Time to sow and grow


Time to sow and time to grow. At last the soil has warmed up to12°C so there’s been a frenzy of seed sowing for the past few weeks. Those of us who love to grow some of our own food have been desperate to get going but are only too aware that seeds sown before the ground warms up, simply rot. We’re three to four weeks behind last year but I have tremendous faith in Mother Nature so I’m convinced that we’ll catch up despite all the craziness.

Those of us who have a little back garden or some land are blessed indeed but you don’t need to be a land owner to grow some of your own produce. You’d be amazed how much can be grown on a window sill or balcony –  all one needs is a container filled with soil or compost, a few seeds, sun light, water and a bit of patience to wait for the magic to happen. Once the weather warms up, seeds germinate within a couple of days; micro greens will be ready to eat in seven or eight days. Then you can snip them onto your salad and sandwiches and garnish your plates like a fancy chef. Let them grow for longer and you’ll have an instant salad of organic ‘cut and come’ leaves. It’s perfectly possible to grow year round salad leaves on your window sill, super nutritious and all the more delicious because you grew them yourself. Spring onions are also a doddle to grow, you could sow the seed in an 8cm (3inch) deep module tray but we use recycled bean cans or tomato tins to grow all sorts of things on the window ledges in The Ballymaloe Cookery School. At present we have tomato plants, lettuces, chickpea plants, basil and rose geraniums.

There’s a fine rhubarb crown in an old rusty bucket by the kitchen door and several kale plants that have gone on giving all winter and are now starting to run to seed, so we use the yellow flowers in our green salads. This is the brilliant thing about growing your own, you can use every scrap of most plants, from the root to the shoot (except perhaps rhubarb leaves which are too high in oxalic acid to tuck into).

Peas are also brilliant to sow indoors even in your office, if you don’t have an outside spot. The kids will love them too. The young green pea shoots are delicious to munch in salads, the flowers too are edible but don’t eat them all because they turn into the little pods which you can munch on whole or allow to swell into sweet peas. One packet of seeds costs much less than a bag of frozen peas or even one herb plant. Fresh herbs too grow brilliantly in recycled cans or in a window box and you’ll be proud as punch as you snip off a few thyme sprigs or chives to add to your cooking.

I could go on and on, you too will get addicted once you start – apart from saving money there’s the feel good factor one gets from the thrill of growing your own and the peace of mind that comes from knowing what’s not in the food you are about to eat and feed your family. Mums with picky eaters should know that kids who help sow seeds will eat all kinds of vegetables and plants they wouldn’t touch before, plus surprise, surprise freshly picked vegetables taste altogether different from the fresh vegetables on the shop shelf – and believe me, kids with their young palates really notice the difference.


We are now coming into the fast growing season, so radishes would also be a terrific way to start. They go from ‘seed to eat’ in less than three weeks. If you sow the seed this week, then you can harvest as they swell and enjoy both the crispy root and the fresh green leaves. If you don’t know where to start,  check out www.giy.ie  or watch Grow Cook Eat on RTE1 on Wednesdays at 7.30pm and catch up on the RTE Player for past episodes.


My latest book ‘Grow, Cook, Nourish’ also gives detailed instructions on how to get started, recipes for your precious harvest and how to use up a delicious glut…..










Kitchen Window Sill Green Salad with Honey and Mustard Dressing


Honey and Mustard Dressing

150ml (6fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

50ml (2fl oz) wine vinegar

salt and freshly ground pepper

2 teaspoons honey

2 heaped teaspoons wholegrain honey mustard

2 cloves garlic


Mix all the ingredients for the dressing together and whisk well before use.


A mixture of salad leaves from trays or pots on your window sill – Butterhead, Lollo Rosso, Oakleaf, Mizuna, Mibuna, Mustard Leaves, Cress, tiny Spring onions,  Rocket…….


Snip the leaves if necessary.  Wash and dry the lettuces and other leaves.  Put into a deep salad bowl. If not to be served immediately, cover and refrigerate.  Just before serving toss with a little of the dressing – just enough to make the leaves glisten. Serve immediately.


Note: Green Salad must not be dressed until just before serving, otherwise it will be tired and unappetising.



Summer Green Salad with Edible Flowers

Prepare a selection of salad leaves (see above) and add some edible flowers, e.g. Marigold petals, Nasturtium flowers, Borage flowers, Chive flowers, Rocket blossoms etc. one or all of these or some other herb flowers could be added. Toss with a well flavoured dressing just before serving.


This salad could be served as a basis for a starter salad or as an accompanying salad to be main course. Remember to use a little restraint with the flowers!



Fish Taco with Salsa Verde and Radishes


These are pretty addictive, a tasty way to use your radishes and fresh herbs, best when both the tortillas and fish are still warm.


Serves 4




50g bunch of fresh coriander

2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Flaky salt and freshly ground pepper


2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

110g  radishes, sliced

4 small scallions or spring onions, sliced at an angle

½-1 chilli, seeded and chopped


½ cucumber, halved, seeded and cut in long slivers at an angle.

700g  John Dory or sea bass, skinned

½ teaspoon coriander seed


12 corn tortillas (15cm)


Preheat the oven to 250ËšC/gas mark 9


First make the salsa.

Whizz the coriander, 2 tablespoon water, 2 tablespoon lime juice, 2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil and salt and freshly ground pepper in a food processor until smooth.  Transfer to a small bowl, cover and chill.

Mix another couple of tablespoons of lime juice, 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil and the sliced radishes, spring onions and chilli.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Brush a baking sheet with a little oil. Lay the skinned fish fillets in a single layer.  Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and a sprinkling of freshly roasted and ground coriander seed.

Roast in the pre-heated oven for 3-4 minutes.


Meanwhile, hold the corn tortillas over a gas jet with a tongs, to warm, about 30 seconds.

Fill each tortilla with a couple of chunks of fish, radish, scallion and chilli salad, and a couple of pieces of cucumber. Drizzle with salsa verde, fold over and repeat with the others.

Serve three per person with a wedge of lime.



Melted Green Onions with Thyme Leaves

We so look forward to cooking the new season’s onions this way.  Use every scrap of the green leaves. They are sweet, mild and melting, delicious with all sorts of things, but particularly good with a well-hung sirloin or chump steak or a duck breast.


Serves 6-8


900g young green onions

3 – 4 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons  thyme leaves

salt and freshly ground pepper


Peel and trim the onions leaving root base intact. Slice the white and green part of the onions into rounds.   Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a heavy saucepan and toss the onions in it.  Add thyme leaves, season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Cook on a low heat until soft for approximately 15 minutes. Taste and correct seasoning and serve in a hot vegetable dish.

Asparagus, Rocket and Wild Garlic Frittata


Quick while the asparagus and wild garlic are still in season.

The pan size is crucial here.  If you don’t have the exact size, increase the eggs so the frittata is 4cm deep, otherwise the frittata is likely to be thin and tough.


Serves 6



This is an example of how we incorporate seasonal ingredients into a frittata.


8 eggs, preferably free-range, organic

225g (8oz) thin asparagus

1 teaspoon salt and lots of freshly ground pepper

50g (2oz) Parmesan, Parmigiano Reggiano, freshly grated, or a mixture

2-3 tablespoons roughly chopped wild garlic and rocket leaves

2 tablespoons olive oil



wild garlic and rocket leaves and flowers


non-stick frying pan – 19cm (7 1/2 inch) bottom, 23cm (9 inch) top rim


Bring about 2.5cm (1 inch) of water to the boil in an oval casserole.  Trim the tough ends of the asparagus, add salt to the water and blanch the spears until just tender for 3 or 4 minutes.  Drain. Slice the end of the spears evenly at an angle keep 4cm at the top intact. Save for later.


Whisk the eggs together into a bowl.  Add the blanched asparagus except the tops, most of the Parmesan and wild garlic leaves.  Season well with salt and freshly ground pepper.


Heat the oil in the pan, add egg mixture and reduce the heat to the bare minimum – use a heat diffuser mat if necessary.  Continue to cook over a gentle heat until just set – about 15 minutes.  Alternatively after an initial 4 or 5 minutes on the stove one can transfer the pan to a preheated oven (and this is my preferred option), 170°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3 until just set 10-15 minutes. Arrange the asparagus tops over the top.  Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan.  Pop under a grill for a few minutes but make sure it is at least 5 inches from the element.  It should be set and slightly golden. Turn out on a warm plate, cut into wedges and serve immediately with a salad of organic leaves, including wild garlic and rocket.


Garnish with wild garlic flowers



Basil Ice-Cream with Roast Peaches


Makes 600ml


This is a wonderfully rich ice-cream.  Unexpectedly delicious, we love it with precious ripe figs from the greenhouse.


Serves 6


1/2 vanilla bean (pod)

45g fresh basil leaves, torn

175ml whole milk

4 egg yolks

62g sugar

175ml rich cream, cold


Roast peaches with lemon verbena cream, see below, optional


Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the seeds into a heavy saucepan.  Add the torn basil leaves. Add the bean pod and the milk.   Heat to just below the boiling point and remove from the heat.   Cover and allot to steep for 10 minutes.  Remove the bean pod and scrape again to release every bit of flavour.  Add the scrapings to the milk and discard the pod.


Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together.  Add warm milk gradually, stirring constantly until all the milk is added.  Return to the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the custard coats the back of a spoon (170º-175º), 8-10 minutes approx.


Pour the cream into a large bowl.  Strain the basil custard into the cream.  Mix well, then chill thoroughly.


Freeze according to the directions of your ice-cream machine.

Serve on chilled plates with roast peaches.


Roast Peaches with Lemon Verbena Cream


Serves 8

8 peaches

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons lemon juice

25g butter

Preheat the oven to 250C/Gas Mark 9

Lay 6 or 8 lemon verbena leaves on the base of an ovenproof gratin dish. Halve the peaches and remove the stones.  Melt the butter, add in the honey and lemon juice. Spoon over the peaches and roast them in a very hot oven for 8-10 minutes.  They should be soft and slightly charred at the edges.



600ml cream

1-2 tablespoons lemon verbena, finely chopped


Add the verbena to the cream and whisk lightly, should be very softly whipped


Serve the peaches warm with softly whipped verbena cream

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


Past Letters