In the Garden:
Amaranth loves hot weather and grows quickly to produce a good harvest of nutritious greens.
Summer Greens? You Bet!
Mention the word "greens" to most southern gardeners, and vegetables like lettuce, spinach, mustard, collards, and perhaps turnip tops come to mind. However, when the weather heats up, these vegetables bite the dust along with the other cool-season crops. There are, in fact, several greens that laugh at our blistering hot summer weather.
When traveling through Holland a few years ago, I purchased a pack of seeds called Kankong that claimed to be a heat-loving vegetable grown for greens. I discovered this to be a truly summer-proof green. It grew through the heat and humidity of summer without so much as a whimper. It was quite attractive with a vining habit, arrowhead-shaped leaves, hollow stems and an occasional, white morning glory type flower.
Commonly known as water spinach, it grows rapidly in the heat, provided you give it plenty of water. Harvest young leaves and tips. Stir fry it or steam it like spinach.
My introduction to this vegetable came in the garden of a Middle Eastern couple, where it occupied a prominent place and was thriving in the heat of early summer. They explained to me that it was a critical ingredient in many dishes with rice and lamb, and was one of the most widely grown vegetables in Egypt. Also known as melokhiya, moulukeyeh, and mazzochi, it is a vitamin- and mineral-packed green, with 3 times the carotene, 6 times the B-1, 25 times the B-2, and 8 times the calcium of spinach. Molokhia is mild in flavor. Use it to thicken a soup, in a batch of stew, or include it in a mixture of cooked summer greens.
Perhaps the best known of the summer greens is malabar (sometimes called Malabar spinach). Malabar forms a vigorous vine and sports attractive, shiny leaves. It can be allowed to climb a fence or trellis, but I prefer to keep it pinched back to form a bushy plant. Malabar is usually cooked like spinach, and has a quality that is described as mucilaginous (which is the fancy word for slimy!). However, we southerners love okra, so bring on the Malabar!
I was introduced to the idea of cultivating weeds about 15 years ago when visiting an elderly lady's garden. I spotted a lambsquarter plant that looked bushy and quite healthy. Thinking the gardener had somehow missed weeding it, I reached to pull it and noticed that it had been pinched several times, resulting in lots of new shoots. About that time the gardener informed me that lambsquarter greens are some of her favorites. Steam or cook as you would other greens.
Vegetable amaranth is a close relative to the pigweed that infests our summer gardens. Like its wild relative, it is one tough plant. A lightweight floating row cover fabric will keep away the leaf beetles that also love this green. Vegetable amaranth's large leaves and young shoots are excellent cooked or steamed. They contain more iron and calcium than kale, spinach, chard, or collards.
Purslane is a weed, to be sure. However, adventurous plant breeders have developed a special variety called 'Golden' that makes an attractive ground cover with tasty golden leaves on orange-tinted stems that grow rather erect compared to wild purslane. The succulent leaves and shoots can be harvested, and the plant will regrow. Purslane, rich in vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids, is excellent in soups and will even make a good addition to a salad. In fact, Henry David Thoreau wrote of making a "satisfactory dinner off a dish of purslane."
With several great hot-weather vegetable greens to choose from, why not try a few in this year's garden!
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