How to Eat Your Garden
Real and usable advice on everything—from growing to storage to plating—to make the most out of your vegetable garden
From Plot to Plate: How to Eat Your Garden
As veggie gardeners, we all want thriving, abundant gardens filled with produce. After all, what could be better than a diverse wealth of ripe veggies awaiting on the vine? It sounds amazing—until you have 25 pounds of squash and zucchini and no idea what to do with it. It’s time to learn how to eat your garden. Here’s how to convert your hard work in the garden to delicious meals—all without wasting produce!
Plan your plantings on your taste preferences. Space out the timing to maximize your use. Seek storage solutions for your hard-earned harvest. And let your culinary creativity flow!
Grow What You Love to Eat
The first step in eating the produce from your garden is to grow things that you know you’ll eat. It might be a dream goal to have 20 varieties of tomatoes. But can you eat pounds of them a day? Probably not.
Begin by selecting crops you like to eat. If you enjoy the taste of okra but don’t eat a lot of that veggie, grow just one plant. The same holds true for eggplant or tomatillo. Plant more of the plants you crave the most. There’s simply no reason to waste time and precious growing space on plants you truly won’t be able to eat.
What if you like to try new plants? Again, start with one. Create a test bed to try out new crops. If you discover you hate them, you won’t have wasted too much space. And if you love them, work them into rotation next year.
Timing is Everything
No, really. I’ve had this problem. All of my lettuce was ready to pick at the same time. There were full heads of romaine, heads of iceberg and so on. An assortment of salad greens was waiting. And a few of them looked like they were ready to bolt.
If you want to avoid your garden produce coming to harvest all at the same time, you need to plan ahead. Succession planting—your best tool for ensuring a consistent, gradual harvest—takes some preparation. Check the estimated time to harvest on your seed packets. Mark up a calendar with planting dates. Space out your plantings so that you have crops ripening weekly or biweekly. Continual harvests ensure the freshest produce when you want it, and reduce waste.
Storage for Sustainability
Don’t just plant your garden for fresh harvests, plant for storage as well. You’ll inevitably still have too much to eat.
I’ll be honest, I’m a tomato junkie. There’s nothing more fun than going out and harvesting huge crops of fruit from the vine. But then I need to make use of it so it doesn’t spoil.
If you’re a tomato head like me, make sure some are a paste variety. That way, you can make sauce from them. Others can be peeled and frozen for soups. Canning is an option. Don’t forget sun-dried tomatoes!
The zucchini that overachieve every summer can be dehydrated. They’ll be a great addition to soups later. Leeks are also great candidates for dehydration. All those cucumbers? Pickle or ferment them. (Read my how-to guide here.)
Consider crops that can be stored dry, too. Beans are a great choice. Grow popcorn instead of sweet corn for movie nights. And garlic can be stored for months.
Plating up Perfection
It’s time to train yourself out of a bad habit. Instead of looking for recipes that sound tasty, look at what’s ripe.
Let’s say you have a couple of Japanese eggplants, some chili peppers and some onions. You’ve also got a ton of tomatoes. These are all ripe and ready to use at this very instant. Don’t just make salsa. Everyone makes salsa. Instead, look online for different concepts. Explore new cultures, venture into the unknown. Your taste buds will thank you. For example,
those eggplants, peppers and onions, paired with some spices and eggs, can be used to make shakshouka (recipe below). The name of this Middle Eastern dish loosely translates to “all mixed up” and tastes delicious.
Those same ingredients also can make a slightly spicy pasta sauce. You can have eggplant parmigiana with a kick. Have you considered a meaty chili yet? Tex-Mex meatloaf with a side of fried eggplant! The possibilities are endless.
Got Fresh Eggs?
To check your eggs for freshness before using them in recipes like this one for shakshouka, place them in a bowl of cold water.
If they sink to the bottom and lay on their sides, they’re fresh. If they sink to the bottom and stand upright, they’re still OK to eat. And what if they don’t sink? Throw them out.
Shakshouka is traditionally served in a cast-iron pan. Because eggs are a main ingredient, this dish is often served for breakfast in Tunisia.
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 Anaheim peppers, seeded and chopped
1 jalapeno or habanero pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 (28-oz.) can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
6 to 8 eggs
2 Tbsp. parsley, chopped
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
Pita bread for serving
In a large, deep skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and peppers and cook until softened and beginning to brown, about 7 minutes. Add tomatoes, vegetable broth, cumin, paprika, oregano, salt and pepper; simmer for 20 to 22 minutes or until thickened.
Crack eggs evenly on top of sauce; cover and cook for 6 to 8 minutes or until whites are set and yolks are thick but runny (if you like firmer yolks, cook for 1 to 2 minutes more). Sprinkle with parsley and feta cheese and serve with warm pita bread.