Along the Grapevine


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Beet and Currant Salad

DSC03583.JPGWhen I read today’s Fiesta Friday post, one recipe featured from last week particularly caught my eye and I decided to make it right away. Unwilling to go shopping I had to make do with either what I had in my own kitchen or garden, and by the time I finished I had used in my version, still recognizable as Monika’s,  a few ‘new’ ingredients I thought worth sharing.

The recipe I refer to is one for Pomegranate Beet Salsa by Monika at Everyday Healthy Recipes.  It is the perfect dish for these hot dry days- simple to prepare, keeps well, and as good on its own as it is a side dish. Thank you Monika!

The so-called new ingredients in my recipe are red currants (ribes rubrum) and Queen Anne’s lace (daucus carota) leaves. The currants I have used before to make salad dressing and mayonnaise, but I had never thought of putting them whole into a salad. They are found in much of North Eastern US and Eastern Canada. Once established they thrive in sunny spots, and apparently are drought resistant given that they are still thriving in our back yard desert. One source I read describes them as a brilliant red skin encasing a pulpy flesh that contains 3-12 tiny edible seeds with flavours of raspberry, cranberry, gooseberry, rhubarb and a hint of rose. That sounds about right to me. Many sources say they are delicious as long as you add lots of sugar, which explains why they are most often used to make jelly. However, used sparingly in a savoury dish such as this one, no sugar is needed.DSC03586.JPG

As for the Queen Anne’s lace, there is so much of it blooming right now, but I had not given any thought to anything other than the flowers. I know that all parts of the plant are edible and often see reference to the leaves as being good in salads, but have never seen a salad recipe that calls for them. For identification and further information on this plant, please check here.dsc03429.jpg

Again, the herbs I used are all from my garden, but this salad is versatile, and you can make your own mix of greens to add. As for the oil, I used my black walnut infused oil, and I think any nut oil would be good, or just a good quality oil as Monika suggests, such as grape seed oil.

Beet and Red Currant Salad

3 Tbsp finely chopped red onion
3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 cups chopped beets, previously boiled, cooled and peeled
2 Tbsp chopped Queen Anne’s lace leaves
1 heaping Tbsp each of fresh mint and dill
2 Tbsp oil
salt and pepper to taste
3/4 cup red currants
Put the onion and vinegar in a bowl and allow to sit while preparing the other ingredients. Add everything except the currants and mix well. Gently fold in the currants. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving for best flavour.

DSC03580.JPGLinked to: Fiesta Friday #233


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Grape Leaf Pesto

If you have wild grape leaves in your area, this is the best time to pick them while they are still tender and unblemished. I collect them in large quantities and those I don’t use immediately, I blanche and freeze for later use. They are particularly useful in pickles and ferments to help keep vegetables crisp while they also add some good flavour, but can be used in many other ways, some of which you will see in related posts below. For identification, uses and nutritional information, click here for my introduction to them.

Long before there was any green on the vines, I began to think what new recipe I could introduce this year, and came up with the idea of a pesto. The first try was a complete success, although I will definitely try it with some variations. For this recipe I mixed it with nettles to make it greener, as by blanching the grape leaves as I did, they tend to turn a kind of olive colour. Other greens could be used according to what you have available, so feel free to use your imagination. I used black walnuts from our area, but regular walnuts are also fine.

I picked very young ones, but when they are mature I recommend removing any of the central stem that looks a bit tough.DSC03525

Grape Leaf Pesto

Grape Leaf Pesto

4 cups grape leaves, loosely packed

1/2 cup stinging nettles

a small bunch, (about 8) mint leaves

1/3 cup walnuts

1 large clove garlic

150 ml olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Blanche the grape leaves and nettles for about 10 seconds. Drain and combine them in a food processor or blender with the other ingredients.

This makes a very flavourful pesto which I have enjoyed on pasta, in sandwiches and on crackers, but my favourite is to use it as a base for pizza, spread on an oven-fresh sourdough pizza crust.

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And then add whatever you like.

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Related posts: Wild Grape Leaves; Stuffed Fermented Grape Leaves ; Fermented Wild Grape Leaves; Grape Leaves with Roasted Vegetables; Pickerel in Grape Leaves with Mushroom Za’atar Sauce; Quiche in Wild Grape Leaf Shells; Grape Leaf, Herb and Yogurt Pie.

Linked to: Fiesta Friday #228


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Kuku Sabzi

DSC03552.JPGThis is a dish I discovered recently in, of all places, a donut shop which I only visited because I was in need of a coffee fix. A little plastic container of something green caught my eye and I had to try it. I decided it was some kind of exotic omelette and that it contained chickpea flour. Other than that all I knew was that it was one of the best store-bought breakfasts I’d had.

When I returned a few weeks later to ask for another one, the owner explained her customers only wanted donuts, so she gave up making her ‘green patties’. She was pleased I was interested, and told me her husband is Iranian, and that this traditional sort of frittata is called kuku sabzi. So at least I had some way of finding out how it is made.

Once I read a sufficient number of recipes, I was able to come up with my own using, you guessed it, weeds from my garden.

What I learned in my research is that it is indeed a sort of omelette, heavy on the herbs and light on the eggs – just enough to hold the mixture together. It seems just about any kind of herb goes well in this dish, as do sometimes dried fruit and/or nuts. Spices also vary, but I came across one recipe that called for advieh, a Persian specialty blend which includes rose petals. The recipe I used can be found here, but do note that if you don’t have rose petals you can leave those out.

So once I mixed up some advieh, picked a lot of lambsquarters from the fields, I went about making my first sabzi.

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Kuku Sapzi

Ingredients

2 cups lambsquarters, packed

1 cup parsely, packed

3 eggs, beaten

1 Tbsp chickpea flour

2 tsp advieh

salt and pepper to taste

Method

Chop the greens. Mix them well with all the other ingredients. Heat 4 Tbsp olive oil in a heavy skillet. Add the mixture and pat it down. Cover with a lid and cook on a medium low heat for about 8 minutes. Remove the lid and broil for about two minutes, until beginning to brown on top. Serve warm or cooled. It will keep refrigerated for 3 days.

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The number of variations for this recipe could be endless, and I will definitely be making this again but with different herbs and greens, sometimes nuts or cheese and fruit. It is one of those dishes which can be adapted to any location, just about any season, and unless you have something against green, you will want to make it often.

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Linked to: Fiesta Friday #227, Lizet at Chipa by the Dozen; Jhuls at The Not So Creative Cook.

Related posts: Lambsquarters,  Lambsquarters Triangles, Lambsquarters Samosas, Lambsquarters and Farro Burgers.


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More on Lilacs and a Pavlova

DSC03518.JPGI have been looking forward to lilac season and now that it is full upon us, it is time to remind readers of this wonderful flower  and its uses for culinary purposes. They will not last for long, but if picked while fresh they can be preserved in several ways to be used all year. It takes some patience to pick off the flowers, but a little goes a long way. The flavour is unmistakably lilac, but less strong than would you expect given their powerful aroma. Different varieties will give different flavours, but all can be used in these recipes.

Here are the ways I have already preserved them:

  • lilac syrup which can be used to flavour drinks, in baking and desserts
  • lilac sugar, made by blending lilac blossoms and sugar in equal parts by volume, used to flavour cakes, biscuits, and desserts
  • lilac extract, made as you would vanilla extract. To make a quick version, I used the Instant Pot, loosely filling a mason jar with blossoms and filling it with vodka, then processed it for one hour on high heat. Good for flavouring whipped cream, drinks and desserts.DSC03520.JPG

So far I have only managed to make one recipe with these, but wanted to get this post out before it is too late. I made my usual recipe for meringues for a pavlova of sorts. The lilac sugar had not had time to dry sufficiently, so the meringue was a little more browned and chewy than it should be, but good nonetheless.

For the Meringue

3 egg whites

1/4 tsp cream of tartar

2 tsp. cornstarch

3/4 cups lilac sugar

Beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until almost stiff. Add the sugar mixed with the cornstarch and continue to beat until stiff. Spoon them onto a parchment lined baking tin and make a small depression in the middle. Put them in a preheated 275 F oven and reduce it to 250 F. Bake them for about 50 minutes until they are dry and firm. Turn off the oven and allow them to cool in the oven. Makes 8 medium meringues.

Once cool, fill with whipped cream and serve with seasonal fruit. I used about 1 tsp. of lilac extract in the cream, and for wont of fresh fruit I used some wild grape and lavender preserves.DSC03521Related posts: Lilac Fizz; Lilac Ice Cream

Linked to Fiesta Friday #225, Antonia at Zoale.com


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Lilac Fizz

dsc03502.jpgWhile we wait for spring to arrive and hope it does before we get full-on summer, I have been feeling more and more impatient to get outdoors and collect some wild spring edibles. With bitter cold temperatures, snow and ice keeping me mostly indoors, I have been grateful to have saved some of last year’s bounty either dried, frozen or canned. So in anticipation of what I hope to be a great spring for lilacs, I decided to use some of my remaining lilac syrup to make a truly floral cocktail.

Some of you may not have such a syrup in your pantry just now, but as I post this well before the lilacs are in bloom, when they do arrive those of you who live in lilac country  will have the wherewithal to prepare enough of this treat to last you all year long. For flavouring ice cream, chantilly, meringues, icings and drinks it is definitely a flavour you don’t want to run out of.

To make the syrup I followed the recipe from this post, one of my favourite wild food blogs, which also has some appetizing lilac recipes to choose from.

For one serving I mixed in an 8 oz. glass:  1 oz. gin, 1 oz. simple lilac syrup, 1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice,  then filled the glass with soda water and ice.DSC03501

It was a lovely way to celebrate the first warm rays of the sun we have felt in a long time, and a great reminder to harvest the flowers when they finally do appear.dsc03506.jpg

I used a mixture of sugar and wild grape juice as a final touch. And of course, if you prefer it not to be hard, omit the gin. It’s still delicious.

Linked to: Fiesta Friday #220; The Not So Creative Cook; Frugal Hausfrau


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Balsam Fir and Mint Cocktail

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In my most recent post on a recipe for Balsam Fir Body Scrub I suggested using this conifer in edible recipes, which I have since done with varying degrees of success. One thing that I learned is that the wonderful flavour gets lost in cooking, so it is best used as an infusion. I began by putting a few sprigs in some olive oil and leaving it for at least a couple of weeks. This has proven to be a favourite for making dressings for winter salads.

Another way to preserve the flavour of the fresh needles is to make a syrup which then can be used to flavour all sorts of things – beverages, icings, fruit salads, or simply served on pancakes or waffles.

To make the syrup, bring one cup of sugar and one cup of water to a full boil. Turn off the heat and add two tablespoons of fresh ground needles and stir. Allow to cool completely, then strain into a jar. This will keep at least six weeks in the fridge, but for longer storage, freeze it.

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I spent several weeks in the meantime pondering how to make the most delicious cocktail ever with this syrup. Cocktails are not complicated, but pairing the flavours is a delicate matter. I decided to use gin, as the flavour of the juniper would work well with the fir. Green tea seemed like an obvious vehicle, but I decided to make mint tea from leaves I had dried from my wild garden instead.  A little lime juice and/or some spruce tip bitters rounds out the flavour nicely.

Balsam Fir Mint Cocktail on Punk Domestics

Balsam Fir and Mint Cocktail

1 part gin

3 parts strong mint tea, cooled

1 1/2 parts balsam fir syrup

a splash of fresh lime juice

a few drops of spruce tips bitters (optional)

 

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I singed some sprigs for garnish, but this should only be done if the needles are very fresh or else they risk being flambeed. Otherwise this was a huge success and I have definitely raised the cocktail bar with this one.

Linked to: Fiesta Friday #208

 


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Spicy Chinese Cucumber Salad

DSC03449.JPGI first wrote about prickly ash (zanthoxylum americanum) aka Szechwan pepper last year in this post and now is a good time to revisit this prolific plant and for me to give an update. As I mentioned in my previous post, the berries can be picked at any time of the year once there are leaves on the plants, while it is still green or even when the berry has fallen and only the brown husk remains. This year I started picking in August when the berries were a bright red and easy to spot. Most are still red now in mid-September, but they are beginning to fade. I found the best way to pick them was just to cut off the branches and remove the berries in the comfort of my kitchen. No worries about over harvesting these berries. They are an invasive weed and we can’t eradicate them from our property no matter what we do.DSC03451DSC03450I dried them on the countertop and within a day or so the husks turned from deep red to brown and the shiny black berries were exposed.dsc03453.jpgNow they are ready to be stored and used in so many ways. So far I have made spice mixtures, added them to fermented pickles, to sauces, dressings and even to some sweet dishes. They are not hot like black pepper or chilis but have a citrussy smokey tang to them which pairs well with so many flavours.

For today I made a simple spicy cucumber dish, a popular item on Chinese menus, and one in which the flavour of the Szechewan pepper really shines. I made it rather hot and garlicky, but you can tone down those flavours by reducing the amount you use, and by removing the seeds from the pepper. I did not have chili oil on hand but infused one chopped, dried chili pepper in 2 tablespoons of oil.

Spicy Chinese Cucumber Salad

1 medium cucumber, thinly sliced

2 Tbsp chili oil

3 garlic cloves, mashed and chopped

1 tsp Szechwan pepper

2 dried red chilis

1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar

1 tsp sesame oil

1 tsp white sugar

Roast the Szechwan pepper and the chilis in a skillet until they release their aroma, but being careful not to scorch them. Mix these with the other ingredients for the dressing and pour it over the sliced cucumbers, toss and serve.

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Linked to Fiesta Friday #188, Jhuls at The Not so Creative Cook and Nimmi at Adorable Life.