In my garden right now, after a glorious rain, the plants are content, basking in the bright sunlight. Tomatoes have left the protection of the "tomato cabin," the little log hut in the garden in which they were sheltered. They're now in the ground, with good thoughts for the future and a juicy harvest.
The cabbages are tucked into the new raised cabbage bed, protected with row cover. Hopefully, this will keep away critters and damaging insects. Squash and cukes are sowed and some seeds have just popped up. The three rows of potatoes look thick and healthy. I pulled out a few plants (we have so many) to check the progress. The yield: one white heart-shaped potato -- sending best wishes to those I love -- and a few marble-sized red ones.
While waiting for the vegetables to ripen and become table-worthy, I turn my focus towards other things, such as herbs.
For instance, dill. Each year my dill comes back ferny and flowery, unbidden, en masse, but appreciated. It's flourishing down among the peas, hopefully hiding them from the dastardly groundhog who's been decimating our June peas and sugar-snaps. Gnawing at the tender chard. We've now surrounded the delectables with double-layers of green-coated wire. Fortress-like. So far it's worked. Dill he leaves alone.
Not me. I use the dill fronds fresh and mild in soups, salads and my Dilly-Stuffed Eggs (recipe below). Later in the season, it will grow tall, flower and make dill seeds. I don't save those seeds. Instead I use the whole umbrella-shaped dill heads, preferably while still green -- not dry and brown -- as an essential flavoring for my Grandma Rubin's crock-cured Kosher Dill Pickles.
My dill is famous, in certain small circles. I haul a sheaf of it each year to the Slow Food Pittsburgh Pickling event, where I demo Grandma's pickles. Watch for mentions in the PG's Food Column. This year it's being held on Sunday, July 20.
Dill is a member of the parsley family. Parsley is another one of my garden favorites. Forget that stodgy restaurant practice of dressing a plate with a wilted sprig or a thoughtless sprinkle. Parsley is so much more that a garnish. It's an ingredient. I add a handful or more chopped parsley or tiny, tender leaves to salad, pasta, soups or side dishes for a punch of green freshness. I love to sprinkle the little leaves on rounds of soft goat cheese, drizzling over good olive oil and cracked pepper.
Parsley is a biennial herb. Meaning it (sometimes) comes back the next year and flowers. But it's best treated as an annual, because only the first year's leaves will be tender and flavorful. Parsley can be tricky to grow. I often buy one or two plants along with starting my own from seed. I've also direct sowed it with some success in the spring. The seeds I started indoors take eons to germinate. "Rodale's Basic Organic Gardening: A Beginner's Guide to Starting A Healthy Garden" by Deborah L. Martin suggests soaking the seeds overnight in warm water, and mentions that "they can take 4 to 6 weeks to sprout."
My generous neighbor Frank has better luck with it, or at least more parsley persistence. He's given me a lovely full row of flat-leaf or Italian parsley that is doing beautifully in the herb bed. I'm not a big fan of curly parsley but if that's what you've got, it's fine too. A friend introduced me to a new variety that's all the rage (in New York, anyway). Called ’Titan’ parsley. ’Titan’ is still a baby in his little plastic pot, but I'm planting him in the ground soon. He’s said to have more parsley oomph. When ’Titan’ gets big enough to bite, I'll let you know.
In addition to being green and gorgeous, parsley is good for you. "It has numerous health benefits," said Sharon Palmer, a registered dietitian nutritionist with a new book, "Plant-Powered for Life."
She says, "Just 2 tablespoons of parsley packs 144 percent of your daily needs for the bone-loving nutrient vitamin K. Like many green herbs, parsley is high in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds, which may help fight inflammation and oxidative stress related to the development of chronic diseases.“
This is an easy dietary change, as she explains. "Simply adding herbs, like parsley, to your favorite dishes can help boost these protective compounds."
More proof that gardening and eating fresh vegetables will keep you young and healthy. Dig it!
Bet you can't eat just one. Keep these on the lighter side by using reduced-calorie mayo and sour cream. They'll be just as delicious. Double the recipe for a crowd.
To hard-cook eggs, put them in a medium saucepan and add cold water to cover. Add a big pinch of kosher salt; this will prevent the whites from seeping out if the shell becomes cracked. Bring them to a full boil. Remove from the heat, cover and let stand for 12 minutes. Drain off the hot water right away. Then cool the eggs quickly, adding ice cubes and running cold water into the saucepan. This will help to prevent unsightly green rings around the yolks. Peel as soon as they've cooled, and always cook 1 or 2 extra for a salad or in case one doesn't peel cleanly.
6 large eggs, hard-cooked and peeled
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sour cream
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill, plus extra chopped dill for sprinkling
2 tablespoons finely chopped sweet onion
1 tablespoon dill- or sweet-pickle relish
1 teaspoon drained capers, finely chopped or mashed with flat side of chef's knife
1/2 teaspoon grainy Dijon mustard
Generous pinch smoked paprika (optional but good)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Cut each egg in half lengthwise and scoop the yolks into a medium bowl. Mash yolks with potato masher until as smooth as possible. Add mayonnaise and sour cream; beat with wooden spoon until creamy. Add dill, onion, relish, capers, mustard and smoked paprika, if using. Mix well and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Spoon or pipe into egg whites, mounding the filling. Sprinkle with extra chopped dill. Serve right away or refrigerate for up to a day until ready to serve.
Makes 12 stuffed egg halves.
-- Miriam Rubin
Quinoa Tabbouleh with Toasted Almonds
Quinoa is a high-protein super grain from the Andes. This salad, usually made with bulgur, is based on one I enjoyed at Pain Quotidian in New York City. This is suitable for vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free friends, but everyone will enjoy it. I like to serve it surrounded by baby romaine leaves to use as dippers. When buying quinoa, which you can now find in any supermarket, look on the box to be sure it's been rinsed or prewashed. Most has. Quinoa is naturally coated with a bitter substance called saponin, which has to be washed off prior to using. Be sure to rinse the parsley of any grit and dry it well so the salad doesn't get watery.
3/4 cup quinoa
1½ cups water
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1½ cups chopped peeled seedless cucumber
3/4 cup (about 1 large bunch) fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1/2 cup chopped tomato
1/2 cup chopped scallions
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 to 5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or to taste
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
Bring water to boil in medium saucepan. Add quinoa and a big pinch of salt. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer 15 to 20 minutes, until quinoa is soft and translucent and the germ begins to uncoil. Remove from heat, fluff with fork, cover and let stand 5 minutes. Transfer to salad or mixing bowl.
Fold in cucumber, parsley, tomato, scallions, olive oil and about 3 tablespoons of the lemon juice. Season well with salt and some pepper and taste, adding more lemon juice if you wish. I like it lemony! After chilling, it may need more lemon juice as well. Pile onto a platter, sprinkle with almonds and surround with romaine leaves or whole-wheat pita quarters, or just serve it as is.
Makes about 4 servings.
-- Miriam Rubin