I think I’ve mentioned before that my philosophy around what to plant in our vegetable garden has been evolving. At first I was so excited to actually have a vegetable garden, with plenty of sun (as opposed to my tiny shade patch in Oakland) that I was planting a wide variety of familiar vegetables in the attempt to feed ourselves from the garden as much as possible. But as I’ve experimented a bit, I’ve realized that some vegetables don’t do as well in our sierra foothill climate – for instance, I just cannot seem to grow a big beautiful head of cauliflower, as much as I love cauliflower (and as much as we consume!)
Other vegetables just aren’t that special for the amount of time they take to grow or the space they take up. I’m sure some people will disagree but I think carrots fall into the “not special” category. A carrot pulled from the ground isn’t that much better than one from the store. I know there are lots of different varieties you can’t find in the store, but none of them are really that exciting to me. And carrots take a long time to grow — six months or more – who knew?
Green cabbage is another one that I decided not to grow. Last year the six heads I grew took up half of a raised bed! And again, cabbage isn’t that special so I will be shopping at the farmers market for what I need to make sauerkraut.
On the other hand, I grew onions for the first time last year and they were fantastic! I had no idea that freshly harvested onions would be so much better than the ones in the store. The bulb onion has always seemed like such an ordinary vegetable. I am already growing onions again this year – they should be ready to harvest around July.
And while I suppose potatoes might be kind of humdrum, there is something crazy fun about growing them. Rooting around to find all of them in deep in the dirt is a treasure hunt that I wouldn’t want to miss!
My criteria now is that in order for me to grow a vegetable in my garden it must fit into at least one of these categories:
- Quick growing (and thus can be tucked into the spaces between other plants)
- Doesn’t take up a lot of space
- Unusual variety I can’t get otherwise
- We eat a lot of it so it’s economical to grow our own
- I plan to preserve it so it’s more economical to grow it
- It tastes a lot better home-grown vs. store bought
- I haven’t grown it before so it will be a new challenge
- There’s something fun about growing it
For the current winter/spring garden I ordered seeds for unusual Asian greens, various root vegetables, and shelling/snap peas. These are all starting to bear fruit so to speak.
I’ve been having fun with turnips in particular and roasted up a pan of them tossed with olive oil and salt a few days ago.
I’ve begun to harvest a few of the baby daikon radishes, some of which have a pretty spicy bite to them. My hope is that I will have enough to make some sort of preserved Asian pickle. I’m going to try pickling the turnips too.
Here is a recipe adapted from Recipes from the Root Cellar by Andrea Chesman (one of my most-consulted cookbooks for the winter, by the way) that uses a few things from our garden, including freshly dug turnips, Satsuma mandarins, and harissa (a north African spice paste) that I made and preserved last summer. So if you don’t have turnips growing in your garden now is a great time to stock up on them at your local farmers market and start experimenting. They are more interesting than you might think, as this salad demonstrates.
North African Turnip Salad
Serves 4 – 6
- 6 – 8 turnips, peeled and shredded
- 2 carrots, peeled and shredded
- ¼ cup minced red onion
- 2 satsuma mandarins, peeled, seeded and chopped
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons lime juice
- 1 tablespoon harissa (use more or less depending on the spiciness of your harissa)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Combine the turnips, carrots, onion and mandarins in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle with salt and mix well. Set aside for 30 minutes.
Combine the oil, lime juice, and ½ teaspoon of harissa, and mix well. Season with salt and pepper and additional harissa, as desired.
Let stand for at least 30 minutes before serving.