Thursday, March 21, 2013

Beet, Chickpea and Almond Dip

Over the weekend, we were all discussing our Friday meal options during this Lenten season.  My sister has been eating a lot of egg salad.  Tuna and cod and, of course, mac and cheese seem to be favorites.  And although I happened to have an enormous catfish sandwich this past Friday (it was basically the whole catfish, breaded in panko and deep fried… yum!), chick peas have been my go-to ingredient over the last five weeks.

If you are a fan of hummus, you should try this Beet, Chickpea and Almond Dip.  It’s perhaps more Mediterranean than Middle Eastern, and the beets add a mellowness and lovely color.  It makes a great party appetizer or quick dinner with leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch.
Beet, Chickpea, and Almond Dip with Pita Chips
Makes about 2 cups
Recipe by Susanna Hoffman from the June 2006 issue of Bon Appetit

1 large (8 ounce) beet, peeled, cut into ¾” cubes
1 cup drained, canned garbanzo beans (chickpeas) from 15½ ounce can
¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil plus more for chips
¼ cup slivered almonds
5 garlic cloves, peeled
1½ tablespoons (or more) red wine vinegar
6 7”-diameter pitas

Cook beet in medium saucepan of boiling salted water until tender, about 12 minutes.  Drain; place in processor.  Add garbanzo beans, ¾ cup oil, almonds, and garlic.  Blend until smooth.  Add 1½ tablespoons red wine vinegar and blend well.  Season to taste with salt, pepper, and additional vinegar, if desired.  Transfer dip to medium bowl.  Can be made 1 day ahead.  Cover and chill.  Bring to room temperature before serving.

Preheat oven to 400°F.  Brush pita breads on both sides with oil; sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.  Cut each pita into 8 wedges.  Arrange wedges on rimmed baking sheets.  Bake until lightly brown and crisp, about 12 minutes.  Cool chips on sheets.

Place dip in center of platter.  Surround with chips and serve.

I follow the recipe as written, but I have to admit that jarred beets work well when I’m in a hurry.  Double check that they are plain beets and not pickled ones!  Goodness.  Also, I’m interpreting this recipe as needing ½ pound of beets, which translates to about 1¼ cups.  I add a good amount of pepper and extra vinegar to taste.
The pita chips are absolutely delicious and you’ll run out of them way before you finish your dip.  You could substitute tortilla chips or flatbread.
Beet, Chickpea and Almond Dip is a handy recipe, even when Lent is over, for vegetarian friends, last-minute events and whenever I need a break from meat.  It includes all the tastes you’d expect: a bit tangy, a little nutty, a bit garlicky and sweet.  And I usually have these ingredients on hand.  Try it out for yourself soon!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Yuletide Plantings, Part 2

The legend of the Christmas Rose tells the story of a young shepherdess who wanted to bring a gift to the newly-born Christ Child.  Too poor to afford something grand and luxurious and unable to find even the simplest flower blooming in the dead of winter, she began to weep.  An angel witnessed her distress and took pity.  Miraculously, a plant emerged where her tears touched the ground, and she was able to present its beautiful white flowers to the Baby Jesus.

Of course, the Christmas Rose represents renewed hope, the triumph of grace and mercy over sin and death, and the purity of Jesus and Mary themselves.  Think of the German hymn, Es Ist ein Ros Entsprungen, or its English rendition, Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming, which is usually sung between Christmas Eve and the Epiphany.

In Victorian and modern decorations, the Christmas Rose is often depicted as an almost perfect Tea blossom, sometimes pristine white, sometimes rosy pink, but the plant of lore was most likely Helleborus niger – an evergreen perennial, native to Central Europe and part of the Buttercup family.  Cultivated since ancient times and cherished in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, the flowers of Helleborus niger do look like native European species of the Rose.
Two Dog Roses on a Stem and a Lackey Moth Caterpillar
French watercolor, c. 1575, by Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues
from the permanent collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum.
However, I’ve never seen any Hellebore bloom at Christmas, at least not around here.  They usually refresh themselves about a month later… sprouting new growth and unfurling their faces, shiny white with lots of yellow stamens, and tinges of pink or acid green, that blush as they age.  I can see why they are often linked with St. Agnes of Rome, as a symbol of innocence and renewal, and in celebration of her Feast Day on January 21.

And let’s face it.  Anything that flowers in the middle of winter is a miracle!

We are lucky to have Pine Knot Farms, one of the premiere growers and breeders of Hellebores, right here in Virginia, and they offer several cultivars of the Christmas Rose and great guidance for growing all species of Helleborus.
The star-like Helleborus niger 'Double Fantasy',
Hellebores have gained popularity in recent years for their relatively-easy care, deer-resistant foliage and drought tolerance.  In general, they are happiest in well-drained soil and partial shade in Zones 4-9.  The most spectacular tend to be interspecies hybrids.
H. x ballardiae 'Cinnamon Snow',
H. x hybridus 'Peppermint Ice' and

H. x hybridus 'Shirley's Snow Stars' are all grown at Pine Knot Farms.
Pine Knot Farms is hosting the second half of their annual open house, today and Sunday.  But they also attend plant sales and festivals throughout the Mid-Atlantic, so don’t worry if you can’t make it to Southside Virginia this weekend.

I love cranberries and can eat them any time in any place.  But that bright, tart flavor, often combined with lots of sugar, nuts and a touch of orange or lemon, is most associated with Thanksgiving and Christmas, when the cranberry harvest is coming to an end.

The Cranberry is a low, creeping shrub in the Ericaceae or Heath family and grows naturally in cool, acidic marshes throughout the Northern Hemisphere.  It’s my understanding that all true Cranberries, including Vaccinium oxycoccos (Small Cranberry), native to the northern reaches of the continent and as far south as Idaho and Virginia, and Vaccinium erythrocarpum (Southern Mountain Cranberry), at home in the Southern Appalachians and looking much more like a Blueberry at about 5’ tall, with deciduous leaves and deep carmine berries, are indigenous to North America… although, some of these same species flourish in northern Europe and Asia.

The scientific nomenclature for Cranberry can get tricky.  For example, Vaccinium microcarpum, often called Bog or Small Cranberry, is sometimes listed as its own species, native to Europe, as well as, Alaska and Canada, but the USDA considers it synonymous with V. oxycoccos.  Cranberrry can be identified as subgenus Oxycoccus instead of genus Vaccinium.  So in reading and shopping, you may find the same V. oxycoccos described as Oxycoccus microcarpos or O. palustris.  And a plant like Vaccinium vitis-idaea L. ssp. minus, commonly known as Northern Mountain Cranberry, is actually an American subspecies of Ligonberry, native to New England, the Upper Midwest and Canada.  Close, but not really a Cranberry.  And more than a tad confusing.
Vaccinium macrocarpon 'Stevens' from Edible Landscaping
Here’s what I think is important to know:
The Cranberry has been a vital part of the American diet and culture for millennia;
It thrives naturally in the aforementioned habitat, especially where glacial deposits have left layers of sand and peat;
Vaccinium macrocarpon, also known as Large or American Cranberry, is the most common species used for both commercial and decorative endeavors.  Native to the East Coast, from Quebec to North Carolina, through the Upper Midwest, and then along the Pacific Coast, V. macrocarpon is hardy in Zones 2-7, reaches about 1’ tall and can spread 1’-6’ wide.

And if you’re thinking you need to create a bog in your backyard… never fear.  You can grow Cranberries as an ornamental groundcover in your home landscape.  Pick a sunny spot (with afternoon protection if you live in Zones 6 and 7), amend the soil, much as you would for Blueberries, keep your Cranberries hydrated and enjoy.  Edible Landscaping, a local mail-order nursery with a national following, recommends growing them in hanging baskets or containers where you can better control the soil and moisture content.  I can easily envision a pair of beautiful pots, surrounded by Narcissus ‘Polar Ice’ and Summer Snowflake (Leucojum aestivum), overflowing with evergreen foliage, plus pinkish-white, elongated-bellflowers and, of course, the berries we know and love.
Wouldn't 'Stevens' be lovely in this lichen-green glazed planter from Campania International?

The delicate 'Polar Ice' Daffodil from Brent and Becky's Bulbs
By the way, cranberries for juice, canned sauce and jelly are harvested wet.  You know that iconic scene when the fields are flooded and the berries are corralled in what look like giant islands of red?  But whole Cranberries, like the ones we use for baking, are harvested dry, just as we would in our own gardens.  Well, maybe on a slightly larger scale!

Viburnum trilobum, also known as the American Cranberrybush or High Bush Cranberry, is another garden-worthy native that dons Christmas colors, almost year round.  Of course, it’s not a Cranberry at all.  But it is very pretty and provides four seasons of interest.
Viburnum trilobum 'Redwing', developed by Johnson's Nursery,
is one of the prettiest in bloom and
It blooms when in leaf – large, flat, milky lace umbels, not unlike certain Hydrangea, that appear in May and June.  Hardy in Zones 2-7 and preferring acidic, moist but well-drained soil, V. trilobum can serve as a cool backdrop for your sunny border or filtered shade garden.  Clusters of scarlet drupes (truly the color we think of as cranberry or cardinal red) mature in early autumn.
They are seriously sour but can be made into jellies and jams or left on the shrub where they will linger through winter, eventually softening, darkening, as a lovely foil to maroon fall foliage and an attraction for local birds and wildlife.
All V. trilobum sport Maple-like leaves,
but 'Redwing' glows with new growth of bronzy red.
Once again, take note.  Viburnum trilobum is sometimes identified as Viburnum opulus L. var. americanum or Viburnum opulus ssp. trilobum but should not be confused with the European Viburnum opulus, also known as Cranberrybush or Guelder Rose, which has proven to be invasive in certain states.  Both species, the native and foreign, have varieties named ‘Compactum’.

Powdery mildew and Viburnum Leaf Beetle can be problems for V. trilobum, but otherwise it is an easy-going shrub.  It’s a good replacement for some of my roses.  But in a more suburban setting, I would love to create a small grove of High Bush Cranberries interplanted with Kalmia latifolia ‘Elf’ and ‘Peppermint’
Kalmia latifolia 'Peppermint' from Meadowbrook Nursery in North Carolina. 
and the Kurume Azalea ‘Christmas Cheer’,
Colesville Nursery in Ashland, VA, is both a wholesale grower and retail garden center.
They usually stock 'Christmas Cheer'.
with one or two Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snowflake’ and H. paniculata ‘Fire and Ice’, for quick succession of spring-summer bloom and appeal throughout the year… all in Yuletide colors.
'Snowflake' is an Oakleaf Hydrangea, but the long blossoms almost look like those of H. paniculata.
Absolutely beautiful flowers, peeling bark and fall foliage if you have the space.
From Meadowbrook Nursery
However, Christmas is a lot more than green, red and white.  It is a season full of richly saturated pigments… sugar-dusted candy and gaudy holiday lights…, the warm, comforting hues of oranges and spice cake, and pale shades just on the cusp of another like shimmering champagne and frosted moonlight.  Why not capture some of these colors, slightly burnished or silvered, fantastical and fun, in your own garden?

I can imagine sun-drenched steps flanked by
Delosperma cooperi ‘Lavender Ice’,
'Lavender Ice' and other varieties of Delosperma can be found at Bluestone Perennials.
Dianthus ‘Cranberry Ice’
'Cranberry Ice' is a favorite at Wayside Gardens.
and Veronica spicata ‘Icicle’;
'Icicle' also at Bluestone Perennials
a sheltered corner with
Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Gingerbread’,
Rare Find Nursery in Jackson, NJ, has an amazing selection of Witch Hazels,
including the slightly more petite 'Gingerbread'.
Callicarpa japonica ‘Snow Storm’,
'Snow Storm' and
Digitalis purpurea ‘Candy Mountain’
'Candy Mountain' are available at Bluestone Perennials.
Visit them in person or via the internet.
and Lilium ‘Star Gazer’ for bits of joyful color, from blossoms, berries and leaves, throughout the year;
or blanket a sunny bank with
Paeonia ‘Snow Clouds’,
'Snow Clouds' can be ordered through Viette Nurseries and
Caryopteris divaricata ‘Snow Fairy’
'Snow Fairy' is still in stock at Bluestone Perennials.
and Echinacea purpurea ‘Fragrant Angel’
If you can't find 'Fragrant Angel' at your local garden center,
check with White Flower Farm.
to mimic snowflakes and twinkling stars in the middle of sunshine-y, summer days.

And if your landscape is usually all green: Boxwood and Hosta, ornamental grasses and Pachysandra, then consider adding Hibiscus rosa-sinensis ‘Snow Queen’
A local grower usually brings 'Snow Queen' to our farmer's market...
at least once we're safely into May.  It's not usually hardy north of Zone 8.
Check with Mr. Jack's Farm in Charlotte, NC, if you can't find it in your town.
or Dahlia ‘Santa Claus’
Dahlia 'Santa Claus' is available through Burpee's catalog or website.
for flamboyantly festive blooms in late summer and fall when other gardens in the neighborhood have completely petered out.