Growing and Eating Salsola Agretti (aka Salsola Soda)

In which a post mysteriously appears on my old blog, slightly obsessive in detail but that’s me!

salsola agretti steamed

Salsola agretti, opposite leaved saltwort, Friars Beard is a joy of a vegetable to discover if you are like me, always looking over the fence – in this case the internet fence  – and seeing what people eat in other countries. I don’t think I could ever fit a rice paddy in my suburban garden and I don’t really have space for growing melons and other ground hungry plants much as I would love to try, but this plant, which kept appearing here and there on my Instagram feed, really took my fancy so I tracked down some seed and read as much as I could and looked for photos and based on what I found I had a go at growing it last year. I have to say I love it.

I read that they queue up for this in Rome when it first appears in the markets and I read that celebrity chefs grow their own in order to have a reliable supply. And others have no doubt written on their garden blogs about growing it,  but here are my thoughts and photos of growing salsola agretti last year for you to have a look at.

Sources of seed that I know of are Real Seeds  and Franchi in the UK and I think Otter Farm may have it too, though stock levels from all these vary and it is not available all year round.   It has a short shelf life so you need to use the seed you get in one season or if you have excess just share it around.  The seed has a reputation for being hard to germinate. This I suspect is because as Real Seeds say it isn’t really a proper seed, more ‘a balled up little plant’ to quote them. I have tried saving some seed from my plants this year and will add a post script and let you know if any of them germinate. They make the seed very late in the season, so it might be something to do with weather conditions, wet/dry/hot as to their percentage viability the following Spring.

If you look it up on Wikipedia you can read all about it and its history and its industrial use.  The photos on Wiki aren’t brilliant though so I am going to put a load of ours on here to help give an idea of how the plant develops through the growing season here in Bristol, (mild climate). Not the easiest of plants to photograph and make look interesting either….  I understand that in Rome it has a much shorter and more intense growing season, so if you are growing it in a different climate then the times and so on will all be different for you.

I sowed seed in March and again in April.  I sowed in seed compost and covered the seeds with maybe ¼ inch of soil, watered lightly and left them to it on a north facing windowsill with a plastic propagation cover over the tray until they popped up. You could sow them individually in modules if you want to see exactly how many germinate.  I also sowed some outside direct in the soil in a warm raised bed about a month later. The majority of the seed I sowed came up and I had loads of seedlings, more than I knew what to do with. I have heard that sometimes germination is poor so it is best to sow the seeds quite thickly and then thin out or replant  or give away the seedlings.

Seed sown thickly in a seed tray after a month

salsola seedlings, agretti

Seed sown in modules

salsola agretti seedling

The leaves look a bit like rosemary needles when they come up. The stems are a wonderful red, that disappears as the plant gets older.  The seedlings are tough and sturdy and don’t have a very deep root system and can be handled easily and potted on or potted out as you prefer. You can sow smallish batches at intervals if you have space. I put some of my module grown ones out later on in the season. They ‘hold’ quite well in modules and wait till they have more space to grow on in.

I tried planting them out in various ways in deep salad boxes with a water reservoir underneath and in ordinary plant pots, and in our raised veg bed which is quite warm soil. I would plant them out at a distance of 6 – 8 inches apart if you want to let the plants grow to full size and if you leave a couple uncropped towards the end of their picking season you can have a go like me at saving some of the seed to grow the following year.

salsola agretti

Once they had grown to about four to six inches in height (earliest sown plants were at this stage in June) I nipped out the central stems as above and we ate them up. I can’t be the only one who ‘test nibbles’ young plants? From then on, they grew and grew and grew, every time I cut out the nice soft stems to eat, they grew some more, each cut producing a new pair of growing stems. If you keep them short they get very bushy.

Here are the same plants as above about three weeks later, much bushier and full of tender stems.

salsola agretti

The stems do harden up  and become inedible over time if you leave them but if you keep cutting them they don’t get woody until quite late in the season. It wasn’t very hot last summer though, so I imagine if it gets very hot for a prolonged period of time they might finish being nice to eat earlier in the year. I think they have a very short season in Rome. The pictures I find on the net of salsola agretti in the markets in Rome seem to show a plant with much longer leaves, but as they are nearly always pictured wrapped up in paper it is hard to compare them. Anyway, this is what mine looked like once picked.

salsola agretti

I am out of practice at taking food photos, and most of these were record shots, rather than trying to take them for the blog.

salsola agretti steamed

We ate them steamed drizzled with oil and seasalt, we ate them sautéed with garlic and chilli, we ate them in omelettes, in pies and quiches, rolled up in seaweed rice rolls and with just about everything you might eat spinach with. It is delightful with fish in particular and good with pasta of course, and I wish I had a photo of them twirled up with spaghetti to share! Don’t ask me for recipes for these because I have long forgotten quite what was in that pie, it looks like a yellow courgette which must have come from Blaise Community Garden and something like a whiite goat cheese or maybe it was kefir cheese? not sure now,  or in that salad, it might be quinoa but don’t count on it!

salsola agretti two ways

salsola agretti

I experimented with pickling them, using a recipe for pickled samphire.  I think they are more of an oddity pickled than anything but they go with seaweed rolls quite nicely. We had quite a lot of plants here and there, maybe eighteen or so in the raised bed and two salad boxes full of them as well. I took some up to Blaise Community Garden and planted them out in a space about 1 metre square in the disabled friendly raised bed in one of the unglazed greenhouses and some of the volunteers tried it and thought it was good stuff. It never grew very tall there because it was so frequently being harvested!

salsola growing at Blaise

So what does it taste like? It is slightly salty, slightly sour and has a bright, spring like green flavour, something like spinach but not spinach, a bit of the crunch of slightly under done asparagus, something like juicy samphire but not nearly as salty,  and just altogether delightful if you are a green vegetable fan like me. You can eat it raw when it is young and tender too.

Finally the plants began to change in form, the leaves they grew were shorter and it looked more and more like a Friar’s Beard, scruffy and straggly and the opposite leaves became apparent too. Small round seeds or flower heads (I wasn’t sure initially) formed in the crux between leaf and stem and I asked Brian to take some close ups (see below) for the record. These eventually went brown and dry and I harvested some to see if they will be viable seed this season. These final photos are of the plants in this stage and I hope they are useful as I couldn’t find anything like this when I looked last year on the net.

salsola agretti forming seed

salsola agretti seed

From June to August we were eating salsola every week, sometimes twice a week, a super productive and tasty green vegetable, with the added glamour of not being able to buy it in the shops. I must admit every time I walked past the commercially grown samphire in the greengrocers at some outrageous price for 100g or so, I had a little smirk to myself….

Bits and pieces : kitchen and garden

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This is the noonday sun on the last day in August.  Today is the first of September, the beginning of the new year in my head.

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In my kitchen there is a box of meringue fingers studded with toasted hazelnuts from Normandy – a gift to Brian from my sister, Brian likes them crumbled up on top of fresh fruit with yoghurt as a dessert.

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And there were also some very useful indeed sachets of yoghurt starter enzymes (another thoughtful gift from my sister)  for when your old home made yoghurt has gone a bit beyond being used to seed a new batch. Still wondering why no one in the UK stocks these. Lakeland stock EasiYo, all the way from the Antipodes but not these made in Europe. Funny old world….

asier gurk pickle

Pickled Danish cucumber, the asie gurk, from seed sent me by the lovely Misky,  grown by me outdoors here at home in pots with local manure to help them along, peeled and brined and made according to this recipe  and then lovingly waterbath processed by Brian. I don’t think I would make them without his help as I don’t like handling hot jars, damp with boiling steam from the oven.

I use the pickle juice to thin down our current salad dressing, which is a tsp of dijon mustard mixed in a little home made yoghurt and does a very good impression of a mayonnaise with no oil worked into it. The cucumbers are a joy and a delight and much nicer (variety name : the Langelands Giant) than many of the other varieties I have sampled this year. So many cucumbers are full of seeds and surprisingly bitter, these ones have always been sweet and crisp.

I left a tray of my own home saved angelica seed at the Community Garden at Blaise, where I do a bit of volunteering,  hoping it would germinate and the magic of the place has made it happen already. It is supposed to need a period of cold before coming up and this has taught me that books are not always right.

IMG_6992 I was delighted! I suspect not many people have the patience to grow it, it can take up to three years to get stems large enough to candy, or even that much interest in candying and eating it I got there this year having waited patiently for several years and felt great personal satisfaction and one of these days will make some buns or some icecream and use the angelica I candied at home.

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Angelica archangelica coming into flower earlier this year.

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Candied stems drying, they will keep for ages now.

If you want to know how to do it, you could pop over to my acquaintance Dan at the Apothecary’s Garden as I learnt the basics from him.

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Here is my little old mushrooming basket, given to me by my dear friend Hazel, who passed away many years ago now, I remember her when I pick it up and carry it with me, as I carry her in my heart always. Here it is filled with tomatoes and herbs and some wild blackberries, calendula flowers and cucumbers, and a fairy lights chilli plant coming home from Blaise Community Garden.

 

Apples are falling off the tree before ripening for some reason and the pear tree has long spindly branches and too many pears so I took a whole lot off the other day and bottled them and hope the pear tree won’t break too many more of its branches. I need to get a lesson from someone in pruning.

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A squirrel has had most of the nuts off the red hazel but has left me a symbolic handful

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and here is the eternal game being played out by my hairy friends and companions, another good prompt to get out of the house and breathe fresh air.

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Scaling a Bread Recipe to suit your Needs – BreadStorm comes to the rescue!

WithSesameCrust

Friday 29th August 2014

Hello my friends, hope you are all well and busy. This is one of my quick and slightly amateurish posts to point you to the BreadStorm site where you can play with a couple of dough formulae if you have a spare moment and explore what it can do.

I had hoped that WordPress would let me embed this interactive version of the kefir levain on the blog direct but it looks as if I have to upload it to BreadStorm’s site, which I have done and if you use the links below they will take you to their site and you can see how the magic of their BreadStorm scaling works. 

So no longer is one stuck with pen and pencil or calculator and rusty maths trying to figure out how to make a recipe smaller to make only one loaf, or bigger to feed a house full of guests, or even deal with the sometimes baffling mysteries of bakers percentages, this is an easy way round it.

Now I dare say if you are a wizard with spreadsheets and formulae you can do this all for yourself and I have tried a few spreadsheets over the years that other people have made, but for people like me, with mid-range maths and a habit of making errors who are baffled for the most part by spreadsheets, (ok I admit it, I loathe spreadsheets)  this is a gift.

Kefir Rimacinata Bread

You can do it on the site the links take you to and print it off or write the numbers down once you have used the nifty scaling boxes to suit yourself. I have the  BreadStorm reader app which is free on my iPhone and on my Ipad. You can find these on the App Store. You can download the free readers and download the formula and other formulae that have been published on the web. There are details on the BreadStorm site.  I have the fully fledged paid for version on my desktop and that means I can write and edit my own formulae and read and scale them. The free BreadStorm reader versions don’t give you the ability to write and edit formula but they are perfect for scaling up and down. Here is the Date Kefir Rimacinata formula  in a bun file for you to play with :-

I used it yesterday as I was baking to scale up my formula to make 2.5kgs of dough. It’s a versatile and useful addition to my small baking life, and now I have got the hang of it I suspect I will use it more and more.

everydaysourdough

… and if all that is just too much and a bit too geeky, here is one of Brian’s photos of tamarisk planted along the seafront at Burnham. You can see the wooden lighthouse on stilts in the distance. We walked out and the rain sailed behind us and inland and it warmed up nicely and we had a lovely ball chasing time with the dogs. As you can see it is in full crazy pink bloom right now!

Apparently it is used as a windbreak plant. It was crawling with bees of all shapes and sizes and scented the air with honey.  I recommend a walk on the beach to clear your head and put life in perspective, but to each their own. Have a lovely weekend all!

TamariskatBurnham

Disclosure -( I believe this is what one should write yes?)

(I am not paid by BreadStorm in any shape or form. I beta-tested their iPad app for a couple of months this summer for fun, and I have the paid for version on my desktop, paid for by me and they have not asked me to write anything about their software or promote it. I do this for love of bread and because I like their apps.)

 

NB … Just thought I would add a bit, (told you this was an amateurish post!). …. To see the scaling working on other people’s sites, which are either self-hosted or allow embedding of .bun files unlike this one :  Try visiting MC Farine or Karin’s Brot & Bread for lots of good information and examples of how it works for them.  MC has written extensively about how she uses BreadStorm software and a delightful post about the bakers behind the project  Dado and Jacqueline Colussi in her Meet the Bakers series.

Life is an Upside Down Paddling Pool

Zeb in the Pool

Did you ever read a book called “There must be a Pony!” by Jim Kirkwood? This is Zeb the dog’s version of the moral of that story. We turned his paddling pool upside down because it was full of slime and leaves and needed emptying out and left it on the grass. He came back from being clipped and rushed out with his squeaky toy to play in it. When he realised there was no water in it and it was upside down, he jumped in anyway and proceeded to roll his ball up and down the sloping sides. A very fine game and a good life lesson about being flexible and having fun when and where you can and not taking yourself too seriously –  playing in an upside down paddling pool is maybe as good as it gets.

Kefir Rimacinata Bread

Kefir Rimacinata Bread I was invited to join in a post by Karin recently to create ‘a bread worthy of Götz von Berlichingen, the Knight With the Iron Hand’. and so far I have come up with a Kefir Rimacinata Bread – which might just have a bit more bite and oomph and hopefully would appeal to such a forceful character.

I made this bread using the milk kefir variety of levain as per the formula below, (if anyone using BreadStorm wants the .bun file please let me know in the comments and I will email it to the email address you use to comment with, as I have now purchased the desktop version of the software as I like it so much).  One could easily use yoghurt and yeast instead and leave out the date syrup if not using the milk kefir.

crumbshotIt yields a warm and lightly lactic sour golden loaf with a soft and slightly chewy crumb and a nice thin crust with a bit of bite to it. Excellent with marmalade, Swedish fish paste or almond butter, just as it is without toasting –  and I am sure you could slap a couple of slices together with some mortadella, Black Forest Ham or cheese from the breakfast table and pop it in your chain mail pouch as you go off to pillage somewhere,  or sling it in your saddlebag for a horseback sandwich as you gallop down dappled country lanes – it is a reasonably robust loaf.

If I get a chance I will make a yeasted version of the dough and put it in a pullman and see how it works as a pullman loaf for square sandwiches and toast, but I quite like miche profile sandwiches these days !

A note on the flour and some links that might be useful if you haven’t come across this flour before:-

When I was doing the Mellow Bakers project I went on a quest and found the flour In Bristol, imported and always stocked by Licatas in Picton Street. I made my version of a Semolina Rimacinata Loaf then with toasted sesame seeds and sesame seed crust and the quality of the crumb made me think this is a bread for Götz’s breakfast, not as fluffy as a traditional white sandwich loaf but not as heavy and hearty as a full-on multi grain bread.

This particular flour is not that easy to get hold of because it is an import. Celia @ Figjam and Lime Cordial is also very fond of this flour and regularly uses it in her baking. Sally has used it very successfully too, have a look at the Bewitching Kitchen’s Semolina Sourdough Boule.

Euan, aka signor biscotti, writes about the differences between semola di grano duro rimacinata and the semolina sold in the shops in the UK and demonstrates that you can make a lovely bread using pudding semolina in Pudding Semolina Bread on his blog and writes eloquently about the confusion surrounding the word semolina, as he says the word semolina  ‘…is used to refer to a number of different things’.

However, I had a quick look this morning and found this brand  Divella Semola Rimacinata  online from Matta’s International Foods; there may well be other online stockists and suppliers or if you have an Italian Delicatessen in your town or city, it is always worth asking them or as Euan suggests, have a go with the semolina you can buy in the supermarket!

Guten Appetit Herr Götz! Hoffentlich haben Sie etwas Leckeres zum Frühstück von Karin und ihren Freunden gefunden! (my school German attempt at saying, ‘Hope you find something tasty for your breakfast Mr Götz from Karin and her friends’)

 

Kefir Bread with Semola Grano Duro Rimacinata (weights)

 

Method

  • Make a  kefir based levain as per formula above with flour, kefir, water and date syrup. You can make a kefir preferment without added sugar but it takes longer to ferment and is not as vigorous. Optionally add a spike of dried active yeast to speed everything up.
  • Mix the levain 18-24 hours before preparing the final dough.
  • The preferment should be  bubbling vigorously at the ideal point to mix the final dough  but can be mixed successfully if it has started to separate providing it still looks bubbly and not a pool of slithery gunk. Use your nose and your judgement on this!

Dough mixing notes:

  • Mix final dough using a stand mixer or by hand. These notes are for mixing with a stand mixer:-
  • Melt and allow butter to cool.
  • Use room temperature water to mix dough unless you are planning to retard the dough after mixing in which case cooler water is appropriate.
  • Mix levain and water together first. Hold back 50g of the water to start with.
  • Mix the flours together before adding to the dough if you remember.
  • Mix on slow speed till no visible flour is left and the mixture looks sticky and is beginning to come away from the sides of the bowl.  If it forms a big lump round the dough hook, add extra water.
  • Leave for 15 minutes for the flour to absorb all the water and start to develop. If it looks very tight, add up to 50 ml more water
  • Sprinkle salt on the top of the dough and mix in at low speed.
  • Dribble the melted butter in and mix till incorporated.
  • Turn dough out and check that is is quite soft and beginning to develop.
  • Place in a bowl and cover.
  • Prove for  2.5-4 hours depending on room temperature. I stretch and fold the dough twice during this time.
  • When dough has increased in volume by about half and shows good aeration on cutting, scale and shape as required.
  • The final prove is quite slow if you are relying on the milk kefir alone to raise the dough. On a warm afternoon it needed another four hours or so before it was ready to bake.
  • Bake in a pre-heated oven with steam at 220 C for about 40 minutes and reduce the oven temperature  by 10 degrees or so for another 20 minutes of the bake if you are baking a large loaf like this.

 

 

How to cut up a mango

Mangocubes2My lovely friend Elaine asked me how I deal with mangoes the other day. I was shown this in a restaurant years ago, I call it hedgehog style. As I remember it was served at the hedgehog stage on a plate, leaving us to eat it rather than sliced off in cubes.  It is still sticky and a bit messy and you may, like Mr Leakey, just decide to get in the bath with your mango instead,  but here goes. I had this beautful Thai golden mango from Wai Yee Hong so thought I would show you.

My Friend Mr Leakey by J S Haldane

The frugal amongst you can trim the centre part and run the back of a knife along the seed and the skins to get every last bit off and add to your morning fruit and yoghurt like I do! I don’t usually mark the fruit with a pen, but just for this I did.

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showingthreesliceslongcutsmangocrosscutmangoabouttopushmangohedgehogmomentcuttingoffcubesmango

 

 

Thoughts in June

Buttercup with Oedemera nobilisOut and about with Zeb and Lulu there are buttercups everywhere, pale pink wild roses and hawthorn blooming, clover and hogweed, dandelions and buttercups, the usual parade of summer white frothy stuff and yellow frothy stuff in the parks and meadows, the bluebells were very early this year and the wild garlic has vanished back underground once more. The leaves are becoming less translucent and more opaque by the day as the tenderness of May gives way to the humidity and high sun of June. Continue reading