Along the Grapevine


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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.


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Spuds ‘n’ Buds Salad and Crepes with Wild Berries

DSC02273 A few days ago I prepared cured duck eggs in two different ways – one sweet and one salty. For Fiesta Friday 75 I wanted to make something to demonstrate ways to use these easy-to-make ingredients. At this time of year, salads offer so many possibilities straight from the garden. There is no need ever to make the exact same dish twice. Just now I have masses of ditch lilies in bloom, and never having used them in a salad before but knowing that that they taste very much like green beans, I figured I’d let the recipe make itself. DSC02270 I used boiled golden Yukon potatoes, a good handful of chopped chives, garlic, fermented dandelion buds and blanched lily buds with a light vinaigrette dressing.  Fresh buds would be just as good, and offer a better presentation, since even a little cooking of the buds causes them to open a bit, but either works fine as far as taste goes. This was topped with shredded egg yolk giving it a salty cheese-like flavour. DSC02277 And of course, I couldn’t resist putting a fully opened lily on top, but there are plenty of other wild flowers I could have used to garnish it. The cured yolk is quite salty, so go easy with the seasoning. The sweet cured egg yolk, flavoured with lavender, needed a sweet fruity dish. Buckwheat crepes, made simply with buckwheat flour, 1 egg and enough milk or milk substitute to make a thin batter were the base for this recipe. Whipped cream, sweetened slightly with (forsythia) sugar and mixed with wild berries from the garden: raspberries, blackberries, red currants and gooseberries. Rolled up and garnished with sweet egg yolk made a rich and delicious brunch. DSC02283 The sweet version is not overly sweet, so you could even add sugar to the dish, either mixed in or sprinkled on top.


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Fermented Unripe Blueberries

If you have been following this blog lately, you will have noticed that I have started to ferment many of my wild edibles from the garden. It is my new favourite method for preserving most of my harvest, and for using as a base for some interesting dishes. I mentioned that I had bought some air locks which I intended to use. My usual method is simply to pour a brine over whatever (e.g. vegetables, cucumbers, ramps) with whatever flavourings and spices I feel like using, weigh them down to keep them submerged, cover with a paper towel or cheesecloth to keep the bugs out, and that is it. Just wait a few days until the taste is right, put a lid on it and into the fridge. I have also used whey instead of the brine, but I seem to be favouring the brine method. I did promise that once I figured out the airlock, I would share it.

The one fermentation I have done with the airlock is with green blueberries instead of wild unripe grapes, which I would have used had I had any. Having shown up rather late to the blueberry picking, I found mostly green berries on the bushes, so decided I would have to figure out something to do with them. My first experiment was with my version of verjus, which has been an excellent substitute for vinegar in salad dressings. Those which remained, I fermented.

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The airlock is the same that is used in making beer or wine, and can be purchased wherever supplies for this are sold for between $2-3. The idea is that it allows carbon dioxide to escape while not letting any air in. You will need a bung, or rubber stopper as well as the airlock. The stopper looks like a cork with a hole through it. The airlock is fitted into the hole once the outer part is filled with water up to a line, the inner part place over the middle tube. The lid has small holes in it to let the carbon dioxide escape. Here’s what it all looks like.

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I filled a sterilized jar about 3/4 full with blueberries, covered it with the brine – made from 2 Tbsp salt per 1 quart of non-chlorinated water. I carved a hole in the lid in which to fit the bung, set the airlock in and left it for about 10 days – until lots of bubbles formed on top. The time will vary depending on the temperature of your kitchen, but ideally this should be not above 75 degrees F.  Then I put a regular lid on it, and put it in the fridge.

To try these probiotic-rich berries, I decided to add them to a salad made with what I had in the garden, which this week is beans and potatoes.

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I blanched the beans, boiled and peeled some blue potatoes (any colour of potato will work but I wanted to stick with the blue and green theme I had going), a mustard and garlic vinaigrette, and my fermented blueberries. By mistake, I added salt to the dressing, and thought maybe with the salty berries it would be too much, but as it happens the blueberries did not taste that salty, and the seasoning was just right. DSC01168

These would be good with just about any salad, but I would like to try them with fish, and possibly in a sandwich filling. This same method can be used with most other berries, though not strawberries. I could even be done with actual blueberries! but it was a great way to use the unripe ones.


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Verjus – made from unripe blueberries.

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Basket of unripe blueberries

Since I learned about verjus, or verjuice, I have been looking forward to making it with wild grapes instead of the usual wine grapes. With the acres of grapevines around our place, I thought I would have lots to work with, but this year the grapes are just not co-operating at all, so that is one recipe which will have to be put on hold.

Verjus is made from unripe grapes, usually those which are removed from the vines when growers want to boost their crop. The grapes are put through a food mill, creating a green mush which is used like vinegar. It is used in Middle Eastern cuisine, and has been adopted by the French, who have given it its international name. Recently it has made its way into international markets, and if you are lucky you might find some in specialty gourmet shops. I myself have never seen it, or tried it, but if you are curious, you can read more about it and how to make it here.

It seems to be used primarily in salad dressings, replacing the vinegar or lemon with a less acidic flavour which will not interfere with the taste of your wine when eating salad. Makes sense to me.

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Blueberry Fields in Tweed, Ontario

So when I was out picking blueberries the other day at Wilson’s Organic Blueberries in Tweed and found it was easier to pick the unripe berries than the few ripe ones, I decided they resembled grapes enough that I could make my own version with these. They are a little too hard to put through a food mill, so I cooked them gently in water first until they softened. Some of them already had some pink or dark blue in them, so my version is far from green, but the taste was exactly what I had hoped for – fruity and slightly sour, but less acidic than a vinegar or citrus juice.

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Cleaned berries ready for poaching

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Pink Verjus

To make the salad dressing, I mixed one part to two parts olive oil and seasoned it with salt. Such a simple salad dressing. I kept my salad in the same colour theme, using only green and reds: green zebra tomatoes, French green beans, arugula, sorrel, lettuce and amaranth – all from my garden. But needless to say, it can be used on any salad calling for a vinaigrette. Next time, I will also vary the dressing with other flavourings, but here I just wanted to taste the verjus. And the wine did taste better!

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Salad with verjus dressing

 


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Waldorf Salad with Purslane

With all the ripening apples falling off the trees, I decided to use some in a waldorf salad so they could be used fresh rather than cooked. Not having any celery growing in my garden this year, and finding little in the local markets, I decided to use purslane instead. In this version, I used very little mayonnaise, and a little lime juice just to prevent the apples from going brown during preparation.

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These are the ingredients I used, but feel free to use whatever you fancy.

apples

purslane

walnuts

juice of 1 lime

mayonnaise

salt and pepper to taste

I mixed the lime juice with the purslane, then added the apples and stirred after each apple, adding them one at a time. I left some of the skin on the apples because they are organic, and add some nice colour. Then, I added the rest of the ingredients.

And a nasturtium flower.

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