The Russians have figured out how to grow their cucumbers, dill and horseradish, while the babushkas bring amazing quantities of potatoes. The Hmong, meanwhile, are keen observers of what grows and sells well here, bringing an assortment more in line with what you would expect from a small diversified vegetable farm. They have also taken to the local hills and mountains, especially the elders, who bring impressive quantities of huge, beautiful huckleberries and morels for their English speaking kids and grandchildren to sell at market.
As they’ve adapted, they’ve employed some tricks from home, like the eating of young squash leaves, which I learned about from a friend in the Hmong community.
So the other day I made the following squash leaf stir-fry, with my Hmong friends on my mind.
Hmong Squash Leaves
(If you don’t have squash leaves, proceed without them)
1 or 2 pieces of bacon cut crosswise into inch-chunks (alternatively, cooking oil of your choice).
2 or 3 squash (or zucchini or pumpkin) leaves, on the young side, so they are tender and small and can be left whole. Trim out the stems.
Garden veggies: I used homegrown peas, basil, tomatoes, garlic and Hmong grown baby carrots (and a gringo-grown onion). I considered using market zucchini, but my dish felt busy enough.
Fish sauce or oyster sauce
Lime or rice vinegar
Cook the bacon in a pan on low-ish. When it starts to give up the grease, add the squash leaves and help them lay flat in the pan in the grease. Monitor both leaves and bacon, turning when necessary and steering them into a light crisp. Remove each leaf and bacon slice when ready.
Add the carrots, sliced, to the grease, and the sliced onion, turning up the pan as necessary for a steady, mellow cooking. Add tomatoes, in chunks, and ginger if you have it, and garlic, along with a squirt of fish or oyster sauce.
Finally, add the peas and basil and soy sauce, and stir-fry for just a second. Add back the bacon and squash leaves, add pinches of black pepper and garlic powder, and a dash of lime juice or rice vinegar, and stir around one more time. Serve with hot sauce and rice.