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Dig In: Planting and Cooking with Hops

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Do you have questions about planting, cooking, and the best restaurants in L.A.? Send them in to our Living Editor Katherine Spiers at fooddesk@kcet.org and she may answer them in this column!

Are there any culinary uses for hops, aside from the obvious? Any tips for finding and planting hops rhizomes in Los Angeles? -- Christine

Sure, you can do a ton of stuff with hops, even if you aren't a beer drinker! Let's first talk about getting them in the ground.

Many hops love the sun and the heat, so L.A. is a great place to grow them. As you mentioned, it's the rhizomes that need to be planted, rather than seeds, and you'll want the female rhizomes in order to get the flowers. The main concern for the home hops gardener is space: these are big plants that grow vertically, so you'll need a trellis or a bunch of stakes or something to keep it all upright. And apparently hops can grow up to a foot in a day, so you'll want to act quickly.

You'd have a hard time finds hops plants at the average nursery. Instead, head to your closest homebrew supply store. The Culver City and Eagle Rock Home Brewing Supply stores are good starting points. The folks there will have have all kinds of advice about growing conditions, too.

Once the hops have flowered, it's time to use them. No one will be surprised to find they're possessed of a strong, bitter flavor, so you'll want to use a light touch, whether you're cooking the sprouts or the leaves or the flowers. Try blending hops into savory comfort dishes like mashed potatoes or cream-based soups. They can be stir-fried with rice and other vegetables and perhaps some beef if you're in the mood. Or, use them as a garnish or as an infusion in a salad dressing. (You might want to throw some honey in that dressing for balance.) Just remember: start slow! You don't want to be overpowered by their bitterness.

Finally, they're gorgeous. Any that aren't consumed would look beeee-u-tee-ful in a vase, especially with a mix of other wild-looking flowers.

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