Salted Spruce Tips and Pine Infused Garlic Salt

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I’ve been really enjoying homemade seasoned salt lately, especially herb and conifer salts, but also just plain old garlic salt. For me, garlic salt sort of snuck under my DIY radar. If a recipe calls for garlic salt, you reach for the beige stuff in the jar, right? Well, no, actually, it turns out you can make it yourself in two minutes. I honestly don’t know why it took me so long to figure this out.

All you have to do is chop any aromatic, like garlic or herbs or citrus zest, into salt, mincing it with a big kitchen knife until it reaches a texture you like. That might be very fine, or a little rough. You could do this more quickly in a food processor. I use kosher salt for this, you could use a fancier salt if you like.

When you’re done, you spread the salt on a plate and leave it out to dry for a day or two. The salt really accelerates the dry time. Then transfer it to a jar. That’s all there is to it.

The only decisions to make are which aromatics you’re going to try–I’ll give some suggestions below–and what your salt to aromatic ratio is going to be.  I can’t give you an exact recipe–it’s something you’ve got to feel out for yourself, knowing all the while that whatever you make will be okay.

Many herb salt recipes suggest equal parts herb and salt, but I often use much less salt than that. The question you must ask is whether you want your end product to be salt which is lightly flavored, or flavor chunks of some aromatic which are enhanced by salt–that is to say, herbed salt or salted herb?

The best approach is to simply start with less salt and see how it goes, because you can always add more.

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Feline assistance in making the pine garlic salt.

A Tale of Two Salts

To give you some concrete examples, I made two small batches of salt today. I often make herbed salt in tiny batches that get used up quickly, because I like to experiment.

The first one I made was with spruce tips. These are the fresh spring growth of a fir tree, the tender chartreuse tips which stand out in such brilliant contrast to the tree’s older foliage. They have a subtle citrus-pine flavor. I only had a handful to work with–I’d like to get more if I can get up to the mountains again soon.

I felt like the spruce was the real star of this blend. I didn’t want its subtle flavor overwhelmed by salt, so I used very little salt.

I also had a bit of pine to work with. I’d been in the mountains for the day, and had been nibbling on every pine I saw, like a lunatic. [See the end for an obligatory safety warning.]

There is surprising flavor variation among conifers, even between trees of the same type growing right next to one another. Moreover, the flavor of a particular tree will fluctuate over the course of the year. If you’re looking for edible pine, you just have to taste test until you find something nice. Most of the pines I found on this outing were really dry despite the season–thank you, drought– and tasted bland or unpleasant. I found one tree which had a decent flavor, and brought home a single cluster of needles.

In this case, I decided the pine flavor was not interesting enough to be the star of the recipe, but I thought it would add a nice twist for garlic salt.

Most herbs, including the soft spruce tips, will sort of blend and mash into the salt, creating a uniform, sandy texture. Pine needles are too tough for that, so the best you can do with them is to chop them into very fine pieces then mix them into the salt. They will infuse the salt with flavor as they sit in it, but will always remain distinct, and if the pieces are too big, it can be unpleasant.

After I minced the needles, I minced some garlic into the salt as well. Chop the garlic about as fine as your patience lasts, keeping in mind that it shrinks when it dehydrates, so it doesn’t have to be super-fine to start.

You can see in these pictures that the garlic/pine salt is much whiter, i.e. much more salt heavy. The spruce tips, meanwhile, are all about the green.

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Pine and garlic on the left,  spruce tip on the right

Other Herbed Salt Ideas

Get creative. You can chop almost anything you like into salt:

• Herbs of all types–dill, sage, parsley, basil, etc. You can recreate classic herb combos, like Herbs de Provence.  

• I haven’t made onion or shallot salt yet, but am wondering why I haven’t.

• Straight garlic salt is easy and useful

• Citrus zest is lovely with salt

• A nice fresh spicy red pepper would make an interesting salt

• Various combinations of the above seem suggestive: citrus and hot pepper, onion and parsley, etc.

• Lavender salt can be really nice if used sparingly on sweets, like caramel or shortbread or chocolate

• Stinging nettles don’t taste like much, but they have lots of nutritional value. Make a healthy green salt with fresh or dry nettles (For fresh, use a food processor, or wear gloves as you chop! The stingers will fade when the plant dries out.)

• Seaweed salt. Add some sesame seeds for furikake-like flavor

• My favorite salt so far has been piñon pine with garlic. I need me some more piñon!

What do you do with it?

Herbed salts are nice on vegetables and popcorn. They can add that extra oomph to soups and stews. They can be used as meat rubs. They can be kept at table and sprinkled on everything.

Regarding pine toxicity

There was a single study that showed that eating Ponderosa pine tips caused miscarriages in cattle, and if the cattle ate huge amounts of Ponderosa pine, they suffered other illnesses. This gets waved around and scares people from eating pine. In contrast to this is a long tradition of humans brewing and drinking pine needle tea in perfect safety. It is my understanding that all true pines (Pinus) are considered edible.

As usual, the answer is all things in moderation. Don’t eat tons of pine. Easily done! It’s not that tasty. And to be absolutely safe, skip pine entirely while you’re pregnant.

In addition, know how to identify two truly toxic trees you might run into, and definitely don’t want to eat: The Australian Pine, also known as Norfolk Pine and the Yew. Neither are actually pines–they’re not members of the Pinus family–but they are sometimes thought of as pines.

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088 Eric of Garden Fork TV on Raised Beds, Coleslaw and Deep Frying

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On the podcast this week is a return visit from Eric Rochow of the “eclectic DIY” site Garden Fork. We talk about using pressure treated wood for raised beds, making coleslaw and Eric’s adventures in deep frying (bacon wrapped grilled cheese!) among other topics. During our conversation Eric mentions:

I was also a guest on the June 23, 2016 episode of the Garden Fork Radio Podcast this week to discuss bread, backyard ovens, foraging and more.

If you’d like to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

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Sourdough Baking Class July 9th

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Just dig that beautiful loaf. Want to learn how to bake it yourself? The very talented Dana Morgan is teaching a basic Tartine style baking class on July 9th in Westchester. There’s also a pizza bake taking place the same day at the new community oven.

For more info sign up for the Los Angeles Bread Bakers if you haven’t already, and head to the event listing for this class. Space is limited so sign up soon.

087 Foraging Controversy with Lisa Novick

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Goldfinches on Hooker’s Evening Primrose. Photo: Lisa Novick.

On the podcast this week we talk to Lisa Novick Director of Outreach and K-12 Education of the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers & Native Plants. We contacted her after seeing her blog in the Huffington Post, Forage in the Garden, Not in What’s Left of the Wild. In that post Lisa expresses her concern about foraging and suggests that people grow native plants in their yards and in public spaces. While our conversation is California-centric, I think, the principles we discuss apply to other regions. During the podcast Lisa mentions:

Hooker's Evening Primrose in bloom. Photo: Lisa Novick.

Hooker’s Evening Primrose in bloom. Photo: Lisa Novick.

If you’d like to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

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Baking Bread with Specialty Malts

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I used to make my own beer. But after three ruined batches and not wanting to add to a growing middle-aged paunch, I decided to give away the  equipment. One thing I miss is not being able to make bread with the leftover grains.

That is, until I tried a recipe from Emmanuel Hadjiandreou’s book How to Make Sourdough. Hadjiandreou, a specialist in Northern European breads, taught me that you can skip the beer making and just use malted grains directly in your bread.

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The grains used in making beer are, mostly, barley that has been malted (sprouted) and then either caramelized or roasted. To make beer you soak the grains in warm water to extract the sugars that form in the malting process. Fermenting that sugary malt water creates alcohol. Most of the grain used to make beer is two or six-row malt. You add so-called “specialty” grains (that have been caramelized or roasted) to add flavor. If you skip the beer making and add the specialty malts directly to your dough, more of their flavor makes it into the bread.

Step into a homebrew shop and you’ll find bin after bin of different specialty grains. I decided, with Hadjiandreou’s advice to start with three: a crystal malt (I used a caramel 120), a plain malt (such as Maris Otter) and an American chocolate malt. But you don’t need to use these exact grains. Stick your head in the grain bins and let your nose lead you.

In a 2-pound sourdough rye loaf Hadjiandreou’s recipe calls for 20 grams of chocolate malt and 40 grams each of the other two grains. A lighter hand with the dark malts will reduce the chance of bitter bread.

To soak or not to soak
Usually when I add whole grains or seeds to bread I like to soak them for a few hours in hot water. But when I tried this with the specialty grains I ended up inadvertently starting the beer making process. Much of the syrupy goodness flowed out the grain and was lost when I had to drain it prior to adding it to my dough. Instead, I got better results by starting with a wet dough and letting the grain soften during a very long bulk fermentation and proof. An important last step was to put a bowl over the loaf after it came out of the oven to lock in the moisture. I would never do this with most kinds of bread, but this style of dense German/Scandinavian bread really benefits from a wet post-bake sauna. In addition to further softening the specialty grain it also softens the crust.

While I may no longer make beer, I can still make what I like to call “solid” beer: a.k.a. bread. And with the many varieties of specialty grain, a whole world of flavor awaits.

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