There are two ways of using our edible gardens. The first is the usual method – we check out what’s coming on stream, and then plan a meal around it. So, if there’s plenty of cabbage and carrot ready, we’ll head towards a hearty winter coleslaw. And if the garden is brimming over with silver beet, it might encourage us to make a frittata. But for foodies who grow their own edibles, a much more exciting way to garden, is to explore appealing international cuisines, and then sow and plant the garden in order to provide the ingredients needed to make specific dishes. Let’s take a look at how that might work out:
The Italian garden
If pizza, pasta, and roast Mediterranean vegetable dishes are on your radar, choose a hot, all-day sun site for your garden. Build the garden up to provide good drainage, and layer in loose compost, light pea straw, and some sharp sand. Edge with bricks or rocks to provide a heat retaining wall. You’re now ready to plant cuttings of Mediterranean herbs such as oregano, dill, thyme, sage, and rosemary. Plant cherry tomato, capsicum, and (if your climate permits), aubergine. And don’t forget the garlic! Instead of planting only lettuce, go for some ‘bitter greens as well, such as chicory and endive – they pair deliciously with a honey vinaigrette. If you want to double the fun, plant everything in a round garden, dividing it, pizza style, into ‘slices’ different vegetables!
The French garden
France is a big country, and it spans a wide range of cuisines, but for a classic French take on edible gardens, choose a spot which receives at least 5 hours of sunshine a day, and where the soil is free draining but doesn’t dry out too much over the summer months. Dig in plenty of compost, and make space for globe artichokes, petit pois (little peas), and the all-important trio of onion, celery and carrot (at a traditional ratio of 2:1:1). This medley, commonly referred to as ‘Mirepoix,’ is a must when making stocks, sauces, and stews. You’ll want to establish an asparagus bed, too, and for a really French take on this early spring treat, learn how to blanch it! It wouldn’t be a French garden without leeks (long and on the thin side, rather than our more Kiwi-favoured bulky varieties, so look out for Leek ‘Lungo della Riveria’ as the perfect seed to sow). Last but not least, arm yourself with a packet of flat leaf parsley seed – the curly, tight-leaf variety isn’t as popular on the continent.
Caucasus cookery garden
The Caucasus (think Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Russia) is a wonderful melting pot of east-meets-west culinary delights, and even the coolest parts of New Zealand are ideally suited to growing the ingredients that go into so many dishes from these countries. To make the rich, pungent soups and stews which feature so prominently in this unique cuisine, get out your beetroot and coriander seed, and also sow plant plenty of potatoes, scarlet runner beans, white onions, tomato, peppers, and aubergine. Pop in a few cabbage seedlings as well (the big drumhead varieties are best), for pickling in summer, and for stuffing with rice and herbs in winter. And if you’re lucky enough to have walnut trees handy, you’re home and hosed!
The Indian garden
India is one of the most vegetable-heavy cuisines in the world, and depending on what part of the continent your chosen cuisine comes from, you can grow almost anything! For Northern Indian cooking, head towards potatoes, peas, cauliflower, cabbage, and even beetroot. For Southern Indian cookery, steer towards leafy greens (such as spinach and silver-beet, watercress or land cress, okra, peas, carrots, and curry leaves (if your climate permits).
Whatever your favourite cuisine may be, swot up on the ingredients that go into it, and start planning, now, on how to have them ready to harvest from your own garden. Because nothing beats international cooking than using fresh food!