Green with envy over your neighbours’ veggie patches? It’s high time you grew your own ingredients. With culinary awareness at a peak, and an emphasis on eating fresh, seasonal produce, we’ve asked Kitchen by Mike founder, Mike McEnearney (and his resident gardeners) to lend their knowledge to the cause.
McEnearney has long been an advocate for sustainable, seasonal and locally grown meals. His menu at Kitchen by Mike is wholly dependent on what’s in season, so diners never know what will be on offer. Practising what he preaches, McEnearney uses this same ethos for home growing, too. “We need to be making a conscious effort to eat fresh,” he says. “It’s so important to support local farmers’ markets.”
Following the launch of Kitchen by Mike’s Physic Garden classes in September last year, the response has been a steady growing interest in the team-learning and other benefits of home-grown food. The classes, taught by McEnearney, horticulturalists Byron Smith and Grant LaBrooy and medical herbalist Anthia Koullouros, cover dressings, sauces, condiments, pick-me-up tonics and introductory garden classes.
The Physic Garden spans five garden beds – divided into musculoskeletal and cardiology, gastroenterology, neurology, ear nose and throat and dermatology – with more than 50 medicinal plants for garden wanderers to discover. Grant LaBrooy and Byron Smith from Urban Growers – the guys who put the Physic Garden together – love the project as a platform for educating and engaging home growers. LaBrooy and Smith have been involved in paddock-to-plate projects with Grow it Local and OzHarvest. And they’re undeniably passionate about taking more from urban spaces, whether in personal or community growing.
With high-density housing and little space to spare, McEnearney has one tip for growing at home: pots. “Apartment living is great for using pots. Pots for herbs, pots for plants, then make the herbs into tea,” he says. Investing in your plant growth means nutrient-dense produce, where the better it is, the better it tastes. Among other vegetables, it’s the perfect time of year to plant kale. Keep it well watered and you can use the young leaves for salads and the mature leaves for a stir-fry. Zucchini is in its prime, too. Plant it in the same bed as parsley and enjoy the zucchini flowers as they sprout in unison. If you nail this one long term, remember to pick them frequently to promote new flower growth.
Don’t neglect your herbs, either. More than just a ’90s garnish, parsley is a Mediterranean herb with dermatological and immune system benefits. Mint, another all-rounder, contains anti-oxidants to help with digestion and healthy skin. It’s best added to salads and cool drinks, but lather a mint sauce on a leg of lamb for a fresh take on a classic roast. Lemongrass is also an easy-to-grow herb packed full of folate, magnesium and vitamins A and C. Pick it from your garden and add it to juice for a morning kick.
Other great tips for planting at this time of year include planting vertical “gutter gardens” on outside walls, or making the most of an inside trolley garden. Capitalise on raised-boxed garden beds to maximise an outdoor area, and up the magnesium in all your plants with Epsom Salts to get the chlorophyll working and your seeds sprouting. Just add a teaspoon of Epsom Salts to four litres of water and use it as a foliar spray.
Ultimately, when you buy foods that are in season, you’re getting the best price and the best quality. McEnearney loves what’s in season at the moment. With his emphasis on summer fruits, he’s not willing to let anything go to waste. “Stone fruits, sugar plums, figs and Forbes peaches are the absolute best you will ever find,” he says. The fruit available at this time of year is ripe with possibilities, so eat it fresh or turn it into a jam, chutney or relish to prolong its use.
Whether you grow your own or support local growers, the take-home message is to eat fresh. To help you along, we’ve included one of McEnearney’s favourite recipes. His salsa verde is full of fresh herbs, and if all goes to plan, could be plucked straight from your own garden.
2 tbsp milk
½ bunch mint
½ bunch tarragon
½ bunch chives
1 bunch parsley
200ml extra virgin olive oil
Squeeze of lemon juice
Salt and pepper
Soak the bread in milk and, once soft, squeeze out the liquid and discard the milk.
Hard boil the egg and peel off the shell.
Roughly pick the herbs and wash the capers.
Add soaked bread, egg, herbs, capers, anchovies and olive oil together in a blender.
Blend to form a rustic green sauce.
Adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and some lemon juice.
Vegan alternative: Substitute milk with soy milk and omit the egg and anchovies.