Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Backyard Foraging: Nasturtiums

Special guest blogger Carol Emert talks about nasturtiums!

April 2020

Nasturtiums have been growing in wild abundance in my backyard for years, but I’ve never taken full advantage of them until Covid-19 started gobsmacking my usual notions about our food supply.

As the Bay Area’s incidence curve climbs, my family’s Trader Joe’s habit has come to a screeching halt. Instead, we’re sequestered at home, thinking a lot about minimizing waste and doing more with what exists within the bounds of our house and gardens in Oakland, California.

For this morning’s omelet, I found myself with none of the traditional cooking greens and had no choice but to put nasturtium greens to the test. I’ve long used nasturtium flowers as garnish, and occasionally added the greens as a flavorful supplement to salad. But I’d always considered nasturtiums an intense, peppery novelty -- not a vegetable.

In Oakland’s Mediterranean climate, nasturtiums thrive on neglect. They were growing in my backyard when I bought my house 22 years ago and every year they repopulate themselves along a 50-foot perimeter with no irrigation, no fertilizer, no tilling. Not even much respect, to be honest with you.

First the vines emerge, with round, lily pad-like leaves. After some weeks, thousands of yellow and orange speckled flowers explode from the vines. Maybe I never thought of nasturtiums as a vegetable because they grow so much more reliably than my cultivated vegetables ever have.

Harvesting involved breaking about a foot of stem along with each leaf, creating a pretty green bouquet of lily pads that I carried inside, dripping from a late-season rain. I chopped the stems into half-inch pieces and the leaves into bite-sized chunks. Then I sautéed them in olive oil with red onion and mushrooms, giving the stems a head start and cooking the leaves for only a couple of minutes at the end. Just 25 leaves made more than enough filling for a 4-egg omelet.

And they were completely yummy -- just as tasty as spinach and chard, my two favorite cooking greens. The flavor was mild and peppery. I found the combination of textures from the soft leaves and the firmer stems quite delightful.

The interwebs will tell you that nasturtiums are packed with Vitamin C and other nutrients, which is a nice bonus during a global pandemic. My experience is that the freshly picked greens tasted alive and vibrant, and I felt better all day for having included them in my Sunday omelet.

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