David and I are making a second attempt to use our limited garden space productively. Of the the 20-some heirloom tomato and poblano pepper seeds we planted, only one plant survived to reach maturity, and--as mentioned earlier--it produced only two fruits before it was defeated by illness. Of the dozen nasturtium seeds we planted, only two germinated and ants killed one of these. The other plant has grown large, but to date has produced only three flowers. I'm hoping we'll have more luck with our winter crop. We ripped up a small section of grass (to my mother's temp0rary horror) to plant a couple of rows of garden peas. The results were immediately promising, as they beat their 8-10 day germination time by 5-6 days. But no sooner had they reached two inches than those damned leaf cutter ants marched in and began decapitating our little seedlings. So far they have only gotten to three or four of them, but there is no stopping them if their set on ruining our plot. The most infuriating part is that they seem to cut the pea sprouts down just for spite. They just leave the leaves to rot next to the decapitated stem. They just can't stand to see something growing, and these mycoculturalists of the insect world have quickly gone from objects of amazement and wonder to objects of intense hatred. But I'm still hoping they will spare my peas. I am really excited to introduce my family to the wonders of fresh sweet peas, and to make at least a few meals where I don't have to be worried about the treason of Paraguay's starch peas. In the meantime, we have been enjoying some seasonal fruits and vegetables from the supermarket in our meals.
1. Heirloom Tomato Salad with China Rose Radishes and Avocado. This salad would have been amazing, had it not been for the avocado. Add avocado to the list of produce of puzzlingly inferior quality in paraguay (currently populated by peas and tomatoes). This had to be the worst avocado of my life. Avocados here tend to be flavorless and watery, but this one had a distinct foul bitterness and a vague rancid nut flavor. It was just horrible and enough to make me give up on Paraguayan avocados. But I keep buying them, because everytime I go to the supermarket they look slightly different in shape, color, and texture. Sometimes completely spherical, sometimes longer and recently even pear shaped, sometimes lighter green sometimes darker, sometimes smooth, sometimes rougher. It's maddening because each time I see a new shape I think, "this is it; this is the one," only to be dissapointed all over again. Well, I have one more in my fridge now, so we'll give it one more shot. But these beautiful radishes were an unexpected discovery. I bought them because they looked unusual, especially compared to the typically very conventional produce carried by our supermarket, but I didn't expect to like them very much. I thought they would be more like daikon than like salad radishes. But they are excellently spicy and sharp and reveal gorgeous patterns when cut into thin slices. After some internet searching I concluded our new find was a 'china rose' radish. We've been using them a lot in salads in the last few weeks. 2. Falafel with Tahini. This was a bit of a chore, but well worth it. There is an excellent brand of pita bread here, which (when reheated) is soft inside and crispy and chewy on the outside. I used NYtimes food writer Mark Bittman's recipe, and it turned out really well--though I would not suggest using a blender for this recipe. I ended up not having parsley the night I decided to make this, so I used watercress instead and it turned out fine. I also made some tahini by grinding up seseame seeds with oil in the blender and mixing it with plain yogurt, garlic, mint, and some green onion. I served it with some more radishes and green onion. For dessert we had another seasonal item, persimmons. They appeared a couple months ago and were such a persistent offering in the supermarket that I finally gave in and tried one. They are really delicious and sweet with an almost brown-sugar or maple syrup kind of flavor. We have been eating them a lot for dessert after lunch and dinner.
3. A closeup
4. Tofu Miso Soup with spinach. I've mentioned that the tofu here is excellent. I had a chance to go to the agroshopping and buy some from my favorite stand, which i believe is from a Taiwanese farm. The tofu was creamy and dense with an excellent clean flavor.
5. Yard-long beans with spicy ground pork and tofu. I promised this would make a reprise. It was good, but I had to use miso instead of black beans (hey fermented soy is fermented soy, right?) and I didn't put enough spice into this one, I think. But it was still good, and I like long beans much better than green beans; they have less water and a more concentrated, greener flavor.
6. Yogurt cheese with fresh herbs and olive oil. This was an elegant light dinner with some pita bread and the salad pictured below. I made the cheese from some homemade yogurt, strained in cheese cloth over night, rolled it in mint and basil, and drizzle it with olive oil and black pepper. It is garnished with nasturtium leaves.
6. Spinach salad with toasted almonds and spiced persimmons. This is one of the best salads I've ever made. I dressed it with lime juice, honey, toasted ground cumin and coriander, and olive oil, and sprinkled the persimmon with ground hot chile. It was perfect.