Monday, July 18, 2016

Malabar spinach: a hot weather crop

Malabar spinach
The standard spinach varieties (Spinacea oleracea) are cool-weather annuals that are a little temperamental in Florida. Spinach is a member of the amaranth family (Amaranthaceae), which also includes chard, beets, and quinoa. All members of this family contain oxalate crystals in their leaves which can cause problems with kidney stones when eaten raw. Cooking or vinegar dressing will break down the crystals.

Malabar spinach

Malabar spinach (Basella rubra and B. alba) is a heat-tolerant, vining plant with leaves that taste like spinach. The two species differ in stem color--red or green. The red is striking--an ornamental edible. It's a perennial in frost-free zones and a freely seeding annual in the rest of the state.

This crop is a member of the basella family (Basellaceae) and is not closely related to spinach and has no oxalate crystals.

Leaves wilt quickly: hydrate them in a bowl of water
while waiting to serve them.
You can plant seeds or plant cuttings from the previous year's vines. You won't need many of these--each vine puts out an amazing amount of growth. Cut leaves as needed once the vine has grown to about three feet.

The leaves wilt quickly once separated from the vine, so if you need to hold the harvest for more than an hour, arrange the leaves in a container of water—stem-side down. Many growers harvest whole sections of vine and given its aggressive nature, this should not cause a problem.

Use as you would spinach--raw or cooked. It has a slightly mucilaginous texture and can be used as a thickener in soups and stews, but is not as thick as okra. Most people don't notice any sliminess when it's mixed with other greens in a salad.

I used one recent harvest in Green Goddess Eggs.

Green Goddess Eggs Recipe

For me this is a cook-to-the-harvest recipe and will vary depending upon what's available from the garden.

Egg & cheese mixture:
4 large eggs
3/4 cup cheese, preferably Feta
1/2 cup plain non-fat yogurt
2 tablespoons pesto*
2 tablespoons dried parsley
freshly ground pepper to taste

Frying mixture:
1/2 sweet onion
1/3 green bell pepper
1/3 cup celery
1/2 cup mushrooms (4 oz can)
1/3 cup garlic chives
1/3 cup black olives
enough olive oil to fry this mixture and lubricate the pan for the egg mixture.
- Crack the eggs into a medium sized bowl
- Add the yogurt, pesto, cheese, dried herbs, and pepper and stir well with a fork and let this mixture sit while you prepare the other ingredients..
- Chop the onion, pepper, celery, & garlic chives.
- Slice the olives and mushrooms.
- Cover the bottom of a frying pan with olive oil and preheat with medium heat.
- Add the frying ingredients, but hold the garlic chives and the olives until later. Turn down the heat after adding and slowly fry the mixture until the onions become translucent and begin to caramelize.
-Add the olives and the garlic chives and fry until heated.
- Scrape the fried ingredients to the side and add more olive oil before adding the egg mixture.
- Scramble the eggs with the fried vegetables to your liking.
- Serve alone or wrapped in 2 fried flour tortillas for burritos.

*Ginny's pseudo-pesto recipe

My pesto is different than most because I incorporate more ingredients to produce something that is more of a pesto-like sauce.  In the blender or food processor: 6 or 7 stems of basil with most of the main stem parts removed, one half of a medium yellow onion, 3 or 4 green onion stalks with roots removed, 2 or 3 bunches of garlic chives, 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 1/4 cup mayonnaise,  1/4 cup roasted sunflower seeds, 1/4 cup non-fat plain yogurt, 1 tablespoon of minced garlic, 1 tablespoon horseradish, freshly ground pepper to taste, and enough olive oil to make it creamy but not slimy.
Each time I made pesto it's different because of the greens that are available. I keep about a cup to use fresh, the rest I freeze in small Rubbermaid containers, so I always have some handy.

This summer's so called wet season

Looming clouds did not mean rain on this day.
It's been pretty darn dry for the wet season. July normally averages 6.5 inches, but so far we've had barely an inch. fortunately, the rain barrel water has been available to irrigate our edible beds, the compost pile, and a few woody plants that have been transplanted in the last year or two.

I hope you have rain barrels to use for your summer needs. If not, it's never too later to get started. Start with my first rain barrel article, which has links to several of my other articles for extreme details on open and closed rain barrel systems and how we elevated 3 of or barrels to use in our edible gardens.

Sustainable gardeners sequester as much stormwater as possible on their landscapes.  

Green gardening matters,
Ginny Stibolt

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