Garden Volunteers

The garden beds have erupted with sprouts of volunteer hollyhocks, arugula, dill, cilantro and orach. Mostly red and green orach, (atriplex hortensis), the bosses of my garden beds, growing wherever they choose. According to the website The Laidback Gardener, orach was one of the “first vegetables cultivated by humans, known well before the time of the ancient Greeks. During the Middle Ages, orach was one of the most commonly grown vegetables in Eurasia and by the 17th and 18th centuries it had ‘conquered’ the Americas and Australia as well.”

These lovely little sprouts will grow to be over five feet tall with seed heads holding hundreds of potential plants. In spring I happily uproot baskets full and cook the small leaves in tarts and soups. Somehow, (I do admire their persistence and the beautiful seed stalks), many escape my harvesting and provide seeds for next year’s crop. I am ruthless after they attain their height but leave some to self-seed, however maddening they will be as they blanket the beds in spring.

On a recent phone call with Mimi she described a dish she was making for dinner. Her visiting friend Jesse had requested enchiladas made with foraged lamb’s quarters. (Jesse delights in finding edible wild plants.) I haven’t got lamb’s quarters but the orach will serve in their place. Mimi gave me her recipe – a some of this, some of that kind of recipe. Here is my version ─

After steaming the picked over greens with just the water clinging from washing, I squeezed out excess water, (save the juices for soup or as a chef’s treat). Chopped them and sautéed with several cloves of garlic (from the braid that was Mimi’s gift last year) in a tablespoon of oil.

I made a simple ranchero sauce with tomato sauce I had frozen last fall, (or use a 15 ounce can of chopped tomatoes), half an onion, chopped, a home-pickled jalapeño or chilé of your choosing, and a handful of chopped cilantro stems and leaves. I pureed these in the blender then fried the sauce in a bit of safflower oil until darkened and thickened – 10 minutes or so.

With a baking dish at hand, I softened six corn tortillas rubbed with a bit of oil on my comal then rolled  them up with a couple tablespoons of the greens, a dollop of sauce and a small handful of grated Catamount cheese, (use cheddar, jack or whatever you have), and arranged in the dish topped with the rest of the sauce and grated cheese. 

I baked them in the toaster oven, covered with foil, at 350° for about 20 minutes, then uncovered for 10 minutes until hot and bubbly. Garnish with cilantro, sour cream, avocado, a fried egg or whatever you fancy. They’re delicious on their own too.

If you would like to grow orach, send me a note and I will save seeds for you this fall. Beware – this beautiful plant is very vigorous and will cover your garden with maroon sprouts. They’re easy to spot, so pull them out and EAT them.

French lilac

4 thoughts on “Garden Volunteers

  1. My first comment didn’t go through. Wonder if the orach tasted silky and smooth and if you’ll make them again. Have you thought about using the orach leaves in the spinach crepes from Elizabeth David? Your French lilac bush looks like bugs bunny taking a break!


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