Meals on Fire

I make no apology for another Thai inspired, heat inducing, salad. The days are still chilly. This one starts with home grown broad beans and my new favourite vegetable: kholrabi `Azur Star’ from the veg to grow box.

What a nice tidy habit it has sitting there waiting to be plucked out of the ground and straight into a salad. Even the leaves won’t go to waste. It has to be one of the best convenience foods you can grow.

I have to say Jim’s broad beans didn’t look that appetising, all covered in black aphids but close up the infestation is only superficial and the beans inside are perfect in their blankety bed.

I pushed a few of the smaller beans whole, through the bean slicer (brilliant invention) and increased the bean count with a handful of nice fat beans from this week’s veg box.

Peeling the kholrabi and slicing into thin strips was a joy (cooks call it julienning) it’s oh, so fresh. I added a tin of organic chick peas to give more substance and texture, and combined all together with a salad dressing based on the Thai Som Tam recipe:

Take: 1 tbsp roasted salted peanuts, or 1 tbsp crunchy peanut butter, 1 tbsp lime juice, red chillies, chopped and de-seeded according to how much fire you like in your salad, 1 tbsp fish sauce and a clove of garlic, chopped. 1 tsp of chilli jam or sugar/honey to sweeten.

Slip all the goodies into a jam jar and shake rattle and roll until all the flavours have turned into one big party, make sure the lid is on tight, otherwise make a less frenetic version and frisk it all up in a bowl.

To finish I sprinkled a few chopped leaves from my Vietnamese coriander plant. This dish has all sorts of potential to be be played up or down on flavour. Just pick a country and run with your imagination. Let me know if you do … every cook has their own favourite dressing, I’d love to hear yours.

Every Living Thing

In between showers this bank holiday weekend I moved the veg plants into their new homes: the Wall Patch (raised bed), the Salad Basket (trendy hazel wood patio container bought in a sale), overflow of potatoes (Amorosa x 2) tastefully planted in a flower bed alongside the Wall Patch and resembling a burial mound for a departed pet, complete with marker. There is also a Berry Bed (work in progress) for three flavours of currants awaiting a transplant. Note to self: don’t take on too much if as I have discovered you are a fair weather gardener or else put on the wet weather gear and get over it. As for the tomato plants and herbs they are all enjoying more space in the cool cupboard while I come up with an alternative address.

During showers I took to the sofa and carried on reading about a missionary who drags his family off to the African Congo in 1959, intent on taming every living thing:

‘But my father needs permission only from the Saviour who obviously is all in favour of subduing the untamed wilderness for a garden. He beat down a square of tall grass and wild pink flowers . . . and he began to rip out long handfuls of grass in quick energetic jerks as though tearing hair out of the world . . . to hack out a square dominion over the jungle, surely and soon to have tomatoes and beans coming out our ears.’

Well he didn’t get those things coming out of his ears instead it all ended in tears and a lot of things dying.

And I am trying to do the same, without the violence against nature, reading books (not all novels), reading the notes that came with my seedlings and¬†searching the internet. George Monbiot (vegetable evangelist and nuisance to the government) has lots of good advice: keep compost heap hidden at least 10 feet away from your veg or every living thing in the garden will come and help themselves to your food. And why wouldn’t they?

Learning by doing is my preferred method of going about things but a plan is good and taking time to get organised could pay off quicker than jumping in.

So here’s my plan for the Wall Patch and one for the Salad Basket.


This is how it looks on the ground and the plan was made after planting (courgettes on the left, broad beans on the right) because that’s the way round I discovered the free trial for planning on the Veg Grow website.

I like the way it provides a space to hold the whole project all together and I can see at a glance order out of chaos, meaning all my scribbled notes and good intentions are now in one place. It’s free for a month and then ¬£15 annual subscription if I decide to go with it.

Rabi, it’s Kohl Outside

I’m staring at the weird and wonderful kohlrabi and wondering what on earth am I going to do with it.





And then I hear this little voice, ‘Baby, it’s cold outside, you know what you really, really want is a big bowl of hot steamy tomato soup straight out of a Campbell’s tin with several slices of thick white chunky bread slathered in butter’.

At moments like this I have to turn away and consult the Oracle. Third up on Google: Hugh Fernleaf Whittingstall, Hugh calls it a ‘vegetable sputnik’ but is a fan and turned his into a good looking Carpaccio (clock that for next time). Checking Riverford’s farm cook book sparked the idea of turning mine into an English variation of Som Tam aka Thai Green Papaya Salad.

Me_Thai Cookery SchoolI thrived on Som Tam during the three months I lived as a volunteer in Pakkred, just north of Bangkok. The local food vendors at the end of the road where we bought our dinners most nights could tell how long us ‘falangs’ (foreigners) had been in Thailand by the number of chillies we could handle in our Som Tam. Starting with one on the first week, you knew you were fully acclimatised the day you could hold up three fingers and ask for the equivalent number of chillies. Like many Thai dishes, Som Tam combines sweet, salty, spicy (hot) and sour ingredients all of which help to regulate the body’s temperature in a tropical climate.

With a leap of imagination I’m sure my improv version will increase body temperature without going comatose for the rest of the day as I would flat out on white bread and tinned soup.

Take: 1 kohlrabi, 2 carrots, 1 garlic clove, juice of 1 lime, 1 tbsp fish sauce, 2 tsp chilli jam, 1 tbsp crunchy peanut butter, coriander leaves

Peel the kohlrabi and cut into thin strips. Coarse grate the carrots. I started to grate the kohlrabi but it collapsed into a soggy mess.

What I’m after is a good crunchy texture like green papaya. The kohlrabi is a hybrid veg somewhere between a turnip and a cabbage stalk (how appealing does that sound?). But don’t be put off I think this is a FAB veg, very versatile and I like its clean taste. It works with this recipe because it takes on all the delicious flavours. It can be whatever you want it to be, that’s its secret.

Som Tam contains chopped roasted peanuts, instead I used a good quality crunchy peanut butter and mixed it with fresh lime juice and Thai fish sauce (Blue Elephant brand). I added finely chopped garlic and 2 tsp of home made chilli jam (very sweet so no sugar needed). Otherwise add chopped chillies (up to you how many) and a tspn of soft brown sugar. (Small chopped tomatoes and dried shrimps are usual in this recipe but not today.)

Good idea to mix chilli jam, peanut butter, lime juice and fish sauce together in a separate bowl and taste so you can adjust the flavour to how you like it before mixing it into the veg. Fish sauce is very salty, no extra seasoning required. Mix all the ingredients together with salad servers and it’s ready. I finished mine off with a few leaves from my Vietnamese coriander plant. Very satisfying to make and even more satisfying to eat!

Last word: Apparently kohl is German for cabbage and rabi means turnip. This veg crops up all over the place especially in Eastern Europe, Asia and in some parts, cattle are rather partial to eating it. Looking forward to eating my home grown variety: Azur Star in a couple of months.