Tag Archives: 52 Week Salad Challenge

Flower Sour

elderflowers

Sweet Little Flowers

Well the elders are in bloom again, and hedgerows all over froth and foam with the delicate white unbrels, almost like the spring tides coming in. This year is a bit later than ususal, due to the length of the Northern hemisphere winter, but now the sunshine has returned, and naure is more than making up for her long sleep.

I love this time of the year, and stock up on elderflowers for cordialsugar, and champagne. All of it delicious, and making the most of the best of the season’s forage.

Elder is really abundant where I live, so there is always plenty to go around during the flowering and fruiting seasons; for us foragers and for the birds.

Elderflowers are not just for the sweet things in life, they are also great in salads, and I have heard of sauces to go with meat. An elderflower sauce is on my list of Things I Want To Experiment With. Like most food bloggers, I guess, I have several such lists – electronically, on paper and in my head. A colleague of mine recently found them in some notes I had taken as part of a work trip, and seemed surprised that I would also be making lists of flavours in between meetings.

As well as the flavours that exist on my lists, or go around in my head, I have a number of different or unusual flavours in my kitchen. For example, I am never without vinegars of all kinds of flavours – raspberry, blackberry, tarragon, rosemary; I even have coconut vinegar since a Filipina friend introduced me to it when she kindly gave me her adobo recipe.

For me, then, it wasn’t too much of a stretch to think that elderflower vinegar would be a great way to keep hold of the elderflower season for just a little bit longer, but without all the sugar.

Try to pick elderflowers on a dry day, in the morning. There will be more pollen and nectar in them, which makes the flavour more intense.

This vinegar is good with salads. I am currently embarking on the 5:2 regimen, because my need to develop great food for this blog was beginning to have a toll on my waistline. I have found that the addition of a few herbs to some of this vinegar is a good way to dress a slad without the need for oil.

You can make marinades with it, and even a couple of drops in some water gives a nice flavour, that is not too sweet.

Elderflower Vinegar

Not So Sweet Little Flowers

Recipe: Elderflower Vinegar

Ingredients

40 g elderflowers

500 ml white wine vinegar

Method

Try to pick the flowers in the morning after a dry spell, in order to maximise the pollen and the flavour.

Remove the elderflowers from the stalks by pulling a fork through the stalks in the diretion of the flowers. You don’t have to be too fussy, as long as you have removed the largest stalks.

Steep the elderflowers in the vinegar, in a non-metallic container or bowl. Cover with a tea towel, and set aside for a few days.

Whenever you remember, give the flowers a stir.

After three days to a week, your vinegar should have reached the strength of flavour that you want.

Bottle up into sterilised bottles. This vinegar will keep well in a cupboard. I cannot resist this fragrant flavour, so the trouble is making it last!

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Resolutions Revisited

A table laden with sparkling wine

Cheers!

A very Happy New Year to you all! I hope that you had the party that I had, but that you skipped the hangover that nearly felled me once and for all yesterday!

And what a year it has been, with weddings, parties, anniversaries, and significant birthdays. It all culminated for me with a new job, and throwing a retirement party and 65th birthday party for my Dad, whose birthday was on New Year’s Eve. I cooked a load of things for that, including more tarted up mince pies and many other things, including some gluten free bits; some of which will appear here soon.

I thought that I would start 2013 with a bit of reflection on what I got up to, with a look back on last year’s resolutions, and to make a few more for the coming year. I’d also love to hear yours, if you want to leave them in the comments.

Varzea Viva, Portugal

Viva Varvea! Permaculture in Practice

Last year, I resolved to go on a permaculture course, and get better at growing food. I had a lovely 10 days in Portugal, with a great bunch of people where I learned about permaculture design. I have since volunteered in a permaculture garden at home, and it has made me a more knowledgeable gardener. I put some of the theory into action in my own garden, mostly with a lot of companion planting, and I hope to blog a bit more about that for this year’s plants.

Purple Eye Potatoes

You Can Only Get ‘Em Two Tone if You Grow Your Own

I also joined the 52 week salad challenge run by Michelle at veg plotting, and started Seedy Penpals  with Carl. All of these things have made me better at successional sowing, and growing in general. I have been exposed to a lot of new plants and new varieties this year, and I’ve met some brilliant people. Although I still haven’t met many of them in person, I have come to look on some as friends, through here and on Twitter.

Mornng Glory

I Found the Story, and It’s Inedible

I had to visit Japan for work once, and the dashis and ramen that I ate there often contained a pretty and pungent leaf vegetable that the English translation often listed as Morning Glory. I decided to track it down to try and grow it for myself. I was given a packet, and was disappointed that they are, in fact, not edible. It turns out that the little leaf I had eaten so often was actually shiso. Luckily, I’d also got hold of both the red and green varieties, and have been enjoying it in salads all summer.

I resolved to investigate more Asian and Middle Eastern food. I have eaten a lot more than in previous years; including pho, Hom Bao, a Lebanese –Inspired Chickpea dish, and have some Persian flavours in some blog posts that will follow. However, I probably could have done better.

Sprouted chickpea bread

Salad as Staple

Something else that I have done as a result of a resolution made last year is bake bread, although not as regularly as I’d hoped. Much of it has been fairly standard, so I have not blogged about it. I did manage to make some nice sprouted chickpea bread, and some hot cross buns, as well as the Hom Bao, which count as a bread, because you make a dough that needs proving.

I had hoped to do some butchery. I didn’t quite manage a whole beast, as I’d hoped, but I have deboned and jointed birds, and a rabbit or two. I have some of the adventures in photos ready to type up, but have been putting it off, because I know quite a few vegans and vegetarians follow my blog and I don’t wish to alienate or upset any of you. I may go ahead with these posts, but make most of it only visible if you click through to the whole post, then you don’t have to see the photos if you don’t want to. I’d be grateful if you are not a meat eater if you could let me know if this would suit you.

I have brewed many things, from blackberry wine and liqueur, elderflower champagne, elderberry wine (which I have great hopes for, this batch is still not ready but preliminary tests have proved promising) up to flavoured spirits from foraged goods. For reasons that I am not really sure of, I have not blogged any of the brewing. Maybe I will just get on and do so; I would like to share them.

Finally, I had a long list of places that I would like to visit. 2012 was not really the year of fine dining, so I didn’t make it to any of those on my shortlist. Ah well, there will always be exciting new and good restaurants to eat at.

And so we come to the year ahead. I have had a lot of fun making the resolutions, and stuck to a surprising number of them, even if I didn’t achieve as much as I’d hoped. So for this year, I have another list that I think is pretty ambitious, but will be fun to try and achieve.

Again, in no particular order, for 2013 I would like to:

  1. Grow unusual vegetables and fruits – especially a lot more perennials.
  2. I’m going to blog more boozy posts. I am going to make nettle beer this year, to see how that goes. I’ve also found wild hops this year, so maybe a beer from scratch could be on the cards?
  3. I want to learn how to smoke food. I’ll have to get hold of a stove top smoker (or a wok with a better lid than the one that I have), and hopefully start experimenting with smoke. My neighbour has a larger smoker in his shed, so maybe I’ll be able to work my way up to smoking with him – although I expect that will take much more than a year.
  4. I want to experiment with cheese. I’ve made soft curd cheeses, but I am just curious about the process and what could be possible in small batches, and without anything in the way of specialised equipment.
  5. I have developed a bit of an obsession with Bath Chaps. It will probably be a challenge to source a well reared pig’s head, but I’m going to give it a good try, then I’m going to attempt a brine, and we’ll see where it goes.
  6. Given my new job I’m going to have a go at some Filipino food, although maybe not some of the most adventurous dishes.
  7. Finally, I’m going to say that I intend to eat out more this year than last, and revisit the resolve to eat at some fantastic restaurants across Europe. I’m not going to list them this year, but if I do get the chance to eat at some, I am going to blog about them.

So let’s see how far I get this time.

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Red Lettuce Day

Thai Chicken, Mango and Noodle Salad

A spicy salad with a difference

Once a week, I volunteer at an Urbania Hoeve permaculture garden. It is great fun, and I am learning a lot. Another bonus is that I have been able to experience a number of different vegetables, as well as save the seeds from them to try them in my own garden.

As you can see from the salad photo, I have used nasturtium (leaves and flowers) in this salad. This is not new to me, I’ve been eating nasturtium for as long as I have been growing them.

Despite having called this post Red Lettuce Day, the two plants that I would like to talk about aren’t actually lettuces, but they are red, and plants that were new to me this year.

The first is Perilla, or Shiso (Perilla frutescens). Although I wasn’t aware of it, I have been looking for this plant since I went to Japan for work, and wanted to have a go at growing the fragrant leaf that you find in many of their broths and ramen. They translate it as morning glory, which I was very disappointed to find isn’t edible, after I had found and started to grow it.  Following a bit of a twitter storm earlier in the year, I found and grew the green version of this, and have been eating the red version from the permaculture garden.

I really love perilla in salads. It has a distinctive perfumed flavour, with a slight aniseed kick. It is a pretty strong herb, so you don’t need a lot of this to provide you with a lot of flavour. It is also good in broths and gravies, and is used a lot in pickles in Japanese cookery.

Orache (Atriplex hortensis) also comes in red and green varieties. You may be able to find the green version in the wild over here. In other temperate zones, it is possible to find it, but it is more likely to be a garden escapee. Like most wild greens, orache tastes very irony. It can be used anywhere that you would use spinach, raw or cooked. I have some seed saved, so I hope that I can grow some here too next year.

Both seem relatively easy to grow, but they need sun, so I can only grow them in a small part of my shady garden. I don’t mind, I’m looking to use them as part of a large mix in the suitable beds anyway, and I think they’ll be fine. I hope that more people will give them a go, I can recommend them.

This is an entry for the 52 Week Salad Challenge, where there has already been much discussion about red and green lettuces, and their attractiveness to slugs. I am not sure if these plants are particularly attractive to slugs in any case, but they are certainly both very tasty in my opinion!

I made up a Thai chicken and mango salad with my haul from the permaculture garden, and I used fresh coconut, which has just hit the markets around here.  I give the recipe below, but this is really easy to tweak if you don’t have your own permaculture garden to play in, or if you want a veggie version or whatever.

For example, you can substitute Thai (AKA holy basil) or even ordinary basil for the perilla; you can swap out the orache for spinach;  you can use cooked chicken without the marinade; or you can even leave it out if you would like. If you don’t have fresh coconut, use coconut flakes. It’s pretty versatile. The key components are really the dressing and the mango, with some contrasting salad flavours and crunch. Whatever salad leaves you choose will need to be robust enough to stand their own against the other strong flavours.

As always, this recipe serves 2 people, but is easily scalable.

Do you have any leaves you think would be good in this salad?

Recipe: Thai Chicken and Mango Salad

Ingredients

If using uncooked chicken:

4 chicken thighs, boned

3 tbsp oyster sauce

2 cloves garlic, crushed to a fine paste

5 cm knob of fresh ginger

½ tbsp light soft brown sugar (lichtbastaard suiker)

pinch chilli powder

If using cooked chicken: 

200 g cooked chicken, cut into bite sized chunks

For the salad:

200 g rice vermicelli noodles

150 g fresh or flaked coconut, cut in thin strips

50 g raw cashews, roughly chopped

1 mango (it can be green or ripe), diced

1 red pepper, diced

½ cucumber. diced

2 spring onions, finely sliced

200 g beansprouts, or other sprouted seeds

10-15 red perilla leaves

Bunch of red orache leaves

Bunch of nasturtium leaves

For the dressing:

3 tbsp fish sauce (optional)

1 tbsp soy sauce

Juice and zest of 1 lime

½ fresh red chilli, deseeded and finely diced, or a pinch of dried chilli flakes

Small amount of brown sugar to taste

Nasturtium flower to garnish (optional)

Method

If you are using uncooked chicken, cut down the thighs so that they are one flat piece. Mix together the marinade ingredients and coat the chicken pieces on all sides.

Roast off in a moderate oven (about 180°C) until the chicken is just cooked. Baste it with the marinade at points throughout the cooking time. Remove from the oven, and set aside

Cook the noodles according to the packet instructions, drain, and plunge into cold water, to stop them overcooking. Drain again.

Mix up the dressing, and add to the noodles.

Dry fry the coconut, until brown and toasted. Remove from the pan, then toast the nuts in the same way.

Toss together all the salad ingredients, except the leaves, and add to the noodles. Mix well.

If you are using the marinated chicken, cut it up into bite sized dice.

Toss the chicken and the leaves through the salad. Top each one with a nasturtium flower, and serve immediately.

This makes a filling and unusually tasty salad. Perfect as an evening meal.

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Garden Companions and a Lemony Salad

Foraging Spot, De Bretten, Netherlands

Pretend it’s a Salad!

Well, it has been a little while since I posted, which I blame on having broken my camera. It also means that I am about to do something that you should never do on a food blog, and that is publish a post without a photo of the food. I did have a corker to share, but it is lost, so you will have to wait until next I make this recipe. In the meantime, please enjoy the view from one of my favourite foraging spots, complete with convenient resting place for my containers.

In this area, people have also planted a guerilla garden. It has been here as long as I have been coming, and probably longer. You may be able to make out Jerusalem artichoke in the picture, and there are potatoes, pumpkins and corn at various times of the year. There is also a lot of mint, which I think was planted initially, but the conditions in the Netherlands are perfect for this herb, and now it is running rampant.

I may have mentioned that we are trying to eat healthily but with all the flavour, and one of the salads that really fits the bill is fattoush. This is a Lebanese salad that uses sumac and lemon to give a really zingy dressing. I have been buying sumac, but I’m delighted to learn that you can actually forage for this plant. It is a native of North America, but apparently it has been a popular garden and municipal plant in the UK. I shall be looking out for it here too.

Despite trying conditions for many of our crops this year, our herbs have gone crazy. So, I didn’t need to forage the mint for this recipe, but at least I’d have known where to go. I don’t take any of the other plants in the guerilla garden, because they are clearly loved and cared for, but there is enough mint here to keep Cuba in mojitos for a decade.

I am also proud to say that this salad contained my first ever Little Gem lettuce.

Since my course back in March, I have been trying to garden according to permaculture principles.  Part of this is that you try to avoid bare soil in an effort to preserve the soil microbiology, take advantage of microclimates, and to prevent the army of local cats from pooing near your veg.

OK, that last one is more a principle of mine, since they used to see our dug over soil as a litter box, little*ahem* darlings. But it does adhere to the principles of  using and valuing diversity, letting a problem become the solution, and (literally) reducing waste 🙂

Based on companion planting charts that are widely available on the internet, I decided to underplant my asparagus with lettuces, marigolds, and chicory. These included red velvet, a leaf lettuce called “Australian Yellow”, a mixed salad, and the aforementioned Little Gems. Most of them have done well, apart from the red velvet. I think this is because a cat got to the spot that night I planted the seed.

So with parsley and mint in abundance and Little Gems and radish doing well, garden fattoush was the salad of choice. A lot of flavour, with the potential of foraging. Could you ask more from a salad?

I’d be really interested in hearing about other people’s efforts at companion planting. Do you have any particular favourites that grow well, or help against pests? Please do share them in the comments.

Recipe: Fattoush Salad

Ingredients

2 pita breads, diced

1 tsp oil for frying

2 Spring onions (or more if really like them), finely sliced

Zest and juice of one lemon

3-4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp sumac

200 g cherry tomatoes (or baby plums), halved

½ cucumber, chopped into large dice

small bunch radishes; roots quartered lengthways, and smaller leaves

2-3 Little Gem lettuces, leaves only, chopped in half

Large handful of flat leaf parsley, leaves whole and stalks finely chopped

Smaller handful of mint, leaves only, roughly chopped

Method

In a frying pan, heat a little oil until it is quite hot. Fry the diced pita breads until they are golden. You will need to stir them occasionally. Drain onto kitchen paper.

While the bread is frying, mix together the lemon juice and zest, the good olive oil, the sumac and the spring onion. Leave aside for a  few minutes to take the raw edge off the onion.

Combine the tomatoes, cucumber, salad leaves, herbs and the radish roots and leaves in a large bowl. Dress the salad with the dressing, and toss well.

Add the pita bread, stir briefly, and serve immediately.

Sounds appetising, doesn’t it? I’m sure you can picture this one without a photo.

 

 

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Simple Ways to Avoid Onion Breath

Sliced Red Onion

Not Your Lunch Time Friend

Raw onion: a lot like Marmite, it is a very divisive ingredient in any dish. Alliums in general are used to impart flavour to a wide range of food, both raw and cooked, but they are pungent and packed with sulphur compounds that make you cry and give you bad breath.

There is a growing trend amongst lunch venues to put red onion in a variety of salads and sandwiches almost everywhere I have been or travelled to. Why do they do this? Apart from making me really thirsty, raw onions are a little antisocial, especially if you have to return to breathe onion fumes all over your colleagues, and anyone that you happen to be having a meeting with that afternoon. I also think it is really lazy. There are several easy ways to avoid this, without compromising on flavour or crunch.

If I am going to be using shallots in a salad dressing, or taboulleh, I address the problem by soaking them in the vinegar of the dressing before I add the rest of the ingredients. A good 10 minutes in the vinegar will reduce the affect of sulphur compounds, as well as develop the flavour.

Similarly, if I am going to make guacamole, a 10 minute pre-soak of the onion in the lime juice sorts out the problem of onion breath. It really isn’t difficult, and in reality doesn’t add loads of time to your prep, you can do it first, then get on with another element of your salad.

I have been eating a lot of salads, not just because of the 52 Week Salad Challenge, but also because they are healthy, low in fat and they are a great way of tasting the best of the seasons.

In the past, I have omitted the raw onion in a salad, but there are a couple that really are made better by the crunch and flavour of onion, but I don’t benefit from the unquenchable thirst I get when I’ve eaten them in any amount.

Panzanella is one of my favourite salads, but it loses a lot by leaving out the onion. Keeping the onion slices as crunchy as possible is also integral to the necessary contrasts of the dish too. For this reason, soaking it in the vinegar is not the best way forward, as this will reduce the crispness of the bite a little.

I am sharing my recipe for panzanella, because it contains the easiest tip for avoiding onion breath, it’s a fantastic salad, and it uses up leftover bread. What’s not to like?

Panzanella

Scented With Summer, Not Onions

Recipe: Panzanella

Ingredients

This will serve two people on its own, or 5 as a side dish

4 thick slices of stale bread, cut into large cubes

400 g tomatoes, different varieties, if you can get hold of them. They need to be ripe, and at room temperature.

½ cucumber, in large dice

1 red onion, finely sliced

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp blackberry vinegar, or red wine vinegar if you don’t have blackberry

1 tbsp capers

6-8 anchovy fillets (optional)

salt and pepper

15-20 basil leaves

Method

If the bread you are using is not stale (although this salad is much better with stale bread), you can dry out the bread in a low oven, or one that has been turned off from cooking something else.

Chop and slice the tomatoes. If you have pretty heirloom varieties, slice some of these and set aside as a decorative touch later. I was using a mix of varieties, which included marmande, plum, tigerella and black Russian. I put the red ones into the salad, and sliced the tigerella and black Russian for the plate.

Combine the cucumber, tomatoes and bread in a large bowl, and set aside.

Cover the onion slices in boiling water, and leave them there for about 2-3 minutes. This removes the sulphur from the onion, but does not cook it, so you still get the crunch, but none of the bad breath. Drain the onion, and leave to drip while you make the dressing.

Whisk together the oil, vinegar, capers and the chopped anchovy fillets. Adjust the acidity or oil to taste, but bear in mind that the tomatoes are also going to add acidity. Season well with salt and pepper.

Add the onions and the dressing to the salad, and mix well. Set aside to allow the flavours to develop for at least a couple of hours, or overnight in the fridge, if you can, but serve it at room temperature.

Just before you serve, roughly tear the basil leaves and mix them in.

If you like, you can add punchy salad leaves, like spinach, mizuna and rocket to add extra bulk. Do this when you add the basil, or the dressing will cook them.

This is a great salad to serve at a barbecue, or summer picnic, or as a side dish. It is also the tastiest way to use up leftover bread.

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Fairies That Can Really Pack A Punch

Marinated Tinkerbell Pepper Salad

Fairy Salad

I recently got hold of some small Tinkerbell Peppers, of assorted colours. They are like bell peppers, but smaller. They are officially a dwarf sweet pepper, but it has given me some ideas for what to call those that I grow, which sometimes turn out not to reach their full size!

I jest. I saved the seed, and I’ll be planting some of these to see if I can grow them next year. We’ll see how successful I am. I hope they’re not F1 hybrids.

Tinkerbell Peppers in Perspective

Fairy-Sized

I recommend this variety, they are small, but perfectly formed, and have quite a lot of flesh for such small peppers, and they have much better flavour than the greenhouse varieties that we get from supermarkets. They would be great for stuffing to use as canapés, on the barbecue or even simply in salads.

I always knew I was going to marinate these peppers, which I often do to larger varieties, to serve with homemade burgers and veggie burgers at barbecues. At the moment, I am also trying to find ways of injecting a lot of flavour into salads, without adding too much by way of fat (more on that soon).

I also have some very good smoked Maldon sea salt, which complements the smokiness of the charred peppers perfectly. I usually char the peppers on my hob, but these were tiny little things, and I wanted to add to the salad by charring some ciabatta, so I used my griddle pan. A fairly recently lit barbecue would also be a great way to char the peppers, and the bread can char just before you serve it. The delicate smoke of the salt enhanced the smoky flavour of the peppers.

It struck me that I could use the peppers and the marinade to dress a nice salad. However, the salad would have to stand up to the punchy marinade, so a normal butterhead lettuce wouldn’t cut it (and this would definitely be no place for an Iceberg). I think any of the mustard greens would be suitable, as would watercress, and some of the foraged greens that are abundant at the minute (e.g. wood sorrel, sorrel, fat hen, chickweed). I had rocket, chickweed and parsley in the garden, so I used those. I bulked it up with some baby spinach. The iron and peppery flavours were just what was needed.

I have also found apple mint and sumac great for adding a lot of flavour to salad leaves, without resorting to cheeses and too much dressing.  If you have any other tips for creating good flavours, I’d love to hear them.

This entry is part of the 52 Week Salad Challenge, where they are currently discussing pests. I know Michelle would love to hear from you if you have anything to add about the bane of slugs or other nuisances.

Recipe: Smoky Tinkerbell Pepper Salad

Ingredients

For the marinated peppers:

5-6 Tinkerbell peppers (or one or two large ones)

A little oil for the griddle pan

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1/2 tbsp blackberry vinegar (or sherry or red wine vinegar will work, even balsamic if you have to)

1 clove garlic, very finely sliced

Small pinch of dried chilli flakes

Good pinch of smoked salt (or normal sea salt)

Black pepper to taste

For the salad:

4 thick slices of ciabatta

A little extra virgin olive oil

A bunch of rocket

A large handful of baby spinach

Bunch of chickweed, chopped if the stalks are long

Bunch of parsley, leaves only

¼ cucumber, diced

8-10 cherry tomatoes, halved

Method

Heat a little oil in the griddle pan.

Halve and deseed the peppers. Put skin-side down in the hot pan, and leave until the skin chars and blisters. You may need to press them down a little on the rounded bits to get the skin to char evenly. Don’t worry that the skins go black.

When the skins are blackened and blistered all over, place them in a plastic bag, a bowl covered with cling film, or in an airtight container, and seal. Allow to cool for 5 or so minutes, when you will be able to rub the skins off easily.

In another airtight container mix a dressing of the extra virgin olive oil, the vinegar, garlic, chilli flakes, the salt and a little pepper. The acidity of a dressing tends to be a matter of taste, so adjust this to your liking.

While the skinned pepper halves are still warm, add them to the marinade, cover, and set aside for a while – at least half an hour – to allow the flavours to mingle. At this stage, you can use the marinade peppers as a side dish or relish too, if you like.

Drizzle the ciabatta slices with some olive oil, and put in the warm griddle pan. You should be able to hear it sizzle, as you put them in. You want a nice striped toast to the bread, so once it is in, resist the temptation to keep moving and checking it.

I used ciabatta rolls, cut in half, so I only toasted the cut side. Leave this for at least 3 minutes, until you can smell the bread toasting. If you are using bread slices, then turn it over, and char the other side, again resisting temptation to move it around. The second side will need slightly less time. Leave to cool slightly.

Meanwhile wash the salad leaves and prepare the cucumber and tomatoes. When the bread is ready, dress the salad in the peppers and marinade, tossing to mix it well.

Serve the salad over the toasted bread, and pour over any remaining marinade.

You will have a smoky, hearty salad, that does not leave you wanting. The marinated peppers may have a fairy’s name, but they really do have a giant flavour.

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Salad Daze

Boiled Egg and Salad

Salad as Protein

Obviously, we are now at the height of the salad season. I have an abundance of rocket, leaf salads, radishes, cress, mustard greens and more. And yet, I am about to do a post that focuses largely on the less usual salads and ingredients that I have been having since last I updated you on the 52 week Salad challenge.

Chickweed Stellaria media

Salad as Easy

I remain loyal to chickweed, and luckily it seems to remain loyal to me. I have been eating it for what seems like months now. I remember that I lamented the lack of chickweed back in the spring, and thought that the conditions in the Netherlands were not suitable. It turns out that I was wrong. Chickweed loves the growing conditions here, but it does appear about 6 weeks after it would in the UK. It has kept me and the guinea pigs happy for quite a while. I have no idea why people write this off as a weed, I think it is delicious.

Mixed Salad with Broad Bean Tips

Salad as a New Kind of Shoot

Back in June, I was also including broad bean tips to my salads. These really are the gardener’s treat, as they don’t keep well, so must be used fresh from the plant. This year, I was also fortuitous in that I hadn’t quite got round to eating my dock and digging it up. I have discovered that blackfly love dock much more than my beans, so they remained pretty free from these sap suckers. Since dock is edible, and has proven to be so effective, I shall probably not be so hasty to remove it all in future, as long as it stays out of my raised beds.

Salmon Fishckes, collaboration salad, Taboulleh & Sauce Grib-ish

Salad as Leftovers

This past month, herbs have also featured heavily. I am finding that herb fennel, dill, mint, basil, and parsley have become a regular addition to my salads, as well as providing me with lots of tabbouleh, and sauces.  I have also been adding herbs to salad dressings. I’ve always used thyme, of course but lately, my oregano has gone crazy, so I have been looking for recipes to use it in. I found this lovely oregano, mint and lime dressing by Laura of How to Cook Good Food. It was an entry in Karen’s Herbs on Saturday Challenge, and has been on heavy rotation in our house since I came across it. It is really a salad dressing for summer.

Mixed Family Salad

Salad as a Family Affair

Back when it was my Mum’s birthday, I made a lovely collaborative salad of leaf lettuce from my sister’s garden, fennel, mint and chives from my mum’s garden, and foraged chickweed. I also added carrot and radish leaves, and was very happy when it all went at her birthday barbecue. I also livened up a simple pasta and chive salad, by mixing in a separated chive flower. I think I converted one of Mum’s friends, who was pretty amazed when she found what it was. She didn’t know chive flowers were edible, but said she would try them from now on.

Summer Vegetable Nage

Salad as Soup

Another herb that has been featuring in my cooking of late is chervil. Although you rarely see chervil in the shops it is really easy to grow, and I have many pots and planters with it. I love this delicate little herb, and it makes a great addition to any salad. It goes so well with broad beans and peas too, as you can see from this vegetable nage I made a while ago.

Something else I really love, especially when the weather is a little too cold for salad is to braise lettuce, beans and peas in a good stock. A dish that is made even better by the addition of a little chervil just before serving.

Braised Salad, Beans & Peas

Salad as a Side Dish

(c) P. Caspar 2012

Recipe: Braised Lettuce, Beans and Peas

Ingredients

This will serve four people as a side dish

100 g podded weight broad beans

100 g shelled weight fresh peas

2-3 Little Gem lettuce, depending on size. This dish also works well with Witloof chicory, and other firm hearted salads

400 ml chicken or vegetable stock

Small bunch chervil, finely chopped

Method

Briefly cook the beans and peas in unsalted boiling water. You can use the same pan, but the beans will need 3-5 minutes, depending on size, and the peas will need 1-2, so add the peas to the pan after the beans have had a couple of minutes. Once they are cooked, drain and refresh in cold or iced water.

Double pod the beans.

Halve and rinse the little gems. You need to keep the stalk, so that the lettuce stays together during the cooking.

In a sauté pan, heat a little oil. Once hot, add the lettuce and cook briefly. You want a little colour on the leaves, but be careful, as they will burn easily. Turn them once to get similar colour on each side. If you prefer a thicker sauce, you could stir in about a tbsp. of flour at this point, and cook it out briefly. I don’t often bother with this stage, unless I am going to use this as a soup.

Add the stock, and cover. Bring to the boil then simmer for about five minutes. Add the peas and beans and heat through for another minute or so. Just before you serve, season a little, if needed and stir through the chervil.

This makes a great accompaniment for most main courses, or you can shred the lettuce a little when it is cooked, stir through a little cream, and serve as a light soup.

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We Need to Talk About Salad

Wild Garlic & Qualis Egg Salad With Wild Garlic Pesto

Salad as Celebration

I have been neglectful of my salad posts and chat of late, which I undertook to do as part of the 52 Week Salad Challenge that was issued by Michelle at Veg Plotting. This is not to say that I have not been diligently sowing, foraging and eating at least one salad a week, but I have been away a lot of late, and even without internet for a lot of it (and enjoyed it, actually!) so I haven’t really had the time to tweet and post about it in time for the monthly Salad Days round up that Michelle takes such care over every month.

To make amends, I am doing a bit of a salad round up in time for this week’s Salad Days, and I look forward to reading all of the links and the discussions from all of the others who are joining in with the challenge on Friday.

Where to start then? The last time I blogged specifically for the challenge (as opposed to cheekily tagging it onto other posts), I had been finding and eating the weeds in my garden.

Clockwise from right: Hairy Bittercress, Wood Sorrel, Chickweed

Salad as Weeding

Clockwise from right: hairy bittercress, wood sorrel*, chickweed.

The weeds have continued to form a part of my salads, but since then, the hedgerows have burst forth, and there has been plenty to eat, from there and from my garden.

Wild Garlic

Salad as Wild Food

We have been eating hedgerow staples, such as the carpets of wild garlic (pictured, in my favourite spot), sorrel*, jack in the hedge (aka garlic mustard), and nettles. all of these have appeared in a variety of tarts, salads, fritters and as side dishes in their own right.

The first of these was the wild garlic. For my celebratory birthday meal, back in March, I made a starter of poached quails egg on a bed of salad, including wild garlic leaves. I dressed this with a really lovely wild garlic pesto, which used hazelnuts instead of the ubiquitous pine nuts. The quail’s eggs are slightly richer, and much smaller than hen’s eggs, and the soft yolks were a perfect foil to the pesto.

At the permaculture course I was eating a variety of the salads that they grew there, as well as a number of edible flowers, including nasturtium, herb flowers, those from the various brassicas that had been allowed to go to seed, and borage. If you have never eaten a borage flower, I suggest you give them a go, they are surprising, they taste almost like cucumber, and are a lovely bite to have in a salad. I also found some very old borage seed this year, which I have given a go. I was given this packet of seeds years ago, so I have lost nothing if they don’t come up, and if they do, they will form part of the new polyveg system I am putting in place this year. Hopefully, it will seed itself and attract bees as well as looking beautiful and being really tasty. Apparently, it is a good pot herb to. If the seeds are too old to germinate, then I’ll get some for next year in any case.

Duck Salad

Salad as a Project

I have already told you about the duck salad I made as part of my duck week. On the 2nd week of April, we held our first barbecue of the year, by way of a baby shower for my friend. It was flipping freezing, but it was dry, and a good time was had by all. I made my go-to barbecue salad of radish, cucumber, feta, parsley and mint. This is based on a quick and easy dish by Nigel Slater. I was very proud to be able to feed my guests with homegrown parsley and radishes in this salad. It went down so well, I didn’t manage to get any pictures.

Things are continuing apace in the garden. I have been eating lots of rocket and cut and come agains, as well as the odd leaf chicory. Because of my desire to embark on a polyveg system, I have also been sowing a number of other salad things this year. I have multiple lettuces, beets, and turnips for some tasty salads, well as a number of herbs. I have also discovered that you can eat poached egg plants, so I’m going to give them a go. Inspired by all the people following the Salad Challenge, I’m also giving a few new leaves a go – notably some of the chinese greens, and shiso. I also got hold of some morning glory, which features in Japanese cuisine quite a lot, I think. I am hoping this is the right one, as I really enjoyed it in soups and salads when I was over there a couple of years ago.

Although I love foraging, I would love to be able to grow sorrel in my garden. To date, I have been unsuccessful, although the partially shady conditions are more favourable for me growing sorrel than tomatoes (which I can manage). I have tried for the past three years to no avail. Do any of you have any tips? I don’t even think I have seen any germination. Do you pre-soak? I have been using the same packet, and suspect that it may all be sterile, but any other ideas will be gratefully received. I hate to see seeds go to waste as much as I do food!

Garden Salad with Caesar Dressing

Salad as Supper

Tonight’s effort was garden leaves and some of the aforementioned weeds (all my own), with a mix of tomatoes, cucumber, broad beans and asparagus (sadly not my own, mine aren’t ready yet, and the asparagus won’t be available this year) in a caesar dressing. I cannot really call this a caesar salad though, since it didn’t have any romaine lettuce, which I planted a bit late, and haven’t even made decent baby gems yet. I ate it with a potato salad and a soft-boiled egg, and it really hit the spot – satisfying, yet cool for the hottest day of the year so far.

One of the great benefits of growing-your-own is the tops off the broad beans. Mine are almost ready, although the cold spell put them back somewhat. You can hopefully expect them in a salad post very soon.

* Please note that neither wood sorrel or sorrel should be eaten in large quantities, due to containing oxalic acid, which can inhibit calcium uptake by the body. They can aggravate kidney stones, gout, rheumatism, arthritis and hyperacidity, so should be avoided by people with those conditions. The amount of oxalic acid does reduce with cooking, but wood sorrel would wilt to nothing at all, as the leaves are not very big in the first place.

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Logical Progression

Duck Salad

Salad as Leftovers

Having eaten fairly rich meals all week, today I was craving something a bit lighter.  I also had a little rocket, parsley and the cut and come again lettuce I planted earlier, so today’s post is both leftover loveliness, and my entry for the salad challenge.

Lately, I have been reading about using miso as a marinade for meats. Obviously, it was a little late to marinate my duck, but I was convinced that it would make a good dressing for a salad. I had the duck, and leaves, and decided that using bulgur wheat would add the bulk, and a lovely nuttiness and some bite to the dish. I would have liked to add some thinly sliced spring onion, but as they are out of season, I satisfied myself with the leaves and the dressing.

The resulting dish was substantial enough to satisfy, but light enough that we weren’t eating more rich food, which really hit the spot for me. Even though we had eaten the duck all week, I had made it different enough not to bore, and it was sad to actually come to the end of this versatile ingredient.

I do have one more dish to post on the topic, but I am travelling in the UK, and managed to leave the pictures on the hard drive at home. As it will be a step by step guide, I think the pictures will be necessary, but I hope that you have enjoyed Duck Week, in any case.

Recipe: Duck Salad

Ingredients:

100 g bulgur wheat

Hot vegetable or chicken Stock – to cover the bulgur by 2-3 cm

60 ml miso paste (I used the darker variety)

2 tbsp soy sauce

2 tbsp rice vinegar

4 tbsp sesame oil

2 cm piece of ginger, grated

Little water to thin

Remaining meat from a roast duck carcase

Small bunch parsley, leaves removed from the stalks.

100 g rocket

100 g cut and come again lettuce, or a mixed bag of salad

5cm chunk of cucumber, cut into matchsticks

Method

Pour the hot stock over the bulgur wheat, cover, and set aside for the bulgur to absorb the stock. I like it al dente, so I make sure that I test it after about 15 minutes. If the grains are as you like them before all of the liquid is absorbed, then drain them, and leave aside.

Meanwhile,  mix the miso, soy, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, and ginger together to make a dressing. Taste, and adjust the soy or thin with a little water, as required.

When the bulgur is done to your liking, add the miso dressing, and set aside for 5 minutes to let the bulgur absorb the flavours of the dressing.

Mix in the duck, parsley, cucumber and salad leaves, and serve immediately.

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Roots and Permaculture

Varzea da Gonçala

Where I Have Been Lately

Hello! I am back from a little sojourn in the Portuguese countryside, where I have been on a fantastic Permaculture Design Course.  I intended to get a load of posts done to be posted over the time that I was away, but as usual, I was behind, and doing them on the journey. I got to the venue to discover that there was no frivolous internet access (due to the tariff system in rural Portugal) and no mobile reception, so things didn’t work out as I had planned (and not planned, in many ways). I am not sorry, it was glorious to be away from it all, and was incredibly good for the soul.

Fig tree at the Varzea, Late March 2012

The View From the Classroom

I will post those other posts over the coming days, along with a few Easter posts, which should probably come first,  but I really want to tell you all about the course and what I got up to first. Partly by way of explanation for the absence, but also because I really want to recommend a permaculture course. This was a birthday present from the Big Guy, so I knew little about it before then. Lucky me!

Me & Permanent Varzea Residents

Me & Permanent Varzea Residents

The course itself was run at Varzea da Gonçala, a lovely small holding just outside Aljezur in the Algarve, and set in a valley (hence the lack of phone reception), not too far from the Atlantic. The Varzea operates on permaculture principles, producing its own fruit, vegetables, and eggs, and they have chickens and pigs to help work and feed the land. It is important to the people who  live and work there to demonstrate that permaculture is effective for everyone, and that it really works. It is why they have called their website ‘I Can Feed Myself’, to underline the point. Chris and Kris, who run it, along with the people who work with them, are excellent hosts and teachers. We also had  amazing food for our stay.

Feast Fit for a King at the Varzea

Feast Fit for a King (Our Last Night)

We ate like kings, with everything from jacket potatoes, to lasagne, to beautiful fresh salads of rocket, mustards, chard, lettuces, fresh herbs, nasturtium leaves and flowers, borage, peppers, you name it. I may not have sown these seeds, but I definitely got my hands dirty to tend to them, so these will form part of the 52 week salad challenge for me, and I don’t feel like it is cheating. The food was fantastic, prepared with love, and was so fresh.

Peter Cow Giving a Lecture

Teacher!

Our main tutor was Peter Cow, who runs Living in Circles, and there were sessions from other permaculturalists, including the people who live on the Varzea.

The Big Guy really couldn’t have chosen a better course. We learned about the principles of permaculture, and the design method, as well as putting it to practical use. I got to play with the compost and do some gardening, and I have learned some valuable skills. Peter is also keen on applying permaculture to the wider world, as well as the personal one. I will admit that I was not really looking forward to this, but I actually found it immensely useful. I have been able to get a different perspective on a couple of things, which have been holding me back in many ways.

The group of people I was on the course with were also brilliant. I have never worked with a group that was so on track, and with no little fighting and falling out, despite being such vastly different people.  Each of them brought a lot of different knowledge to the course, and it was so great to share this with everyone. One guy also lives in the same town as me, so I hope that we can continue to meet and maybe do some digging together!

Making a Wooden Spoon

Spooning!

We even practiced some new skills – both on the course, and in the breaks. As well as learning about swale construction, and building a stackwall. I got an insight into perspective in drawing, which has inspired me to give sketching a go – something I never felt equipped to do before. I helped to teach others how to make pasta. I even know how to make a wooden spoon. I’m just putting the finishing touches to one, albeit that it was produced with a little help from my friends. I really feel like I came away a craftswoman.

Constructing a Stackwall from Cordwood

Constructing a Stackwall from Cordwood

In fact, I have been so inspired by the course, I am trying to expand my use of permaculture and permaculture design. I have some plans for friends’ balconies – and before any of those said friends start to panic, don’t worry, permaculture has a lot to do with water catchment and no-dig, so you won’t become slaves to your pot plants. I am planning to implement my own polyveg system in my own garden, and I will be blogging about it here. I had intended to start a new blog for the gardening stuff (and had a great name lined up…) but the idea of permaculture is that you should take advantage of and increase beneficial relationships, and to me there is no better relationship than that between food and food production. So I am going to capture it here, and try to expand the communities of interest that could talk to each other. I am even going to try and design myself into a new career and direction, but I need a bit more work on that.

Finished Stackwall

Look What We Made!

Peter runs and collaborates on a number of permaculture courses, all of the details of which are available on his website. He is also really in tune with group dynamics and very skilled at getting very different people to work together and gel. You might like to go along to a course, or ask him to teach at one of yours.

Drying Homemade Pasta (No Pasta Machine)

Look What Else We Made!

The Varzea also offer a range of courses, as well as holiday accommodation and camping, for groups, individuals or families. You can get hands-on experience and teaching in permaculture practice. As well as having access to delicious, organic food from the land that they work. An ideal get away from the petrochemical farming and urban landscapes we have come to know, I really cannot recommend this place enough, not to mention the hospitality and the welcome you will enjoy here.

I hope that you will also come to share my enthusiasm for permaculture, and share the fruits of my labour (and the recipes that they inspire). Thanks for coming this far.

Contacts for Varzea da Gonçala

Contacts for Peter Cow

NB: I do not represent, nor am I being paid to blog about the permaculture course,or the Varzea.  I am just so enthused by the experience, and the people I met that I wanted to blog about it.

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