Oranges & Sweet Violets

Spring violets, Viola odorata, are edible flowers with a color and fragrance that compliments fresh naval oranges when both are at their peak. Peel or cut away the orange rind, leaving as little pith as possible. Cut into 1/3” inch slices. Allow one orange per person and place on individual serving dishes. Drizzle with 1/2 tsp. mild honey. Garnish with spring violets or candied violets. This light dessert is the perfect conclusion to a winter meal. A few drops of orange liquor can be sprinkled over the oranges.

Some gardeners dislike wild violets in their yards but we enjoy the fragrance and appeal of wild violets. Their scent seems to come and go because our scent receptors become exhausted and must have a few minutes to revive before we can again enjoy this definitive fragrance.

Advertisements

Walla Walla Onion Sandwiches

Sweet, juicy and mild, Walla Walla Sweet onions came from Corsica to this Eastern Washington valley in 1905. Today this large, delicately flavored heirloom is considered by many to be the world’s sweetest onion. We sow these seeds in August and use the thinnings all through spring. We spring plant onion starts. In June, bulbs mature and we enjoy them through the summer. Gardeners grow this celebrated onion from Southern Missouri to British Columbia, though only those grown in The Walla Walla Valley may be sold as the true onion. Our Nichols Garden Nursery seeds and onion starts come from a Walla Walla Family that has been growing these onions for many generations.
James Beard, a native Oregonian, pioneered the movement to use and celebrate local foods. He created this simple sophisticated canape’, ideal with summer drinks.
This sandwich has only five ingredients and is a snap to put together. The key is locating the right bread. It needs to be thinly sliced and firm. If you can find Pepperidge Farm thin white sandwich bread that works well. A loaf of brioche and some baguettes will be quite satisfactory. Avoid a standard slice of white sandwich bread, these are delicate tidbits.

Ingredients:
Thin sliced white bread cut into rounds with crusts removed. Rounds may range in size from 1″ to 3″. You will need two slices for each sandwich.
Unsalted butter at room temperature
Thinly sliced Walla Walla or other sweet mild onion. If you can successfully cut and remove a slice the diameter of your bread that works. If not, cut into quarters and make a small dainty pile on the bread.
Salt, sea or kosher
Mayonnaise…the real stuff is best
A pile of minced curly parsley,previously washed and removed from stems.
Preparation:
Lightly butter bread rounds, cover with onion, sprinkle with a touch of salt. Gently press on sandwich so pieces adhere. Cover the edges with a light coat of mayonnaise. Now roll the edges in parsley. You want a generous coating of parsley to get that herbal flavor balanced against the onion.
When I made these for our staff, Helen and I added a few nasturtiums for the photo. I came by a few minutes later to see only a few wilting nasturtiums remaining on the plate. Nasturtiums, I find are a good addition to these sandwiches when layered in with the onion but I wanted to give you the true James Beard onion sandwich.

Vietnamese Nasturtium Spring Rolls

Nasturtium blossoms and Vietnamese mint add a refreshing light touch to these rolls. The rice paper is nearly transparent and the nasturtiums backed by green lettuce are beautifully displayed. Vietnamese spring rolls are never fried and contain only the freshest ingredients. Try a few practice rolls and you’re ready to go. Perfect or not they are delicious. The recipe below has standard ingredients but the beauty of spring rolls is you can improvise. For a vegetarian roll substitute tofu and a few crunchy bean sprouts for the shrimp and replace fish sauce with soy sauce.
Marcie Wolf, our neighbor and friend, came up with the idea of using nasturtiums and took me through her process. Our photo demonstrates the prepped ingredients all in place for ease and efficiency. Use any leftovers for salad.

Ingredients for 12 rolls:

12 rice paper disks, 8.5” (banh trang)
12 perfect nasturtium flowers inspected for insects
Dark Green loose leaf lettuce torn into 5”-6” by 3” strips
Sweet red pepper cut into narrow strips
Cucumber cut into narrow strips
4 oz. fine rice vermicelli (maifun) soaked in hot water for 10 minutes.
Drain noodles, snip with scissors into 4” to 6” lengths, place
in dish with 2 teaspoons fish sauce and 1 tablespoon lime juice
1 cup Oregon bay shrimp or 24 medium cooked shrimp sliced in
half lengthwise.
2 carrots shredded or julienned
Fresh basil and mint chopped and combined
½ cup chopped roasted peanuts

Dipping Sauce to serve with spring rolls
½ cup fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons fish sauce (nam pla)
1 large clove garlic minced or pressed
1 Thai chili or jalapeno pepper minced
1 tablespoon peanut butter
Stir above ingredients together and serve in
bowl with a small ladle or tiny individual dishes.

Preparation:

Dip a single rice paper sheet into warm water for a few seconds until pliable and place on work surface. On lower third of rice paper place nasturtium flower face down. Trim backside so it lies flat. Cover with a piece of lettuce shiny side down. Place a pepper strip at the bottom of lettuce and a cucumber strip just above, these will anchor your ingredients making it easier to roll. Next add a few strands of vermicelli, shrimps, carrot, herbs and peanuts. Pull up bottom part of rice paper to cover filling, use pepper and cucumber to hold all in place, fold in sides and roll towards top and you have a wrapped spring roll. Tips: the paper becomes just a little elastic and with only a little practice you’ll gain a feel for this stage. You will want to play a little with exact placement of nasturtium and lettuce so the finished roll nicely displays these without any extra rice paper edge on top of them.
There are several steps but before long you’ll find it becomes quite easy. Don’t hesitate to adjust flavors if you find anything too hot, too salty or too acidic, Vietnamese Mint and Thai Basil are the most authentic herbs but don’t hesitate to use fresh spearmint and your favorite basil. Nasturtiums should not be sprayed.

If you have questions post a comment and I’ll reply.

Salad Greens & Edible Flowers

Salad with Edible Flowers

As we move into cooler weather I see our salad garden is a bit uneven. We have lots of greens for cooking, mesclun, racdiccio and arugula but sometimes I begin to crave a crunchy salad that’s packed with flavor and color. So I broke down and purchased some lovely local Romaine lettuce. The garden pantry contributed radiccio, which we cut at the soil line instead of pulling because the plants often produce a second head.
In spite of some near frosty nights we still have some of my favorite edible flowers. Nasturtiums add color, a wonderful fresh peppery bite and the anise hyssop echoes the tarragon with it’s own sweet anise flavor. Each anise hyssop flower head is actually dozens of tiny flowers that I stripped from the stem. Mild flavored calendula petals are twisted away from the head and sprinkled like confetti over the greens.

1 head Romaine lettuce
1 small head radicchio
1 rounded tablespoon fresh tarragon leaves
(if fresh tarragon is unavailable use a small handful of parsley)

Dressing:
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 small clove garlic, minced or pressed

Edible Flower Mixture
Nasturtiums
Calendula
Anise Hyssop

I gathered about one cup edible flowers not packed, this was about eight nasturtium blossoms, 2 flower heads of anise hyssop, and half a dozen calendula flowers. Always use flowers that are not sprayed with chemicals.

Rinse, dry and tear salad greens into bite size pieces. The tarragon leaves can remain whole. Mix dressing ingredients and toss with greens. Add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle the flowers over the salad greens, do not toss and serve. Serves 2-4.

Salvia guaranitica Anise Scented Sage

Of all the plants in our little herb garden, the lovely and long blooming Salvia guaranitica is the one most favored by hummingbirds. Our home herb garden is primarily culinary herbs. It includes edible flowers and a few herbs attractive to pollinators, butterflies and hummingbirds. I went out in the late afternoon with a book and camera in hand hoping if I sat quietly the hummingbirds would appear. After about ten minutes I heard the little buzzing “chewit” call of the Rufous hummingbird. She made a dive for the blue sage with the large hooked flowers.

Salvia guaranitica with hummingbird by Helen Hilman

This photo is compliments of Helen Hilman who took it at our nursery. My own attempt was about as successful as photographing fairies in the garden.

To grow this sage, select a well drained spot in full to half sun. This plant will grow 4’to 6’tall. When winter temperatures fall below 20 degrees plants often do not make it through the winter. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to simply treat this plant as an annual for all the joy it brings. A light fertilizing during the growing season is all that is needed. Like all my perennial herbs, I stop fertilizing in early August to help the plants harden off for winter. Clip it back close to the ground in late winter for best summer blooms. The foliage is edible but relatively flavorless. Cathy Wilkinson Barash, author of Edible Flowers: From Garden to Palette assures me the flowers are safely edible. Their beauty, moderate water needs and lure for hummingbirds make them a valuable garden plant. When grown in container plants rarely exceed 3′ but will grow and bloom vigorously. They may become potbound after one season and need a larger pot. Divide to start another container or share with a friend.