Kale Chips

By Lauren Kepkiewicz

One of my favourite abundant vegetables and generally one of the first to appear and the last to be scared off by the frost is kale.  Beautiful curly kale, blue kale, purple kale, dinosaur kale. 

My favourite thing to do with kale is make kale chips – either baked or dehydrated depending on your preference and equipment.  When I discovered that I lived with someone who didn’t scrape the bowl clean of kale chips, I began experimenting with seasoning recipes to entice.  This is one that gets people hooked:

½-1 head kale

Seasoning:

1-2 tsp cumin

1-2 tbl tamari or soy sauce

1-3 tbl tahini paste

1-2 tblsp cooking oil

1-3 pinch(es) ground cayenne

1-2 tsp honey

1 tsp lemon juice

1 tsp (sometimes) balsamic vinaigrette

Mix all the ingredients in the seasoning, taste, and add whatever is missing. Tear the kale chips into chip sized pieces.  Once the sauce is mixed toss it in with the kale chips.  I’ve heard a lot of talk about massaging various different seasoning sauces into kale chips which I do sometimes just to be able to tell whoever may be in the kitchen that I’m providing massages for vegetables.  Either way, make sure all the kale chips are coated.  Spread all the chips out on baking trays – try not to overlap them, they’ll be much crispier that way.  Sometimes I coat the trays with a touch more oil, sometimes I don’t.  Bake them at 400 degrees for 5-10 minutes.  Stay close and watch them.  Flip them over 2-5 minutes in for even cooking.  Keep an eye on them because they go from crispy to burnt in a ridiculously short time.  It’s a fine balance.  Enjoy!

Mumai’s Plasas

By Lauren

I’m not only looking forward to crouching down beside my garden plot and clipping many shades of green but I’m also looking forward to the abundance that comes with greens.  I’m no longer talking about delicate mesculin mixes from the post below but I’m thinking about leafy greens (and brassicas) like chard, kale, spinach, tatsoi (if you’ve never tasted tatsoi – go! go quickly and find seeds to plant so you can experience these wonderful greens – even after tatsoi bolts you can top your salads with its tiny yellow flowers) and all the wonderful leaves from veggies like beets and turnips and kohlrabi and broccoli. 

The following recipe is what I use when the abundance of greens turns overwhelming.  The credit for this dish goes to the multitude of women in Sierra Leone who taught me how to cook plasas or sauce made from green leaves (there are many variations – below is just one).  Although it doesn’t compare to the heaping plates of plasas sprinkled with sweet crab and whatever fish littered the tables of Freetown seaside markets that morning, I’ve tried to replicate a bit of the experience.

In Freetown, my host mother, Mumai, cooks plasas over an open charcoal stove on the front porch. We mash chillies and onions with a matador – a large wooden mortar and pestle – and cut leaves bunched in our hands. In Freetown, use of palm oil, salt, hot peppers and Maggi (commercial shrimp stock) is very generous.  Although the recipe below is vegetarian, in Freetown they add meat or seafood and serve the plasas over rice, eating everything with hands.

Spinach and tatsoi work wonderfully in this recipe but I’ve experimented with kohlrabi leaves, swiss chard, beet greens, and whatever other leafy types I have left over.  The biggest difference between all of these is the change in texture.  Generally, the coarser leaves don’t boil down as softly, melting into a sauce.

Ingredients

  • 5 cups spinach leaves
  • 5 cups water
  • 1-10 hot peppers (preferably fresh but dried will do as well)
  • 1 onion
  • 1-2 tbls cooking oil
  • 1-2 bouillon(s) veggie soup stalk
  • 3 handfuls of whatever type of beans you have around – I’ve used kidney beans and they work well
  • Salt to taste 

Directions

  1. Soak beans overnight if dried and then boil until soft.
  2. Finely chop spinach leaves and add to a large pot of boiling water.
  3. Finely chop hot peppers and thinly slice onion
  4. Add soup stalk, peppers, and onion to the spinach pot.
  5. Add oil while stirring slowly.
  6. Crush large beans with your fingers as you drop into the spinach mixture.
  7. Add salt and let cook on medium heat.
  8. Mix and let simmer on low heat for 1-2 hours or until everything has boiled down

The two most important parts of this recipe are chopping the spinach as finely as you can and boiling everything down so it becomes saucy in texture.  Good Luck!

Greens Envy

By Lauren

I love greens.  And after a winter of tenderly transporting lone romaine heads tucked deep in my backpack to keep them from Canmore cold, I couldn’t wait for fresh greens. We’ve been growing two boxes of greens in our window for the past two months or so – one filled with spinach and another with mesclun mix.  Neither of which has grown past the baby green stage as I harvest them eagerly to grace the tops of salads.  My window boxes – old soy milk cartons cut in half – are small so the greens they produce play guest roles in salads laced with roasted walnuts, Alberta feta, and BC bosc pears.  Their presence, however fleeting, fills me with the wonder of growing things – both simple and divine.

We tried two methods of planting: the spinach with small stones in the bottom of the carton for drainage and the mesclun mix planted entirely with dirt.  I’m inconclusive as to whether the drainage made much difference.  The spinach grew better in the first month while the mesclun mix seems to be the more vigorous of the two at the end of the second month.  Either way, the milk cartons haven’t yet yielded more than adornment greens. 

Even with my window greens (and really because of) I’m eager for the first morning harvest of leafy greens.  I was taught to harvest early before the milky sap inside the leaves is drawn up by day’s heat, causing the greens to tend towards bitterness rather than the crisp sweet of early morning.  Greens are so tender-delicate yet vibrant and one of the first-comers amongst the rollercoaster temperatures of spring.  I’ve seen the first greens in the community garden while the greens in my plot are making their first appearance.  Excitement.

Lettuce begins to resemble art when it bolts – when it becomes too warm and their vegetable instincts tell them to put their energy into flower and seed production rather than channelling that energy to their leaves.  My window spinach has been attempting to bolt for a few weeks, forming graceful tops that look like furry trees.  I’ve pinched them off and moved them to a more subdued window that tends towards shade and with a wider window to catch the breeze and some night coolness.

These are a few of my experiments with window greens which have sort-of satisfied my excitement for fresh greens picked in early morning light. Experimentation shall continue.

Window Jungle

By Lauren Kepkiewicz

I’ve been excitedly coddling my seedlings for the past month or so.  They’re all clustered in the window, vying for optimal sunlight, roots ready to expand beyond pots.

I started to think about seeds in February, browsing websites with tea in hand and snow outside.  I settled on ordering some seeds from the A’bunadh Seed Catalogue whose website promised “local Alberta grown short season open-pollinated and heritage seeds”.  We chose early tomatoes, sweet momma squash, and onyx zucchinis, which we started inside, and carrots, beets, spinach and mesclun mix which we’ll plant straight in the ground as soon as our garden plot is ready.

While I do have a season of working on an organic farm under my belt, I’m new to window gardening, to garden plots, and to mountain gardening.  At the farm last season, we grew our seedlings under grow lights in tidy trays with fans for air circulation.  In contrast to the sort-of order of the barn grow room, my window is a jungle of clambering seedlings.  The tomatoes are two feet high, the coriander is crowded, and the zucchini leaves rival the size of my outstretched hand.  Next year I’ll build a table that reaches the height of the window sill so that new seedlings won’t have to stretch so tall for sunlight and form gangly stems.  Next year, I’ll need more windows.

While coddling seedlings (but not too much!) dampening off is heartbreaking.  One day, every one of those seedlings looks tall and healthy and the next day one or two are completely withered just above the dirt so much so that the stems snap in half and the plant has no hope at reinvigoration.  To avoid such tragedies amongst my window seedlings, I borrowed some advice from a seed workshop at Rosemary’s house.  I sprinkled cinnamon on top most of my newly planted dirt way back when the window was empty of plant life and watered sporadically with chamomile tea.  No dampening off – brilliant!

It turns out, one of my biggest challenges has been exercising the power to decide which seedling should grow and which should be plucked to make way for stronger root systems and a healthier plant in general.  I left thinning much too long and now have more than one pot of tomatoes that house two rowdy plants that have grown too close and too big to separate.  Oh, the woes of a gardener.

My next challenge is how to harden off my seedlings when I don’t have a deck to leave them out on for brief periods, and then long periods, so they become accustomed to sunlight without the filter of being indoors – sunlight from all sides and wind and rain.  I still have images of two entire trays of herbs we forgot to bring inside over lunch during a particular roasty Ontario spring day that scorched all seedlings involved.

Scorched plantlings aside, my jungle window is a constant reminder of the excitement of growing vegetables.  As I prepare to put these new little plants out in the garden, I wonder at their eager root systems, their sometimes delicate stems, and their outstretched leaves.