Along the Grapevine


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Burmese Semolina Cake with Wild Grape Glaze

Even though I am visiting Toronto for a few days, I am still able to attend this week’s Fiesta Friday and bring with me not only a delicious semolina cake, but also Bob the Dog, whom I am cat sitting for a few days. Bob has been with us now for 18 years when we adopted him in Singapore. Since then he has been the charge of and companion to our youngest daughter. He has lived in four different countries, 6 cities, and visited several others. He likes to travel. So here he is, well behaved as always.

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And now for my recipe. If you have been following this blog at all lately, you will know that the wild grape harvest is really not happening in my neck of the woods. I had a lot of ideas of what to do with grapes, but most of it will have to wait for a better season. However, with the very small amount of pressed grape juice I do have so far, I wanted to use it in a way in which its flavour and beautiful colour could be appreciated. You could use any fruit concentrate or jelly for this recipe, or if you have wild grapes, simply simmer in water until they are very soft, and then pass them through a food mill. The recipe I chose to make  is based on one from Naomi Duguid’s Burma, Rivers of Flavours, which is more than just your usual cookbook. The author’s own travels, photographs and research provide a fascinating account of this little-known country.

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There are many different versions of semolina cake and, in my opinion, they are all delicious. I have had a Sri Lankan cake with cashews, a Brazilian one with coconut, and a Greek one covered with orange syrup to name just three. Semolina is made from durum flour, usually used in making pasta, and when it is toasted, as in this recipe, it makes for a rich, nutty flavour. I followed Naomi’s recipe fairly closely with a few minor changes. I used butter instead of oil in the mixture, and omitted the butter she drizzled on top of the cake before baking. Where she grilled the cake with some almond flakes after baking, I just added some grape and honey syrup  thickened with cornstarch and sprinkled on some toasted coconut.

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Burmese Semolina Cake with Wild Grape Glaze

  • Servings: 10
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Ingredients for the cake                                   Ingredients for the Glaze

1 cup semolina flour                                                1/3 cup concentrated grape juice

1 cup brown sugar                                                    1/3 cup liquid honey

1/2 tsp. salt                                                                1 Tbsp cornstarch

1 cup fresh or canned coconut milk

1 cup warm water

4 eggs, lightly beaten

1/4 cup melted butter

1/2 cup toasted coconut (optional)

Method

Heat a heavy skillet on medium heat and add the semolina. Stir it as it cooks until the colour turns noticeably from a pale yellow to a deep golden colour. Remove it from the heat and continue to stir until the pan cools down. Add the sugar and salt and transfer it to a bowl. Add the coconut milk, the warm water and eggs and mix until thoroughly combined. Let rest for about half an hour.

Melt the butter in saucepan over a medium heat and add the semolina mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon as you would making porridge, until it becomes thick and comes away from the side of the pan (about 10 to fifteen minutes). Pour it into a slightly greased pan or skillet and pat down until flat. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about half an hour, until the top feels dry and firm.

While the cake is baking, put the cornstarch in a small bowl and pour the grape juice over it and mix until well blended. Heat the grape mixture with the honey over a medium heat for about five minutes, until it is well heated through and slightly thickened. Set aside. If using the coconut, brown it in a skillet over medium heat until golden in colour.

Remove the cake  from the oven and drizzle the glaze over it. Sprinkle the toasted coconut on top.

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As you can see from the pictures, this is not a light fluffy cake. It is more like a halva with a distinct flavour of semolina. It stores well to.


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Mullein Tisane

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My interest in wild plants is really just for culinary purposes. The more I learn about the benefits of plants which are easy to identify and gather, the more I enjoy figuring out how to incorporate them into my cooking, and consequently come to rely on them as a food supply in my pantry or freezer. Of course, it is always nice to know that these ingredients sometimes have medicinal qualities, but that is just an added bonus. I am no botanist, or scientist of any sort – just someone who enjoys good cooking, so I avoid delving deeply into the home remedy domain which is better left to the experts.

However, as I research edible plants, I come across an overwhelming number of articles about the ‘weeds’ I encounter in my garden, and am amazed at the claims made about them – amazed but not moved. As a reasonably healthy person, I am not looking for remedies for what doesn’t ail me, but all the same, I can’t help but be curious about some of these marvels.

Last year I read about mullein (verbascum thapsus), which goes by a confusing number of other names. Around here it is often called elephant ears, and looks like a monster version of a similar smaller plant called lambs’ ears. It is a biennial which begins with a pretty rosette of large fuzzy leaves. In its second year it produces a tall stem (up to about 6 ft. tall) with a spike of small yellow flowers. They like to grow in sunny dry areas where the dirt has been loosened. Mine all appeared in a large flower bed and tried to take over. The roots are shallow, so it was not a problem to thin them out. However, be careful because the hummingbirds like to build nests in them. Growing these is a much safer way to attract these birds than those bird feeders you see everywhere.

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With its edible flowers, leaves and roots, and its myriad health benefits, I wondered why I hadn’t heard more about it. I was especially intrigued by claims that the leaves could be smoked and used in a tea as a treatment for respiratory ailments such as chest colds or bronchitis. I haven’t smoked any yet, but I did make a tisane with some dried leaves.

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As I expected, the taste was pretty bland, so I added a stick of cinnamon to the next batch for flavour. If I had chamomile in my garden, I would mix it with that, but I expect mint would also go well, or any other flavouring I like in teas, like fennel seeds . If making the tea from fresh leaves, be sure to strain it first to remove the fibres. Because mine had been dried first, I didn’t find that problem.

I am now wanting to try the flowers in a tea, which are said to be more aromatic. I might also try a tincture with the root and/or flowers, but I don’t think I am going to be able to come up with any gourmet recipes from this plant.

Wild Apple and Rose Geranium Jelly on Punk Domestics

At this time last year I posted: wild grape ketchup


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Wild Apple and Rose Geranium Jelly

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Although our crab apples are not doing well this year, we do have one wild apple tree which is doing fine. You probably know the kind of apple I am talking about, the ones no one wants to pick, much less eat. They are small, irregular in shape and full of spots. On the other hand, they are pesticide and chemical free, and when cooked retain a good flavour and have a lovely colour. They are perfect for making things like jelly, where their appearance as a fruit does not affect the appearance of the final product. And why use perfect looking apples to make something like jelly?

For Angie’s Fiesta Friday #30 I wanted to make a special jelly, so added some flavour with my rose scented geranium. I notice this week there are a few recipes with rose flavouring, so this is turning out to be a bit of a rose fest.

This is the first year I have grown such a plant, but I hope to add other varieties to my collection of one next year. Although they don’t flower profusely like other geraniums, they do provide a delicious home-grown flavouring with their leaves and flowers. Mine is not flowering just now, but it does have some new buds, and the plant itself has grown beautifully since I planted it in the spring. For more information about these plants, read this here. I highly recommend adding one of these to your garden, even if all you have is a balcony or stoop, as they provide a wonderful source of exotic flavour from leaves and flowers.

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If you don’t have a scented geranium, there are other things you could add to this jelly, such as a stick of cinnamon, some ginger, sweet herbs, orange blossom or rose water towards the end of cooking, or whatever you think mixes well with apple.

I began my recipe with two pounds of apples, but once I removed the cores, stems and nasty bits there was only one and three quarter pounds. This recipe can be altered to fit the amount you have just by changing the amount of the other ingredients proportionately.

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Wild Apple and Rose Geranium Jelly

  • Difficulty: moderate
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 Ingredients

2 lbs apples

water, to cover

2 1/2 cups sugar

5 scented geranium leaves

Method

Chop and clean the apples without peeling. Place them in a saucepan and cover with water. Simmer them until soft, about 1/2 hour. Strain through a jelly bag or cloth lined sieve. Do not press, or the juice will not be clear.

Pour off the juice, which in this recipe measured three cups. Return to the pan and add the sugar and leaves which should be tied up in a spice bag or piece of cheesecloth.

Bring to a boil and keep boiling for about 25 minutes. To test doneness, just drop a bit of liquid on a cool surface and see if it gels.

If you make a large quantity, this can be processed in a 10 minute water bath.

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Wild Apple and Rose Geranium Jelly on Punk Domestics

At this time last year I posted a recipe using purslane:https://alongthegrapevine.wordpress.com/2013/08/23/purslane-and-cabbage-salad/


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Milking the Weeds: Cooking with Milkweed Pods

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There are few plants that offer the variety and flavour you find in milkweed – the shoots, leaves, flowers and seed pods. The problem is that all these parts have to be harvested at just the right moment, so if you dally you have to wait for the next season to be able to try out the recipes you thought up during the winter.

The pods are just beginning to appear now, and although they won’t last long you will still have time to pick them if you live at this latitude or further north.

I have already covered the identification of these beautiful plants in recent posts on leaves and flowers, so I will go straight to the topic of this post – the seed pods. These appear just after the flowers wilt, and grow out of each little floret which is why you find them in tight bunches. They don’t all mature at the same time, so you will find several pods of different sizes all snuggled up together. If you just select the pod that is the right size – not too big, not too small, you will still leave enough for the plant to reproduce and keep your garden/field with a healthy crop next year.

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Now, a little more about the size. I tried cooking them last year and found that some of the pods were a little post mature so I wasn’t able to write about it. This time, I actually measured the pods, because my impression of ‘under two inches’ was a little off. The recommended size is between 1 inch and 1 3/4 – above that you risk having a tough, wooly pod which is not pleasant at all. In fact, after last year’s attempt I know it is inedible. But the younger pods have a sweet flavour and can be used in all sorts of recipes. If I had to compare it to any vegetable, I would say it is most like okra, but without the slimy texture. They have enough substance to hold their own mixed with other vegetables, and like okra go very well with spicy sauces.

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The most common method is to boil them in water and then cook them again as you like, stewed, fried, baked etc. Many recipes call for a change of water and two or three boilings, but with the young pods this is not really necessary as long as they get cooked. In this recipe, they are simply baked in the oven with a crispy batter and then baked a little longer with the sauce on it.

I also used what is referred to as the silk, which is the white fluff inside. If you pick only these small pods (you might want to measure them) the silk will be moist and pure white. There are fine white seeds on one side, but they too are very fine and sweet tasting. It was near impossible to separate the seeds from the threads, so I assumed I should use the whole clump. I saw many references to using this silk instead of cheese, but only by trying it myself did I understand how this works. I hope my experiments save you some time in knowing how to select them and what to expect from them.

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The first recipe which you can use directly is from Edible Wild Food. I have written my version of it out with a few of my own changes. I made my version vegan, but if you don’t mind some animal product in it you can use an egg instead of the chia seeds and regular milk instead of the almond milk.

Buffalo Style Milk Weed Pods

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: medium
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Ingredients

A bowl of milkweed pods measuring between 1 and 1 3/4 inches

1 cup bread crumbs

1/2 flour

1 tsp chili powder

1/4 tsp dry mustard

1 Tbsp sumac powder

1/4 tsp salt

1 cup almond milk

2 Tbsp chia seeds

1/4 – 1/2 cup of water to thin the batter out to the desired consistency

hot wing sauce.

Method

Mix the dry ingredients together. Soak the chia seeds in the milk for ten minutes. Mix everything together and add enough water to make a thick batter for coating.

Coat each pod in the batter and place in an oven proof dish or on a lined cookie tin. I used corn husks to line mine. Bake in a 350 oven for about half an hour until the pods are crisp and dry. Remove from the oven and pour the hot sauce over them. Return to the oven for another 20 minutes.

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As I had picked some a little larger than the prescribed size, but still very young, I used these to make the ‘cheese’ Since I had to open each pod, I was able to inspect it and make sure it was not dry or turning brown. To open the pods, there is a barely visible seam on the flat side which opens easily enough just by using your thumb. Slit it open this way and pull out the silk insides. I wasn’t sure what to do with it, but I loosened it up a bit and put it in a bowl. This is supposed to work as a mozzarella type cheese, but I wasn’t sure if it needed pre-cooking. So I made two pizzas – one with ‘cheese’ just dotted on top, and one with ‘cheese’ which I cooked in a smidge of water for a few minutes. There was no difference, but I think the cooked silk could probably be frozen and saved for later use.

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The result of this vegan cheese was very pleasant, a bit stringy like mozzarella and sweet. It goes well with any spicy or salty toppings. I won’t give a pizza recipe, just to say that you can use this instead of or along with cheese in your favourite pizza recipe. For my pizza, I made a plain crust with about 1 Tbsp of bullrush flour (the sum total of my harvest for this year). I then covered it with a cheeseless, dandelion and walnut pesto, roasted tomatoes and capers, which were actually fermented milkweed flowers which went very nicely. Drizzle it with a little olive oil before serving.

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I still have a few pods left which I will try and preserve for further recipes, as now that I have started I am getting more ideas of what can be done with them. And I really don’t want to have to wait a whole year in order to try them out.


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Olive Oil Ice Cream with Balsamic Wild Strawberries

 

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I was able to pick just enough wild strawberries in our field to make one recipe – a recipe where these tiny fruits would stand on their own and not get lost with a lot of other ingredients. So marinating them in balsamic vinegar and serving it with olive oil ice cream seemed the only option. I hope the guests at Angie’s Fiesta Friday #22 approve.

I have never made olive oil ice cream before, but it sounded intriguing to me. There are lots of recipes on line, and I have read most of them. Finally, I made a fairly standard custard and added some olive oil. I expect any standard ice cream recipe would work, but best if you use a little less sugar than normal. If you don’t have wild strawberries, then use regular ones.

As for the olive oil, I noted that you should use a good quality fruity oil and not a peppery one. Some recipes called for oil infused with lemon, but I had not time for that. I just used my Costco brand organic extra virgin olive oil which worked fine. If you have a really special fruity olive oil, by all means use that.

Olive Oil Ice Cream with Balsamic Wild Strawberries

  • Servings: 4
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For the ice cream:

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup whole milk

2 egg yolks

6 Tbsp sugar

3 Tbsp olive oil

Heat the cream and milk until almost boiling. Pour a little at a time, continuing to mix while pouring, into the egg yolks beaten with sugar. Return it all to the pan and cook on medium heat until it coats the back of a spoon, about 7 minutes. Be careful not to overcook it. Remove from the heat, allow to cool a little, then add the olive oil and mix in thoroughly. Chill in the fridge, and then freeze in an ice cream machine according to instructions.

For the strawberry sauce

1 cup wild strawberries

3 Tbsp sugar

3 Tbsp olive oil

1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

Sprinkle sugar on the strawberries and allow to stand until the sugar dissolves and a syrup forms. This can take a few hours, but stirring it occasionally helps it along. Just before serving, add the balsamic vinegar.

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I served it before it really had a chance to freeze properly, but it was delicious nonetheless.


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Plantain (Plantago Major)

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Our lawn is covered mostly with four plants. Grass, clover and dandelions I am well familiar with – but the fourth seemed barely worthy of a name. It is neither beautiful, nor so ugly that you need to get rid of it – it just is. I recently read about this plant which indeed does have a name, plantain or plantago mayor and I became intrigued by its many uses, nutritional and medicinal. All its parts are edible, and while I haven’t found any ripe seed pods yet this year, I have been using the young, light green leaves raw and cooked.

Where to find them: Lawns, fields, roads, gravel, cracks in pathways. It was brought to North America by colonizers and was referred to as “white man’s footprint” as it was found growing in all the European settlements where the land had been disturbed.

Identification:  The plant is made of a rosette of oval leaves. The veins begin at the base – the central one being straight and extending through the full length of the leaf.  The remaining veins are curved along the line of the shape of the leaf. The flower is a stiff rod, at first green and then turning brown which sticks straight up from the centre of the plant.

Uses: Young leaves can be eaten raw, while the older ones should be cooked until tender. The leaves which have antibacterial and astringent properties can be used as a poultice to apply to stings and wounds to reduce pain and prevent infection. Seed pods can be cooked much like asparagus, and the seeds are used as a substitute for psyllium. It is also a valuable weed in your garden as it breaks up hard soil and holds loose soil together to prevent erosion.

Nutritional Value: Rich in iron and vitamins A and C.

Recipes using Plantago Major

The easiest comparison of this plant with something familiar would be spinach, although the leaves are tougher, more like kale. The flavour is not strong, so pairing them with seasoning, herbs, garlic, lemon, fish sauce, soya sauce and other flavourings all work well.

I first tried steaming them in oil and a splash of water with garlic which I then combined with omelettes and pasta or just served as a side dish.

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I also made a smoothie, using 1 cup of young raw plantain leaves, 2 sprigs of mint, a little honey, 2 cups of almond milk and a banana and an apple. Pureed in the blender and chilled it made a delicious healthful drink, even if the appearance was less than stellar.

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Now that scapes are in season, I decided to augment my scape pesto with some plantain. This recipe can be frozen for several months, so I tend to make a good batch of it – by a good batch I mean enough for one meal plus two jars.

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Scape and Plantain Pesto

  • Servings: 12
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1/2 lb scapes

one handful of young plantain leaves

1/2 cups olive oil

1/2 cups walnut pieces

Blend all the ingredients in a food processor until almost smooth. Salt to taste or parmesan cheese can be added, but I usually add those when I serve them. This pesto is excellent with pasta, spread on bread or crackers, or served with fish.

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Milkweed Flowers on Punk Domestics

 

 

 


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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
  • 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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Versatile Blogger Award Nomination

I was recently nominated by Superfoodista for a Versatile Blogger Award. I was very flattered to be among her list of nominees and delighted to find that my blog is being read and appreciated by someone of her calibre. Check it out for yourself – her blog is full of original, healthful recipes and enticing photos. She sets a high standard and level of inspiration for novice bloggers like myself.

Having given the subject lots of consideration, and wishing to accept this nomination, I decided I cannot meet the requirement of nominating at least a further ten bloggers. Actually I could, but there would be a lot of duplication with the ones she already nominated. This blogger world is smaller than I thought. Or maybe I just need to be more diligent in blog-following and support those who put so much time and effort into posts I enjoy reading. But, as I said, I am a novice, and still learning the ropes.

So a big thank you to Superfoodista, and while I am at it, all those who read and respond to my posts. You probably have no idea how encouraging it is to an amateur blogger like myself whose only goal is to explore the world of local wild foods and share my findings with anyone who is interested to know that my efforts are not just sent out to vacuum land. And also, a thank you to all those whose own blogs serve as such an inspiration for my own endeavours. I have not enjoyed cooking in a long time as much as I have since learning from your recipes.