Saturday, July 23, 2011

Tomato, Mint, Pumpkin Seed and Pea Salad

One of the nice problems to have with my garden is that it is currently producing more tomatoes than I know what to do with.  This week alone, I collected probably 2 quarts of tomatoes!  Needless to say, I ate tomatoes almost every single day this week and still had so many left this weekend that I didn't know what to do with them.  Apparently my plants don't care that it is over 100º outside, they want to ripen and nothing is going to stop them.  Ripe on tomatoes.

Last night, my wife and I decided to go with one of our favorite dinners, called "snacks for dinner."  At its core, it's a fridge cleaning dinner.  We usually have some cheese in the fridge, so generally snacks for dinner consists of sliced baguette, cheese, some sort of cured meat, some sort of salad, and maybe a couple other wildcard side dishes, and always wine.  It's basically just small plates but we try to put as little effort into dinner as possible.  Seeing that we had enough tomatoes to feed a small country, I decided to put together a tomato salad.  I complimented it with leftover frozen peas, mint from the garden, leeks, pumpkin seeds for crunch, and a vinaigrette.  It turned out great so I wanted to post it here.  If you need something nice and bright to keep you going through this abysmal heat, this is it.

Juliet and Cherokee Purple tomatoes

Cherokee Purples

Tomato, Mint, and Pea Salad
1 large leek, washed, halved lengthwise and sliced ¼" thick
1 lb tomatoes (grape or cherry or even roma)
¼ c toasted pumpkin seeds
1 c frozen peas
1 tbsp butter
1/4 c canola oil
2 tbsp white balsamic vinegar
1/2 c mint
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground black pepper

Start by heating up a frying or saute pan over med heat.  Clean and slice the leek.  Add the butter and the leeks and a pinch of salt and saute, stirring often.  Don't let the leeks brown, you want them to kind of melt.  If they begin to brown, turn the heat down some.

While the leeks are sauteeing,slice your tomatoes into ¼" coins, widthwise, and add to a large mixing bowl.  Add the salt, pepper, oil, vinegar, and mint.  Toss well to mix the ingredients.

When the leeks are soft and melty looking, turn the heat off but leave the pan on the burner.  Add your frozen peas directly to the pan and stir well.  Basically we want to thaw the peas but not cook them so we will just use the residual heat in the pan to do the defrosting for us.  Adding the peas here also helps cool the leeks quicker - we don't want to add hot leeks straight to our salad, we want them to cool until warm or even room temperature before adding them.  When your leek/pea mixture has cooled, add it to the tomato mixture and toss well to combine.  Add the pumpkin seeds at the very end for a little toasty nutty crunchiness.  They really tie the room together.

That's all there is to it!  You now have a nice sweetly acidic salad that you can do almost anything with - serve it alone, on toast, garnish some nice halibut, it goes with almost anything.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Garden Update: Blowing Up

I'm alive!  Sometimes real life gets in the way of this crazy   My garden has persisted during my internet vanishing act though, and I have some tales to tell.

My general treatment of the garden has been simple:  fertilize once a month using GardenTone fertilizer:  loosen up soil 2-3" from the base of plants and sprinkle fertilizer on top.  Work it into the soil and water really well for the first time.  Daily treatment involves just weeding, watering when the soil is dry (it's been so hot, I have had to water nearly every day).

My tomatoes have easily evolved into the most successful thing in my garden.  Despite weeks of 90º+ temperatures and very little rain until just recently, everything has survived, but some things seem happier than others.  Garden genius Mike next door told me that my tomato plants would slow down when the temperatures got above 90, but these tomato plants must have been determined.  They are now officially taller than me, that's 6' tall.  If you recall from my garden setup post, I have a mix of stakes and tomato cages in the garden.  Most of the stakes that I had were about 3' tall, as were the cages.  A couple of smaller stakes I had to replace with full-size 6' stakes, and I am so glad that I did.  The 6' stakes are easily the most effective guiding device in the garden.  Next time that I plant tomatoes I am only using them.  They are like $2 at the store, they last for years, and they are incredibly stable.  The plants have gotten top-heavy in their maturity, which caused multiple cages to start to pull out of the ground.  I currently have a crazy ass tying setup in the works:  plants which overgrew their small stakes tied to cages which are tied to big stakes.  Basically everything is only standing right now because I have 2 tall stakes that everything is tied to!

The Juliet and Cherry tomatoes are producing massive amounts of fruit, they also began to ripen this week.  I had my first very ripe Cherry tomato the other day:  I was out after a rainstorm cleaning up the garden, making sure everything was in order, and I decided to go ahead and eat it right off the vine.  Still wet from the rain, still warm from the sun, actually really ripe instead of ethylene-expedited... you can talk all you want about organic local farm fresh ingredients but it still doesn't compare to doing it yourself.

The tomato forest

Juliet tomatoes - they are like small Roma's in taste and structure

Backside of the forest and some ripe Juliets

Unripened Cherokee Purples

Garden genius Mike gave me one tip that I wanted to share about tomato plants:  The ability to grow new plants from the currently existing ones.  I was going to write up a quick instructional thing but another blog has done it well (with pictures!) so I'm just going to pull a lazy link here.  You can see on tomato plants that they eventually split these middle shoots from the main vine.  They will eventually blossom, but they can lead to the main steam weakening and also pull nutrients from fruit on the vine, so Mike suggested pruning them.  What's neat about the process is that you can plant these shoots into regular soil and they will grow roots and become new plants.  Luckily, in North Carolina, we can actually have 2 planting seasons, so when my current plants are done (if ever, just look at those monsters), I can plant these shoots and have a new batch of plants already up and coming.  Here are the instructions for pinching shoots:

In other garden news, the radishes are done already!  Neighbor Bruce said they were incredibly spicy - I have not had the privilege of trying them yet, but I suspect that we left them in the ground too long, increasing their spicyness.

The okra seems happy although it has not produced any blossoms yet.  It's an incredibly interesting plant:  at one point, I thought it was dying because leaves were falling off and the leaves and stem were covered in these small water globules.  I assumed they were insect eggs or something, but it turns out it's a natural defense mechanism for the plant that occurs on the stems and undersides of the leaves.  Fascinating!  Also, while the plant grows, it kind of 'molts' it's smaller leaves, so it's apparently not uncommon for it to continuously lose leaves as it grows.  I'm curious to see how it blossoms and how the blossoms differ from the regular growth pattern of the plant.  This is my most experimental plant, easily.

My Black Eyed Peas and Kentucky Blue Pole Beans are moving right along.  The pole beans are more aggressive than the Black Eyed Peas and have produced more pods to date.  The Black Eyed Peas are more lush though, and they seem overall happier.  Both plants seem to have struggled climbing the trellis - the ones on the outside near the support stakes happily climbed the stakes and are the tallest vines in the garden.  The ones in the middle seem to have stunted a bit because they couldn't climb the trellis that was there despite me trying daily to help guide them along (even tying them so they stay fixed in place and don't blow off the trellis).  I think that perhaps I will have to have more regular rungs in the trellis next time that I build it.. Right now they are spaced at about 6".

Lastly, a quick shot of the rest of the garden:  my arugula (middle) is doing great.  Beets are ok but seem to be having a more difficult time, perhaps they are getting too much direct sunlight.  In the front of this shot is a row of carrots.  Considering our raised bed is only about 4" deep, I'm very curious to see how these guys turn out.  I hope there's something there to eat!