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Last week we had a couple of days of a warm spell, so I went out to check on the garden. Yesterday, it was freezing and snowing like nobody’s business (9 inches of snow forced the township to close schools today, yay!), so I went out to check on the garden.

let it snow

Have I become a true gardener? Isn’t that the mark of a true gardener when you can’t stand just looking at your plants from the window, but must get up close and personal with them and feel their frozen butts? Sorry, I mean leaves, plants have no butts. It was mine that was freezing. Anyway, I thought I heard somewhere that when you start feeling sorry for your plants, that’s when you ARE a gardener.

So, I’d like to show you some of the gems I found from my excursions to the garden, and the dinner that they inspired. Remember it’s December. What little nature has to offer truly is amazing and generous.

turnip in the snow

Bright Lights Swiss Chard

baby carrors

mache corn salad

***

turnip and carrot quick pickles (do chua)

Turnip and Carrot Quick Pickles
If you’ve had bahn mi sandwiches (Vietnamese hoagies) before, you know that their tantalizing taste comes not only from the meat and the herbs in them, but from the daikon and carrot pickles (do chua) as well. This is my take on the pickles. Using turnips instead of radish. I’m forever doing things Angie’s way. Really, recipes are guidelines I feel. You do what you want, based on your preference or what you have.

I prefer my pickles to be on the sweet side, but you can adjust the amount of sugar to your liking. I also added shallots, green onions, and black peppercorns in my pickles. I hate to repeat myself, but…Angie’s way.

2 turnips, julienned (about 2 cups), or use daikon radishes
2 carrots, julienned (about 2 cups)
1 cup water
1 cup white vinegar
4 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
A few whole peppercorns

1. Mix water, vinegar, salt, peppercorns, and sugar in a stainless steel saucepan. Bring to a boil, just until sugar dissolves. Let it cool before adding vegetables. You don’t want to cook them. If you’re using shallots, you can add them sooner, when the liquid is still hot, but not boiling. Shallots don’t mind the heat as much as turnips and carrots.
2. Add turnips (or daikons), carrots, and green onions (if using) when liquid is warm or cool.
3. Store pickles in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight before using.

Vietnamese noodle salad

The pickles are good in sandwiches or salads, and especially perfect to top Vietnamese Noodle Salad, which I always crave, summer or winter. But the salad must be tossed in nuoc cham, or I would not crave it.

Nuoc Cham (Vietnamese Dipping Sauce)
nuoc cham
Probably the most important dipping sauce for a Vietnamese meal, absolutely indispensable. I find that I’m unable to stop myself from dipping anything into it whenever I have it. Meat, vegetables, spring rolls, noodles, rice, anything! Well, except desserts, of course.

1/4 cup fish sauce
3/4 cup warm water
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
1/4 cup sugar
1 clove garlic, sliced thin
1 small hot chili pepper, sliced thin (optional)
Shredded carrot and/or chopped cilantro for garnish (optional)

In a small bowl, mix all ingredients and stir to dissolve sugar. Garnish with shredded carrots or chopped cilantro.

***

I was talking to Robbie about Swiss Chard and then I saw Laura’s fusion banh mi tacos. It was destiny. I had to make Swiss Chard rolls. You know, like summer rolls, except with blanched chard leaves as the wrapping. I already had nuoc cham for dipping them in, anyway, but you can also dip them in peanut hoisin sauce, if you prefer.

swiss chard rolls
Don’t be silly, I didn’t use the carrots found from my foraging in any of the recipes. They did make for cute garnish, though.

You can use other leaves in place of the chards. Kale or collard greens are both perfect substitutes. And Robbie, since we’re talking about Swiss Chard, I have other suggestions for them. Swiss Chard pakoras or thoran sounds pretty good to me. Maybe next time. There really wasn’t a lot to harvest. Maybe if I build a cold frame around them, I could extend my harvest? Oh, hubby! Calling hubby! Can you make me a cold frame?

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