This is not a blog about cooking. It’s about vegetables that love heat, that is, growing in it.
I live in Central Texas where the summers are long and hot. We basically have two short growing seasons: a short Spring season when the temperatures are mild and favorable, and a short Fall season when the temperatures are mild and favorable. With a little effort, you can keep some vegetables growing all winter, such as kale, collards, and spinach. And there are also a few vegetables that can keep going in the 100 degree and higher days of summer.
And, I like the idea of having something fresh from the garden throughout the year. And now that June is upon us, which is definitely full-blown summer in Texas, let’s talk about heat-loving vegetables.
1) Black-eyed peas- I have written about black-eyed peas before, and I consider them one of the joys of summer. Most people have never seen them, let alone eaten them, at least not the way I do. I eat them fresh! In the pod, and including the pod. When you pick them fresh and young from the garden, you can do that. I pick them when they are still green, yet with a nice row of peas. (I refer to the peas as biceps because that’s what they remind me of, a row of bicep muscles). Then I steam the whole thing for about 10 to 15 minutes. They make very good eating. Sometimes, as you chew them up, there is a little bit of stringy residue that you might want to spit out, or not. It’s up to you. Overall, they are less fibrous than, say, corn on the cob. So, if you can eat the latter, you can eat the former. And they are very nutritious, chock-ful of everything, including protein. It's rather like getting the benefits of a high-protein food and also getting the benefits of a green vegetable at the same time.
Plus, black-eyed peas love the heat. As long as you water them, they’ll grow all summer no matter how hot it gets. But, to prolong the harvest, you do need to stagger them. Perhaps plant another row every two weeks so that they keep coming all summer.
Another thing I do with black-eyed peas is mature some pods to save for seed. The seeds I planted this year were actually my own seeds from two years ago. And I am going to save seed again this year for planting next year.
2) Okra-I love okra. I love all kinds of okra. This year I have two varieties: the classic Clemson okra and the beautiful red burgundy okra. Both are very delicious. And nutritious. Okra is loaded with minerals, particularly calcium. The great thing about okra is that it only takes one planting in the Spring. Once they start bearing, they keep bearing all summer. No need to stagger them. They just keep going and going and going all the way until fall.
The secret to enjoying okra is to cook it right. I steam it, but I watch it very closely. If you undercook it, it won’t have the nice flavor and texture, but if you overcook it, it gets slimey. It usually takes right around 5 minutes to come out perfect.
And another great thing about okra is that it calls for absolutely no butter or oil. It just doesn’t need it. You might want to use a little smattering of sea salt. But that’s all. Nothing else. Delicious!
And okra is definitely a vegetable that is worthwhile to grow at home. Store-bought okra is rarely any good, and I rarely ever buy it. The reason is that they chill it too much. Okra does not like cold temperatures, and even the refrigerator is too cold for it. And it will start to blacken when you chill it excessively, and that’s why supermarket okra often has black edges. If you have to store okra at home, your best bet is to wash it, cut off the ends, steam it for just a minute to blanch it, and then freeze it. It will keep very well that way for months and taste just as good as fresh. Blanching and freezing of okra is a much better idea than prolonged refrigeration.
And okra is so easy to grow. And it grows fast. But, I’ll warn you that if you start too early in the Spring, it may germinate, but as long as temperatures are cool, it won’t grow much early on. It does have to be hot to thrive. But once it does get hot, look out: because okra takes off like a weed.
So, there is no advantage to planting okra early. Wait until it’s at least in the 80s during the day.
3) Malabar spinach-this is a variety of spinach, from Asia, that grows all summer and loves the heat. However, it is not actually related to spinach, and it doesn’t even taste like spinach. It tastes very mild. It’s not a bad taste, but there just isn’t much to it. However, like all green leaves, it’s very nutritious. People don’t usually eat it raw; they usually cook it. But, you shouldn’t overcook it because then it will get mushy. A very quick steaming is all it needs. Tonight, for instance, I had whole grain pasta with tomato sauce and Malabar spinach. I also included some basil from the garden. Well, actually, the herbs we grow in a planter box.
Malabar spinach is also a very beautiful plant. It grows as a vine with tiny pink flowers. And it will climb up anything nearby. For instance, I have tomato cages nearby, and it’s climbing up those tomato cages like crazy. And it will grow and thrive all summer long no matter how hot it gets. I say it’s nice to have a leafy green from your garden even when it’s hot. And Malabar is very easy to grow. It has no disease problems and not much in the way of insect problems either.
We also grow the standard vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, squash, and green beans, but the only one of those that stands a chance of over-summering are peppers. Tomatoes don’t set fruit in the 90s or higher. Squash gives it up once it gets very hot, and green beans play out as well. Right now, we are swimming in tomatoes, and we’ve done well with all of them. But, I suspect that by July, it will be mainly okra, black-eyed peas, and Malabar spinach that comprise our mid-summer garden.