Margaret is ready to return next week with a new column after taking a two-month break from writing. While she was off, we reprinted some of her more popular columns. Here’s another:
Many of us are still planning our vegetable beds, so I’d like to persuade you to try some remarkable vegetables that I like: tronchuda, Trinidad perfume chiles and Jewels of Opar.
Tronchuda is Portuguese collards, sometimes identified as Beira or Couve tronchuda. Some seed companies say it’s a kale, others cabbage or collards. As it grows here, it looks like a loose-leaved cabbage, with very large leaves. Leaves tend to be smooth, not crinkled, so easy to wash.
Most folks roll the tender sweet leaves, cutting narrow ribbons of green that are delicious if lightly sautéed in oil with a little garlic, or even better, incorporated in almost any soup. As long as you harvest outer leaves, leaving the center intact, it continues to provide new leaves as it grows. The most heat tolerant of any kale, it’s also tolerant of cold, grows very nicely in our soil with about one inch of water per week, and is not demanding of fertilizer. I grow it with an inch of compost topping the soil.
A famous Portuguese national soup is Caldo Verde, using chopped tronchuda, onions, potato and sausage (linguica or chorizo). Tronchuda is very nutritious too, loaded with vitamins A, C and K, and all of the nutrients and fiber usually attributed to kale. A cup of raw tronchuda only contains about 35 calories, so watching oil content in stir frying or sautéing can provide good filling low-calorie food. One or two plants can supply a lot of food for a family.
I grew Trinidad perfume chiles last summer for the first time, and now they’re a “must grow” for me. For a chile that looks like the fiery habanero, it’s surprisingly mild, just a little hot, although it’s of the same species as habaneros: Capsicum chinense. It has an unusual pleasant aroma that astonishingly is much like that of the magroot, the fruit of the kaffir lime tree. My friend Lindarose Curtis-Bruce and I each ate one of these small chiles in the garden last summer, and she proposed using it in Thai recipes, after she identified the similarity of the aroma. It is much milder than Thai chiles, an appealing fact for those of us who are wimpy about heat (piquancy).
This chile is similar to the Sweet Datil chile, but that is a little hotter than the Trinidad perfume pod. Both should be used with caution, because I found that using three Trinidad perfume chiles magnified the heat far more than I expected. Taste your dish after adding just one chile. One seed source is Tomato Growers supply. Trinidad perfume chile may be nearly identical to the Suave chiles offered by Renee Seeds. I’ll be trying those this year too.
The name “Jewels of Opar” arouses curiosity. Is Opar a person or a geographical entity? Actually, neither. It’s a fictional site from Edgar Rice Burroughs in an early Tarzan novel. I don’t know why it was so named, but the plant is lovely and useful. Botanically it’s known as Talinum paniculatum. It’s commonly known as Fame Flower or pink baby’s breath.
The plant first forms a rosette of lime green leaves, and then sends up black flower stalks bursting with tiny pink flowers. The flowers drop petals, leaving wee seed balls that are yellow, turning to red, and then to black. The color of the stems make the flowers and jewel-like seed balls appear to be hovering over the leaves.
It is tender to frost, but can and will seed itself, and in some cases the tuberous root will overwinter and send up new growth in spring. In my garden, plant blossoms set at about 10 inches above the soil line, but the plant can grow to three or four feet in height. Here it should be grown as an annual, but in warmer climates it’s a perennial. You can grow from seed or a tuber lifted and stored for winter.
It thrives in full sun or shade for part of the day, is drought tolerant, and withstands high heat. Poor soil is no deterrent for its growth. It’s attractive in ornamental or vegetable beds, where the leaves may be harvested for a hot weather spinach substitute. The leaves are delicious.
Seeds are available from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange or ask at your favorite local nursery.