Tag Archives: #saladchat

The Salad Challenge – February’s progress

My original enthusiasm for the 52 Week Salad Challenge seems to have diminished a little, which is a shame. I have been distracted by the problems we have been experiencing with the snow and cold, but I think also I am frustrated at what feels like just tinkering with putting food on a plate rather than getting outside and ‘really’ growing it.

I have continued to experiment with sprouting other things than my staple chickpeas, mung beans and alfalfa. The big success has been Puy or green lentils, which taste very similar to mung beans and grow as quickly. They have an advantage over mung in that they do not shed their outer skin. This skin tastes papery and can distract from the overall satisfaction of eating mung sprouts and I often remove as many as I can. To have an easily available alternative without that inconvenience is good news.

I have also tried quinoa (pronounced keenwa), which, for anyone who is not familiar with it, is a grain of the amaranthus family. It is popular with people with a gluten intolerance since it contains no gluten. I was warned to rinse them very well because the outer casing is high in saponins, which are a mild gastrointestinal irritant. What I noticed was that the water I rinsed them in was cloudy. The grains were quick to germinate but then reached about one cm in length and stopped growing. Sprouts need either to come from large seeds like chickpeas or to grow a good sized sprout (alfalfa, for example), otherwise they are a pretty disappointing mouthful. Quinoa failed that test and, worse still, was virtually tasteless. I left them several days hoping for more growth that just didn’t come, during which time the cloudiness of the rinsing water worsened, which put me off them completely. I tried growing them twice and threw them away both times.

The only other observation I have to make on sprouts is a failure of one batch of chickpeas. I have known chickpeas to start sprouting while I am still soaking them. They are the sprinters of the sprouting world. But during the recent very cold weather one batch barely sprouted at all. Other people on the salad challenge noted the same thing although we disagreed as to whether it was the cold or the low light levels that caused it. I am pretty convinced that in my case it was primarily lack of light, a second batch, started when it was still as cold but the days were sunny, germinated well.

Coriander micro greens

I had a bit of a disaster with my first attempt at micro greens (see here) but I tried again. This time I grew peas, coriander and parsley and instead of leaving them under the north-facing roof light each day I brought them into the kitchen in as much light as I could find. In a small kitchen this is, frankly, a nuisance. The results have certainly been better, the pea sprouts grew well and were not at all leggy, the coriander germinated very well, albeit a little leggy. Mark Diacono (@markdoc) of Otter Farm suggests eating the coriander as soon as the seed leaves have formed for the most intense flavour. He is not wrong – the flavour is immense. The pea sprouts have a wonderful ‘mange-tout in a leaf’ taste. Disappointingly, having pick the tops from the peas, rather than regrowing about half of them keeled over and died.

The parsley, which I am not treating just as a micro green, I shall grow on some of the better seedlings, germinated very well but were, once again, horrendously leggy. With these I followed the advice of Alys Fowler (@alysfowler) on Twitter and spread more compost on top to cover the long spindly stems. I damaged one or two in the process but the rest really responded well and are now growing slowly but strongly. What excellent advice.

One comment I would make about micro greens is that the amount you can harvest from one tray is very small, you still need fully grown salad leaves to make a proper sized plateful. This just makes me all the more determined to over-winter salads successfully this year.

My apologies for the paucity of photographs, I have definitely been distracted by this stuff:

The potager is under here somewhere

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Winter has arrived in Ariège

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I have been trying for days to write a post about reducing the amount of plastic packing I acquire. This may be an important issue (it is to me) and there may be people who would like to read about it (or not) but it is not terribly exciting. It is boring me and I’m writing the thing.

So it is on the back burner for a day or two while I show you some nice pictures of snow and waffle on some more about sprouts and micro greens and … what’s that you say, tell us about the plastic?

I have little that is new to add to previous 52 Week Salad Challenge posts. My sprouting is most successful when I stick to mung beans, chick peas and alfalfa; my attempts this week at beetroot, broccoli and aduki beans have been a total failure, presumably due to old seed, although in the case of aduki beans I would say that frankly they are just red mung beans with attitude, which is to say I always have trouble with them, whatever I try to do. So I’ll stick to the Gillian-friendly mungs (which, strangely, are called soja in France).

My micro greens growing under the roof light are still underperforming quite spectacularly, apart from the dead ones. I am soaking some peas today which will be sown and added to the micro greens graveyard nursery tomorrow.

Winter seems to have arrived at last, due, according to France Météo, to cold winds from Japan, which makes a change from Siberia. It snowed all day yesterday, this morning the sky was clear and the temperature was -10°C, which is ‘flipping chilly’ in anyone’s book except the Siberians. As soon as the sun was up this morning I donned every bit of warm clothing I could find, grabbed my iPhone and took a few photographs of the garden. The one at the top is the kitchen terrace and beyond it the hill called Arp.

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This is part of the area we call the Winter Interest garden and it was living nicely up to its name this morning.

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Here in the Round Garden is a beautifully whimsical seat designed and built by Alec.

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The coppiced willows look superb against the blue sky, the wavy shadows on the snow give extra interest.

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These two pictures made me smile. The laurel leaves look like spoonsful of snow and the arm of the bench on the right – well I’ll leave that one to your imagination!

The Salad Challenge: you win some, you lose some

Last week, as part of the 52 Week Salad Challenge I sowed various seeds which I left under a Velux, since the potting shed (where I live, in case you haven’t read early posts) has no window sills and little spare space to store things. I thought the Velux would throw enough light onto the seed trays but clearly it doesn’t because the first seeds to germinate, probably celery, (label things, Gillian, you never remember which is which!) are now tiny seed leaves on very tall and floppy stems. What I forgot to take into account is that the Velux is north facing, with a tall old oak tree only ten metres away. So it’s available light is not good and the poor old seedlings had gone in search of more!

Bemoaning my leggy seedlings on Twitter I received this advice from Alys Fowler:

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For anyone not used to Twitter’s succinct style that is that I could try repotting the seedlings, burying their leggy stems below the new compost level or, alternatively, just adding more compost to the tray they were in. I would never have thought of doing that. Thank you, Alys.

I would like to say I tried it and it worked, but I didn’t. By then they were so leggy and floppy and the seed leaves were so tiny I was pretty certain I would never transplant them in one piece and I couldn’t add more compost because I had sown another variety of seeds in the other half of the container (another habit I really should break) and they hadn’t germinated yet. So, a failure on the celery front, but some great advice for another time. You win some, you lose some.

Today, however, saw a success. Lunch comprised hummus made with chickpeas that I had sprouted plus a salad of pea and broad bean shoots and a few shallot leaves, all picked from the plants over-wintering outside plus a few surviving mizuna leaves. Most winters these would not be growing in January and the mizuna would be long dead, but we have had nearly three weeks of clear blue skies and temperatures most days get close to double figures for a few hours at least.

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I was delighted with the hummus and preferred it to the usual way of using cooked peas. I blitzed the chickpeas in the blender, but they were still quite coarsely chopped. I can’t give you a recipe because hummus is one of those ‘a bit of this, a bit of that, taste it, adjust’ sort of things. Well, in my kitchen it is. But, since there is no cooking liquid to moisten it with, I probably added more olive oil and tahini than usual. The conversation at lunch went like this:

Alec: What exactly am I eating?
Me: Hummus
Alec: Then why does it have sweet corn in it?

I could see what he meant, instead of the usual chickpea mush, the chunky bits did look like rather anaemic sweet corn. I found the texture more interesting than usual and the flavour was certainly more intense. I usually add quite a lot of seasoning to liven it up, this time it didn’t seem to need it. I shall certainly make it this way from now on.

Now, what on earth are we going to eat next week?

Brussels are not the only sprouts

I have signed up for the 52 Week Salad Challenge over on the Veg Plotting blog. The idea is to grow or forage salad ingredients every week of the year. This has been on my ‘Must Do’ list ever since I arrived in France, but, while during the summer it is easy, my good intentions slide quickly away as the nights grow shorter and colder. So I welcome this as an opportunity to try new things and learn what other people are doing.

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If you want to read about the challenge you will find the first explanatory post here. You can also follow our progress on Twitter via the #saladchat hash tag.

My contribution so far to the challenge is to sow seeds of mixed salad leaves, spinach and celery. These are sitting on a shelf just under a Velux where it should be both bright and warm. In addition I have restarted sprouting, something I have done intermittently for many years. For anyone who doesn’t know about sprouting there is an excellent introduction to it here on the Veg Plotting blog.

Sprouting

I have tended to be rather conservative in my choice of seeds to sprout, using mainly chick peas, mung beans and alfalfa. Chick peas are probably the easiest of all to do, being ready to eat within 2 days. At this stage the shoots are tiny but, in my opinion, at their best. The taste is like pea pods. I also prefer mung beans when the shoots are tiny, not like the Chinese bean sprouts. The sprouts of the tiny-seeded alfalfa, in contrast, need to be much longer when harvested. These are the ones in the jar closest to the camera in this picture

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and they have been growing for three days. I will probably leave them for a further two days. My favourite way to serve them is this salad, which probably came from Rose Elliot’s ‘Not Just A Load Of Old Lentils’ (which, sadly, I no longer have):

Carrot and Alfalfa Sprout Salad

Mix together equal quantities of grated carrot and alfalfa sprouts. Make a vinaigrette using grape seed oil and orange juice, add a small amount of acacia honey, mix and pour over the salad.

The other jar in the picture contains fenugreek seeds, which is a new one for me. We ate some at lunch and I found them a little underwhelming. But I do have a cold so perhaps the flavour couldn’t get through. I shall be trying other new sprouts such as lentils, beetroot and broccoli in the coming weeks. Sprouting is the simplest way to put something fresh on your plate. They are quick to reach harvest and you don’t even have to get your hands dirty. Why not try it for yourself?