The Goosefoot Greens

Amaranth is a more distant relative of this bunch, as are purslane and sea purslane. The rest (beet greens, Good King Henry, lamb's-quarters, Malabar spinach, orach, spinach, Swiss chard, and water spinach) are all closely related members of the family Chenopodiaceae—the beet, chard, spinach, and quinoa family.

Some food experts recommend that you boil the goose-foot greens before eating them. This is because they all contain more than the usual amount of oxalic acid (too much oxalate can cause kidney stones) and other chemicals that are harmful in excess. None of the goosefoot greens will send you to the hospital if you eat them raw in a salad. On the other hand, if you're going to eat a pound a day of them, I'd boil them before eating and discard the cooking water. Boiling flushes the bad guys (and unfortunately also some of the vitamins) into a solution that you can throw out. Amaranth, the Vegetable: The various vegetable amaranths are also known as "Chinese spinach," "een choy," "hiyu," "tampala," "yin choy," "hin choy," "edible amaranth," and "amaranth spinach." Vegetable amaranths differ from the grain ones in requiring moisture throughout their growing cycle and in being able to tolerate as much as 15 inches of annual rainfall. This crop can be grown and harvested even during the downpours of West Africa's rainy season. Vegetable amaranths need well-manured ground. Amaranth greens are hardy in hot weather; they don't bolt, get bitter, or wilt. They are useful where summers are too hot for lettuce, spinach, or cabbage and in the soaking tropics. In the tropics amaranths will produce year-round and can reseed themselves naturally; they can also get places you don't want and become a nuisance. Ruth from Bonaire, an island in the Southern Caribbean with a forbiddingly desert climate, writes me that amaranth "grows wild on Bonaire. It grows in back of our house by the sewer. (Only place where anything grows.) We eat it steamed, drizzled with lemon juice." See "Grain Amaranth" in Chapter 3 for more information. Planting. You can order from Burgess, Burpee, or Redwood City. Amaranth can be planted densely, up to 90 plants per square yard.

Harvesting. The leaves and stems can be eaten as soon as they get big enough to make it worth your effort, starting in 3-6 weeks. You can continue to cut greens off the plant weekly until the flowers develop. Then the leaves and stalks get fibrous and undesirable. Some varieties can put off that development for up 13 weeks after planting, some as long as 6 months. But sooner or later it happens.

Cooking. Cook amaranth leaves like turnip greens, col-lards, or spinach. Amaranth greens are rich in iron, calcium, vitamin A, and the same complementary amino acids, lysine and methionine, that make a complete protein in combination with other grains. Amaranth greens contain some oxalic acid and nitrate, almost exactly the same amount as in spinach, beet greens, and chard. If you want to detox, boil before eating.

<i> BOILED VEGETABLE AMARANTH Rinse the leaves and completely immerse in plentiful water. Boil 10 minutes. Discard water. Drain amaranth. Toss with vinegar and butter.

AMARANTH GREENS CASSEROLE Butter a casserole dish. Mix I lb. cooked amaranth greens, I lb. cottage or ri-cotta cheese, and I beaten egg. Put mixture in the dish and bake at 350° F for a half hour. basella: See "Malabar Spinach." beet Greens: This green tastes even better than chard. I'm putting about two-thirds chard and one-third beet greens into my freezer. I like the beety taste and the pretty red stems of the beet greens. So does Mike (whose idea this originally was). When harvested early and given plenty of water, the beets recover and grow more tops—or we can get greens from them when the roots are harvested. Use mixed with a bland lettuce, chopped onion, and hard-boiled egg to make a green salad. Or in a soup with carrots, potatoes, onion, and meat. Or boiled, drained, and served with butter.

good King Henry: Chenopodium bonus-henricus, also known as "poor man's asparagus," or "wild spinach," is a wild perennial that can be cultivated. It used to be popular in European cottage gardens and is now enjoying somewhat of a comeback with the herb lovers. You can grow this plant to feed people or animals (chickens like it) or to use as green manure. Good King Henry prefers rich, well-drained soil plus half shade, although it can survive in full sun. Seeds are available from Bountiful Gardens, plants from Nichols.

Growing. Plant Vs inch deep, rows 18 inches apart, and thin to 12 inches apart. The plant will self-sow freely and keep itself going for years, so plant it in a wide bed in a place where it is welcome to stay. Because it's not picky about where it is, it's a perfect plant to put in a neglected place that undesirable weeds are currently occupying. It gets started early in the spring and grows 1 to 2 feet high, bearing arrow-shaped leaves. You can get even earlier spring growth by mulching with straw, and earlier growth yet by placing a bottomless box over some plants and covering it with a pane of glass, creating a greenhouse effect. Eating. Good King Henry is an unusual green in that it shouldn't have its arrow-shaped leaves cut until after the first year. Substitute very young, tender leaves in any spinach or chard recipe. Then substitute shoots and flower buds in any asparagus recipe. Or break the leaves up, steam, and serve with a lemon sauce. Or add to a leaves to a vegetable soup. Or add whole leaves to other cooking-type greens, boil, and serve. Or stir-fry young shoots with sliced turnip and carrots and serve with a sweet-and-sour sauce. Or mix with avocado slices and other greens and serve with a strong-flavored salad dressing. You can also serve young shoots raw with a vegetable dip.

Lamb'S-Quarters: You can gather and use orach's wild relative, lamb's-quarters (Chenopodium album) the same way you use orach. Or buy the seed from Bountiful Gardens and plant it on purpose. The whole plant is edible. Grind seed as you would its relative, quinoa. Cook stems like a vegetable. Use leaves raw or cooked like spinach. Malabar Spinach: This name applies to 2 Basella species, Basella rubra and Basella alba. It's also known as "Ceylon" or "Indian" spinach, "Malabar Nightshade," "Put" "Saan Choy," and "land kelp." This tropical goosefoot green comes from Southeast Asia and resembles the flowering white cabbage. It's a beautiful plant that does well in a hanging basket and is easily grown and quite productive. It's a good hot-weather substitute for spinach.

Seeds are available from Nichols, Redwood City, Bountiful Gardens, etc. Northerners start it indoors because it won't germinate until night temps are over 58°F, and it does best at higher temps than that. Outside, plant 1 inch deep, 1 inch apart, rows 2Vi feet distant. Thin to 1 foot apart. Or transplant outdoors when frost is safely past. It needs plenty of water and something to climb. It will climb up a fence or trellis as high as 6 feet.

The leaves are large, thick, and dark green, and they taste milder than Swiss chard. Folks in the tropics wait and start cutting about 12 weeks after planting, but hurried northerners may start snipping in as little as 35 days. Can be eaten raw in salads or cooked. To cook, just steep a few minutes in very hot water. Malabar spinach leaves, when cooked, resemble kelp and have a thickening effect in soups just like okra. Pinch off flowers to keep the leaves growing. Leaves are good shredded and served in chicken stock with tofu chunks and ginger flavor. Incidentally, the red berries also thicken liquids. And they can be used to make a jelly. orach: Atriplex hortensis used to be known as "mountain spinach" or "giant lamb's-quarters." Orach does best in regions where the spring is short and the soil is saline, alkaline, and dry—but it can do well in other places too. It produces longer and gives a larger total harvest than common spinach. It's a close relative of Good King Henry. Orach will go to seed in hot weather, so it's not the best green to plant for a midsummer harvest, unless you have Bountiful Garden's heat-resistant variety. It will self-seed. Planting and Growing. Available from Abundant Life, Bountiful Gardens, etc., in a green and a beautiful red/purple (it changes to green when cooked) variety. Plant inch deep. Thin to 8 to 12 inches apart. Harvest young, when 4 to 6 inches, or else harvest the tender top growth, because lower leaves get tough. Left alone, it can grow as tall as 6 feet, but for salad keep pinching it back to a short, bushy plant. Or make succession plantings, figuring on maturity in 6 to 8 weeks after planting.

Using. Rabbits love it. People eat it raw or cooked. Pick and use fresh, since it gets limp fast. Substitute in any spinach recipe: Put a leaf in your sandwich, salad, quiche, casserole, cooked greens, etc. The flavor of cooked orach is sweet and mild, like spinach.

purslane: Portulaca oleracea is a low-growing perennial that can thrive in any soil. Territorial's Garden Purslane is about 4 times as big, more succulent, and more upright than the wild one. Provide moisture until it gets started. After that it can also handle very dry conditions. Use leaves and stems in salad or cook like spinach. The flavor is sharp, but it's rich in vitamin C and omega-3 fatty acids that help prevent heart/circulatory problems. Bountiful Gardens and Territorial offer seed.

Sea purslane: Honkenya peploides, also called sea chickweed, is a creeping, mat-forming seashore plant with fleshy leaves and tiny greenish white petals. The leaves and stems are edible. In Asia, sea purslane is used raw or made into pickles.

spinach: Spinacia oleracea responds to long days by going to seed. It reacts to hot weather, dry conditions, or bolting by getting bitter and tough. When it bolts, it also stops making new leaves. All the plant's energy then goes into stalk and flower. Spinach leaves don't get nearly as big as chard leaves.

That's the bad news. The good news is that spinach is a great-tasting early greens crop that is ready for harvest weeks before chard. It is the earliest next to dandelion greens. Lane Morgan says, "A lot of work has been done lately on bolt-resistant spinaches. Most of them are hybrids, but Territorial has at least one—Steadfast—that isn't. This means a nice June crop in this climate (north Pacific maritime), before the weather gets hot and the flavor suffers. (I think it's the daylight more than the heat that sets it off to bolt, but heat affects the taste.) But I love it most as a winter salad green—something to put with the mizuna and other strong-tasting stuff, and something to eat in early spring before the new lettuces get going. In this mild winter climate I harvest spinach from October to April, cutting leaves off as needed. That time of year bugs and disease don't bother it." Planting. Plant spinach seed V* inch deep, 18 inches between rows, 12 inches between plants. Radish seeds germinate faster, so plant a few in there to mark the row. You can plant in a partial-shade site. Don't transplant thinnings; they don't do well. If container planting, put 4 plants in each 12-inch pot. You need at least gal. soil for each spinach plant, dirt at least 8 inches deep. Allow 3 to 6 inches between the plants.

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Saving Seed. Spinach is a wind-pollinated, self-fertile annual. It won't cross with New Zealand spinach, but other spinach varieties will cross because spinach pollen is very fine and the wind carries it all over the place. So plant only one variety and hope you're far enough away from neighbors with closely related species while it is flowering. Save seed from late-bolting plants and good-sized, abundantly leafy ones. When plants get yellow, pull them out and hand-strip seeds from stalk. Seeds will remain viable about 5 years.

Harvesting and Preserving. Spinach will be grown in about 65 days. Cut off a little way above ground. Or pick it leaf by leaf like chard. It will keep growing unless it was about to bolt anyway. To preserve, follow the basic canning, freezing, and drying directions in "The Leaves We Eat." White crystals in canned spinach are just calcium oxalate; they can't be prevented and won't hurt. Recipe Ideas. Put into a pie crust with a pimento-flavored white sauce and call it a mock meat pie. Or stir-fry with garlic in bacon grease. Or bake with layers of pasta/cheese mix alternating with layers of spinach. Or add to a mushroom soup or cream soup. Good in omelets. Great in quiche. Terrific baked with eggs and feta or another strong cheese. Good curried with potatoes. From gardening and food writer Lane Morgan: "Another good thing to do with spinach is steam it, add tamari, a little oil (sesame if you have it), and vinegar (rice vinegar if you have it), and let it marinate a while. Wonderful as a savory side dish with rice and tofu, tempura, or other Japanese-style dishes."

FRENCH SPINACH From Karin Webber, Reseda, CA: "You'll need 2 lb. fresh spinach, I large onion, I clove garlic, olive oil, butter, 2 beaten eggs, I c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Wash the leaves carefully, and the rest is easy as pie. Chop the onion and mince the garlic. Heat the olive oil in a very large kettle, and saute the onion and garlic in it for a few minutes. When the onion is transparent, add spinach and cover tightly. In about 3 minutes the spinach will be reduced to a fraction of its former bulk. Remove the lid and cook a few minutes longer. Remove from heat. Butter a medium-size baking dish. When spinach is somewhat cooled, stir in the 2 beaten eggs and Vi c. of the Parmesan cheese. Season with salt and pepper and pour mixture into baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining Parmesan over the top and dot with butter. Bake the spinach in a 275°F oven for about 10 to 15 minutes and serve steaming hot. It's delicious and it doubles easily."

<i> SPINACH LASAGNE Make a batch of marinara (tomato sauce) and a batch of white sauce. Steam I lb. spinach until barely tender. Then chop it coarsely and combine with the white sauce. Also steam 3 large sliced zucchini. Now, into a 9 x 12-inch baking dish, spoon a thin layer of tomato sauce, a layer of uncooked wide noodles, one-third of the tomato sauce, a layer of half the zucchini slices, and half the spinach mixture. Then repeat noodle layer, tomato sauce layer, rest of zucchini, and rest of spinach. Finally, top with a last layer of noodles and the remaining one-third of tomato sauce. Bake at 350°F covered for a half hour and uncovered for another half hour. Let stand before serving. From Ruth of Bonaire. Swiss Chard: Botanically Swiss chard is a beet, Beta vulgaris cicla, with an undeveloped root and wonderful leaves. Gardeners in the hot interior United States favor it in the summer garden because it doesn't "bolt" the way spinach does. You can also plant it early because it's as hardy against spring frosts as it is against summer heat. Maritime gardeners often grow it for the winter garden too, planting in July, because it continues producing long after fall frosts. With some winter mulching, you can get early spring greens from this biennial from maybe February through May.

Planting. Fordhook Giant is a good kind. Ruby chard tends to be bitter. Plant as you would beets. To grow in a container, plant 1 to 2 seeds per inch, lh inch deep. Later, thin some—eat the thinnings!

Saving Seed. Swiss chard is a wind-pollinated biennial. So for seed, don't cut it, and leave it in the ground all winter. In cold climates, cover with a thick mulch layer for protection. It will cross with similar species, so it needs to be isolated during the flowering next year. Chard seed lives about 4 years.

Harvesting. I like it stalk and all. (So do the chickens!) When it's up 6 inches or more, I go out with a bucket and knife and whack off everything about 1 inch above the root level. It's quick and easy and it doesn't harm the plant at all. The chard will grow again. Depending on your soil and watering, in a few weeks or less, you have another crop, and another after that, and so on. When I get all the chard I want in the freezer, we till up their rows and plant them with potatoes or some other late crop.

There are 2 distinct stages at which you could harvest your chard. Harvest while young and small, like 6 inches tall, for a tender, spinachy green with very little "rib." That's my favorite way to eat it. But if you keep watering and don't cut it, you get tall, big leaves, each with a long, thick stem. That's the way some good friends of mine prefer to harvest it—getting 2 vegetables for one, the spinach-type leaf (but way tougher) plus the stem, which they use like celery. Recipe Ideas. Combine chopped chard with nuts and raisins in a pie crust to make an interesting pie. Or wrap fish covered with tomato slices and an herb sauce inside chard leaves and bake. Or boil chard and serve with a cheese sauce. For very mature chard, cook stems and leaves separately because stems take longer. Chard "Celery." Chard stems are a good substitute for celery. Chard is so much easier to grow than celery, and its texture and crunchiness, when raw, are similar, although the chard stems are a bit milder in flavor. Celia Sorenson, Spokane, WA, uses it that way. She chops them up in lettuce salads, egg salad sandwiches, and any dishes that call for "celery"—especially soup. Chard cooks more quickly than celery and has more nutrition too! water Spinach: Ipomoea aquatica is an Asian green, a.k.a. "ong choy" and "swamp cabbage." It's related to sweet potato and morning glory. This aquatic vegetable has long pointed leaves and hollow stalks. Harvest little young leaves and stems while they're still tender. If they get too large, they're too tough. This one's only eaten cooked except for the very smallest, most tender shoots. Once cooked, the leaves are tender, the stems firm but edible. Recipe Ideas. Cut water spinach into pieces and stir-fry with assorted Asian veggies. Or boil small pieces, drain off cooking liquid, and serve with gravy or herb butter poured over. Or serve the tiniest shoots with a seasoned veggie dip. Or make a soup with water spinach, sliced carrots and turnips, and meat or fish pieces.

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