Even the question is a little ridiculous: What do you do with too much borage? Most people barely even know that borage exists, let alone that a) it is edible and b) what you might do to highlight its flavor. Borage arrived in my garden five years ago when I planted it not to eat, but as a bee attractant: The more bees in your garden, the better they pollinate its other plants.
Once you plant borage, you have it forever. It so readily seeds itself I get volunteers sprouting all year long; sometimes those seedlings get, well, a little aggressive. Like a few weeks ago. I’d allowed a pair of borage plants to flower and suckle the resident bee population all spring. Then it was time to prep that bed to plant a round of summer cannellini beans. I pulled everything — including the borage plants — turned the soil and added lots of compost. I planted my beans, watered, and waited. This is what came up:
Borage. Lots and lots of borage. You can see a lone bean in the top center, but pretty much every square inch of that bed was covered in borage seedlings. Grrrr… Then I got zen about it and thought that if life has given me borage, I ought to make borage-ade. Or something. And as borage seedlings are not nearly as prickly and spiny as older plants, this was the time to use as many of them as I could.
Well just what the hell do you do with 100 pounds of borage seedlings? Frankly, you compost most of them. But borage, especially young borage, has a crunchy, cooling flavor that can best be described as herbal cucumber. Borage plays well with fish, and indeed, every now and again I get a faint fishy aroma coming from this plant. Holly can’t detect it, so maybe it’s just that I’ve smelled too many fresh fish over the years; many species, especially smelt, smell like cucumbers.
Salads were the obvious choice. Borage played a part in my herb salad with walnut vinaigrette I served at the Vegan Dinner last weekend. OK, that was easy. Now what?
I looked around my cookbook collection and came up nearly empty. Yes, Euell Gibbons has some excellent ideas in his Stalking The Wild Asparagus: Borage drinks, borage jelly, etc. But Euell likes jellies with his meat, a la lamb with mint jelly. I don’t, and I eat jellies and jams rarely. And borage juice requires a juicer — doing it with a food processor means you need to press everything through a sieve, which is a big pain in the ass.
I found a few hippy-dippy recipes for borage that looked too mystical for me. I like my crystals in the ground, not around my neck, and my “chi” is in a perfectly good place right now, thank you very much.
At a loss, I decided to make one of my green soups. Long-time readers of this space know I really, really like bright green sauces and soups. I’ve made an asparagus soup with absinthe, a bitchin’ parsley sauce, and so why not a borage soup?
Borage being an herb, I figured I needed something to add body. A russet potato worked fine. A little veggie stock and a smidge of duck fat added to a heap of blanched borage (borage only needs about 30 seconds in salted boiling water to blanch, by the way), and, after sufficient buzzing, I had a nice green soup.
I like this soup. It is filling, savory, a little herby, and you get just enough of the cucumber-y flavor of borage to make this soup cooling, even served hot. I ate it hot, at room temperature and cold, and I preferred it at room temperature. (Here is the full recipe.) But still… While it was a good soup, it did not scream BORAGE to me.
Next I turned to the The Silver Spoon, the largest Italian cookbook I own. And there it was: Ligurian Pansotti, a triangular ravioli filled with borage and ricotta cheese. Now we’re talking!
This rocks. It’s just a variation on that classic ricotta-and-spinach ravioli filling we all know and love. Only here you definitely get that cucumber taste, making the filling light as air. A dash of nutmeg helps a lot, too. Making the pansotti was a little tricky, as the squares of pasta really need to be squares, else you will be cutting off trailing edges all the time as you fold them over. But it’s worth it, as these ravioli are pretty cool-looking.
I served them last night with tomato water. Huh? Ever cut up tomatoes and find your cutting board all full of water/tomato juice? Make a tomato salad and find your bowl filling up with the same thing? This is tomato water. I make it by chopping heirloom tomatoes and tossing them with salt, and then I drain the ‘maters in a colander set over a bowl. The salty juice drips into the bowl, and voila! I have my pasta sauce. (Full ravioli recipe here.)
So now we have salad, a soup and a pasta course. I definitely had this Iron Chef Battle Borage thing going on. Time for a main course. Borage goes well with fish, and as I’ve been reading Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way, I had chimichurri on the mind. Besides, my friend Lang over at Fat of the Land suggested that chimichurri might be a good use for borage.
So yeah, I made borage chimichurri.
It’s definitely good stuff, and definitely a sauce I’d use with fish, pheasants, quail or chicken. Turkey would be pretty good with it, too. Not so sure I’d do borage with red meat, though. The chimichurri is cooling from the borage and cutting from the vinegar, with a hit of raw garlic and a base note from fresh oregano.
All it needed was some grilled Trinity River spring-run chinook salmon. Good thing we have some! Borage chimichurri is both pretty to look at on the salmon, and a good balance to its richness. This salmon is so fatty it is almost too rich (almost), so I liked having something acidic on hand.
Main course down. Dessert? Nope. Didn’t go there. Not sure a borage ice cream or sorbet would be good, although a savory borage sorbet would be a good palate cleanser between courses, I suspect.
What was the point of all this? Well, those damn seedlings choked out all my beans, so I felt I needed to exact a measure of revenge against the interlopers. Besides, I may never get such a flush of borage seedlings again, and I wanted to make hay while the sun shined, so to speak.
But it’s really an issue of getting to know an ingredient — really getting to know it — that made this so much fun. Sure borage is obscure. But it’s easy to grow and I’m glad to have it around. Now I know what I can do with it.
I also know I did not come near to exhausting borage’s uses. Anyone out there have any others? I’m all ears, as there will always be more borage lurking somewhere in my garden.