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.I checked first that the flavour of the leaves was not too unpleasant, just a nibble at first, and found it really didn’t taste of anything at all. A little more, and I could detect a slight bitter taste, but less bitter than I expected. I have no idea what the nutritional value is of these leaves, as I only read that if you are lost in the woods and starving, you can safely eat them, so I presume they have some substance, but as I was planning to make what amounts to a kind of donut, nutrition wasn’t a big concern. The leaf is just a handy way of giving the fritter an attractive shape and a bit of vegetable texture.
For the batter, I came up with a delicious sweet tempura, very light and easy to make. I will hang on to this one for other fritter recipes, such as apples.
Collecting the leaves was a little more difficult. Of course, you need to find trees which have not been chemically treated or exposed to heavy pollutants, so backyards are your safest bet. I chose smallish leaves which were still intact and not dried or shrivelled.
Maple Leaf Fritters
12 (approx.) maple leaves, clean and stems removed
1 cup flour
3 Tbsp maple or other sugar
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
ice cold water
oil for deep frying (I used coconut)
To make the batter, mix the flour, sugar, cinnamon and baking soda. Beat the egg, which should be cold, with enough water to measure one cup. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients until combined, but do not over mix. Dip one leaf at a time in the batter until completely covered. Fry in hot oil, approximately one minute on each side. Remove and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with a little sugar of your choice. Serve warm preferably.