25 July 2010

From Plot to Plate

Despite the unseasonably cool temperatures that have graced this sleepy coastal town nearly the entire summer--save for a few brief heat waves--the backyard garden is thriving.  The marine layer blanketing the sky most mornings usually burns off by midday, allowing the outdoor plants to absorb the sun's generous rays.  The chard and kale have grown like mad; the meyer lemon, peach, and plum trees are bearing considerable amounts of fruit; jalapeno peppers are just beginning to mature.  Even the honeydew plant, a seedling once of questionable fortitude that is now a sprawling mass of stems, leaves, and flowers, is bearing at least a half-dozen would-be melons.

With such an abundance of summer produce growing quite literally right in my own backyard, I have been trying to make the most of the garden's bounty.  As both an avid cook and novice gardener, I appreciate the fact that nature is kindly rewarding my humble efforts to nurture these plants by providing such a beautiful array of homegrown edibles.  The bonus is that such natural abundance encourages even more creativity in the kitchen while satisfying one's appetite for fresh, as-local-as-it-gets fare, which is certainly a win-win situation.  What follows is a glimpse of ways I have so far utilized some of the backyard bounty.

Pan-fried Shishito Peppers
Freshly-picked shishito peppers.
These Japanese peppers are quite mild, with only the slightest bit of heat.  Having never eaten them prior to planting the seedling (admittedly, on a bit of a whim), I was not quite sure how to go about cooking shishito peppers.  According to discussions I have located during an Internet search, these peppers are often cooked very simply, either grilled, pan-fried, or sometimes deep-fried in a tempura batter, and enjoyed as an appetizer at many Japanese restaurants.  Because pan-frying was the most accessible method for me to prepare the peppers, I opted for that route.  I simply coated the peppers in a small amount of oil, blistered them in a hot skillet, then sprinkled them with coarse sea salt and pepper to taste.  The mild seasoning didn't overpower the peppers, but rather complemented their fresh, mild flavor.  Should there be more shishito peppers around for the next grill-out, I'd like to try the grilling method.  Tempura peppers also sound delicious, but I will have to overcome my aversion to deep-frying before giving that method another look.
Charred, lightly seasoned peppers, ready for snacking.
Sukhi Lauki (Seasoned Zucchini)
Fresh zucchini.
The zucchini plant is slowly taking over the garden plot at the back wall of the yard.  Considering issues in past growing seasons with critters eating up many of the fruits and veggies before they can be harvested, I am frankly quite amazed that the zucchini are not only popping up faster than I can find ways to use them, but also getting to be huge.  Some of the squash have weighed in at over a pound each.  Eventually, there is bound to be zucchini bread or muffins in the works to use up this apparent bumper crop.  So far, however, I have only prepared a single zucchini dish all summer, courtesy of a recipe from The Indian Vegan Kitchen.  Sukhi Lauki (Seasoned Zucchini) is yet another healthy, tasty dish that is very quick and easy to make.  The spices are well-balanced, making for a delightfully simple vegetable dish that pairs well with brown rice.
Sukhi Lauki with brown rice.
Green Onion-Garlic Flatbread with Creamy Spinach-Chickpea Filling
Pouches of flavor.
The green onions are also surviving the presence of gophers and squirrels, who seem to prefer the tomatoes and stone fruit over vegetables, and are reaching almost monstrous proportions.  The long stalks reminded me of the green garlic with which I experimented during spring, prompting me to revisit my recipe for Green Garlic Flatbread to make a variation with green onion and regular garlic that also took it one step further by involving a hearty greens-and-beans filling.  For the dough, I used the original formula and simply substituted the green garlic with green onion and added a clove of minced garlic to the dough.

The filling was inspired by spotting leftover blanched spinach, cooked chickpeas, and a jar of another batch of Bryanna Clark Grogan's "potted" tofu in my refrigerator.  I simply sauteed more green onion and garlic, then added the chopped spinach, chickpeas, tofu, red pepper flakes, dried oregano, and salt and pepper to taste.  The tofu, which had been jarred in oil, had become very soft and flavorful, resulting a thick, creamy filling.
Raw dough topped with creamy spinach-chickpea filling.
To prepare the flatbread, I used the same method for the dough with the aforementioned alteration.  After rolling the dough balls into discs, I put one or two generous tablespoons of the cooled spinach mixture onto the center of each disc, gathered the edges around the filling, pinched the dough together to seal in the filling, and gently rolled out the dough into a thick disc.  I cooked the stuffed dough on a hot skillet as I would for regular flatbread, until golden brown and puffy.  After I ran out of filling, I cooked the remaining dough as regular green onion-garlic flatbread, which made for a tasty, starchy snack.  The stuffed version was crisp on the outside, tender and fluffy inside, and laced with hearty filling.  The flavorful spinach-chickpea mixture further accentuated the green onion and garlic flavors in the bread itself, and turned the flatbread into a rather substantial, convenient mini-meal.  It turns out that they reheat well in the toaster, too.
Creamy filling encased by tender bread.
With so much edible abundance at my fingertips, I look forward to more creating more delectable dishes using whatever grows in the yard.  The Japanese eggplants and heirloom tomatoes are finally nearing their respective peaks, so there will certainly be a great deal of garden inspiration to work with in the kitchen as summer rolls onward.


  1. Simple, beautiful food. That flatbread looks mouth-watering!

  2. I love the look of the shishito peppers and your method of preparation. I bet they tasted great. The stuffed bread sounds wonderful. I'm really hungry at the moment, and seeing the bread is making my stomach growl.

  3. I love the look of the shishito peppers and your method of preparation. I bet they tasted great. The stuffed bread sounds wonderful. I'm really hungry at the moment, and seeing the bread is making my stomach growl.


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