May
24, 2017

Guide to Late Spring & Summer Soups – Serve Chilled

This guide can help you explore the tradition of cold soup-making to beat the summer heat. Simple, healthful, cooling soups can be prepared from now until the return of brisk weather late in the year. To make a variety of cold soups, follow the basic guidelines outlined here, choosing ingredients that are ripe for harvesting or readily available. A blender is an essential kitchen tool for preparing most cold-soup recipes. However, if you don’t have a blender, you can experiment with other ways of combining each soup’s components. Be sure to sample each soup as you go, adjusting ingredients to your taste, especially if you are making a soup for the first time.

PART ONE: Preparing soups that are cooked and then chilled

This method is discussed first because it is suitable for soups featuring vegetables that will be going out of season soonest, such as lettuce and carrots.  It can also be used to make soups with summer vegetables.

Choose a central ingredient. This will be a vegetable that is currently available in bulk. Early in the warm season, this may be a leafy green such as lettuce or a root vegetable like carrots. Later, once spring leaf crops go out of season, you can substitute the leaves of herbs like basil to add a green note to chilled soup. (Part two of this series has instructions for making cold basil soup.) Use a generous amount of your central ingredient, keeping in mind that this will be blended with your liquid base to form the body of your soup. The number of servings you want to prepare will determine how much of this ingredient to add; or, vice versa, the amount of this ingredient you have on hand will determine how many servings you can make.

Choose complementary ingredients. Often, your main ingredient can stand alone as the centerpiece of a simple cold soup, but in some cases, the soup’s flavor and texture can be improved or varied by adding other vegetables. A very light lettuce soup, for instance, is improved with a substantial vegetable like a potato added to the mix, while earthy beet soup (featured in part three of this series) benefits from the fiery flavors of radishes and green onions. The mellow flavor of a watermelon soup (featured in part two) can become more savory if a cucumber and/or tomatoes are added. You will also want to add some herbs and/or spices that combine well with whichever vegetable is the centerpiece of your cold soup.

Have the central ingredient and any additional vegetables, herbs, and spices prepared ahead of time, so you can add them quickly, to avoid burning them. Peel, chop, and grind your ingredients ahead of time as needed.

Start by sautéing aromatic vegetables in olive oil until softened. The aromatic vegetables can selected from whichever allium family crops are now in season, such as scallions (green onions,) bulbing onions, and/or garlic. Ginger is another good choice.

Add your main ingredient.

Add other vegetables if needed.

Add some spice.

Add a liquid base. Generally, you can start with water. Vegetable broth is also a good base for many savory cold soups. It’s often best to use enough liquid to cover all of the ingredients and then some.

Bring to boil, cover, and simmer until the vegetables are tender.

Remove from heat and let cool. Allow the soup to cool for ten minutes or so before blending. This is an important step that can keep the blender lid from flying off.

Purée in a blender. To be safe, purée in small batches instead of blending all of the soup at once. Be careful when blending if liquid is still hot!

Transfer to a vessel/container and add final ingredients. Additional spices, small amounts of lemon or lime juice, and various vinegars can be added at this stage for balancing flavors.

Chill in the refrigerator.

Add garnish before serving. Choose a garnish that complements whichever vegetable is the centerpiece of your cold soup.

A Sampling of Soups to Cook and Then Chill

In the examples below, the soup-making process is outlined in broad strokes. Ingredient quantities are omitted, to help you see the similarities across these soups, instead of focusing on any particular recipe. If you are making a soup for the first time, or if you want to make refinements, you can find specific instructions with a quick internet search.

 

LETTUCE SOUP

“A great way to use lettuce’s outer leaves and ribs, which usually go to waste.”
epicurious.com

Heat olive oil in a pan.
Sauté sliced scallions, chopped onions, and diced garlic in the oil.
Add lots of chopped lettuce, including ribs and ugly leaves.
Add a peeled and diced potato.
Add some spice, such as coriander, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper.
Add vegetable broth with a little bit of lemon juice, or just use water.
Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer until the potatoes are tender.
Allow to cool for 10 minutes or so before transferring to a blender to purée.
Be careful when blending if liquid is still hot! Purée in small batches instead of blending all of the soup at once.
Transfer to a vessel/container.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Once soup has cooled completely, chill it in the refrigerator.
Garnish with croutons before serving.

CARROT SOUP

Heat olive oil in a pan.
Sauté sliced scallions, chopped onions, diced ginger, and diced garlic in the oil, along with
Several handfuls of chopped carrots
Add some spice — cinnamon, curry, red pepper flakes, turmeric, and salt.
Add enough water to cover everything.
Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer until the carrots are tender.
Allow to cool for 10 minutes or so before transferring to a blender to purée.
Be careful when blending if liquid is still hot! Purée in small batches instead of blending all of the soup at once.
Transfer to a vessel/container.
Add lemon juice and vinegar to taste.
Once soup has cooled completely, chill it in the refrigerator.
Garnish with cilantro, mint, or parsley before serving.

SUMMER SQUASH SOUP

Heat olive oil in a pan.
Sauté chopped onion, chopped jalapeño, and minced garlic.
Add lots of grated summer squash.
Add some spice, such as chopped mint, salt, and pepper
Add vegetable broth.
Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer until the squash is tender.
Allow to cool for 10 minutes or so before transferring to a blender to purée.
Be careful when blending if liquid is still hot! Purée in small batches instead of blending all of the soup at once.
Transfer to a vessel/container.
Add coconut milk, salt, and pepper to taste.
Once soup has cooled completely, chill it in the refrigerator.
Garnish with chopped jalapeños before serving.
 

Next

PART TWO: Preparing no-cook soups (no heat needed)

 
 
SOURCES:
 
Tietje, Kate. “How to Make Soup from Scratch.” Simplebites.net. April 27, 2011.
 
Country Living staff. “31 Cold Soup Recipes for Hot Summer Days.” Country Living. April 12, 2017.
 
Gelles, Carol. 1,000 Vegetarian Recipes. New York, New York: Hungry Minds, Inc., 1996.
 
Grilled Romaine Soup with Cauliflower Puree.” Country Living website. June 25, 2007.
 
Lettuce Soup.” epicurious.com
 
Bittman, Mark. “Chilled Lettuce Soup.” New York Times: Cooking.
 
Carrot Soup with Cucumber Pistachio Relish.” Country Living website. June 25, 2007.
 
Michalski, Dara. “Creamy Zucchini Cocunut Milk Soup.” Cookin Canuck website. June 28, 2010.

May
22, 2017

Reading in the Garden: Jekka’s Herb Cookbook

Jekka’s Herb Cookbook
Jekka McVicar
With illustrations by Hannah McVicar
Buffalo, New York: Firefly Books, 2011
(U.S. edition)

I found copies of this book stacked in a clearance section last fall and couldn’t believe my luck. Often, the herbal guides that end up on the discount shelves at bookstores are thinly disguised reboots that revisit the same old information in the same old way, but Jekka’s Herb Cookbook did not fit that description at all. Paging through this beautifully illustrated guide to gardening and cooking with herbs, I could see it had much more going for it than stylish design. The author’s depth of knowledge gained through experience was evident, and the book included a few hundred personal recipes using homegrown herbs.

Maybe the reason this book wasn’t flying off the shelf here in Las Vegas had to do with its perceived irrelevance. Jekka’s Herb Cookbook has deep roots in England. It tells of a foreign climate, a foreign gardening lifestyle, and a foreign culinary tradition. It might not seem very relatable. But for anyone wanting to take full advantage of a garden during the transition from spring to summer in Southern Nevada, this guide to growing and cooking with herbs is spilling over with usefulness.

Illustration of lavendar and calendula, shown side-by-side with the same herbs growing in a Las Vegas garden.

Mid to late spring is a good time to turn to books like this one– or any modern herbals you can find– because many herbs are thriving this time of year in our region. If you love and value herbs, you may be bringing in generous harvests now. Many home gardeners don’t take advantage of their herbal crops as much as they could, however. After all, there’s only so much you can do with sage leaves and thyme sprigs, right?

No — In fact, herbs harvested and preserved now, during this window of ideal weather, can serve you very well for the remainder of the year. With summer vacation approaching, this is a great time to throw out the rule book, pick up the herbal book instead, and indulge in the direct experience of smelling, tasting, and choosing what you like. When you harvet herbs, you are harvesting flavor and aroma. Having a storehouse of these ingredients can help you kick addictions to salt and sugar, while bringing even the simplest meals to the next level. Now is the moment to explore your tastes and rewrite your personal menu for the months to come. It’s a chance to treat a garden like a laboratory, artist’s studio, and test kitchen. You can experiment with mixing and matching flavor combinations to find what truly makes your mouth water.

Think of all the spice mixes, sauce packets, and tea blends you can make now and use all year. Herbs can also help you maximize your other crops’ potential. For example, if a certain fruit or vegetable performs exceptionally well in your garden, and you harvest bucket-loads for an extended period, then your enthusiasm for this crop might diminish before the yield does. At times like these, fresh and dried herbs are great creative tools to have on hand. Using them will allow the basic flavor of a vegetable to branch out in all directions, bringing out its hidden complexities. This can make one vegetable seem like several. Carrots with dill taste entirely different than carrots with oregano, and so on. Experimenting with herb-vegetable combinations will help ensure you use your entire harvest, thus reducing food waste.

It is equally true that if you have a fruit or vegetable that hasn’t performed well this season, and yield is low, then herbs can help you make the most of what you do have. Without herbs and spices, your options for preparing foods can seem limited. With them, choices open up, requiring minimal extra effort or expense.

With all of these possibilities before you, books like Jekka’s Herb Cookbook can help you start to define your own path from the herb garden to the home spice rack. Learning to understand flavor connections between plants is such an enjoyable layer of gardening, one that engages the senses and helps keep a kitchen garden relevant during the gap between the cool season and warm season vegetable harvests. It shouldn’t be missed.

–Sarah at Garden Farms

May
22, 2017

Epic Salad – Mid Spring

In this series, we offer seasonal salad suggestions to help you eat enough fruits and vegetables all year long.

Mid-spring salad ingredients harvested in the Las Vegas Valley

The gathering of ingredients for a mid-spring salad can start much like it did in early spring. Many of the steps outlined here can still be taken. If you want to harvest garden-variety leafy greens for your salad’s base,  you might have to hurry! Leaf crops like lettuce and spinach are still available in some gardens, especially those that are shaded in the afternoon; but in many other gardens around the Valley, they are going to seed or have already been removed.

Last call for lettuce! Photo by Farmer Dana


 
Fun tip: Gladiolus petals are in season now. They are edible (the petals only, not the entire flower) and taste like lettuce, so they can help fill out your salad if your lettuce plants are not producing as many leaves as before. NOTE: Gladiolus anthers are NOT edible and MUST be removed. Just eat the petals. Find safety tips for consuming edible flowers here, and be sure the plants have not been contaminated with pesticides. Be especially cautious about eating flowers if you suffer from allergies.

Gladiolus growing at the Boys & Girls Club of Henderson. Photo by Garden Farms GM Tiffany

Sturdy leaves like chard and beet greens may be holding up better in the heat than delicate lettuce leaves, and they will make a good alternative bed for your salad. You don’t have to cook them — just remove the ribs, chop the leaves into ribbons, and marinate them to soften them up. A marinade of olive oil, lemon juice and zest, diced garlic, and red pepper flakes works well.


If you are using beet greens in your salad,  you might as well throw in some beets!

Kale — especially a tender variety, such as Red Russian (center) — is another good salad leaf. Photo by Farmer Ryan.

Other alternatives to a bed of lettuce include seasonal microgreens or baby greens, like nutty-flavored sunflower sprouts. New Zealand spinach is yet another option. It can be eaten raw, but this can limit nutrient absorption due to the presence of oxalic acid, so a more nutritious option is to sauté it first. You can also toss in some shredded cabbage leaves.

Cool season leaf crops usually won’t performwell in the heat, but they can still produce baby greens (left.) A patch of New Zealand spinach (right, behind the orange calendula flowers) is a cut-and-come-again salad crop for weeks on end.

New Zealand spinach (left) pairs well with cabbage leaves (right.)

 
If you are still harvesting lettuce in mid-spring, the leaves may be turning bitter as the plants enter the late stage of growth, so here is a helpful tip: Try researching recipes for salads built around bitter greens like radicchio or endive, and see which ingredients and flavors are typically added to them. Then combine these ingredients with your lettuce instead. Olives, drizzled honey, lemon juice, vinegar, green beans, and red onions are some possible additions to balance the bitterness of late-in-the-season lettuce.

Red onions may be starting to bulb out in some gardens. If not, you still have green onions and chives to give your salad some aromatic zing. Green bush beans are in their prime now. The beans are complemented by any number of herbs that flourish in mid-spring, such as dill, tarragon, and oregano.

Green beans from an apartment complex’s vegetable garden in Clark County


One or more onion family crops may be ready to harvest in mid-spring. Red onion photo (lower left) by Farmer Dana. Chive (upper left) and green onions (right) photos by Farmer Sarah

Oregano (center right) growing in the Thiriot Elementary School Garden. Photo by Farmer Dana

Fennel and mint can be added to the mix now, along with a mustardy morsel in the form of arugula flowers or something from your radish plants — roots, flowers, or seedpods –depending which stage the radish crop is in. Chopped celery (salty) and shredded carrots (sweet) can be tossed into the salad for some refreshing crunchiness and crispness.

Mint harvested in Green Valley.

Arugula flowers, upper right. Photo by Farmer Dana

Radish roots, flowers, and pods are all edible. (These were grown in Green Valley.)

Carrots harvested near Sunset Park, celery growing in Henderson.

If you still have cilantro leaves to pick, these can be added to a spring salad, along with any early ripening hot peppers to spice things up. Cilantro plants that have grown past the leaf and flower stage may provide you with a nice crop of coriander, the dry fruit of cilantro. Coriander pairs well with artichokes, that mid-spring favorite. If you don’t have artichokes or need to supplement your yield, try harvesting sunflower buds sparingly. These can have a piney flavor, especially as the flowers come closer to opening, but they are mostly reminiscent of artichokes. Sunflower buds can be quickly prepared for eating by steaming, boiling, or sautéeing. This goes for asparagus, too, if your crop is still producing. It’s time to stop harvesting asparagus once the emerging spears are thinner than a pencil, but if thick new spears are still coming up, keep harvesting them and adding them to your salads!

Cilantro (left) harvested at Walter Bracken Elementary School, photo by Farmer Cabble. Overwintered jalapeños (right) in the Paradise Square Apartments courtyard garden, photo by Farmer Sarah.

‘Tis the season for coriander and artichokes.

Sunflower buds are good artichoke substitutes. Just don’t pick too many or you’ll get no blooms!

Peas (left) and calendula petals (right) combine well with artichokes.

These asparagus spears are thick enough to harvest. Do not harvest very thin spears. Instead, let them leaf out and grow for the rest of the year to keep the plants healthy until the next harvest season.

Our epic seasonal salad will take a decidedly sweet turn once tree fruits come into season. While we’re waiting for that to happen, we can keep experimenting with the sweet notes that berries and edible flowers bring to the salad bowl. Strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, violas, carnation petals, and rose petals may all be available to harvest now. (Here again is a word of caution about edible flowers.) Remember, the white portions at the base of carnation petals and rose petals taste bitter and should be removed.

Photo by Farmer Ryan. Apricots… not quite ready to pick. Meanwhile…

Strawberries! Photo by Farmer Hannah.

Carnations (left) and roses (right) have edible petals.

March
16, 2017

Epic Salad – Early Spring

A major new study shows eating up to ten servings of fruit and vegetables each day (that’s 800 grams, or about 28 ounces) can significantly increase the chances of longevity. This doubles the previously recommended five-a-day rule. In this series, we offer suggestions for upping your fruit and veggie intake every season of the year.

Early spring salad ingredients grown in Green Valley, Nevada

If eating ten whole servings of fruits and vegetables every day seems daunting, you can start by mixing smaller portions into one big salad. This approach may be helpful for gardeners who are growing a little bit of everything. 

It’s helpful to have a few things ready before mixing your salad. Salad dressing, for one. This will help marry the flavors found in an early spring garden. A simple lemon vinaigrette will combine well with vegetables and fruit harvested in late March through April. This type of dressing is very easy to make– just combine vinegar, olive oil, and grated lemon rind to your taste. Red pepper flakes, olives, and a little bit of honey will also serve you well now.

On a side note, did you know these starter ingredients can all be harvested locally? Yes, there are locals who grow and preserve olives, who dehydrate the rinds of lemons they harvested last year, and who dry many types of homegrown hot peppers. We even have beekeepers who make honey here in the Las Vegas area.

Garlic chives (left) can be tossed with spinach (upper right) and beet greens (lower right.) The gardens pictured here are in Sunrise Manor and Henderson, Nevada.

Now we can start to gather a little bit of everything from an early spring garden, starting with garlic chives. These relatives of onion chives combine well with many spring vegetables, including beet greens and spinach. Garlic chives are an incredibly useful flavor substitute when garlic bulbs are not yet ready to be harvested.

An artichoke harvested in Southern Nevada (L), and basil growing in a garden near the Las Vegas Convention Center (R)

One excellent garlic chives partner is an artichoke, which can be steamed and cooled and added to a spring salad. Artichokes combine well with other herbs, too, such as basil.

Carrots harvested near Sunset Park

Basil, in turn, goes well with carrots, which can be drizzled with honey. Carrots can be your flavor gateway to a variety of spring garden ingredients, including celery, dill, rosemary, thyme, and tarragon.

Spring flowers blooming in Henderson vegetable gardens

This is a good time to throw in a few lavender petals– these will combine nicely with our honey and vinaigrette– as well as some calendula petals, the bitterness of which melds well with the olives, red pepper flakes, honey, artichoke, and thyme. You can even try adding a bitter-to-bland snapdragon flower or two. Please note: Only add edible flowers to your salad sparingly, and only after you have a) carefully identified them, b) gained enough knowledge about them to know which parts are edible, c) learned how your body may react to them, and d) made sure they have NOT been treated with harmful pesticides. 

Local garden goodies

Peppery nasturtium flowers go well with peas. 

Early spring harvest in Green Valley, Nevada

Any asparagus spears poking out of the ground can be picked and added to the salad, too. They pair well with the tarragon mentioned earlier, as do beets. Carrots and asparagus also taste great with tomatoes, if you have any of those ready to pick early. Tomatoes and olives blend beautifully with oregano.

 

 

Locally grown vegetables, flowers, and herbs

While it may be too early to harvest cucumbers, you can pick borage flowers and add them to the salad for a cucumber-like flavor, which combines well with lettuce, fennel, mint, and green onions.

Spring-harvested radish pods in Southern Nevada

Radishes go together with mint and green onions, as well. If your radishes have bolted in the heat, then you may want to allow some to go through the flowering stage and then harvest the seed pods when they appear. Radish seed pods are an excellent substitute for radish roots. They even have a similar crunch.

A pot of strawberries in Green Valley

Most fruits are probably not ready to pick yet, but strawberry season may be underway, so let’s add some of those! Strawberries will go nicely with our lemon vinaigrette, and also with sweeter-tasting edible flower parts like pansy and rose petals. (The white portions of rose petals taste bitter and should be removed.)

 

 

 

The roses behind this raised veggie bed have edible petals (upper left.) Pansies (upper right.) Bok choy (center left) and broccoli with other spring vegetables (center right.) Onion chives (lower left.) Harvesting cabbage (lower right.)

If you still have bok choy growing, then red pepper flakes will help this leafy vegetable mesh with the others. Broccoli combines well with red pepper flakes, too, and with lemon vinaigrette and chives (onion or garlic chives.) Don’t overlook the edible broccoli leaves, or the leaves of cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, or of kale and cabbage, for that matter; all of these vegetables are closely related, both botanically and flavor-wise. Sage is a final herbal addition that complements our starter ingredients of vinaigrette and chives.


Garden sage in a community bed of herbs and flowers at an apartment complex in Paradise, Nevada

It will take some experimenting to work out the best ways to combine these spring ingredients– or whichever fruits and vegetables you can most easily access– into one salad. Your trials with flavor combinations will give you opportunities to engage your senses by observing and connecting with the botanical world, even if you don’t have much free time or cooking experience. They will also help you learn which flavor pairings you personally enjoy. Harvesting a little bit of everything at a time means you will have many chances to fine-tune as you go. This is one way to start getting your fill of vegetables and fruits, all year long.

 

SOURCES:

Green, Aliza. Field Guide to Produce. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Quirk Books, 2004.

Green, Aliza. Field Guide to Herbs and Spices. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Quirk Books, 2006.

Stradley, Linda. “Edible Flowers Chart.” What’s Cooking America website.

https://whatscookingamerica.net/EdibleFlowers/EdibleFlowersMain.htm

July
10, 2015

Plan A Fall Garden Now

It’s hard to believe, but fall planting time is just around the corner. Starting the planning process now will help you achieve a great cool-season garden. The first step is choosing your crops. We have made this visual plant menu to assist you. You can use it to create your own garden wish list. In upcoming posts, we will provide tools to help you refine your plant list to suit both your tastes and site.