Making a family meal doesn’t have to begin with a trip to the grocery store for ingredients.
Instead, instead grow your own and create a variety of themed food gardens. You can start early, planting the seeds inside now, and when the weather is warm enough, transfer them outside.
It’s a great way to help kids understand where their food comes from and also to interest them in gardening and cooking.
“There are a lot of different types of food gardens you can grow,” says Chuck Roth, owner of Chesterton Feed & Garden in Chesterton.
Like salsa and chips? Well, you’ll need to buy the chips, but many of the ingredients for salsa can be grown in a large clay pot or directly in the ground.
“I’d plant Husky, which is a golf-sized early maturing variety of tomato that is a thick-stemmed, self-supportive tomato,” Roth says.
“If you put the tomato plant in a 14- to 18-inch-tall cage, you can plant other ingredients such as onions, sweet peppers and cilantro around it. Or you can grow tomatillos instead of, or along with, the tomatoes.”
A pizza garden calls for similar items, but instead of Huskies, Roma tomatoes work well for making pizza sauce, and they’re easy to grow.
“Instead of cilantro, you can plant oregano and basil,” Roth says. “But other ingredients, like peppers and garlic, can be used in making the sauce.”
Of course, if you’re planning on using a lot of garlic, it can’t be grown in just one season. Plant it in the fall so that it's ready in early summer.
A salad garden can consist of tomatoes, peppers, sunflowers (for the seeds, which can be roasted) and a variety of lettuces starting with the fast-growing, early maturing variety, staggered so that there’s always something green to be clipped.
An Indian garden planted with such vegetables as cauliflower, potatoes, garlic, onions, peppers and tomatoes can be used in many dishes such as Spiced Cauliflower and Potatoes or Curried Cauliflower Soup.
Though it’s hard to think of dessert ingredients you can grow outside, Roth mentions sugared flower petals, an old-fashioned treat.
Spiced Cauliflower and Potatoes
Slow Cooker Size: 4- or 8- Quart
Cooking Time: 3 Hours on Low
Yield: 7 Cups
1 large head cauliflower, cut into 1-inch pieces (about 8 cups)
1 large potato (russet or yellow), peeled and diced (about 2 cups)
1 medium yellow or red onion, coarsely chopped
1 medium tomato, diced or pureed (optional)
1 (2-inch) piece ginger, peeled and grated (optional)
3 cloves garlic, minced
3–4 fresh Thai, serrano, or cayenne chiles, stems removed, chopped or sliced lengthwise (optional)
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon red chile powder or cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon garam masala
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 heaping tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
Put all the ingredients except the cilantro in the slow cooker. Mix well.
Cook on low for 3 hours. Mix once or twice during cooking, especially in the beginning. Eventually the cauliflower will release enough liquid to prevent anything from sticking to the sides of the slow cooker.
Add the cilantro. Mix well but gently so as not to break up the cauliflower.
To make this dish in a 3 1/2-quart slow cooker, halve all the ingredients and proceed with the recipe. Cook on low for 3 hours. A half recipe makes 4 cups.
The recipes above are reprinted with permission from "The Indian Slow Cooker: 70 Healthy, Easy, Authentic Recipes," by Anupy Singla, Agate Surrey 2018.
Curried Cauliflower Soup
1 small head cauliflower, cut into florets
1 large carrot, chopped
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 cups vegetable or chicken broth
14 ounces coconut milk
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 cup fresh peas
Salt and pepper
Mix all the ingredients in a large pot, bring to a boil and then reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes. Add peas and cook for about two more minutes. Remove from heat. Season to taste. Top with cilantro and serve.
Chop all ingredients and then add to blender. Don’t worry if it’s chunky, it tastes better that way. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Sugared Flower Petals
Pansy, violet or rose petals, organic and gently washed and completely dried
1 egg white, beaten
Brush each petal with egg white on both sides and dip then dip both sides in the sugar. Place the petals on wire racks and let dry in a cool, dry place for 2-3 hours or overnight.
Growing a stir fry meal
Snow peas and sugar snap peas, both of which have edible pods, are relatively easy vegetables to grow and can be planted outdoors in the early spring when the temperatures are as low as 40 degrees.
According to Wendy Kiang-Spray in her book. "The Chinese Kitchen Garden: Growing Techniques and Family Recipes from a Classic Cuisine" (Timber Press 2017; $5.06 Amazon price), these slightly sweet vegetables are a traditional addition of stir-fry meals and if planted early, can be harvested in the late spring.
The nice thing about stir-fries is that they’re adaptable. If some of the ingredients aren’t easily on hand such as oyster sauce, they can be skipped.
Mixed Vegetable Chow Fun
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons rice wine
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1/2 cup water
3 to 5 tablespoons corn or peanut oil
1 pound fresh wide rice noodles cut into ¾-inch strips and then separated (or can used dried noodles, cook before using in the recipe)
4 slices ginger, 1/4 inch thick
Optional: 3 green onions, cut into 2-inch length
4 cups vegetables including sugar snaps and snow peas; other vegetables that can be used include bean sprouts, chopped carrots and mushrooms.
1 teaspoon garlic
Combine the soy sauce, cornstarch, rice wine, oyster sauce and water in a glass or small bowl. Set aside.
Heat wok or a large skillet over high heat until hot and then add 2 to 3 tablespoons of oil. When hot, add the separated noodles and quickly spread them around the walls of the wok or the bottom of the skillet. Cook for 30 seconds without stirring. Then gently turn and stir noodles occasionally until they've softened about 5 minutes. Transferred to a serving dish.
Reduce heat to medium heat and add another one or 2 tablespoons of oil. When hot add the ginger and green onions and stir until fragrant, about one minute. Add the other vegetables and stir fry for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic. Continue to cook until all vegetables are tender, about 3 more minutes.
Next add the soy sauce mixture to the vegetable mixture and cook until the sauce bubbles and thickens. Pour the mixed vegetables and sauce over the noodles to serve.