The Spring Kitchen Garden

One of the more enjoyable challenges of edible gardening is figuring out how to eat all the produce you grow.

My vegetable garden in early April

I have 48 square feet in my vegetable garden, plus a small herb garden, and the abundance can be overwhelming at times.

So much kale

Given the premium they charge at the store, I really had no idea that a few kale plants could produce pound after pound of kale. For nearly 8 months they have been producing copious amounts of leafy greens for me.

Kale florets

It turns out that most vegetable plants are edible at various stages of their growth and each can provide unique vegetables not seen in stores. So in March, when the kale plants produced “florets,” which is really the flowering attempt to put out seeds, the last stage of growth for the plant. I harvested them, delighting in the unique broccolini-type vegetable. I left the plants with some greens, thinking maybe the kale would last another month after that. Instead each one sent of side shoots (like broccoli can) and basically created what seems like four more kale plants on each stem.

The same thing happened with the Swiss chard.

Between these two types of leafy greens, I’ve had the usual hearty green leaves, baby salad leaves from the flowering, florets, and even edible stems, which can seem like a whole different vegetable on both plants. If I’d actually let them flower, I could be tossing bright yellow flowers on my salad.

Rhubarb corpse reviver with edible flower garnish.

The flowers! Did you know that most of the flowers produced by vegetables and herbs are edible, too! My favorite is the sage blossom, followed closely by chervil and chives. I don’t eat the pea flowers or vines because I want them to become peas, but I bet they are as delicious as they are beautiful.

Pea flowers: purple shell pea, snow pea and sugar snap.

And don’t forget the alliums! They all produce an edible flower called a scape – which you cut off to put the growth back into the bulb. Plus, you can also eat your alliums at most any stage – scallions, spring onions and green garlic are just immature, more delicate tasting versions of their full grown selves.

Scallions and spring/green garlic with the first peas and radishes.

I currently have the oddest allium problem. I have so many growing that I haven’t bought full sized onions from the store in months and in the case of the garlic, I finished eating last year’s harvest in April, just in time to begin harvesting the green garlic. But it feels weird to be cooking regular meals with what would be an exotic farmer’s market buy and the taste is far more mild, so that needs to be accommodated in the final result.

What one head of spring garlic and one scallion look like as a base for a recipe. 

What have I been making with all these greens, herbs and flowers?

Gorgeous salads, with the wildest variety of greens and flavors – arugula, baby chard, baby kale, baby radish greens, mache, lemon balm, sorrel, chive, scallion, chervil, and all sorts of flowers. More recently, I’ve been able to add radishes and snap peas.

Pretty salad of many greens, herbs and flowers with radish and snap pea.

I’ve used the kale and chard to make wraps, enjoyed them and broccoli raab sauteed with green garlic and scallion, made hearty soups, and I’ve made more than a few very green frittatas that are somewhat like spanakopita without a crust. Often, I’ll toss  oversized radish greens in with these heartier greens.

Kale egg salad wrap.

The radishes have provided a wonderful respite from all the green and they’ve been enjoyed plain, with butter and salt, and in salad. I’ve not gotten around to roasting them. Sadly, my carrots didn’t produce much, so their leafy greens have been added into the fold with the others.

My lone tiny carrot harvest in scrambled eggs with garlic scapes and carrot tops.

The herbs make incredible sauces for fish, flavorful omelettes, or soups.

Halibut with spring herb sauce inspired by Jerry Traunfeld (my favorite chef). Lovage, sorrel, green garlic, scallion, topped with fresh chervil, parsley, tarragon and chive. Plus pan fried seabeans. 

Sorrel soup doesn’t photograph well, but it tastes like a spring dream.

French sorrel soup with chervil and creme fraiche.

Homemade ranch is a brilliant use of herbs.

Home made ranch dressing – a dollop each of creme fraiche and Mayo, thinned with buttermilk and lemon juice. Grate in some garlic and whatever herbs you like. This is chive, dill, and parsley.

Lovage is fragrantly replacing celery in most of my dishes. I garnish everything with a handful of herbs and flowers.  

Scallops and snow peas in a creamy herb sauce.

I’ve still been avoiding grains, which in some ways makes using the abundance harder as everything would be great with pasta or bread. I did make a decadent risotto this weekend and it was totally completely wonderful.

Risotto with three kinds of peas, three spring alliums, and fava beans, topped with sage and chervil blossom.

I’m thrilled to report that the fava beans are coming in, so I am beginning to have new stuff to eat. When I open my fridge, dozens of bags of leafy greens and herbs fall out and I don’t think I can keep offering up salad and/or sauteed greens as a side dish anymore. Next year, I’ll need to think more about diversifying my overwintering crops, so I can have more choices about what to eat. And maybe do more pesto, which I could pop in the freezer and stir into things for flavor. I’m currently cooking down bags full of hearty leafy greens, so that there is more space in the fridge and I can readily toss them into scrambled eggs, soups or stir-fries or create an instant side dish with olive oil and parmesan.  

What are some of the things you are growing and how to you use your harvest?

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