Along the Grapevine


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Walnut and Sumac Eggplant Rolls

The sumac shrubs are at their height now in terms of colour. There are masses of them along the roadside, but I decided to photograph my own for this post. The first one is the focal point in one of my flower beds, and the others are just little shrubs growing next to the shed.

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I need to collect more of the berries, but the weather has been so wet, I have to wait until they are drier, as they lose some of their flavour when rained on. We might need to reach freezing temperatures before they are pickable, but at least it will be dry, and the berries will wait. If you need any information regarding sumac, please refer to this post.

Meanwhile, I used some of my store of powdered sumac to use in this recipe using walnuts and eggplant (or aubergine). It is a very popular Georgian recipe which I discovered in Russia. I was told the stuffing was made with just ground walnuts, but additions can be and are made. In Georgia, there are often several spices added, and sometimes petals of edible flowers to give it some colour. I have made it many times, always trying to duplicate the distinct flavour of the ones I bought in the Russian market. This is the recipe I came up with.

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Walnut and Sumac Eggplant Rolls

  • Servings: approx. 10 rolls
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Ingredients

2 medium eggplants

oil for frying

1 cup walnuts

1 clove garlic

2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar

1/2 tsp fenugreek

1 Tbsp sumac powder

Method

Slice the eggplants (skin on) lengthwise  about 1/4 inch thick

Place them in a shallow dish and sprinkle liberally with salt. Leave them for 30 minutes to 2 hours. Rinse the salt off completely, and pat dry.

This step can be omitted, but it helps to remove any bitterness from the eggplant. Because I always detect some salt even after rinsing them, I did not put salt in the recipe.

Fry each piece in some oil on both sides until they are lightly browned and cooked right through.

For the paste, put all the ingredients in a food processor and blitz really well until it all holds together. If it is too crumbly, add a few drops more vinegar.

Place a spoonful of the walnut mixture along the base of the aubergine slice and roll up.

That’s it! These little rolls are a great appetizer, picnic food or served with a salad or rustic bread. They are eaten either chilled or at room temperature, which is how I prefer them. I wish I could describe how they taste, so much better than the sum of their parts, but there are no words that convey their distinct flavour.

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I am bringing these tasty appetizers to Angie’s 38th fabulous Fiesta Friday. I hope you will drop by this virtual party, and if you have a dish you would like to bring along, click here for the simple instructions.

 


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Harvesting the Seeds

Most of the summer’s harvest has already been brought in, with the exception of potatoes, leeks and a few tough greens, so the gardener (me) has a  little more leisure at this time of year. Of course, there is some clean-up required, but that can wait. The forager (also me) still  has plenty on her plate. I won’t even attempt to list all the things I should be out there harvesting, if it ever stops raining long enough. But one activity I have indulged in is harvesting the great crop of seeds I have – the usual garden produce of course, but also some of the weeds, perennials and self seeding flowers. If you want to be ready in the spring to plant your best garden ever, collecting seeds makes a lot of sense. I must have about a million cosmos seeds which I hope to spread through all our fallow fields. Maybe!

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It also occurred to me that for people with less space to broadcast millions of seeds, it also makes a lot of sense to select a few seeds to be saved for the spring. They can be planted in pots and set on patios, window sills or wherever you choose. There are some plants which are particularly suited for this purpose, and will give you every bit as much beauty as the store-bought annuals – they can even be planted along with for a little ‘diversity’. They will also provide you with the wherewithal to do a little safe foraging without having to leave the comfort of your home. Foraging is not just for the intrepid.

Some of the best plants for potting are herbs – and every kitchen needs a few of those. But beyond that, I would recommend the following, all of which have at least one edible part:

anise hyssop – for its leaves and flowers

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red amaranth – for its deep red leaves

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milkweed – to attract monarch butterflies, for its flowers and seed pods

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flax – for its blue flowers and seeds

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perennial arugula – for its peppery leaves and decorative edible flowers

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If you have enough of some of these plants, the seeds can also be collected, dried and used in cooking. This can be a tedious job, and one I don’t usually recommend. I have tried the usual method, of spilling them from one plate on to another in a breezy spot, but too many seeds were lost in the process. However, I did lately discover a very easy method for collecting and winnowing flax seeds. It requires quite a few seeds, some time in picking them but after that it is so easy with my, I believe, original method.

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This large patch of flax is going to seed gradually. You can see in the photo the little beige seed pods which are ready to be picked. I gathered a few of these.

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I put them in a blender and chopped them up as much as possible. If you have ever tried to grind flax seeds in a blender, you will know it has no effect on the seeds. For their pods and whatnot, it is another matter. I just blended until I had a fluffy mass of seed pods.

Then I took them outside where luckily there was a nice breeze, or maybe it was even wind. I put a deep bowl on the ground and poured the fluff through a funnel, held about two feet above the bowl. Unfortunately, I was unable to take a picture of myself doing this, but as the mixture fell through the funnel, a great cloud of seed covering was seen floating off into the atmosphere. After one try, the seeds were pretty clean, but I repeated this two more times and ended up with these seeds.

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This method did not work so well with the amaranth seeds I tried. If you know of any easy, practical method of winnowing seeds, please do share.

 

 


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Coconut Lime Jerusalem Artichoke Chips

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I made Jerusalem artichoke (or sunchoke) chips last year, and was so pleased with the result that I had to try it again this year, now that the tubers are ripe for digging up. They should be even sweeter after a little more frost, but if I wait too long, the ground will be too hard and many will go to waste. These vegetables are not usually eaten in large quantities, but a few little crispy chips are really very easy to eat, and unless you overdo it, you should not have any ill effects. Fried snacks should only be eaten in moderation anyway.

If you are not familiar with these, you might see them in some farmers’ markets and good grocery stores at this time of year. They are not really artichokes, but rather of the sunflower family, and have a distinctive artichoke flavour. They grow beautifully in a sunny area, produce year after year with absolutely no care whatsoever, and provide bright yellow flowers in the fall when most other flowers are shutting down. Roasted, boiled or fried, they make a delicious side dish, but I dry most of mine, which makes storing them easy. Once dried and ground into flour, they make a great thickener for sauces and can be added to lots of savoury baked recipes.

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I am bringing these chips flavoured with lime and coconut oil to Angie’s 37th Fiesta Friday, which I will be co-hosting with fellow-Canadian and co-host extraordinaire Julianna of Foodie on Board. Feel free to visit Angie’s site, and see what the guests bring this week. If you are still looking for some original recipes for your Canadian Thanksgiving dinner this weekend, I am sure you will find something perfect for the occasion.  Should you wish to bring a dish along to the party, first read the guidelines here.

To make the chips, just follow these steps:

1. Slice the Jerusalem artichokes very thinly, as you would for potato chips. If they are fresh, no need to peel, just give them a good scrub. If the skin has become brown and thicker, then it should be removed.

2. Place in a bowl and pour freshly squeezed lime juice over them so that each slice is covered, and add a little grated lime zest for extra flavour.

3. Place them on a baking tray and put in a barely warm oven until they are no longer soaking wet. They will still feel damp, but most of the juice will have evaporated.

4. Heat the coconut oil, and fry just a few at a time, until they are golden brown. Remove and drain on absorbent paper.

5. Serve while still warm. If they are left at room temperature for a while, they will lose their crispness, in which case just reheat briefly in the oven on a tray until they crisp up again.

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The flavour of lime makes these Jerusalem artichoke chips extra delicious, although lemon could also be used. They don’t even really need salt.


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Maple Leaf Fritters

 

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Our lawn is covered in mostly brown leaves which have fallen from our sugar maples on the front lawn. Except for a few which I will rake up to cover some of my delicate plants, they will stay there till spring, get chopped up in the first mowing, and return to the ground as a kind of natural fertilizer. It never had occurred to me to collect any of these leaves as a source of food until I came across this article about a Japanese recipe for fried maple leaves in a sweet tempura batter. In this article they had the advantage of Japanese maple, which is a much more defined leaf, but I decided to use what I have, which is sugar maple. If you have Japanese maple leaves, you might want to try them – the result is so pretty. Just look at those pictures.

I was understandably hesitant, and did a fair amount of research before undertaking this experiment. I found no references to maple leaves being poisonous to people, but some are very bad for horses. If you at all curious or doubtful about the wisdom of  ingesting these, you might want to look into it further. This article and this one are a good place to start. Continue reading


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Sea Buckthorn leather: A Roll-up for Grown-ups!

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Berries on female bush

This is my third post in a row using berries. The first were juicy sweet blue black nannyberries, the second sour red sumac, and this one is a bitter sweet bright orange sea-buckthorn, or hippophae rhamnoidas.

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Male bush

This is a berry I began using when living in Russia and Central Asia, and one I thought I would miss when I returned home. Luckily by then (2007), the cultivation of this had finally arrived in the new world, and although it is far from common, I am sure you will begin finding it in good farmers’ markets before long if you haven’t already. And when you do, I hope my ideas will inspire you to give it a try. Since it can be grown in a cold climate like ours, perhaps people will realize we don’t always need exotic berries from other continents to enhance our diets. How nutritious is it? Just let me say that Ghengis Khan used it as nourishment for his army!

I first came across it at a garlic festival in Perth Ontario, and shortly after found some shrubs at a nursery in the east end of Ottawa. That was about 6 years ago. I have now had two harvests from my three surviving female bushes – I have only one male but he is doing his job well on his own.

I should clarify for those who are turned off the word buckthorn – a nasty, invasive plant that grows around here. This is not a buckthorn really, and have no idea why it has been given that off-putting name. As for the prefix sea, it is not because it grows near the sea. I don’t know for certain, but perhaps it is named so because when you see fields of it blowing in the wind, the delicate silver-green undersides of the leaves make the plants look like waves on the sea. That is just my humble thought.

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Bushes blowing in the wind

You are most likely to find this berry as an ingredient in health and beauty products, and it is being touted by some as the greatest superfood out there. I prefer mine unprocessed, and eat it either fresh or steeped in hot water. The flavour is so intense, you can use the same bunch of berries for several infusions. If you find the flavour too strong, it could be mixed with sweet fruits, like apples, pears or peaches.

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For this week’s Fiesta Friday, I decided to make a fruit leather. I have never made, or even bought or eaten fruit leather, but this seemed like a good time to start. I collected 6 cups of berries, then strained them through my apple sauce mill, but you could also use a blender or food processor and then strain. I mixed the juice with 3 Tbsp of liquid honey and poured it into a lightly greased, parchment lined cookie tin. I put it in the oven a 170 F for about three hours, at which time I noticed the carroty orange colour was getting darker, but it looked too runny for comfort. I therefore sprinkled evenly on top 3 Tbsp of chia seeds, hoping that would absorb the extra liquid. I returned it to the oven for another 9 hours, at which point the fruit could be peeled easily off the parchment, but it was still flexible and soft.

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It has a soft and chewy texture a very intense flavour, tart like a lemon but caramelized. For a less intense flavour, I would mix it with a sweet fruit, or add just a little to any other fruit leather recipe.

A big thank you to Angie and her co-hosts Selma and Elaine. A little tardy this week, I am heading over there now to see what treats await me.


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Staghorn Sumac: Is it Really Edible?

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For those of you who are familiar with the foraged ingredients I use, you will already be familiar with my use of sumac, in powder and liquid form. It is such a versatile flavouring, often replacing imported ingredients like  lemon or pomegranate in sweet or savoury dishes. However, I continue to meet people who are very skeptical, if not terrified of using this fruit, so I thought it worthwhile to review my earlier posts and offer further information on the plant before I create any more recipes with it.

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The reluctance to try sumac is understandable. It is often paired with the word ‘poison’, as in ‘poison sumac’ which contains the same irritant as poison ivy, and we know how nasty that can be. I have not identified any poison sumac in this area, so have no photos to share, but the berries of the poison sumac are white, and the leaves are  more oval in shape, with hairless stems. For some really good illustrations of the poison variety, visit this site.

What is it? Rhus typhina, velvet or staghorn sumac of the Anacardiaceae family, to which mango, cashews and poison ivy all belong. It is a shrub which can grow to several metres in height.

Where does it grow? Native to the northeastern part of North America, it is found in open places, along roadsides, edges of forests, and often in my flower garden.  There are other ‘rhus’ varieties, all with red flowers, and all edible. If you do not have staghorn sumac in your area, you might have one of these other rhuses which might be worth investigating.

How to identify it: Its distinctive soft velvety stalks, which give it its name, distinguish it before the berries appear. The berries, which ripen in late summer and fall are a deep red which makes it stand out.  For some beautiful photos of this plant at all stages of its life, see this site, and you will have little difficulty identifying it when you come across it.

When to pick it: As soon as the berries turn a dark red in the late summer, the entire cluster can be snapped or cut off. They can be picked right into winter, but the colour is not as brilliant. Do not pick it shortly after a rainfall, as the rain washes off the malic acid, which is what gives them their tart flavour.

How to preserve it:  Scrape the berries off without washing, and cover with water. Some directions say to put them in room temperature water, and allow to sit in the sun to make a tea or lemonade – others say to put them in hot water. I have simmered them to get out the maximum flavour, but you should avoid boiling as this can cause it to be bitter because it releases the tannic acid. Strain the liquid through a cloth to remove any of the little hairs. Alternatively, the scraped off berries can be dried, chopped in a blender or food processor and strained through a fine sieve for a powder.

What to do with it: Many Middle Eastern recipes call for sumac powder, and this North American variety is indistinguishable in flavour. The tea concoction can be taken just as is, possibly with sweetener added. The tea can be made more concentrated too, and then used like a pomegranate molasses.

Here are some of my favourite recipes using sumac.

Fesenjun,  a Persian dish traditionally made with chicken (or meat) in a pomegranate and walnut sauce.

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Sumac Meringu Pie based on a recipe for lemon meringue pie

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Portobello Mushrooms  grilled with sumac and balsamic vinegar

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Za’atar, a mixture of herbs, seeds and sumac used in Middle Eastern cuisine.

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So now that sumac season is upon us, I look forward to finding some new recipes to share. In the meantime, I hope I have removed some of the scare factor from this versatile, tasty and plentiful ingredient. If you have any recipes to add, I would love to hear about them.
div align=”center”>Nannyberry sauce on Punk Domestics

 


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Nannyberry Sauce

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Nannyberry (viburnum lentago), also known and sheepberry and sweet viburnum, is now ripe for picking. It is not yet a fruit which is widely recognized as being edible, but its sweet juicy berries and well-worth picking. Not only are they delicious, but they are easy to identify and very easy to pick. No prickly stems, no stooping, and the thick clusters of berries can just be pulled off in bunches, making them the most economical berries in terms of time. My little harvest took no more than 10 minutes (not counting the time spent nursing my bee sting). While I can’t vouch for just how nutritious they are, the deep black blue colour of the berries make me think they just have to be good for you.

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Nannyberries are native to the northern US and southern Canada. It is often found along roadsides, near creeks and swamps, wherever there is a combination of water and sun. It is also cultivated because of its compactness, beautiful white clusters of flowers in late spring, bright foliage in the fall, hardiness in cold climates, and of course the dark clusters of berries which ripen towards the end of September through October. One thing I discovered is that the honey bees love them, so be careful when picking and where you plant them. However, if you keep bees, or you want to attract pollinators, the plants are a great acquisition.

To help you identify it, it has oval leaves growing in pairs on opposite sides of the twigs, slightly serrated edges, and narrowing to a point. At the tip of some branches, you will see a beak shaped growth.

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The bark varies at different stages of the tree’s life – the younger ones are smooth with spots, and later those spots turn into vertical and horizontal cracks, giving the bark a rough surface.  At this time of year, the twigs are red, and the bark of the trunk is a reddish grey. The fruit is a round blue back drupe (18-16 mm long) growing on clusters with reddish stems. They have one large, flat seed, which may be a deterrent to eating them directly off the plant. Therefore, I took the berries, cooked and strained them, making a sweet, dark sauce. The flavour is similar to that of prunes, and I think this sauce could be used in any recipe calling for pureed prunes or dates.

To prepare, cover the berries with water in a saucepan, and simmer until the berries seem very soft – about 10 min. Strain through a food mill or one of these. (Photo of straining wild grapes)

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Return the pulp to the saucepan, and add about 1/2 cup sugar per 2 cups of pulp. Heat just to dissolve the sugar.

I used this sauce on some cornmeal pancakes as my contribution to this week’s Fiesta Friday, but there are many more uses I can think of: ketchup and dips, serve over cakes, in parfaits, puddings, and ice cream.

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Mullein Tisane on Punk Domestics

 

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