Sowing New Seeds

Usually, POD feels a twinge of sadness this time of year. Okay, more than a twinge. Yes, the deck is prospering and yes, the farmers’ markets are flowing, and yes, the kitchen is humming with fresh produce, but the end is near. And it hurts.

What makes POD happy? Seeds. So this year, instead of resigning myself to the end of an era, POD’s expanding. Who knows how it’ll turn out, but it seems worth a shot. Unlike the rest of the produce on the 2009 little blue deck, this is new uncharted territory.

Thanks to the now-dead Django restaurant, a Philly favorite until the chef/owners relocated to the ‘burbs and left a pale imitation in their wake, POD and her lovely husband discovered that Brussels sprouts don’t totally suck. Add some butter and bacon and you’re good to go.

These seeds (selected because they’re Franklin Hybrids — and POD is a Philly garden, after all) from Territorial Seed Company, are enjoying some rich, firmly packed organic soil and plenty of indoor sunlight and stable temps. They should germinate in a couple of weeks or so. Check back for progress reports. These sprouts are also apparently quick to mature — a big considerations this time of year.

There’s even enough to share with a certain Philadelphia City Paper Editor.

Here’s hoping for a mild winter and a bonus crop.

brussels sprout seeds
brussels sprout seeds

Spring Curry

This spring curry features POD-grown Swiss chard, bay, and Thai chilies. Serves 6-8.

spring curry ingredients
spring curry ingredients

2 chicken breasts, rinsed and cut into 1″ cubes
3/4 lb potatoes, parboiled cut into 1″ cubes
1/2 tsp saffron
4 tbs heavy cream
4 tbs canola oil
12 cardamom pods
4 cinnamon sticks
6 bay leaves
4 bird chilies (or to taste), minced
3 large shallots, sliced
2 tbs ginger, minced
8 cloves garlic (or to taste), minced
4 tbs whole almonds
2 tbs ground coriander
1 tbs ground cumin
1 tsp cayenne (or to taste)
1/2 tsp turmeric
3/4 tsp salt
1 c. chicken stock (or water)
1 c. buttermilk (or yogurt)
10 oz chard, sliced
2 c. peas

RICE
1 1/2 c. basmati, well-rinsed
3 c. water (or stock/water combo)
6 cardamom pods

1) Heat cream, add saffron. Set aside to steep.
2) Heat oil over medium high in Dutch oven, add the cardamom, cinnamon, and bay. Stir until they begin to release yummy smells. About a minute. Add chicken pieces and cook until barely not pink. Remove the chicken and set it aside. Leave as many of the spices in the pot as you can.
2b) Stick the rice, cardamom pods, and water/stock combo in a pot. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 17-20 minutes until done.
3) Add the shallots to the sizzling spices and fry until they’re reddish brown. You may want to increase the heat a touch. Add the garlic, ginger, and Thai chilies and fry for an additional minute. Reduce heat a bit. Add the almonds, coriander, cumin, cayenne, salt, and turmeric. Stir for a few seconds. Avoid coughing into the spice cloud.
4) Add the chicken stock and buttermilk or yogurt. Scape all the good stuff off the bottom of the pan. Reduce heat to a simmer. It should be fairly liquidy. Add a little more yogurt or buttermilk to suit your tastes.
5) Toss in the chicken, chard, potatoes, and peas. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes or so.
6) Stir in saffron cream mixture.
7) Serve over rice. Try not to eat the cardamom pods and cinnamon sticks.

Swiss Chard and Preserved Lemons

It’s so ridiculously satisfying to climb up the sladder, pick chard, climb down, chop it,  throw some other stuff in a pan, and eat. Of course, you’ll need to have made the preserved lemons two months ago, but still. Good stuff. If you don’t have preserved lemons lounging in your fridge like some food nerds do, lemon zest, a squeeze of lemon juice, and a pinch of coriander and cinnamon also happens to be pretty darn tasty.

swiss chard with preserved lemons
swiss chard with preserved lemons

Swiss Chard and Preserved Lemons
1 bunch swiss chard (about 6-8 stalks), chopped
1 tbs olive oil
a slosh of sherry vinegar (about 2-3 tbs, depending on taste)
¼ preserved lemon (pulp removed and well-rinsed), chopped finely
black pepper or red pepper flakes, to taste

1) Heat olive oil
2) Drop in chard
3) Sauté for a few minutes, until leaves have wilted
4) Add vinegar to hot pan, swirl until it mostly disappears
5) Remove from heat and stir in chopped preserved lemon and pepper

Preserved Lemons
Quoted directly from: Casa Moro (2004) by Sam and Sam Clark

Preserved lemons are a great feature of North African cooking, especially in Morocco. They have a strong, distinctive flavour used to give character to tagines (stews), sauces, fish dishes and salads

10 organic lemons, washed and drained
1 kg (2.2 lbs)
3 cinnamon sticks, broken up roughly
1 tbs coriander seeds
1tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp cloves
5 small dried red chilies
5 bay leaves (preferably fresh)
juice of 8 extra lemons

Make a cross in the top of each lemon and continue to cut until two-thirds the way day. Open out slightly, pushing some salt inside each one and press together again. In a large, sterilized preserving jar about 1.5 litres, alternate the salt with the spices ad the lemons so that everything is more or less evenly packed in the jar. Press down on the lemons to help extrude some of the juice. Pour on the extra lemon juice to cover completely. Close the jar and leave at room temperature for about 2 months, or until the skins are soft all the way through. When you are ready to use a lemon, remove it from the jar, rinse under cold water to remove any excess salt, pull out and discard the pulp, then chop the skin as desired. Preserved lemons are deceptive in their strength, so only the smallest amounts will b e necessary in most recipes: although it may seem like nothing, beware of adding more. The lemons should keep for up to a year in the fridge.

All The Dirt

Organic Soil

Dirt’s important people. Especially for container gardening. Every year’s an experiment, too. Try things out and please let POD know what works for you.

One year I played around with moisture control soil. Mistake. In my defense, it made sense given the fact that Little Blue Deck becomes an oven during the miserable Philly August. Instead of keeping things nicely moist, though, it provided excellent conditions for all sorts of molds and fungi to invade. The year before I used plain ol’ potting mix but the NKP (Nitrogen, Potassium, Phosphorus) mix wasn’t adequate for veggies and certainly wasn’t a one-size fits all ratio.

Last year I tried mixing my own organic soil. Clearly, all the people who swear by this process have way more room to play with than I do. And, for that matter, understand the whole NKP thing better. But if you’re lucky enough to have a decent gardening supply store in your neighborhood (POD has Lowe’s and the Depot) and you have room somewhere for a wheel barrow, you may have better success than me.  Good luck.

This year I was thrilled to discover Miracle-Gro Organic Choice at Lowes (I went to three independently owned greenhouses before caving in and buying it from the big chain). I mixed about 2/3 Potting Mix and 1/3 Garden Soil into each pot. (The Garden Soil came in larger bags and was cheaper.) Although it’s way too soon to render a verdict, I’m cautiously optimistic. All my seeds germinated in record time and the weeds are minimal.

The Little Blue Deck ate about 8 cubic feet of dirt.