Local Food Albuquerque
It;s easy to find information about growing most vegetables, but there are a few which are especially suited for our climate and aren't commonly seen. They're discussed here, and I urge you to try them. Some are common weeds in our area, and it's great to harvest between your garden rows as well as in them. Please, don't eat your weeds without making sure that you've identified them correctly! You can use Google to draw up multiple images of a plant, to help you be sure, or see the Further reading page for some good general references.
Many of these special vegetables are discussed in much more detail on my blogsite, and many more will appear there in the future.
CURLY MALLOW seed can be found as Malva verticilla or Malva crispa. The plants are handsome, tall, and heat-resistant. The leaves can be harvested to cook as greens throughout the summer. They have a demulcent quality and are very mild. They need herbs or more emphatic greens like beet greens or arugula in the mixture to perk up the flavor. Because of their smooth texture, they take to creaming well, and make great soups. Some people use them in salads, but I don't care for the texture when raw. They do make a nice garnish for a platter, and I've heard of stuffing them like grape leaves but haven't tried it.
AMARANTH, commonly known as pigweed, springs up everywhere here. In this photo, it grabs some sun between red romaine lettuce and shallots. It's a highly nutritious potherb with a nice mild flavor when young, so I don't weed it out unil it's ready to cook. Pinch off the tender stem ends, leaves and all, and discard the tough main stem and roots, or leave them in place to produce another batch of shoots.
Below is the Hopi red form of amaranth. It's more ornamental, and a few young leaves can be decorative in a salad. When used as a cooked green it's full of antioxidants but "bleeds" on the plate like beets do, so I don't often use it this way. Don't put it in vegetable curries unless you like magenta food.
ARTICHOKES don't get as big and luscious here as they do in coastal California, but the taste can't be beat. They are deep-rooted and, once established, they make the most of an occasional deep soaking. I find them very ornamental and use them along my front walk. For more on cultivation and cooking, see my blogsite and use the search function to find "artichokes."
SWISS CHARD: Delicious and nutritious, chard is also very adaptable to seasons when other vegetables are less available. I plant mine from seed in May. It grows well through the summer, and I start harvesting in August and keep picking until late November. Then leave it in place over winter, and in early spring you'll get a good crop of greens to start your new season. As soon as it starts to shoot to seed, cut it down and give the space to something else. There are various stem colors, including white, yellow, red, and orange. Search seed catalogs for the interesting types.
ARUGULA: This is my favorite salad green, my favorite cooking green, and my favorite weed. It loves our conditions here and naturalizes happily around my yard. It produces greens from fall through spring, and offers a cloud of tiny white flowers in summer. The picture above was taken in December, a low point for other outdoor edibles. For complete details on how to naturalize it and use it, see my BLOGPOST.
LAMBS-QUARTERS:. This is one of our most prolific weeds, and one of the most nutritious greens you can eat. Native New Mexicans know it as "quelites." The flavor is mild, and a dose of herbs or stronger greens is a nice addition. I let it grow everywhere in the garden, and then weed it out when 7-8" tall and perfect for eating. I don't care for it raw, but some people do.
NEW ZEALAND SPINACH (seen here in front of red romaine lettuce) doesn't blink at our heat. It needs some water, but not as much as spinach, and it produces all summer. Pinch off the tender tips and cook them any way that you would cook spinach. It loses less bulk during cooking than most greens.
NASTURTIUMS, shown here blooming lavishly on a salad of red lettuce, are a more versatile food plant than most people realize. In our intrense sun, they'll grow beautifully in semi-shade. If in full sun, give them plenty of water. Tho books say differently, but the books weren't written with our climate in mind. The blossoms are delicious on salads, adding water-cress-pungency and a sweet floral note from the nectar. The leaves can be sliced into chiffonade for salads, where their mustardy pungency is a good spicer-upper, but can also be gathered in quantity and blanched for greens. They're best in mixtures; Use up to half nasturtium leaves with other milder greens. The largest leaves make a wonderful wrapper for dolmas; see the recipe section under "greens". I hear that the stems can be pickled, but I haven't tried it. Nasturtiums should be planted first thing in spring, and they will grow lavishly in spring, die back a bit in summer, and surpass themselves when the weather cools off again.
PERUVIAN PURPLE POTATO
Most potatoes do well here, but this one is especially disease free and low maintainance. They're great for roasting in olive oil. I leave mine in the ground and dig as needed; a mulch keeps the soil from freezing. For much more on this and other potatoes, go to my blogsite and search for "peruvian purple potato."
STINGING NETTLE: This tasty perennial is a pernicious weed in wetter parts of the country, but I planted some on purpose because thiere is no more delicious or nutritious early spring green. I had no luch with seed, but got plants from Richters and put them in an isolated place that could be mowed all around (this is very important) where the soil heats up early in the spring. Given a little water, they grow like wildfire. Don't put them anywhere near a path, because the sting is fierce. Cut them and cook them in spring, because when the weather warms up they develop very distasteful crystalline oxalate deposits in the leaves. See my blogsite for details.
SWEET POTATO: This is a far more multi-purpose vegetable than I realized. This summer I learned that the leaves are as edible as the roots, and make delicious greens; go to my blog post and search for "sweet potatoes" for much more on this. They're very popular in Asia and parts of Africa. Make sure you have sweet potatoes, ipomea batata, since the greens of regular potatoes are poisonous. Buy a few plants, put them in good soil and water them, use the young leaves in salads, pick when older for cooking, and harvest the roots at the end of the season. Meanwhile, you have an attractive green heat-resistant vine that can be trained on fences. I grow mine in large pots.
DAY LILY: The ordinary tawny-orange native daylily is the most prolific. They spread more rapidly than the hybrids, and will provide a crop (actually a few crops) in quite a bit of shade. Start with steaming or stir-fying the buds, which are tender and delicious with a little butter and salt. They also fit well into Asian dishes. Then harvest some opened flowers and fry them in tempura batter or fill them with herbed ricotta and saute' them in a little olive oil. As you get more adventurous, try the first spring shoots in salads (remove all the green parts to expose the tender pale-yellow center) or even dig a few and eat the tender little tubers that form under the roots.
Jerusalem Artichokes. These 7-8 foot tall sunflower relatives spread like wildfire, so have a special patch for them and keep them out of your garden beds. As long as you follow this advice, they'll produce a crop of tender tubers with minimal water and attention. If you let them near your other plants, they'll eventually overwhelm everything. Scrub them well and slice them into stir-fries or Thai coconut curries, simmering them only briefly. Then check out a good vegetable cookbook for many other ways to use them.
Yard-long beans, or asparagus beans. If you can give them some water, these Asian natives are unfazed by heat. They pump out 12-18 inch long beans all summer. The beans are good in Asian dishes, especially the famous Szechuan dry-fried green beans, and equally good steamed with a little butter or good olive oil. There is a red-podded form which looks pretty on a trellis. I hear that the leaves are eaten in Asia, but I've never tried it.