It has been a close call. You almost had to put up with last week’s cauliflower for one more day. You see, the lure of the my back garden has proven almost too great to resist.
As I am tippy tapping away here on the laptop, plants old and new are – just beyond my glass walls – fizzing with photosynthesis and vigour. I can see them, these little leafy soldiers, obediently heeding the sun and Nature’s orders. If I turned down the music I just know I would be able to hear emerging seedlings reaching skyward. Pushing the fragile soil away. Shedding their skins.This morning, on the first of many early hour garden inspections (er, slug removal), I saw tendrils wrapped tentatively round bamboo canes. Yesterday they were strangers in their bed of soil.
It is an irresistible time of year for anyone, but for those lucky enough to have a small patch of garden, one can add blissful and thankful.
And we spent a blissful and thankful weekend covered in dirt. Me, who is a bit of a germ-phone and gets testy if I can’t wash my hands after contact with anything unwholesome (money, trollies, shop door handles – you name it), played in the dirt.
Under a cloudless and pleasantly warm sky, Mr A and I spent countless calories and hours pulling up this, moving that, digging over and forking, and tucking new plants and tender seedlings into their summer beds.
We used to have an allotment many many years ago, but now make due in our back garden with willow-fenced raised beds and pots. In these confines we seem to grow plenty to keep us in green things throughout the year. I get a wee kick out of growing things that I love but that are hard to find in shops. Asian vegetables top the list.
This year, in our hodge podge of containers, we are growing a few different types of kale, chard and Asian greens. Thankfully most of these are delightful cut-and-come-again plants. I may be a bit weird but I really don’t like yanking something from the soil, leaving a black hole where root should be. Or separating head from stem with a sharp knife. Something vaguely French Revolution about that last one. I am most looking forward to the black pak choi – a very sexy sounding plant, I am sure you will agree. But all edible plants are welcome in my kitchen, even some of the ones self-seeding their way around the garden – feverfew, nigella, viola, sorrel, and the odd dandelion.
Homegrown black pak choi would be perfect in today’s seductively flavoured soup. Lemongrass, lime leaf, ginger, coconut. These flavours speak of sun loungers, gently lapping waves and an ‘adult beverage’ at one’s elbow. Or even your favourite Thai restaurant, but without having to get properly dressed (always the worst bit of going out for me) or be tempted by fried banana fritters. I’ve used bought choi sum today, but hopefully within a month or so I will be making this with my own organically grown vegetables. The chillies too.
I should get outside before the sun hides away for another week. I have some photosynthesising to do myself!
What do you have growing? Do you garden in a big plot, a little postage stamp-sized one or in containers? What is your biggest edible gardening success to date?
PS Don’t miss my resident DJ Miss R’s track of the week after the recipe! It’s pretty fabulous and it’s called Eden.
Coconut and Lemongrass Tofu Soup
Don’t even be tempted to add curry paste to this. The fragrant ‘instant’ stock is all you need for this clean, zingy but creamy-good soup.
For more heft, add in some cooked rice noodles (fat snakey udon, or vermicelli, would be my choice).
Don’t like tofu or can’t get non-GMO? Tempeh, shredded cooked chicken, turkey or duck, prawns, or even overnight-soaked cashews, would be fabulous. Or just keep it all vegetable for an ultra-light slurp.
2 large fat lemongrass stalks or 3 ‘supermarket’ ones, outer leaves removed
5 lime leaves OR 1 tsp whizzed-up lime leaves (my choice) OR zest of 1 lime + juice 1 lime
1 thumb of galangal or ginger, peeled and halved
3 Thai chillies (optional)
2 whole star anise
1.5 litres (6 ½ cups) hot, light vegetable stock (low-salt if possible)
1 red pepper, diced or sliced
150g (4 cups) chopped choi sum or pak choi
good handful of frozen peas or edamame, defrosted
100g (heaped cup) diced courgette/zucchini
4 spring onions/scallions, sliced
12 shiitake mushrooms (or more), thinly sliced
10 tofu puffs (like you get at the Chinese supermarket in the refrigerator section), quartered OR 100g plain firm tofu, cubed
1 tsp palm sugar or muscovado sugar (it balances the soup)
225ml (1 cup) full-fat coconut milk
1 tsp fish sauce (nam pla) or light soy sauce (more to taste)
Lime wedges and sliced chillies, to serve
1. Using a heavy knife smash the lemongrass and ginger (but not to break it up, just to release the aroma). Pop these in a large saucepan along with the lime leaves (lightly crush or tear before adding), chillies (if using), star anise, peppercorns and hot stock. If you are using lime juice, don’t add this until towards the end of cooking. Bring up to the boil then reduce to simmer for 15 minutes.
2. After 15 minutes, strain the flavoured stock into another pan, or into a large jug and give the pan a wipe, returning to the pan. Discard the solids.
3. Return the stock to the boil then add the remaining ingredients, except the fish sauce/soy sauce and lime juice (if using). When almost boiling once again, turn down the heat to simmer for 5 minutes. Add the fish sauce/soy sauce and lime, if using.
Miss R’s track of the Week is “Eden” from the May 5 release of the EP “1992” by Ben Khan. All the other tracks equally as lush and funky.