Bitter Greens

Today we continued our winter planting in our illegal parkway garden adding arugula, a green that America has suddenly discovered after last month’s factory farming spinach nightmare. We also added a tough and bitter leaf chicory from our friends at Grow Italian. Hopefully, by succession planting we should have a winter and spring full of green, if somewhat bitter vegetables.

How do we prepare these bitter greens around the compound? Very simply — in a pan with garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Sometimes we add some Parmigiano Reggiano. Fresh, strong tasting vegetables don’t need much else.

Nasturtium “Capers”

Nasturtium grows like a weed here at the SurviveLA compound. We don’t water it, though if we did we might have a larger crop. The nice thing about Nasturtium is that the entire plant is edible – both the leaves and flowers have a strong peppery flavor and the flowers brighten up the Spartan salads we chow down on in the late spring. Once you plant this stuff, at least here in Los Angeles, the thousands of seeds it produces guarantee that you will see it again next year.

Thanks to a tip from our frère et soeur at Terre Vivante, editors of a great book called Keeping Food Fresh, we now have a use for all those Nasturtium seeds. Pick the seeds while they are still green and put them in a jar with a decent white wine vinegar and some dill or other herb. We keep our jar in the refrigerator and wait a few weeks before using them. I actually prefer these substitute capers to the real thing. Some things to note: we grow Nasturtium as an annual plant and it dies off with the summer heat. It can also suffer from aphids towards the end of the growing season. Plant seeds in October and November for a spring harvest.

A Prickly Situation

Today’s post is for clueless white folks as our hermanos y hermanas already know this shit. As we’ve suggested before the rule with landscaping at the Homegrown Evolution compound is, if you gotta water it you gotta be able to eat it. But there are a few miracle plants, well adapted to Southern California’s climate, that are both edible and don’t need watering. One of the most versatile is the prickly pear cactus, of which there are about a dozen varieties all under the Opuntia genus (Family Cactaceae). In the late spring the plant produces new leaves which can be harvested and eaten. Stores and street vendors sell them as “Nopolito”. Nopolito, tastes a bit like a slightly slimy green pepper and can be used in scrambled eggs and mixed with tomatoes and onions in a salsa. During the summer the very tasty fruit matures and can be eaten raw, although the abundant seeds make it a bit of an acquired taste. The fruit can be made into a jam, a drink, or a salad dressing. If forced by the zombie menace into a survival situation, the plant is a good source of water and can even be used to heal wounds.

For nopolitos use only the young leaves and extreme care must be taken when harvesting both leaves and fruit. Wear gloves when harvesting and preparing both the fruit and the nopolitos, as the plant contains thousands of almost invisible barbed spines. Thankfully these spines are easy to remove by dragging a knife across the skin or by using a vegetable peeler. Sometimes I just eat the fruit by cutting it in half, holding it with thick gloves and scooping out the flesh with a spoon.

This is one of those plants that should be everywhere here in Los Angeles. Propagate the plant by cutting off a leaf and sticking it in the ground – it’s simple – no fuss, no pesticides, no watering once established. And note that not all prickly pear varieties produce edible fruit so when you look for cuttings seek out plants that are productive and tasty. It’s the ideal plant for what we call “pirate” gardening, the act of taking over a vacant lot or otherwise abandoned public or semi-public space. Plant a bunch of prickly pear and come back to harvest the nopalitos and fruit.

More info and recipes can be found here and here.