Garden Variety

Do you run with a fast crowd of “live beautiful and die young” annuals, or are you in a faithful relationship with perennials? Are you digging deep for potatoes or keeping it light and bright with herbs? Do you look at weeds with the eyes of a disciplinarian or an oppurtunist? Whatever your definition of delight, the gardener’s rewards are natural beauty or fresh flowers– or both.

In celebration of our season in the sun, we’re exploring simple, flexible recipes for the freshest “out of the dirt and onto the plate” dinner possible. Every dish features early-season edible flowers and baby greens, a weed or two, and other often overlooked offerings from Mother Nature. Give these spritely flavors some palate time: You will appreciate your garden of earthly delights in new, unforgettable ways.

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Early Summer Salad

Get down low to the ground to spot the tiniest leaves of weedy mustard garlic, dandelions, and cress: They’re delicious at this size. Clip a handful of baby lettuces. Pluck some vegetable sprouts: red beets and rainbow kale are the prettiest. Boil a fresh egg and some baby potatoes, but not too much. Plate-up these fresh miracles with blue borage flowers, bachelor button petals, and your very first marigolds. Drizzle oh-so-lightly with a shortcut Green Goddess dressing made with store-bought Ranch purée in a blender with a small handful of arugula and parsley, and one small close of raw garlic. Grind some fresh pepper (maybe pink?) and sprinkle with coarse salt.

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Tempura Flowers

Harvest a few fat red rose buds, a dozen radiant dandelion flowers and a handful of their leaves. Add carnations, daisies, marigold, nasturtiums and sprigs of sage, basil and your favorite tender herbs. Mix self-rising flower, sparkling water, pinches of nutmeg and salt into a thin batter. Bathe your blossoms in batter, and deep fry in hot canola oil until golden and crisp. Serve piping hot with  a dipping sauce of 4 T soy sauce, and one T each of rice wine vinegar, sesame oil and chili oil, sprinkled with toasted sesame. Keep your garden shears handy: you will want a second batch of these garden fritters.

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Tuna Poke

Chop a half-pound of tuna steaks into half-inch cubes. Dice one jalepeño (removing seeds and ribs if you like a milder spiciness), and one half of a large sweet onion. Toss with black and white sesame seeds, 2 T soy sauce and 1 T sesame oil. Garnish with shiso leaves, which have been known to run rampant in local backyards.

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Minimalist Steak

Rub olive oil into a nice cut of organic beef. (We use grass-fed, free-range Longhorn steak from Barberry Farm in Sewickley Heights.) Sprinkle with kosher salt and fresh black pepper and rub it down again. Before you hit the grill just long enough to get it to medium rare, char six shishito peppers and remove the stems. Purée them with lemon juice, salt and pepper, and sprigs of parsley, thyme and a few leaves of sage. Gradually add olive oil until just a little bit drippy. Drizzling the mild heat of shishito peppers over freshly grilled meats elevates BBQ into an art form.

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Fresh and Frozen Popsicles

Spike these artful popsicles as grown-up aperitifs or focus on teas and juices for your young ones. The more alcohol you add, the crumblier the popsicles, so limit the booze to half of your liquid mixture– or add simple syrup for a harder freeze. Making beautiful pops is easier with horizontal molds: compose the herbs, petals, and crushed fruits after you pour in the liquid.

Try mixing fresh orange juice and proseco in equal parts and add tendrils of English lavender and a bit of fine orange zest from a microplane. Sweetened hibiscus tea and rosé wine are the perfect foil for fresh raspberries and savory hot pink beet shoots. Butterfly pea flowers make purple tea. Sweeten it with simple syrup and add St. Germain liqueur along with fresh mint leaves– or use gin, lime juice and cilantro. Once you get started, this adventure never ends. You’ll find yourself  wondering what other garden jewels you can sweeten and freeze in popsicle form.