Monday, October 22, 2012
Early in the spring, as I was perusing the Baker Creek seed catalog, I came across "Salsify," also known as "oyster plant." I was immediately intrigued - a plant that tastes like oysters? That probably sounds terrible to you, but to someone like me who can pretty much eat only vegetables, a vegetable that tastes like a sea creature is a very exciting concept.
I ordered the seeds, planted them, and hoped for the best. About a month later I almost ruined all my salsify efforts when I thought the salsify sprouts were weeds. They look exactly like orchard grass - long, straight, green, and ugly. Not like carrot or parsnip tops, which is what I thought they would look like. Fortunately I realized that the "orchard grass" was ONLY growing in the spot I had planted the salsify seeds, and avoided pulling them all out.
Over the weekend I discovered the worst part about growing salsify: harvesting it. Those dang roots are almost impossible to get out of the ground. They are like a super long, skinny, hairy beige carrot. Carrots can be tricky to pull out of the ground, but salsify was ten times more difficult. I lost track of how many salsify roots snapped off leaving their bottom halves buried in the dirt. But I managed to pull everything out, and had just enough to make Roast Garlic Salsify Soup. That is, after I prepared the salsify for eating. The second worst part about growing salsify is getting it ready to eat. I scrubbed and scrubbed as much dirt off of them as I could, then meticulously peeled their bumpy hairy still-dirty skin off. By the end of it my hands were stained brown with salsify sap. But I held onto the hope that my oyster plants would turn into an amazing meal. And, happily, they did! I don't know if I would say it tastes like oysters, but the salsify lends a very subtle delicate umami flavor.
Now, the soup does not LOOK good. Cooked salsify and lentils combine to create stew the color of, well, old vomit. But it tastes delicious. I'm really not sure if you can find salsify in any stores, and I haven't even seen it at the farmer's market. But a packet of seeds will only set you back a couple of bucks, and this time next year, you too could be the proud owner of a garden bed full of oyster plants waiting to be dug up.