There is a brief window in spring when my Maryland garden is lushly verdant. When the so-called lawn springs joyously forth, requiring Benny and his boys to mow maniacally over it every five days. When the bunnies boldly brave the prowling neighbor’s cat to nibble on the emergent lilies to my great ire, prompting me to rethink my vegetarian diet. When the foolishly delicate David Austin roses bloom all-too-briefly in this hopelessly non-English garden, before the voracious Japanese beetles arrive and the sun burns off all but the most plebian of the Black Eyed Susans. Before the crescendo of the emergent 17 year Magicicadas drowns out any pretense of genteel patio conversation. On such a day as this, we harvested spring greens from our backyard patch. Sturdy collard leaves, Swiss Chard with their comically colored bright stalks of yellow and red, darkly green spinach.
Fold the washed leaves in half, and pull/slice out those pretty stalks unless they are really tender. Then layer, roll lengthwise and slice through to make a chiffonade of fresh ribbon-like greens.
Collard Greens with Cumin Potatoes
Not being Paula Deen, I was not going to ham hock the living daylights out of these innocent botanical beauties, boiling them blandly for hours with only salt and pepper for company. Instead, I began by flavoring a couple tablespoons of hot oil with a satisfying sizzle of cumin seeds, fennel seeds and crushed red pepper flakes. To this, I quickly added some slivered ginger and sliced garlic.
Next, I added lengthwise-sliced potatoes. I used three medium sized red ones. Tossed them in the spices and flavored with a big pinch of turmeric and coarse salt. Covered and cooked on low until the potato slices were nearly done, crispy and slightly browned on the outside.
Add the sliced collard greens, toss and cover for about 5 minutes on medium-low heat. If you need to, add about a quarter cup of water at this point.
Layer on your favorite spice mix: I have an ongoing love affair with Tagine spice, so that’s what I used. Squeeze some fresh lemon juice over it all. At the last minute I tossed in a handful of golden raisins and sliced almonds. Why? Because they were there. If George Mallory could set forth for Mt. Everest “because it’s there“, surely I may be permitted to ad hoc my ham-hockless collard greens sans Deen? 🙂 This was so good that my 14 year old picked off collard festooned potato wedges every time he found an excuse to walk by.
Dal Puree with Tomatoes and Chard
I made this dish because I had some pre-cooked mix of lentils (split urad dal and mung dal) languishing in the refrigerator. This time, I added black mustard seeds and nigella seeds to a tablespoon of clarified butter or ghee. These infuse a slight bitterness and texture to the smoothness of the dal. When the mustard seeds popped, I added a sliced red onion and tossed it on high heat. The shredded chard was mounded on, but it quickly collapsed into a more manageable mass.
Next, I added the cooked dal, a couple of diced tomatoes and flavored it all with salt, turmeric and ras al hanout, which is really a fancy Moroccan version of garam masala. This also received the benediction of freshly squeezed lemon juice at the very end.
I would have tossed in some chopped cilantro from our herb patch but our neighbor spied a black rat snake slithering amongst them yesterday. So I passed, despite all logic and the knowledge that my husband had heroically transported the serpent, dangling from a stick, into the blessedly vast woods behind. There are some benefits to winter, after all.
That Dhal Puree looks so yummeh!
Thanks, Zee! It’s comfort food….smooth and nourishing.
By the time, I reached the last word of the blog-post, “all”, my mouth was “full” of water!!!! And, the pictures are amazing, not to forget the expression, which is superb 🙂
Too good dishes for a Sunday, I must confess!
Aparaajita, your words made me smile. Cheers and thanks for stopping by!
Fantastic post! I loved it–such good writing. What a delicious recipe!
I am close to harvesting spinach chez nous. Of course, the harvest will not be much if I keep eating the leaves just to test if they are still tender and young. 🙂
Thanks, Michelle! Better that you munch on the tender greens than those little bugs that leave such pretty fenestrae on ours 🙂
Every time I stop by I am amazed at how wonderful your dishes look and sound. I was speaking about you with my husband a couple of weeks ago. We tried an Indian restaurant that everyone was raving about and I said that nothing looked as good as what you prepare. 🙂
Aww, how nice of you to say that! I’m just a wordsmith, that’s all. Hope you’ve been well, Karen, and thanks for stopping by 🙂
I once had a friend over for dinner when I was much younger and less adventurous with cooking other cuisines. She’s Anglo. She tasted my Peruvian cooking and said: “Yum! It tastes like Indian food! ” I was offended not because of the comparison but because to me Indian food is completely different. Of course back then I thought Peruvian food was so original because there’s so few of us in Australia. But as I grew older and tried my hands at other foods I came to see what she meant. I think of that conversation now reading your blog. We use most of the same spices just a little bit differently. As part of my thesis I also researched the sociology of food because all of the women I interviewed about their ethnicity said that food was one of the most important ways of maintaining their cultural identity in Australia. This research gave me a new appreciation of how much cultures are intertwined through trade and culinary influences (and other historical features of course).
Your blog is beautiful and it makes me really hungry!
That’s a great anecdote, ZZ! By the way, I had not realized that your ethnicity is Peruvian. Now I’m curious about Peruvian food since I’ve not come across it in the US. How right you are about the role of food in cultural identity. Cooking is my most accessible way to maintain that link to my home country, even more so than language and dress.