I’m probably not the only person who is determined to lose weight a little after all the delicious but fatty meals and desserts served during the holidays. One way to feel satisfied and lose weight is to eat more salads and enjoy more vegetables. At least that’s my plan, and I recently took stock of what’s lurking in my storage refrigerator. I still have some good vegetables from the summer that still taste good and satisfy my hunger.
By digging around in the vegetable drawer, I noticed several kohlrabi I grew last summer but which had not been touched for several months. I was prepared not to like them because they had been stored for so long. I peeled one, chopped it into half-inch cubes and added to my nightly salad. It was delicious! It is even tasty as a low calorie snack alone.
Kohlrabi is in the cabbage family, but not known or widely grown. It resembles an alien in the garden: it is a kind of above-ground root vegetable. Round or oblong, it can be green or purple, with leaves protruding from the beet-like “tuber” on bare stems. It is crispy, and tastes a bit of broccoli, which is in the same family. It can be used to make coleslaw when grated with carrots.
Buy a packet of kohlrabi seeds and plant them in early June or late May. They are fast-growing plants and need only a little space to grow well. If you want kohlrabi all winter to add to stirred fritters, plant a green called ‘Kossak’, which grows large – up to 8- or 10-inches in diameter – and is stored for up to 4 months in a cool place with high humidity such as the vegetable drawer our your refrigerator. I get seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Maine, but it is also available at High Mowing, Gurney’s and Park Seeds, among others.
I also found a half purple cabbage that had been lurking in my vegetable drawer since September. I expected it to be outdated, but it was fine. Cabbage is easy enough to grow, but I often do not bother because I do not use it that much – it is cheap and easily available. I tore some and added it to a green salad, added color and bulk.
I had an amazing onion crop last summer. I buy onion plants from Johnny’s Seeds most years instead of baby seed-started plants indoors. When I start from seeds, I start them under light around March 1st. When I start my own, even with intense light close to the seedlings, they are always a little flimsy. Some of the plants I get from Johnny’s are almost as thick as a pencil, and take off and start growing right away. The kind I grow are yellow onions, one called ‘Patterson’. They stay for several months in a cool place, but will germinate and soften if left in the hot kitchen in a bowl.
The plants come in bundles of 50 to 60, according to their catalog, but last year I came closer to 100 plants per. bundle. Onions do not like competition, so weed early and often. Place your bulbs about 3 inches apart in a row, with rows at least 8 inches apart. They like airy, rich soil, so be sure to add plenty of compost and stir it in well. You can also start bulbs from “sets”, which are like small bulbs – but less powerful than plants.
What else do I eat from the garden now? Garlic. It’s easy to grow, but if you did not plant any in October last year, you’re probably unlucky. It takes root in autumn, goes to sleep and emerges in early spring. It is rarely available for purchase in the spring. I was out in California one spring and bought some soft-necked garlic this spring, and it worked out pretty well here. You can try planting some of last year’s garlic, for spring, if you have anything left over, but it is not recommended.
Potatoes are also a staple in my winter menu. I know they are not usually recommended for dietitians. But that is partly because of how they are served. They are a healthy starch, but many of us tend to stuff potatoes with sour cream or butter. Add them to a casserole or fried and they are still tasty but much less caloric.
I went 20 years once without buying a potato. I grew abundantly and saved some for planting each spring. By only eating my own, I went a few months without waiting for my new crop to be ready. But it was a matter of principle only to eat my own. Commercial potatoes, if not grown organically or following IPM guidelines, can carry heavy pesticide loads.
The trick to getting many potatoes is to grow them in full sun. You can get potatoes where there is only 6 hours of sun a day, but the more sun, the more potatoes. And do not let the potato beetles defoliate your plants. Often check leaves, including the underside, for orange egg masses or larvae as they begin to grow. They can multiply exponentially if you let early beetles multiply.
Having a kitchen garden is, of course, a certain amount of work. But it not only gives me good, healthy, organic vegetables, it saves me a lot of money and keeps me active in the garden. As we get older, the more exercise we get, the better. So start reading the seed companies’ catalogs or websites, and plan what you want to plant for the spring. Me? I can not wait!