Book reviews: Veggie Garden Remix and The Chinese Kitchen Garden

It doesn’t always happen, but when my review copy of Veggie Garden Remix arrived – the latest garden book by Niki Jabbour – I sat right down and read it. Cover to cover! Jabbour began with a garden best-seller in her Year-Round Vegetable Gardener, which is in something like its eighth or ninth printing now. Her newest is on its way to being another.

Its roots were planted in a conversation with her Lebanese mother-in-law about a gourd Jabbour was growing as an ornamental. In Lebanon, her m-i-l was excited to tell her, it’s grown as an edible – yet here in Canada it’s hard to find at optimum size for cooking.

A gourd-shaped lightbulb went off for Jabbour and sent her hunting for other Lebanese veg to try. That led her to explore growing veggies from diverse regions of the world – and, luckily for us, to write this book.

A peek at the table of contents for Veggie Garden Remix by Niki Jabbour, from Storey Publishing.

The timing coincides with many growing trends. People want to grow and eat more vegetables, and more interesting vegetables. Plus, Canada’s cultural diversity means that grocery stores and market stalls stock all kinds of veggies that might be unknown to us; ones we might try if we knew more about them. Veggie Garden Remix is an interesting read for both sides of us, the growers and consumers.

I loved finding suggestions to try in containers in my tiny, shady garden, and choices that might stretch the growing season. Tokyo bekana (Brassica rapa var. chinensis), for instance, is a lettuce-like cabbage that can be harvested as early as 21 days from seeding. Jabbour not only gives us some surprising alternatives for common vegetables (hosta shoots for asparagus; who knew!), she rates different cultivars and provides how-tos on getting best results. A worthy addition to the garden bookshelf.

The Chinese Kitchen Garden by Wendy Kiang-Spray from Timber Press

Jabbour’s book inspired me to take another look at one that had been on my to-review shelf for far too long. It’s The Chinese Kitchen Garden by Wendy Kiang-Spray, published in 2017, and you could say it has a family connection with the book above. Kiang-Spray shares information on Chinese vegetables from a deeply personal perspective, combined with family history and favourite recipes.

As a family historian myself, I know how hard it can be to pry family stories from our elders, especially if stories involve pain. Kiang-Spray discovered with her reticent father that taking about gardening could open a doorway to her family’s past. Her book brings together the personal and the universal, organized by season and sprinkled with recipes that appeal to my love of Asian cuisine.

A number of vegetables appear in both books. For example, you can read Jabbour on growing Asian cucumbers then flip to Kiang-Spray for more info and a simple refrigerator pickle recipe for Chinese cucumbers in a spicy Sichuan peppercorn marinade. Yum.

Good garden companions, both of them! I’d say: two green-thumbs up.

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