Winter Garden

Winter 2008-2009
Siberian Kale
Siberian kale is one of many greens that can be harvested in Maine in very cold weather. English photo.

by Roberta Bailey

To go out to a snow covered tunnel or cold frame, brush away the snow and open the lid never fails to give me a sense of magical wonder and reverential awe. Outside the world is frozen and stark, with few colors other than whites and grays against the evergreens, but under that covering lies a quiet world where red lettuce shines and kale stands boldly. The earth gives off the scent of life, almost forgotten to the ice air. The spinach, which was flat to the ground the last time I looked, is erect in the warmth of the winter sun. I pick a leaf to eat, so sweet and nutty. This winter garden, now just maintaining and feeding us plants that grew in fall, will start to grow again in late February or early March as the days lengthen. ‘White Russian’ kale will produce abundant shoots and flower heads. Spinach and greens will put out new leaves. Carrots can be pulled, new crops seeded. To eat a salad or stir fry from a winter garden in your own yard in the middle of Maine or any other wintery place truly is magical.

It’s not too late to extend your season. I plant a few window boxes in January and February for early spring greens. The boxes need to be about 10 inches deep and fairly leak-proof or lined with plastic. Fill the box with good organic potting soil and seed with lettuce, greens and herbs. I plant very thickly to produce a dense cover, then eat thinnings for weeks before just picking leaves. The box or planter needs as much light as you can give it, either from a sunroom, bay window or grow light. Move boxes to a hoop house or direct sunlight in late March or early April. These boxes give salad greens right into April, when the garden plantings start to size up. I use a homemade lettuce mix of my favorite varieties and a mustard mix, as well as planting spinach, mache, cilantro and parsley. Experiment with what does well in your setting.

Wilted Winter Greens

1 onion or leek
2 to 4 cloves of garlic, minced
kale, collards, mustard greens
olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan
salt, tamari or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos

Cut the onion in half, then cut lengthwise to create small crescents, or cut the leek crosswise into thin rings. Mince the garlic. (Optional: Sprinkle 1/8 tsp. salt on the garlic and mash it with the flat of the knife until the garlic becomes a salty puree.) Chop the greens to the desired size. Heat the olive oil in a heavy pot or deep cast iron pan. Add the salted or minced garlic and the onion or leek to the oil and sauté until semi-soft. Add the greens and stir to coat with oil. Sauté for a few minutes, then add about 1/4 cup water to the pan to create steam. Cover for a few minutes or stir until well wilted and tender but still bright green. Season with salt, tamari or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos to taste. Serve immediately. These greens are also excellent tossed with cooked pasta and feta or parmesan cheese.

Cold Hunan Noodles with Winter Greens

3 stalks celery
5 stalks bok choy or Chinese cabbage
6 leaves of collards or other winter greens
5 to 6 fresh scallions
12 oz. Udon, buckwheat or thin egg noodles
1 cup sesame seeds
2 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 Tbsp. minced fresh ginger root
1/4 c. rice or cider vinegar
2 to 4 Tbsp. tamari
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Slice the celery on the diagonal into thin strips. Remove the stems from the bok choy and winter greens as needed. Cut the stems into thin diagonal strips. Cut the scallions into thin diagonal slices. Steam the celery and stems until almost tender and still bright green. Cool immediately in cold water, drain and set aside. Cook the noodles until just tender. Drain, rinse thoroughly under cold water, and drain again. Transfer the noodles to a large salad bowl. Grind the sesame seeds to a coarse meal. Sprinkle oils and sesame on the noodles, stirring carefully to avoid clumping. Add the spices, carefully tossing noodles to thoroughly mix. Toss in the greens. Adjust to taste. Cover and chill or serve at room temperature. Serves six.

Winter Potato Salad

5 medium boiling potatoes
3 Tbsp. Dijon-style mustard
1 1/2 c. Italian salad dressing
1 c. diced onion
1 c. finely chopped carrots
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 c. minced celery
2 Tbsp. minced parsley
2 c. kale or mustard greens, chopped

Steam potatoes, peeled or not, until tender. Set aside to cool. Mix the mustard
into the dressing. Sauté the onion, carrot and celery in 1/2 cup of the salad dressing mixture for 4 to 5 minutes until just tender. Add the salt and pepper. Add potatoes and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from heat, add the remaining dressing and let cool. Chill. Steam the greens and rinse in icy water. Drain. Mix with the chilled potato salad. Add the minced parsley and serve. May be served as a warm dish as well; just eliminate the chilling steps. Serves 6.

Salad with Winter Greens

2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tsp. dried basil
1/2 c. olive oil
2 ounces fennel bulb, trimmed and diced
1 large carrot, grated
6 c. winter greens, such as spinach, endive, mustard, mache, lettuce
1 c. red cabbage, finely shredded
1 c. radicchio leaves, torn in bite-size pieces
2 to 3 Tbsp. minced parsley

Combine the vinegar, salt, pepper, basil and garlic in a large salad bowl. Whisk in the olive oil in a steady stream so that it thickens. Add the fennel and stir to coat. Set aside for 15 minutes. Rinse and dry the greens. Add the greens, grated carrot, shredded cabbage, parsley and radicchio to the dressing and toss to coat. Adjust seasonings and serve.

Celeriac Soup

2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 Tbsp. butter (or use a total of 4 Tbsp. of oil)
2 large onions, diced
1 clove minced garlic
3 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 to 4 celeriac roots, peeled and cubed
2 parsnips, peeled and cubed
8 c. chicken or vegetable broth
1 large bouquet garni (see below)
1 to 2 c. winter greens (kale, collards, mustards, raab)
1 c. cream, milk or soymilk
1 Tbsp. minced parsley

To make a bouquet garni, tie together or place in cheesecloth any of the following: 4 sprigs parsley, 1 bay leaf, 1/2 celery stalk with leaves, 1/2 tsp. dried thyme or sage or 2 fresh sprigs of either herb.

In a heavy soup pot, sauté the onion and garlic in the oil and butter. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes without browning. Add the potato, celeriac, parsnip, salt and pepper. Cover with the stock. Add the bouquet garni. Bring to a boil and simmer
for 30 to 40 minutes until all vegetables are tender. Cool, remove the bouquet garni, then puree the soup or pass it through a food mill. Steam the chopped winter greens and stir them into the puree. Add cream, milk or soymilk to thin to the desired thickness. Adjust seasonings. Sprinkle parsley on top.

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