I’m into killing two birds with one stone, at least figuratively speaking. The meaning of this idiom is to achieve two aims with a single effort. In order to survive the oppressive conditions of a Brissie Summer, the effort of gardening must aim for plants to (1) stay ALIVE so they can (2) be EATEN. I love a good idiom as much as I love getting one up on Summer. Brazilian spinach is a perfect example of growing a climate appropriate plant that is a true hard-arse. From the wet highlands of Brazil (surprise), it’s best grown in sub-tropical/ tropical areas. At this time of year, I need to plant smart. The food I’m growing needs to work with the weather so I don’t have to work against it. Especially since I’m doing my honours degree in law. My garden needs to be as smart as possible while I’m trying to get smarter.
Brazilian spinach (Alternanthera sissoo) is a perennial leaf vegetable with crinkly round green leaves that grows in mounds about 30 cm high. It doesn’t spread out much so you save space (also grows in pots). Plant about 60cm apart and give it full sun to medium shade in loamy soil if possible however it puts up with most soils. The fact that it’s shade tolerant is a bonus and there are less problems with pests (caterpillars and slugs) when well shaded. Just don’t water it too much! I promise this spinach will be the hardiest, tastiest go-to green in your garden.
I originally grew my plant from a cutting from Northey Street and it’s the best way of doing it. Just cut about 15-20cm off the parent plant and strip the leaves from the bottom half of the stem then bury to half the length. Try and take cuttings early morning and plant them straight away in a good propagation mix (I use a mixture of 1/2 perlite and 1/2 peat moss). Keep moist and when established the cuttings shoot from the roots and quickly form dense clumps. This process of propagation works for most soft wood cuttings. So every time you harvest a stem to eat, propagate it! Plant during the wet season and propagate in the cooler months. Brazilian spinach is great for edible ground cover, green mulch and edging paths to control weeds.
Treat Brazilian spinach leaves as you would other spinach and add to anything you feel like. When I eat it in a salad, I like to dress it with evoo and lemon juice and let it sit for a little while to soften. Brazilian spinach is an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C and folic acid as well as being a good source of manganese, magnesium, iron and vitamin B2. The green leaves contain high levels of chlorophyll and carotenoids such as beta carotene and lutein which have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancerous properties. Enjoy my nutritious recipe for barley, pea and Brazilian spinach risotto. PS: barley is packed full of fibre.
B A R L E Y, P E A & B R A Z I L I A N S P I N A C H R I S O T T O
:: serves 4
A decent splash of olive oil
1 finely diced onion
1 cup of rinsed pearl barley½ cup verjuice or white wine
1 litre homemade chicken stock
2 big handfuls of Brazilian spinach leaves
½ cup fresh or frozen peas
½ cup Parmesan or pecorino cheese
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
100g feta cheese
Use a pan good for risotto like a heavy based frypan or saucepan. Heat the butter with a splash of olive oil (this prevents butter from burning) over medium heat then add the onion with a pinch of salt (this will ensure they braise, not brown). Stir for around 7 minutes.
Add the barley and make sure you coat the grains well so they’re shiny. Then deglaze the pan with verjuice or wine until evaporated. Adjust the heat to medium high, then add a cup of hot stock at a time, stirring occasionally, until each addition has been absorbed. No need to constantly stir as you would for rice risotto.
Stir in the Brazilian spinach for about 4 minutes before it’s due to be ready then the peas shortly after. The risotto usually cooks in around twenty minutes, just test the barley to see if it is tender. It still should be liquidy. Take it off the heat, stir in parmesan cheese and season to taste. Let it sit for 5 minutes for the flavours to get friendly and top with crumbled feta. Serve with salad leaves dressed with lemon juice and evoo (remember 3 oil to 1 acidic component). Enjoy x