Saturday, September 27, 2014

garden, cow pea edition

Admit it: ever since you first saw Casablanca you've wondered, "just what does a hill of beans look like?"

More importantly, why would anyone have a hill of beans, and what would such a person do with a hill of beans? In our case, it starts with climate and soil, and ends with lunch...

The summers are too humid and hot in Miami for us to grow the same kinds of crops that thrive in other parts of North America, like tomatoes, so we turn our garden over to plants that do well in the heat, like sweet potatoes, okra, collard greens, calabaza (a kind of squash) and several types of legumes. Of these plants, the various beans (in our case, cow peas and pigeon pees) have the great benefit of fixing nitrogen in the soil. Their roots produce nitrogen-rich nodules which, if they remain in the ground after harvest, act as a natural fertilizer. Combined with the composted horse manure and kitchen scraps that we turn into the ground, the nitrogen helps turn our sandy, alkaline soil into a rich growing medium for the fall and winter crops, like tomatoes. We got our cow peas and okra seeds from the brilliant Blair Butterfield, of Art of Cultural Evolution. [pictured at left: cow peas, whose soft lavender flowers are also edible, engulfing the burgundy okra, cranberry hibiscus, pigeon peas and lemongrass]

Of course, this leaves us with a hill of beans. Or at least several pounds of them (n.b. it takes me about an hour to shuck a pound of beans). The cow peas (which are basically the same as black eyed peas) are easy to cook; I adapted a recipe from Eating Well that takes about an hour to express soak them and three or fours hours in a slow cooker. The sprigs of fresh thyme also came from the garden [see below]. I paired the beans with collard greens which would have come from the garden had we not lost most of our crop to peacock predation. In any case, I prepared the store-bought collards with a dried hot pepper from the garden and used smoked salt to replace the meat normally used in southern cooking, as per this great vegan recipe from Divas Can Cook. The timing works well for Sundays, too, as you can set the beans to cooking before kick-off, start the collards at half time, put the rice in the rice cooker at the end of the third quarter, and then quickly fry the plantains (in olive oil, though not too hot) after the game is over.

[insert gratuitous photograph of fresh thyme]

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