Food growing in the yard might not count as “convenience food,” but it can be mighty convenient. Sometimes, when I am putting supper together and missing an ingredient, a decent substitute is out in my organic garden.
Most recently, the needed ingredient was cooked spinach. Some years, I have plenty of spinach in the garden, but the local wild bunnies demolished this year’s spinach patch. The good news is that greens are probably the easiest veggie to substitute from the garden.
Chicory as a substitute for spinach in cooking
I have a little patch of kale, which would work as a spinach-substitute if there were more of it. You may remember, though, my patch of chicory, defended from the bunnies by a blockade of sticks. The blockade, after I added a lot more sticks, did work, and the ‘Magdeburg’ chicory, selected for its roots used in making chicory coffee, grew.
Chicory to the left shows the bunny-damaged chicory patch before I beefed-up the stick blockade.
Because I have not yet dug up any of the roots to make chicory coffee, there are plenty of large leaves on the plants.
I harvested about a third of the leaves from the patch, to use as a spinach substitute, in my recent vegetable lasagna.
Picture to the right shows the successfully-defended chicory patch, with taller sticks still visible, poking up around the plants.
Some of the roots are finally large enough that I will dig them up in the next few weeks to make my coffee. This is a benefit of living in the South: the ground will not be frozen anytime soon. Digging up roots is still possible.
I will say, though, that the leaves of the ‘Magdeburg’ chicory, chosen for its roots, are not as tasty as the leaves of some other chicories I have grown in the past, like the ‘Italiko rosso’ in the picture to the left.
The problem with the ‘Magdeburg’ chicory leaves is an intensified bitterness. I had to boil and drain the ‘Magdeburg’ leaves a couple of times to get to an acceptably-low level of bitterness. ‘Italiko rosso’ is mildly bitter, but I have never had to do the boil-then-drain thing with that variety.
Convenient herb tea from the yard
Another convenient plant in the garden right now is oregano. In a few weeks, the oregano patch will lose a lot of its leaves, but — here in early December — it still looks great. The patch is thick with fresh, fragrant leaves.
We use our fresh herbs pretty frequently in cooking. I hadn’t thought, though, about using oregano to make an herbal tea until I read about it last week.
Since I like to use crops-in-the-yard as fully as possible, oregano tea seemed like a thing to try.
An old (2017) article on Livestrong.com tells about some potential benefits of oregano, especially oregano oil, but is very careful to not make a lot of overblown health claims for the tea. I appreciate the cautious approach!
I made tea using fresh oregano leaves on two separate days last week. The first day, I added honey and lemon, and the tea was good enough that I made another cup the next day. The second time, though, I drank it “straight”, without any additions. Let me just say that the first version, with honey and lemon, was MUCH better than the second.
If anyone is curious — oregano tea tastes pretty much like oregano. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but finding it out in person made me laugh.
I am having oregano tea again today, with local honey and a squeeze of a lemon-like fruit that was grown by my friend Eddie.
Which “convenient foods” are you using from your garden this month?