeks increment (Spring, early summer, high summer, fall) and only to a handful of clients. A chef’s CSA.

So far so good.  We are in week 2 of spring, and that’s what my Thursday subscriber got today:

csa-2010-spring-week-2-005

  • Mesclun (baby lettuces of several colors and shapes, arugula, herbs and edible flowers)
  • 2 heads of lettuce
  • Baby Mustard
  • Spinach (Giant spinach: ‘Monstrueux de Viroflay’ – ‘Viroflay’s Monster’- is very well named!)
  • Asparagus
  • Spring Onions
  • Radishes
  • Cutting celery
  • Swiss Chard
  • a bunch of thymes (several kinds) and sage
  • and a dozen eggs.

and suggestions on how to use the produce. She looked happy!

Meanwhile, cilantro is growing crazy, and we’ve been eating cilantro to the point of (almost) being sick of it. When we did our April 24 lamb roast, I intended to make a cilantro-based sauce to serve with the lamb and mentioned it at one of the planning meetings (love planning meetings on the patio with a glass of wine in hand!)  The hostess pulled out a cookbook on Mongolian cuisine Beyond the Great Wall: Recipes and Travels in the Other China and pointed out a “Green Mongolian Sauce” using lots of cilantro, as well as scallions and rice vinegar (the latter, I don’t thing I would have used). It also mentioned mint as a possible substitution for the cilantro.

Inspired by the recipe, I made a version of it on the spot the night of the event, not measuring and going by smell, taste and appearance until it smelled good, looked good, tasted good. It was a beautiful green. Now several weeks later I am trying to recollect proportions since several people have asked for the recipe. There is no recipe, use the list of ingredients and the proportions as guidelines, and taste, taste, taste:

Two-herb Mongolian Green Sauce:

  • 2 large bunches cilantro, leaves and stems*, roughly chopped
  • a few sprigs of orange mint and a few of spearmint
  • 2 plump gloves garlic (degermed), minced
  • 6 scallions, green & white parts, roughly chopped
  • 2 T lemon juice (30 ml)
  • 1/4 Cup rice vinegar (60 mil)
  • a dash of cayenne pepper
  • mild olive oil to start the blending and to bring sauce to desired consistency

*Don’t use the really tough stems

Put everything in blender and process until fairly smooth. But not too smooth: you do want to see specks of greenery, this should not be uniformly velvety, but rather have an agreeable chimichurri-appearance (sauce-like but slightly chunky). You may need to do it a couple of batches, depending on your blender. Good with any simple roast (lamb, cold chicken, pork etc)

Then this past week-end we cooked for a 90-person party – again centered around a whole lamb roast, although this time we also cooked all the side dishes as well as dessert (homemade ice-cream and brownies). Then, I used the herbs on hand to make another version of the sauce which I named “Four-herb Mongolian Green Sauce”. Guests really like it (it’s the only thing I did not make enough of. I should have made a lot more than 2 1/2 quarts!). If you do not have one of the herbs (cutting celery – aka leaf celery aka parcel aka wild celery aka soup celery aka smallage – may be a little hard to find), then omit it, and increase the other herbs if you want. Or go for another leafy tender-textured herb that’s compatible: another mint, lovage, maybe even one of the spicy green basils – … although basil does discolor, so maybe it’s not such a great idea… mmm.. No matter experiment, and have fun!

Four-herb Mongolian Green Sauce:

  • 2 to 3 large bunches cilantro, leaves and stems*, roughly chopped (a good way to use bolting cilantro)
  • 1/2 bunch of spearmint, leaves and stems*, roughly chopped
  • 1 bunch of parsley, leaves and stems*, roughly chopped
  • 1 bunch cutting celery, leaves and stems*, roughly chopped
  • 6 plump gloves garlic (degermed), minced
  • 2 bunches scallions, green & white parts, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice (60 mil)
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar (60 ml)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground black peppercorns
  • cayenne pepper to taste
  • canola oil or other mild oil  to start the blending and to bring sauce to desired consistency (I think I used about 3 cups total, start with one cup and add more as needed)
  • water  as desired (I may have used 1/2 cup because I run out of oil)
  • salt to taste

* Don’t use the really tough stems

Put everything in blender except the salt (starting with one cup of oil) and process until fairly smooth, adding more oil and or/water as needed. The sauce should not be too smooth, you do want to see specks of greenery. It should not be uniformly velvety, but rather have an agreeable chimichurri-appearance (sauce-like but slightly chunky). Taste, and add salt as desired, and adjust other seasonings to your taste (more lemon, more mint etc). This is very much a spur-of-the-moment sauce, that’s going to be different every time you make it.

You may need to do it a couple of batches, depending on your blender. Good with any simple roast (lamb, cold chicken, pork etc)

4 comments

  1. Mike says:

    I love that you have started a small scale CSA, what an excellent way to use up extra produce. That is a very nice selection of vegetables.

    Your green sauce recipes sound wonderful, I might have to try one of them when this years celery gets a little bigger…it has a long way to go.

  2. Seth says:

    Those greens look tasty!

    I have a question for everyone. I’m trying to find the truth about marigolds. I have heard that they are edible, some are tastier than others, but I have also heard that others are toxic.
    Who is right?

    My lavender is just about ready to bloom and I harvested my first hyachinth bean flowers, they are edible and simply gorgeous!

    This also seems to be the year of oregano…it’s growing like crazy!

  3. sylvie says:

    Mike – remember it’s “cutting celery” not stem celery…

    Seth – as usual when using plants for eating, you must be sure of the identification of the plant. Several species go by the common name marigold. Some are toxic and some have a long history of medicinal or edible uses. In the US, most often when people say “marigold” they mean Tagetes species – a number of which produce flowers that been used for food coloring. “Pot marigold” is calendula (although I think in some areas, calendula is also called just “marigold”) – Calendula officinalis has been used medicinally for a long time in Europe and is considered a beneficial herb. And, of course there is Marsh marigold, Caltha palustris, which is reputedly toxic like many other plants in the Ranuncule family (and grows wild in Virginia). I think there are even more plants that people call marigold – but those are the 3 that came to my mind. So be sure to identify what you have by its botanical name, and then your research should tell you whether the plant is considered toxic or not. In doubt, leave it alone! Of course, even if the plant is generally considered safe, an individual may have an adverse reaction to it. Anybody else want to chime on Seth’s question?

  4. Sylvie, thanks for the useful and inspiring recipes for green sauce! Can’t wait to try it with our various herbs that are so lush right now from all the rain we’ve had.

    To add to your informative answer to Seth, we have grown 2 marigolds for edible leaves and flowers:Tagetes lucida, AKA Mexican Mint Marigold or Texas Tarragon, a glossy leaved annual with licorice/anise/tarragon scent and pretty bright orange flowers. This one loves the heat and only remotely resembles a marigold from its flowers. It’s a good substitute for French tarragon in hot areas of the country, hence its nickname of Texas tarragon.

    Tagetes tenuifolia “Gem Series” is another annual marigold with bite- sized edible flowers in orange, yellow and red and lacy foliage with a citrusy scent. Both can be grown from seed and Johnny’s Seeds carries both (www.Johnnyseeds.com)Now I need to go plant some!

    Deirdre

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