Sunday, 10 August 2008

Salsola

I'm a sucker for a few things, but at least I'm predictable in my sucker-dom. I'm a sucker for fat babies, particularly if they're dressed as animals. I'm a sucker for touching stories involving animals and humans. And with food, I'm a sucker for anything that sounds 'interesting'. Not necessarily 'good', mostly just 'interesting'. So when shopping for seeds for my vegetable garden I found a salad crop that fell into that category, there wasn't much doubt I'd be buying and planting those seeds.

Salsola soda, as the Real Seed website told me, could either be boiled or eaten raw as part of a salad. It would be slightly
crunchy and salty (hence that the name began with 'sal' for salt) and is still used a fair deal in Italy an Japan. I had never heard of it before, and a bit of research showed that salsola is part of a larger family of plants responsible for the (officially noxious) American tumbleweed as well as an important source of soda ash used to make beautiful, clear, glass (including the gamed Venetian Murano glass). I imagined it as a bit like marsh samphire but for the garden.


As it grew, the plant looked like large, thick grass, and Mr A&N was eager to weed it more than once (well, I use the terms 'eager' and 'weeding' in the same sentence quite loosely - those few times I sent him out, protesting, to weed the vegetable bed, Mr A&N would hover over the salsola and ask me repeatedly whether or not he was allowed to dig it up. In his eyes, it was also easier to dig up the rest of the vegetable bed too, which would help preventing us from worrying about weeds taking it over.). It can be eaten whole when cut early. If it's not, the central stalk grows thick and fibrous and can't easily be eaten; the more delicate fronds have to be pruned off this main stem.

The first attempt to have a salsola salad didn't go quite as planned. I went to pick the plant, using the kitchen scissors to cut my way through the thicker stalks, and brought back half the crop in a bowl along with fresh garden peas and a handful of chives. It was to be a light salad, alongside the main course of the bacon-and-mushroom pasta we were making. It was only as I was about to dress the salad that Mr A&N thought to ask whether or not I had washed the kitchen scissors since he had used them to cut the bacon up. Ah....yes. Which is why the scissors were sitting in the sink rather than in the drain
board. So the first taste of salsola was as a boiled vegetable (along with the peas, chives, and lettuce leaves which had also been possibly tainted by raw meat) with lemon and salt. Hard to pick out the taste, though, of the gently salty leaf.


The second attempt was more successful and less likely to give us food poisoning. The salsola again went into a cold salad, this time with beetroot and chickpeas in a lemon-and-mustard dressing. Eating it in its full raw glory, I found it was slightly less than what I'd been hoping it to be. It was mildly crunchy but not as satisfyingly, poppingly crunchy as samphire would be. And the salt taste itself was very, very subtle; probably if you didn't know it was supposed to have any relationship to saltiness, you wouldn't have picked up on it.

I'd like to find a Japanese or Italian recipe with salsola to see how they use it and bring out its flavors. I still have seeds left and will plant more when the space becomes available - any garden-growable and edible food stuff will be eaten in our house (I lie - don't tell her, but I won't eat the radishes my mother-in-law planted for me). I've haven't yet learned not to chase the interesting rather than the tried-and-tested food thing, but I like to think it helps to keep life from falling into a rut.

8 comments:

Beth said...

Ive never heard of it before. Sounds interesting though.

Heather said...

huh. i've never heard of this before, but it sounds tasty! the pictures are beautiful!

Heather said...

oh i do also love fat babies dressed as animals ;)

Helen said...

ooh, how interesting! I've never heard of this before and will keep and eye out for recipes and let you know if I find anything.

white on rice couple said...

salsola is new to me. thanks for the info, i'll have to find it to grow next year!
OMG, the baby costumed pics are soooo cute! I'm a sucker for those kids too...i just wanna suck their fat cheeks!

maybelle's mom said...

very intersting post.

Jeanne said...

LOL - I thought this sort of thing only happened in my kitchen! Never heard of salsola but now I'm intrigued...

Anonymous said...

I know this is a few months late, but I thought I'd mention that sauteed radishes are absolutely delicious, even if you don't like them raw. I like them with butter and a little salt. Or simmer in a some chicken stock, a small amount that will add flavor but evaporate in a few minutes, then top with a bit of butter....

tastes a little like broccoli stems