There are many great joys in vegetable gardening, too many to list, and only one that is the focus of this little essay: the opportunity to try growing vegetables that are hard to find elsewhere. Early each year, when the paperback tome of the Seed Savers' Yearbook arrives, I take it to bed with me and spend hours I should spend sleeping poring over the descriptions. That is something I love about it—no pictures, simply descriptions, and if I'm lucky, a fascinating backstory. My imagination works overtime as I read the Yearbook. I imagine what each variety will look like and taste like, and how or if it will fare in my mild wintered, alkaline soiled, droughty clime. Many I can pass up right away, others I hem and haw over, while others call to me so powerfully, I have to give them a chance here. One such vegetable had its first chance in my garden this winter, a test it passed with flying colors.
This brassica goes by many names, Portuguese Kale, Portuguese Cabbage, and Couve Tronchuda. It grows like collards, tastes like sweet cabbage, and looks like giant, soft-green, white-veined roses in the garden. I started it in six packs this August with the rest of my brassicas and it grew floppy and spindly until October, when it hit the real dirt in my garden; there, it thrived. Though I picked a few cabbage moth caterpillars off of each head through the winter and once had to rinse gray aphids off, for the most part, it has been an easy grower and a beautiful addition to a winter vegetable garden.
Beauty is only part of the story though. Couve Tronchuda is tasty, tasty, tasty. Some of the seedlings I gave away this autumn have ended up in cabbage rolls and slaws. Apparently, this cabbage is the green frequently used in the famous (and delicious) Portuguese Caldo Verde. In our house, we've only eaten it one way so far, but it is so good, it has been the only way I've wanted to eat it. I've cut the wide, petal-like leaves cross-wise into ribbons and sauteed them on high heat in olive oil until the greens are wilted with a few charred spots, but the stems are still sweet and crunchy. Then, I give the whole pan of greens a shake of sea salt and pile it on plates with a drizzle of hot, savory, complex (and did I mention hot?) Angolan hot sauce.
Angola via Portugal Hot Sauce, aka Piri-Piri Paste
From The New Portuguese Table, by David Leite
You will need:
12 fresh red chiles (I used my Chile Rayados and Fish peppers), stems removed
Zest of 1/2 lemon, removed in strips with a vegetable peeler
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 yellow onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 small head garlic or 1/2 of a large head of garlic, separated into cloves and peeled
1 cup whiskey
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt
To make the sauce:
Do not remove the seeds from the chiles,
but put the chiles whole (minus the stems) in a medium saucepan with all the
remaining ingredients. Bring the mixture to a boil, then partially cover
the saucepan and reduce the heat to low. Let the mixture simmer for an
hour or so, until all the ingredients are cooked well enough to be soft.
Remove from heat and let the mixture cool enough to handle it
safely. Pour the contents of the saucepan into a food processor and
whirl until it is very, very smooth. Aim to grind the seeds to oblivion
as well. Pour the paste into very clean class jars.
Leite writes that the mixture lasts up to two months in the
refrigerator. Since I poured mine into small jars, I'll leave one in the
refrigerator to use and place the rest in the freezer.