Along the Grapevine


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Chicory Root Soda

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I recently wrote about making ginger soda, a simple process of fermenting ginger root until it bubbles (called a bug), mixing it with fruit syrups or juices and allowing it to ferment for a few days until a fizzy, sometimes downright frothy beverage is ready. These old- fashioned drinks have been a god send on these hot, sticky days of summer, but now I am ready for a change of flavours. Since a bug can be made from any edible root and since I prefer to use wild roots from my own backyard, I decided to make use of some of the vast quantity of chicory blooming not far from my kitchen window.

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Common chicory (cychorium intybus) is native to Europe but now naturalized in North America and Asia. It is a woody plant with blue flowers and cultivated for its leaves, buds, flowers and roots. At this time of year the pale blue flowers are visible along roadsides and in fields in this area. All parts are bitter tasting, although the flowers and leaves are popular in salads. Sometimes the leaves are boiled first to remove some of the bitterness and then added to cooked dishes.

The root is the most commonly used part of the plant, usually roasted and ground to be used as a coffee substitute, caffeine free and less expensive than coffee. It is also used as a food additive in all sorts of things because of its inulin content.

A word of caution: if you are allergic to ragweed pollen or any related plants, you might have a similar allergic reaction to this one. On the plus side, it does contain antioxidants, inulin and it is considered to provide functional help for the liver.

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To prepare the bug, I followed the same procedure as for my ginger bug. Beginning with about 1 cup of water, I added 2 Tbsp of chopped root and 2 Tbsp sugar. Cover it loosely to prevent any contamination. Each day I added 1 tsp each of root and sugar until it became bubbly. This took about five days.

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At this time, you can put a lid on it and refrigerate for a few days until ready to use. Once you use some of the liquid, replace the liquid with water and continue to feed more root and sugar a tsp a day.

At this point, it has a pleasantly bitter taste which I thought very much like tonic water.

For the first drink, I used the juice of one lime, 6 oz of water and enough honey to sweeten plus a bit more, since some of the sugar gets used up in the fermentation process. I then added 2 oz of bug, closed the flip lid to seal well and left it for five days.

The second drink was made with elderflower cordial I had stored in the freezer – the same quantities of drink and bug and the same amount of time.

The lime drink was quite dry and had a distinct bubbliness, much like a kvass.

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The elderflower was much sweeter and very frothy.

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It takes some practice to get the right amount of sweetness and fizz according to your taste, but I have not produced an inferior drink in any so far and they have all been far superior to any commercial soft drink. You can experiment also with any fruit flavours you like. The chicory adds a slightly bitter note which I like, but the flavour is neutral enough it does not overpower whatever flavour you are using.

To be safe, open the bottles very slowly and somewhere you can afford to have a little splllage just in case

Chicory Root Soda on Punk Domestics


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Spicy Roasted Milkweed Pods

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Until recently, milkweed was considered a noxious weed and we were discouraged from allowing it to grow in order not to harm livestock. Now that we are encouraged to grow it to save the monarch butterflies, it has really taken off – at least in my garden. I am referring to common milkweed (asclepias syriaca), which is only one of over 100 existing varieties, many of which are toxic. I have written about using all parts of the plant, shoots, leaves, buds and pods, but if you are unfamiliar with this plant its distinguishing features are as follows:

  • an upright plant about 2-5 ft tall
  • a milky substance oozes out of torn leaves or stem
  • umbels of pink flowers, 2-4 in. wide, grow from the axils off the upper leaves
  • in mid-summer pods grow from the little flowers of the umbels in a tight cluster

The pods are filled with a tight wad of seeds attached to a fine, white, silky thread-like material which will be released and dispersed by the wind. However, when small (about 1-1 1/2 inches long) they are edible as long as they are boiled first for about three minutes, at which point they can be frozen for later use. The ones I used are pictured here with a 25 cent coin to give you an idea of the size. DSC02416

The flavour is sweet, a bit like a cross between okra and green pepper. DSC02418

I decided to roast them and make an Asian inspired dish with a spicy, sweet sauce. The sauce can be made in a few minutes and altered to suit the level of spiciness you are comfortable with. Served with noodles or rice, it makes a wonderful vegetable side dish or a complete vegan meal.

Spicy Roasted Milkweed Pods

1 lb milkweed pods

oil for coating

1/4 cup palm sugar

1 clove garlic

1 tsp chopped fresh ginger

1/2 tsp hot chili sauce, or to taste

1/4 cup soya sauce

1/2 cup sunflower seeds

Cook the pods in boiling water for three minutes, strain and cool under cold running water. Toss them in just enough oil to coat. Lay them on a baking sheet and roast in a 425 F oven for about 25 minutes, until lightly browned. Place the rest of the ingredients, except the sunflower seeds, in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir until all the sugar is dissolved, lower the heat and simmer for two minutes. Toast the sunflower seeds in a pan for a few minutes until they begin to brown. To serve, pour the sauce over the roasted buds and sprinkle with the sunflower seeds.

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Everything can be made in advance and heated up at the last minute. After roasting them, I put some aside, sprinkled with some salt flakes and served them as I would padron peppers. DSC02425 Related Posts: Stuffed Milkweed Pods; Buffalo Style Milkweed Pods</a

Spicy Roasted Milkweed Pods on Punk Domestics


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Wild Berry Tarts with Rhubarb Curd

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When I read Lindy’s post on rhubarb curd, I knew I had to make it. Not only do I have a huge supply of rhubarb, but I also happen to be fond of all things rhubarb, and good rhubarb recipes are not easily found. I will not re-write the recipe, as her explanations are clear and easy to follow and can be found here.

It is a delicious variation of lemon curd and can be used easily for any recipe calling for that. I am always happy to find recipes where local ingredients can be used in lieu of imported ones. Not that I have anything against lemons, but I know the lemons we get here are not the same as where they are grown, so why not find a local alternative when possible.

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I figured this would be a perfect combination for the berries I have been picking lately, and the best way to pair them would be in small, bite-size tarts. Any berries would work, but I used mostly black berries, raspberries and red currants.

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Any kind of pastry is fine, but I made two versions of this one, a dark one with palm sugar and red fife flour and a light one with white sugar and white flour:

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups flour

1 1/2 cups ground almonds

1/2 cup palm sugar (or other sugar)

1/3 cup butter

1 egg

Method

Blend all the ingredients together until you can form it into a ball. Cover and let rest in the fridge for about an hour.

It is difficult to roll this pastry, so just roll each tart separately using an appropriate amount for the size of mould you are using.  Once in the tin, weigh it down with some marbles or other weight (like beans or lentils). Bake at 350 F for 15 minutes. Remove the weights and bake for another five minutes. Allow to cool.

To make the tarts, fill the centre with some curd and arrange berries on top. They keep well refrigerated for up to three days.

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Blueberries, now in season, would be perfect too!

Linked to Fiesta Friday #79


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Lambsquarter Samosas

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I have written about lambsquarters ( chenopodium album ) in previous posts, and as I practice what I preach, I do use these super greens throughout the season – and even freeze and dry them for use in the winter. They can be used in any recipe calling for spinach, so there is really no need to compile too many recipes for it on the blog. But at this time of year, it is worth remembering that this plant is widely available, easy to harvest, and well worth the bother. For cooked dishes, I actually prefer it to spinach as it has a nicer texture and more flavour. I use it in savoury pies, quiches, stir fries, soups – in short, I use it a lot.

If allowed to grow, they can grow very tall, and if the soil is good they will continue to produce a deep green leaf with no blemishes. I have some beautiful patches, all grown in rich organic soil. Just remember not to pick it in any contaminated soil as it can absorb nitrates. Also, if using raw, it is advisable to add lemon to neutralize the oxalic acid.

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I decided to try making a variation of samosas. Normally I make these with carrots, potatoes, peas and spices, but using what I have available in the garden at the moment meant something greener.

So a green curry paste with lots of greens mixed in, and a simple samosa dough which is super elastic and easy to work with.

Just fry some chopped onions and potatoes.

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Add the spices, herbs and greens.

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Roll out the dough, cut and place a spoonful of mixture on top.

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Roll up samosa style, and bake.

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Lambsquarter Samosas


For the pastry

2 cups flour

1 tsp salt

2 Tbsp oil

3/4 – 1 cup of water

Mix the flour, salt and oil thoroughly. Gradually add the water until the dough holds together. Cover and chill for about an hour. Roll very thin, and cut into circles to make the samosas.

For the Filling

oil for frying

1 onion, chopped

1 new potato, chopped and unpeeled

2 cloves of garlic, minced

2 Tbsp green curry paste

2 Tbsp fresh mint, chopped

1 Tbsp fresh coriander, chopped

1 cup peas or green beans, chopped into small bits

1 cup steamed lambsquarters

salt and pepper to taste

Fry the onion and potato until the potato is cooked. Add the garlic, cury paste and herbs and fry 2 minutes longer. Add the peas, cooked lambsquarters, salt and pepper and cook another minute, stirring to combine everything well. Allow to cool.

To fill, place a spoonful of filling on a circle of dough about 3 inches in diameter.

Press together the opposite sides from the middle to the end, forming a cone shape. Then pull up the base of the open part to join the first seam, creating another seam perpendicular to the first one.

Place samosas on a parchment lined baking tray and bake at 350 degrees F for about 30 minutes.

Mine are a little dark because I used Red Fife flour, but if you want them a lighter, more golden colour, use all purpose flour.

Samosas are excellent with a tamarind chutney, but as I am using local ingredients, I made a dipping sauce with crabapple paste mixed with enough vinegar to make a thick sauce, a little cumin and some methi (dried fenugreek leaves) sprinkled on top.

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I served it with a cabbage salad, cucumbers garnished with lemon balm and raita made with fresh mint and purslane.

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They can be served hot or not, as an appetizer, part of a meal, or just a healthful snack when you have been out exerting yourself, which in my case means ripping out masses of weeds, including lambsquarters. By the way, the weeds are doing very well this summer.

Linked to Fiesta Friday #78.

Related posts: Barley with Lemon and Lambsquarters;  Lambsquarters Triangles;   Lambsquarters and Farro Burgers


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A Forager’s Red and Blue Salad

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You needn’t be a full-time, experienced or savvy forager to take advantage of the wonderful wild food all around us. With simple additions of two or three wild herbs, flowers, seeds or greens, an ordinary dish can be made into something which is visually and nutritionally superior to its standard self. Salads are perhaps the easiest place to get started. The ingredients will vary from week to week, depending on what is growing in your garden, near-by wild areas or even in your flower pots. Just be sure you know what you are picking, and that it is indeed an edible plant.

My salad today was inspired by what I found in the garden while out weeding. The base for it is what is growing in the garden at this time of year, namely lettuce and cucumbers (of which I have an alarming amount!) and beet greens, which in this case are actually deep red. Beyond that I noticed a lot of red and blue and decided to work with these as if they were my palette for a salady creation.

Even though the colour didn’t fit, I picked some purslane, probably the single most nutritious plant growing in any garden. I have way more this year than any previous year, and am determined to make good use of it while it lasts.

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For the red theme, I also used the young leaves of red amaranth which has successfully seeded itself each year.

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And purple basil.

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For the blue, I used a few chicory flowers for a little bitterness

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and borage flowers for a lot of sweetness, like honey.

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and Johnny-Jump-Ups for a mild wintergreen flavour.

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I considered using the goutweed next to it, but it didn’t fit in with the colour. This was not the only plant that had to be excluded because of its colour.

A few blackberries and a vinaigrette made by mixing some strained blackberry jam into the vinegar before combining it with oil and seasoning.

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The final result was a wonderful mixture of sweet, bitter and sour, light and fresh with some robust flavour not always found in summer salads.

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I will not likely be able to duplicate this exact recipe as one or more of the ingredients will soon no longer be available, but I will continue to experiment with wild ingredients, and hope you will give it a go too.

Related posts:

Gazpacho with purslane

Waldorf salad with purslane


13 Comments

Bear with me!

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I forage mostly within the confines of our property, except for the odd sortie beyond, usually for plants growing in wetlands. Lately I have gone a few feet beyond our property to a vacant, unused field next door for which I have been given permission to trespass. However, another has recently moved in – one who is a much more serious forager than I and who does not understand that foraging should be done sustainably and with consideration for others. I hope this new tenant does not stay too long, but am reassured that at least by winter he will have lumbered off to hibernate.

I have not seen him, although his relatives have been spotted only a few hundred metres from our house. I had seen his tracks around my favourite raspberry bushes, but wrongly assumed it was from a deer or raccoon. I shan’t be competing with him for these berries – and if I do I will take my trusty bear horn.

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An intrepid houseguest did get uncomfortably close to him, and warned me not to venture much beyond our driveway. I’m not arguing.

Nonetheless, the berries this year are better than I have seen them since we moved here, so I take what I can and where I can. I have enough to make several delicious recipes, beginning with one for pectin-free black raspberry jam.

As this recipe is lower in sugar and acid than most jams, I am not recommending it for canning. In a well sealed container it will last a couple of weeks in the fridge or can be frozen.

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I started by mashing the berries in a pot with a potato masher to extract all the juice I could. For each cup of berries I added one cup of organic sugar plus 1 Tbsp of crabapple paste or dulce de manzana silvestre. This helps thicken it with its natural pectin. A quince paste would work just as well.

Bring to a boil for five minutes and simmer for a further fifteen minutes, stirring often to prevent sticking. That’s it! Pour into clean jars and seal. The mixture will thicken when cool. It is excellent as a jam, tart filling or topping for ice cream.


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A Recipe dedicated to Selma

This week at Fiesta Friday we are remembering Selma, one of our dear fellow-bloggers who recently passed away. Although I did not know her personally, she became a source of inspiration for me not only with her wonderful recipes, but cooking tips and techniques. She was supportive and friendly in her comments, generously giving of her time to help any of us who asked. You can visit her blog at Selma’s Table and read for yourself her stories and recipes from a wonderful life

She and I shared some favourite cookbook writers, one of which was Yotam Ottolenghi whose recipes so often make use of my favourite garden produce with some tantalizing innovative touches. I decided to dedicate to Selma one such dish from his book Plenty, all the ingredients for which I already had either in my garden or pantry. Well, almost. Instead of verjus I used my own version made from unripe blueberries, and I used sunflower seeds instead of pine nuts. Rather than roasting the small beets in the oven with aluminum foil for 45 minutes, I wrapped them in corn husks and roasted them in an iron pan for 15 minutes. I saved on electricity and aluminum! And the beets take on a deliciously smoky corn flavour. Here is how I did it.

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Place baby beets on corn husks

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Wrap securely and twist the ends

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Cook on medium high heat for 15 min. turning often

The recipe is copied, almost verbatim, with my variations in brackets.

Asparagus, Fennel and Beets with Verjus

Ingredients

1/4 lb mini beets

1 1/3 cup verjus

4 Tbsp grapeseed oil

salt and black pepper

4 to 5 oz fresh pencil-thin asparagus, or normal asparagus

1/2 large fennel bulb (1/4 lb) halved vertically (or 1 very small whole one)

1/4 cup pine nuts (or sunflower seeds)

1 tbsp dill leaves to garnish

Method

Clean and trim the beets. Either bake in an oven-proof dish at 400 degrees F for 45 minutes covered with aluminum foil, or use my method as described above.

Pour the verjus into a small saucepan, bring to a light simmer and leave it to reduce to about 3 tbsps. When cooled, whisk in the grapeseed oil and salt and pepper to taste. Put aside.

If using normal asparagus, cut the spears on a sharp angle into long and very thins slices, or use a potato peeler to make ‘shavings’.

Arrange the vegetables on small serving plates. Scatter with roasted nuts (or seeds). Drizzle on the dressing and garnish with dill.

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I think this salad would go very well with many of Selma’s dishes and I hope she would agree.

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