Hydroponics makes it possible for growers to bring lettuce to local farmers markets and farmers with hoop houses may be harvesting arugula, but our unrelenting heat and humidity mean the end of field grown salad greens such as spinach and lettuce.
Still, summer’s heat doesn’t stop customers from wanting fresh greens. Nicolas Donck has one solution: bags of deep green leaves of Malabar spinach. Although called “spinach” for the leaves’ resemblance to that vegetable, it’s not a spinach at all.
Widely used in southeast Asian cooking, Malabar spinach is a quick growing tropical vine that can easily reach 10 feet in length. The leaves are thicker than spinach leaves, with an almost succulent texture. “It’s one of the only greens that does well in the heat,” said Donck of Crystal Organic Farm in Newborn, just east of Atlanta.
Donck is one of the founders of the Morningside Farme Abercrombie rs Market, and he can be found there most every Saturday morning with baskets and bushels of the week’s bounty. He says he sells 30 to 40 pounds of Malabar spinach each week in season. “It sells so well at the market that we don’t have enough to offer to our restaurant clients,” Donck said.
Donck plants Malabar spinach in April and begins harvesting by late May. He does succession planting because he finds that the younger vines bear the largest leaves, and that’s more appealing for his customers. There are two varieties, one with green stems and one with red. He’s had the best luck with the green.
If you have spac Abercrombie e and sun to grow it in your own garden, Malabar spinach will scramble happily over a trellis and provide greens right up until the first frost. The attractive deep purple berries can be saved and sown for next year’s crop. The berries are also used as a food safe dye. Malabar spinach dyed Easter eggs, anyone?
Malabar spinach can be eaten raw in sandwiches or salads or lightly cooked. W Abercrombie hen using it in a stir fry, add it just at the last minute and heat just enough to wilt the leaves. The sturdy leaves hold up well in the refrigerator, lasting for 4 or 5 days. Thursday, Aug. 9. Chef Seth Freedman of Forage and Flame. East Atlanta Village Farme Abercrombie rs Market, Atlanta. Saturday, Aug. 11. Chef Christopher Smith of Floataway Cafe, working with Malabar spinach. Morningside Farmers Market, Atlanta. Sunday, Aug. 12.