Along the Grapevine


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Lambsquarters Triangles

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My first crop of lambsquarters (chenopodium album) is ripe for picking. For the backyard forager, this is a real gift. There is no crop I could plant that would give me as much mass and nutrition as this one does, and I know I am guaranteed another few batches wherever the garden has been dug. Lambs quarters not only like the recently tilled soil of vegetable and flower gardens – they grow virtually everywhere, and if you think you are not familiar with them, it may be just because you overlooked them because they are so common. However, pick only from clean, uncontaminated areas.

I wrote about lambsquarters last year at this time, when I made a Barley and Lemon dish and outlined the health benefits and tried to give enough information to identify it safely. I will share again the photo from last year which is a good close-up.

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And here is this year’s first patch.

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It  is easy enough to pick – just pluck off the tender tops and snip off leaves lower down if they are unblemished. Many people don’t like to eat them raw because of the fuzzy texture on the base of the leaves, but remember that when cooked, they will shrink just like spinach, so you will need a good amount.

They work in any recipe calling for spinach, although their flavour is a bit milder and therefore they benefit from additions of herbs and other strong flavoured ingredients. For that reason my spinach-inspired recipe, something very much like spanakopitas, contains not only lambsquarters and cheese but also a few young dandelion leaves and a generous bunch of mint. You can mix them with any seasonal greens, or use them on their own if you gather enough.

Lambsquarters

  • Servings: 36 pieces
  • Time: preparation 15 minutes baking 25 minutes
  • Print

3/4 lb. lamsquarters + mixed greens

1 shallot, chopped fine

2 cloves of garlic, minced

juice of 1/2 lemon

200 grams feta cheese, crumbled

ground pepper, to taste

1/4 tsp. nutmeg

1 egg

1 lb phyllo pastry

olive oil for frying and brushing on pastry (about 1/2 cup all together)

Method

Fry the shallot in 3 Tbsp of olive oil. When cooked, but not browned, add the minced garlic, pepper and nutmeg.

Wash the greens. If using greens other than lambsquarters, chop the larger leaves so they may be evenly distributed among the mixture.

Add all the greens to the frying pan, lower the heat and cover. Stir once in a while so everything gets cooked evenly. This will take only about five minutes until all the greens look cooked.

Remove from the heat and add the lemon juice and the cheese. Allow to cool slightly and add one beaten egg.

To make the triangles, cut the phyllo into strips about 3 inches wide. Be sure to cover the rest of the phyllo with a damp cloth, as it really does dry out quickly. Brush the strip lightly with oil.

Place a generous teaspoon of the mixture on one of the bottom corners and fold the pastry lengthwise in half, covering the filling. If the pastry has been folded left to right, take the bottom right corner of the pastry and draw it towards the left hand edge. Then take the left hand corner and draw it to the right. See photo following the recipe for clarification.

When rolled to the end, you should have a neat triangle. If the pastry rips a little in the process, not to worry. The folding will cover it up.

Brush the top lightly with oil and place on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake at 325 degrees F for 25 minutes, or until crisp and golden.

 

Dandelion Gin Fizz on Punk Domestics

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I am sharing this at this week’s Fiesta Friday. I know some of the guests have been doing some foraging, but for those who haven’t tried yet, these flaky pastries filled with wild garden greens are just the encouragement you might need to get out and enjoy the weeds!

 

 


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Dandelion Gin Fizz

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There is little time left to collect dandelion flowers this year. My spectacular crop is quickly going to seed, especially those plants which have been left unmowed, and which now exceed the typical maximum height of 45 cm. I was however able to collect a bucket full today from the mowed areas to make the season’s last batch of my new favourite summer drink – dandelion gin fizz.

There is no need to give descriptions of this plant for purposes of identification – if you have them anywhere in your area, you already know them. As for foraging, just make sure that they are picked only in clean areas, free of pesticides and other chemicals, or contaminated run-off. Around parking lots, train tracks, heavily travelled roads and polluted waters are to be avoided.

Roots, leaves and flowers are all edible. In fact, it is a common culinary and medicinal plant in many parts of the world. For more on the benefits and contraindications, check this post. Unfortunately, its uses and benefits are still relatively unrecognized in this part of the world, which makes it a great source of experiment for curious cooks.

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Which brings me back to my bucket full of flowers. Last year, at about this time, I wrote my first post on dandelions, including recipes using flowers for dandelion pakoras and syrup. Since then, I have come across a few recipes for lacto-fermented soda, such as this one and of course I had to try it. It is easy, economical, and full of all those wonderful pro-biotics found in fermented foods and drinks. I was also intrigued to think that this could be a home-made soft drink. I am not a fan of the overly sweet commercial fizzy drinks, with the exception of tonic water for my G&Ts, which despite its grown-up bitter flavour, has as much sugar as the worst of them. So I was thinking along the lines of a good gin and tonic type drink as a post-gardening/weeding refreshment.

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I made this one with whey as a fermenting agent. For the whey, you can strain some natural, plain yogurt through a sieve lined with cheesecloth. You don’t need much, and it keeps in the fridge for at least a week, and can be frozen. My next batch I will make with a dandelion bug, that is, a fermenting agent made with edible root, water and sugar. Most ‘bugs’ are made from ginger, but in fact any edible root works – so why not a dandelion root? To get a clearer idea of what I am referring to, check out this post for a ginger bug where the process is clearly explained.

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Dandelion Gin Fizz


The Soda

Fill a clean mason jar about 3/4 full with dandelion petals – only the yellow part.

Cover with boiling, filtered water and let stand for about 24 hours.

Strain the mixture, and squeeze out all the liquid you can from the petals.

For every cup of juice, ad 1/4 cup whey and 1/4 cup sugar syrup (made from heating until sugar is dissolved 2 parts sugar to 1 part water).

Cover the jar with a clean cloth and allow to stand for about five days at room temperature stirring once a day.

Small white bubbles will form on the top. If it goes mouldy, then throw it out. When you stir it, check the taste. It will have a dandelion flavour, but should be palatable.

The Gin Fizz

1 1/2 cup dandelion soda

1/3-1/2 cup sugar syrup

juice of 1 lemon

3 oz. gin

ice cubes

Mix the first 4 ingredients and pour into glasses over ice cubes.

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Not as bitter as a commercial tonic, this drink has a mild fruit taste, something like a pear nectar. The fizziness is lighter than a traditional G&T, but it is every bit as refreshing and satisfying.

 

Dandelion Gin Fizz on Punk Domestics

 

 


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Fermented Hummus with Sumac

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In my current fermental state, I have a number of things brewing in the kitchen. I even went shopping at my local wine shop for air locks, so now I can begin to ferment things without having to build weighty constructions to keep the contents submerged – at least once I set them up which means making appropriate holes in the lids of preserving jar.

The recipe I chose for Angie’s Fiesta Friday is the simplest of all – no need to submerge anything, yet it still produces that inimitable flavour which comes with all lacto-fermentation. It is quick, easy, and satisfying to make. I won’t bore you with how nutritious it is.

Like many of  you, I have been spending much time in the garden. With lots of rain and warm temperatures, it is a great time for planting – and transplanting. I thought I wouldn’t make it to this week’s party. But I also celebrated earlier this week my first anniversary of blogging, and wanted to mark it with many of my blogging buddies who have taught me so much about blogging and cooking. So I humbly offer my Fermented Hummus with Sumac. I had to throw in some wild edible, which goes very well with it, but if you have to you can substitute the sumac with lemon. Sumac is available in Middle Eastern specialty stores, or you can make your own when it is in season by following this recipe I posted last summer.

The whey can be made simply by straining some natural yogurt through a sieve lined with cheesecloth. The liquid which runs through is the whey – the yogurt left over will be thicker than what you started with.

Fermented Hummus with Sumac

1 cup chick peas (preferably but not necessarily sprouted)

1/4 tsp salt

1 Tbsp sumac powder

1/3 cup whey

2 cloves of garlic

If using sprouted chick peas, rinse them before further cooking. Boil them until they are fully cooked.

In a food processor mix them with the rest of the ingredients until they are pureed. Put them in a bowl, cover with a cloth and let sit out on your kitchen counter for 24-36 hours depending on the warmth of you kitchen. If you live in a hot place (over 75 degrees F or 25 C) you will need to find a cooler place.

Drizzle a little oil on top and sprinkle some extra sumac powder on top.


When they are ready, the mixture will have a lighter texture and tangier flavour than regular hummus. Cover and keep refrigerated.

I served them with dried nettle crackers. That recipe will follow in a few days, depending on how my garden grows.

 


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Nettle Roulade

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A great substitute for spinach, stinging nettles, or urtica dioica, are an easily identifiable wild plant thanks to their particular ability to sting. The stems and leaves are covered in fine needle-like hairs containing three different toxins. As long as you wear protective clothing and especially sturdy gloves, they are easy to pick, and once steamed or dried, all the sting is lost. The plant appears in early spring and grows to about 1 meter in height. It has heart-shaped leaves with jagged edges.

They are commonly found in woodlands, in fields with rich, moist soil, and often near where there has been human habitation. It is invasive, and most people who find it on their properties use it for compost where its nutrients can be put to use. However, before it is fully mature and flowers, the leaves and stems are not only edible, but one of the most nutritious greens available to us. Because of its medicinal qualities, it has been most often dried and used primarily as a tea. More recently its nutritional value has been recognized and people are rediscovering many ways it can be used – in soups, as pesto, steamed or pureed.

To pick them, I remove the top leaves with my gloved fingers and drop them immediately into a bag or colander. Once picked, I rinse them in the colander and put them in a pot with little or no water, except what adheres to the leaves – and in seconds flat they are cooked. At that point I can remove my gloves.

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Once steamed, they can be frozen, or chopped or pureed for immediate use. Mix them with a little minced garlic, seasoning and lemon and they make a perfect green accompaniment for most meals.

With my last batch I prepared a squash roulade which I filled with nettles and cheese. I sometimes mix the nettles with other greens and herbs from the garden. The flavour, like spinach, is quite mild, so mixing it with other flavours is easily done.

Nettle Roulade

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

1/4 cup unsalted butter

1/3 cup plain flour

2/3 cup mild

1/3 cup cooked, pureed squash

4 eggs, separated

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 pound nettles

1/4 lb cheese, such as goat or mozarella

1/2 cup dandelion or other pesto

Steam the nettles and chop or puree. Set aside.

Melt the butter in a sauce pan over low heat. Stir in the flour. Gradually add the milk, continuing to stir. Add the squash and salt. Allow the mixture to cool.

Beat in the egg yolks. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff. Fold them into the sauce.

Prepare a shallow cooking tray by lining it with parchment paper and lightly greasing it. Pour the batter into it and spread it around evenly. Bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes.

Remove from the oven. Immediately, spread the top with pesto, then the chopped or pureed greens, and finally the chopped or grated cheese. Starting with one of the long sides of the rectangle, roll it using the parchment paper. Then remove the paper.

If you are not able to fill it immediately, roll the ‘cake’ as above with no filling and when you are ready to fill it, unfold it, fill it and roll it again. If you try and roll a cooled cake, it will break. The method for rolling is in third picture below, without filling.

Best served at room temperature.

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Nettle Roulade on Punk Domestics


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Lavender Honey Babas

”Fiesta

F0r Angie’s First Fiesta Friday challenge calling for a recipe using yeast and a herb, I have made one of my favourite desserts with some modifications. The cake is a recipe I have used many times for baba au rhum, but decided a spring version was called for, using the flavour of lavender, sweetened with honey and made pretty with wild flowers of the season.  The lavender is from my garden, and the foraged flowers are from my lawn/fields. For the lavender infused sugar, simply mix dried lavender with sugar and allow to stand at least a week. If you have lavender infused honey, that would work too.

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Babas are easy  to make – really just a cake with yeast which gives it a spongy texture, perfect for soaking up any syrup you choose to use, although you will be hard pressed to find a recipe calling for anything other than the rum syrup traditionally used. There is no kneading involved, and the rest times are short – around 20 minutes. The syrup can be made in advance, but should be heated before drizzling over the hot babas. The batter filled 6 individual moulds and one small bundt pan, but you can also do all in one big pan or about 12 individual ones.

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Lavender Honey Babas

  • Servings: 12
  • Time: 75 mins
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Babas

4 tsp yeast

2 cups bread flour

2 tsp sugar

1 stick or 1/2 cup butter, melted

1/3 cup milk

1/2 tsp salt

Mix all the ingredients together. You will have a cake-like batter. Let it rest, covered with a tea towel for twenty minutes (more or less depending on the temperature of your kitchen). The batter should look spongey when you stir it. Stir it thoroughly to get rid of all the bubbles. Fill the mould/s about half full, cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest for another 20 min. They will have doubled in size by this time.

Bake in a 350 F. oven for fifteen to twenty minutes, depending on the size of the moulds, and 30 min. if using one bundt pan. They should be golden in colour and feel cooked to the touch.

Remove them from the pans and pour syrup over them, slowly, allowing the syrup to soak into the cakes. Scoop up any that runs off and reapply it to get as much syrup into it as possible. When cooled, sprinkle with more lavender sugar, garnish with whipped cream to which lavender sugar has been added and, if you like, wild edible flowers as available or preserved flowers.

Lavender Honey Syrup

1 cup liquid honey

1 cup sugar syrup (made by 2 parts sugar to 1 part water)

3 tsp finely ground lavender-infused sugar

Just before the babas are baked, heat the honey, syrup and sugar.

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Lacto-Fermented Ramps

For this week’s Fiesta Friday, I had planned to bring a beautiful purple drink made of dog violets which are growing everywhere around me today. They are so beautiful, and I wanted to preserve them in a festive way. I spent much time picking them, then I candied some which are still drying and that was a job and half in itself. I then made syrup which is something less than the remarkable blue I was aiming for. Here are some pictures of how I spent my morning. It was entertaining, but for nought.

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In the meantime, I was ready to try my latest experiment – lacto-fermented ramps, which I hadn’t even intended to write about but they proved to be so good I wanted to share it with Angie’s guests, especially those who like me have never preserved anything this way before.

Lacto-fermentation is an age-old method of preserving which actually makes good food even better and more nutritious. The sugars in the food feed on bacteria that grow in the fermentation process, which converts the sugar to lactic acid and gives you all those great probiotics we hear much about.

There are so many recipes out there for fermenting just about anything you can think of, and such a variety of methods, I wasn’t quite sure I would be up for the task. Luckily for me, one article said all you needed besides the food you were fermenting was water, salt and clean jars. So that is all I used for this first foraged foray.

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Fresh Ramp Leaves

I sliced all my ramp leaves into strips, lay them on a large casserole dish and sprinkled salt on each layer. For about 4 cups of ramps, I used 2 tsp of fine sea salt. I let them sit for about 4 hours, hoping that the salt would draw out water. I even pressed them a little with a wooden spoon, but they remained pretty dry.

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Leaves after a couple of hours mixed with salt

I then stuffed them in a sterilized jar, pressing them down as I did so as not to leave any air pockets. Then I covered them with non-chlorinated water, put a weight (a small glass jar) on top and covered them loosely with a lid. Every day, I checked that none of the green was surfacing and pressed the weight down a little if they were. After about three days I noticed a few white bubbles on the top which indicates that fermentation is happening. Finally today, the ninth day, I decided to give them a try. This jar below is not the one they were fermented in, which is why you can see air bubbles.

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Fermented Ramps 9 Days Old

I knew I was onto something because they were delicious. The flavour of the ramps was intensified by this process, and they were a little more tangy than the steamed or fried ones I had tried just a week before. I could have added interesting spices and other flavours, but for my first attempt, wanted to make sure I understood the process. I served them just as they were, although I had several thoughts on how they could be used in other recipes – quiche, pizza, spreads and soups to name a few.

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Fermented Ramps with Scrambled Eggs

Maybe it was beginner’s luck, but I am so excited about all the possibilities this has opened up to me and look forward to continuing to experiment with this super economical and healthful method of preservation. Sadly, no more ramps this season, but as other plants mature in my garden, there should be plenty of new ingredients to keep me busy.

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A Taste of Greens

 

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I have been busy these last few days. So many wild greens available, and many of them for only a few days more, so must harvest while I can. The result of all this is that we have been consuming more than our fair share of nature’s spring freebies. So today I prepared a mixture of wild greens served on pasta with nothing more for flavouring than the greens themselves to bring to Angie’s Fiesta Friday #15.. A generous bunch of mint and a handful of young garlic precluded the need for anything alien to the fields, like cheese or lemon. Only the salt, pasta and oil for frying came from afar.

This is not a recipe – just a way to make good use of these seasonal treats. You could use any spring greens, such as spinach and asparagus, but if you have anything edible and green available, this is a good way to use it.

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I used a mixture of previously steamed (10 minutes) fiddleheads, ramp and dandelion leaves, young garlic, chives and mint. I fried the garlic first in oil, added the greens next and the mint near the end. I added salt to taste and one ladle of the pasta water to avoid any burning, and covered it all and let it heat through for a few minutes – as long as it took to consume half a beer.

And speaking of drinks, with the money I saved with this meal, I was able to splurge on a bottle of white wine.

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Fiddleheads on Punk Domestics