In The Weeds: Gallant Soldier

The difference between a weed and a flower is judgment. Or maybe just attention. Who – other than the gardeners who spend hours uprooting them – really thinks about weeds? Weeds are tenacious growers, always looking for new ways to survive where they’re not wanted. Although most are unassuming, they always carry rich histories and often have potent properties. Learning about these overlooked plants can teach us about spontaneity, endurance, and healing. Every two weeks, I’ll find out everything I can about a local (to wherever I am at the time) weed that’s in season so that we can become acquainted with one of our quietly fierce neighbors.


Context is everything. In Colombia, guascas are an essential ingredient in a chicken and potato stew called ajiaco. In the U.S., gallant soldiers are organic gardeners’ worst nightmare. No matter what you call them, Galinsoga parviflora are probably the cutest members of the daisy family.

Despite being “gallant,” these little guys look like they came out on the losing side of a battle. Galinsoga parviflora grows about 30 inches tall on branched steps. The opposite leaves are toothed at the margins and about 2 inches long. ¼” composite flowerheads have yellow disk flowers and white ray flowers. If you rub the yellow centers between your fingers, 25 or so small, black seeds will have already formed. The 5 toothed ray flowers are usually evenly spaced with nice, big holes between them. Unlike some members of the aster family, gallant soldier’s ray flowers are pistillate. The seeds from disk flowers use a pappus to travel while ray flower seeds spread with a winged structure.

Gallant soldier’s more hirsute brother, shaggy soldier (Galinsoga quadriradiata), looks similar but has hairy leaves. Be careful not to confuse the two edible species of galinsoga with the poisonous tridax daisy (Tridax procumbens). Although the flowers are nearly identical, tridax daisies hug the ground, with only the stem and flower growing straight up. Tridax daisy leaves are diamond-shaped, while gallant soldier leaves are more oval.

Gallant soldier is native to South America. Specimens were brought to Kew Gardens in the 18th century and quickly took the heck over Great Britain with a new name: kew weed. The plant was virtually unstoppable; seeds seemed to form as soon as the distinctive flowers blossomed. By the time anyone realized gallant soldier was in their garden, it had already produced another generation of tiny soldiers.

One released from their Andean home, the army of gallant soldiers kept multiplying; it’s now naturalized on every continent except Antarctica. One of my favorite names for this common weed comes from Malawi, where it’s called Mwamuna aligone or “my husband is sleeping.” And while the botanical name, Galinsoga, isn’t the most unique — its named after Ignacio Mariano Martinez de Galinsoga, a Spanish doctor and botalist — Dr. Galinsoga was pretty forward-thinking. In 1784, he published Demostración mecánica de las enfermedades que produce el uso de las cotillas, a book about the health hazards of wearing corsets.

Speaking of your health — gallant soldier contains compounds which researchers have found can be beneficial to people with diabetes and high blood pressure, and is comparable to spinach in fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals. You can eat young stems and leaves as a salad green or cook yourself a pot of ajiaco. Gallant soldier is as good for your skin as your belly; you can rub it on nettle stings to stop the burning or on small cuts to help coagulate the blood. If all else fails, you can leave it in your garden to distract bugs from eating your vegetables. Whatever you do, though, don’t put it in your compost bin — the seeds can live for up to twenty years and if they germinate, you’ll have a new war to wage.

Butterfruit Margarita Cookies

Not-so-fun fact: Avocados are named after the Aztec work for testicle.

Actually fun fact: In some parts of the world, avocados are called butterfruit. The good thing about this name is that it a) has nothing to do with testicles and b) provides a sneaky way to name your cookies without people realizing that there’s avocado in them until after they’ve eaten one and fallen in love with it. Continue reading

Tofu For Everyone (Even People Who Hate Tofu)

Tofu is a polarizing food. Between people who are anti-soy and people who are convinced that tofu’s only good for hippies, it’s not exactly the most popular kid on the playground.

The first good tofu I had was made by my then-girlfriend’s dad. Thank heavens for social conventions. If I hadn’t been so polite, I would’ve never known how good tofu could taste. Since then I’ve been on a mission to make tofu as good as his and in the past three years, I’ve developed a fail-proof method.

Before we get started, let’s talk about a few quick tips. Although there are different types of tofu, I start out with a firm or extra firm block. Also, tofu is more protein-dense than most meats, so it shouldn’t be substituted 1:1 if you’re turning a recipe meatless.

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Burn Some Beautiful Spoons (Then Spice Up Your Life)

Do you know someone who loves to cook or wants to learn? There’s no such thing as too many spoons. You can use a wood burner to transform cheap spoons into beautiful art things that might just be too pretty to use. That’s nothing a little inspiration can’t fix. Encourage them to use their new tools by making a spice mix or two. Whether you’re crafting for a seasoned cook or a novice, chances are they would enjoy a new flavor in their armory. We’ve got five spice mixtures that can be easily incorporated into a snack or a full-blown feast.

Inspiration

Inspiration

You will need:

  • A Woodburning Pen
  • Wood or bamboo spoons or other cooking utensils
  • An extra spoon – To practice on the same kind of wood you’ll be using
  1. Sketch out some ideas. Keep it simple; a woodburner can be kind of unwieldy. Don’t forget that you’ve got the whole spoon (including the tiny little tip at the end of the handle) to work with. You might want to stay away from the actual spoon if you’re worried about food being hard to wash out or you might not. It’s your call. Go for lines, animals, words, swirlies, or whatever you’re best at doodling.
  2. Practice your plans on the extra spoon.
  3. Take a deep breath, you’re ready for the main event. You can either draw on the spoon with a pencil to give yourself some guidance or dive right in.

Spice Mixtures

spice-jars

European and Latin American spices are typically easy to find in any grocery store. For spices that aren’t used as often in those cuisines, stay far away from places like Whole Foods – you’ll find them there, but they’ll cost you a fortune. Instead, head to a Middle Eastern (for sumac) or Indian (for turmeric, cumin, coriander, fennel, mango, black salt, and ajwain) grocery store. Indian store especially tend to sell large bags for much more affordable prices, which is great if you’re making a spice mix for more than one person. They’re also usually fresher because the typical customers at a cuisine-specific grocery are more likely to buy foods that would sit for ages at a generic grocery. Not to mention: you’re supporting a member of your community by shopping at a local store.

Adobo
6 T Salt
6 T Granulated Garlic
4 T Oregano
2 T Black Pepper
2 T Turmeric
2 T Onion Powder
Uses: Anything and everything

Chaat Masala
3 T cumin
1 T coriander seeds
1½ t fennel seeds
4 T mango/amchur powder
3 T black salt/kala namak
1½ t black pepper
1½ t ginger powder
1 t mint
1 t tumeric
1½ tsps ajwain/carom seeds
Toast and crush the mixture in a mortar and pestle/pilón or grind it up in a (well-cleaned) coffee grinder
Uses: Sev puri, add to fries, salads, and mangoes

Herbs de Provence
5 T dried thyme
3 T dried savory
2 T dried marjoram
5 T dried rosemary
1½ T dried lavender flowers
Uses: Add to omelettes, pizzas, popcorn, vegetables

Za’atar
2 T Thyme
1 T toasted sesame seeds
2 t ground sumac
½ t salt
Crush the mixture in a mortar and pestle/pilón or grind it up in a (well-cleaned) coffee grinder
Uses: Pita chips, add to olive oil for dipping bread, add to popcorn

Pumpkin Pie Spice
2 T ground cinnamon
4 t ground ginger
1 t ground cloves
1 t ground allspice
1 t ground mace
1 t ground nutmeg
Uses: Hot buttered rum, add to pancake batter, winter vegetables (anything orange), vanilla ice cream

Sweet Potato Falafel

Lunchtime: unequivocally the best part of the day. But could it be better? Yes sir, it can. You don’t have to spend gobs of money going out, but you also shouldn’t be packing the same peanut butter sandwich year in and year out; there is a middle way. The path to becoming a lunch box buddha isn’t so hard. All you need is a good balance of inspiration and improvisation.

Spanish food and I don’t really get along. To illustrate my point, I took a picture of the fruits and vegetables section of my grocery last time I went shopping.

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One of these things is not like the other

Spanish people are obsessed with pigs. There’s just no getting around it. Galicians in particular also seem to have a borderline-abnormal fixation on plastic bags. Because I am Captain Planet (and also just because I hate when I have a lot of groceries and my bag breaks on the walk home), I always bring my own bags. Unfortunately, the ladies who weigh your produce at the frutería don’t like it if you try to put your onions in your own bag because it’s “unhygienic” (this coming from a people who think it’s totally 100% no big deal to put a severed pig’s head in a pile of lettuce).

So anyway, lunch! This week I invited my German friend Julia over to make lunch with me because it’s Carnaval so all our friends were glamming it up in the Canary Islands and also because I like her a whole lot. Cooking lunch for the week is a whole lot easier when you have someone cooking with you. Not only does it mean half as much chopping, for this particular menu it means you get done faster because one person can roll the pita/falafel while the other cooks them.

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One Ingredient Banana Ice Cream

Inspired by Carolyn’s three ingredient recipe for peanut butter cookies (Which, by the way, are delicious! Especially the day after.), I decided to finally give The Kitchn‘s much-touted 1 ingredient ice cream a shot. Can you guess what the ingredient is?
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