Along the Grapevine


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Japanese Quince Paste

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Japanese quinces of varying colours, sizes and shapes, all from one plant

I posted two recipes last year using Japanese quince (chaenomeles) – for jelly and chutney. Both were delicious, and I hoped to find more of this wonderful, seldom-used fruit to continue experimenting with it.

Japanese  Quince Paste on Punk Domestics

The more traditional quince (cydonia oblonga) is not commonly used here, so it is no surprise that this Asian variety is even less popular. It is grown for its beautiful flowers early in the spring, and the fruit are usually left to fall and rot on the ground. If you have one of these shrubs, you could not be blamed for considering the hard, irregularly shaped fruit was inedible. But once cooked, its lemony flavour is apparent, and it can be used in any recipe calling for quince. Even raw, it has a wonderful scent.

If you don’t have one of these shrubs, you will have difficulty finding the fruits since they are not sold in markets, but it is not impossible. You may know someone who has the plant and will spare you a few fruits, especially if they don’t know how good they really are. They are such hardy little shrubs, they are sometimes left standing in what once was a garden and now abandoned. I am still in the position of having to collect them from other people’s gardens, but I did successfully germinate some seeds from last year’s bunch, and if they survive this winter outside (their first), I may have my own fruit producing bushes soon. And just in case, I am going to repeat the process again this year with some carefully preserved seeds.

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Young quince shrubs in a pot

I decided this time to make a quince paste – a popular dish of Spanish and Portuguese origin, usually made with the actual quince. Based on the success of the jelly I made, I found the level of pectin is very high, like in quinces, and just sugar, fruit and water are required for a well-set jelly. I decided to use honey instead of sugar, because with all the preserving and jelly making I’m doing, I’m using too much sugar. As I was not sure if this would work, I decided to make a small amount first, so used just half a vanilla pod.  Now that first batch has been such a success, I might vary the recipe a little and try adding some other flavours, but meanwhile here is my recipe. Note, you do not have to peel or core them, just chop them in large bite-sized pieces.

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Cooked Japanese quinces in a food mill

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Strained quinces

Japanese Quince Paste


Ingredients

Japanese quinces, chopped  in quarters (I used about 4 cups)

Water

Vanilla pod

honey or sugar

Method

Put the chopped quinces in a saucepan with a piece of vanilla pod and cover with water. Heat to boiling and then simmer until they are all fully cooked and soft, about 1/2 hour. Put them through a food mill. If using sugar, measure 1 cup of sugar for each cup of pulp. If using honey, use only 3/4 that amount because it is sweeter. Continue cooking on low heat, stirring often to avoid sticking. The mixture will thicken and get darker. After about 1/2 an hour to 45 min., the bubbles will become audible, and look sort of like lava in a volcano erupting.

At this point, pour it into a shallow pan lined with lightly buttered parchment paper and allow to cool.

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Quince paste cooling

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Quince paste with cheddar cheese

Usually served with cheese (manchego in Spain), this sweet goes well with most cheeses. Or try it simply with toast for breakfast.

It can be kept for several weeks covered in the fridge, or wrap it and freeze it for longer to enjoy all winter long.


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Walnut and Sumac Eggplant Rolls

The sumac shrubs are at their height now in terms of colour. There are masses of them along the roadside, but I decided to photograph my own for this post. The first one is the focal point in one of my flower beds, and the others are just little shrubs growing next to the shed.

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I need to collect more of the berries, but the weather has been so wet, I have to wait until they are drier, as they lose some of their flavour when rained on. We might need to reach freezing temperatures before they are pickable, but at least it will be dry, and the berries will wait. If you need any information regarding sumac, please refer to this post.

Meanwhile, I used some of my store of powdered sumac to use in this recipe using walnuts and eggplant (or aubergine). It is a very popular Georgian recipe which I discovered in Russia. I was told the stuffing was made with just ground walnuts, but additions can be and are made. In Georgia, there are often several spices added, and sometimes petals of edible flowers to give it some colour. I have made it many times, always trying to duplicate the distinct flavour of the ones I bought in the Russian market. This is the recipe I came up with.

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Walnut and Sumac Eggplant Rolls

  • Servings: approx. 10 rolls
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Ingredients

2 medium eggplants

oil for frying

1 cup walnuts

1 clove garlic

2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar

1/2 tsp fenugreek

1 Tbsp sumac powder

Method

Slice the eggplants (skin on) lengthwise  about 1/4 inch thick

Place them in a shallow dish and sprinkle liberally with salt. Leave them for 30 minutes to 2 hours. Rinse the salt off completely, and pat dry.

This step can be omitted, but it helps to remove any bitterness from the eggplant. Because I always detect some salt even after rinsing them, I did not put salt in the recipe.

Fry each piece in some oil on both sides until they are lightly browned and cooked right through.

For the paste, put all the ingredients in a food processor and blitz really well until it all holds together. If it is too crumbly, add a few drops more vinegar.

Place a spoonful of the walnut mixture along the base of the aubergine slice and roll up.

That’s it! These little rolls are a great appetizer, picnic food or served with a salad or rustic bread. They are eaten either chilled or at room temperature, which is how I prefer them. I wish I could describe how they taste, so much better than the sum of their parts, but there are no words that convey their distinct flavour.

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I am bringing these tasty appetizers to Angie’s 38th fabulous Fiesta Friday. I hope you will drop by this virtual party, and if you have a dish you would like to bring along, click here for the simple instructions.

 


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Stuffed Milkweed Pods

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Milkweed pods late in the season

It is a little late in the season to be collecting milkweed pods. There are still a few small ones on the plants, and by small I mean under two inches, but for the most part they are going to seed now. When I collected pods for my first recipe, I had extra which I blanched and froze for future use. If you don’t have young plants with immature pods or some pods stowed away in your freezer, you could make this recipe just as easily with okra (which has a very similar taste), peppers or zucchinis. In any case, blanche the vegetables first. If you are collecting milkweed pods, please refer to my post on “Milking the Weeds”.

I chose to make a vegan and gluten free recipe. Using polenta, mixed with dried mushrooms and chili peppers, I found there was enough flavour as is – but if you want a richer and non-vegan recipe, add 1/2 cup of shredded hard cheese and/or sprinkle some cheese on top before baking. Use whichever herbs you prefer, fresh if possible. I used thyme, but parsley, basil, tarragon etc. would all be good. I also used powdered sumac as a garnish, but paprika would work just as well. Choose your peppers according to how hot you want it – the serrano peppers I used with seeds made it noticeably hot, but not overwhelming.

Milkweed Pods Stuffed with Polenta

  • Difficulty: Easy
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Ingredients

36 cleaned (seeds removed) and parboiled milkweed pods, between 1 and 2 inches

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 onion, chopped finely

3 cups boiling water

3 Tbsp dried mushrooms, chopped

2 dried chili peppers, chopped

1/2 cup cornmeal

1/2 tsp salt

1 Tbsp chopped fresh or 1/2 Tbsp dried fresh herbs

a light sprinkling of oil and sumac or paprika

Method

Pour boiling water over the mushrooms and chilis and set aside until the water cools.

Fry the onion in olive oil until translucent, but not browned.  Add the water, mushrooms, salt, chili, herbs and cornmeal, and cook over a medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture comes away from the sides of the pan – about five minutes.

Fill the pods while the mixture is still hot. Place them in a shallow casserole dish, and spray or drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle some sumac or paprika on top. Bake in a preheated 400 F degree for about 15 minutes, until they are heated through and beginning to brown on top.

Serve warm. Makes approximately 36 pods.

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Stuffed pods before baking

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Stuffed pods after baking

These make a delicious side dish, or can be served as an appetizer.


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Wild Apple and Walnut Cake

This is my 100th post! It is also Fiesta Friday,  so I wanted to make something special. By special I mean something sweet which can be enjoyed with a glass of wine as easily as a cup of tea, but healthful and light enough that you will still be able to try the other treats at the party.

With all the wild apples almost on my doorstep, I used some to make an apple puree to flavour a walnut based cake, gluten-free and with a dairy free option. I made both versions, and they are equally delicious – with surprisingly little difference even in the texture. DSC01085

I admit these apples are never going to win any awards at a harvest fair. Most of them were picked up off the ground. But I love cooking with them for their tart flavour and dense flesh. Here is one cut open to give you an idea of how nice they can look, even if you wouldn’t likely choose to eat one raw.

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To make the apple sauce, I cut and cored them and removed any bad spots – quite a few. I then covered them with water and simmered them until very soft and put them through the food  mill. Because of their colour, they give a very rosy sauce which I know is free of any chemicals or additives.

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This cake is completely original, and I am pleased with the texture and flavour. It is, after all, mostly a mixture of fruit, nuts and seeds with only honey as a sweetener. It is great on its own, but a honey glaze or other sweet topping just makes it that much more special. I made a glaze with honey and rose geranium leaves, since I am still experimenting with this winning combination of flavours which I first used in last week’s jelly.

 

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Wild Apple and Walnut Cake

  • Difficulty: Easy
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Ingredients

1/2 cup oil

2 eggs, separated (or 2 Tbsp chia seeds)

1/2 cup liquid honey

1 1/2 cups apple sauce

1 cup ground walnuts

1/4 cup coconut flour, sifted

1/2 cup flax seeds, ground

2 tsp baking powder

2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp salt

Method

Mix the dry ingredients together. In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks and add the oil, honey and apple sauce. Beat the egg whites in another bowl until they are stiff but not dry.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. When thoroughly mixed, fold in the egg whites.

If not using eggs, mix the flax seeds into the wet ingredients and let sit a couple of minutes before adding to the dry ingredients.

Pour the batter into a prepared tin, and bake at 325 degrees for about 1 1/2 hours, or until the cake springs back when poked.

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For the glaze, I infused some water with a few geranium leaves by simmering them together for five minutes. I then mixed equal amounts of liquid honey and the infused water (about 1/3 cup each) and brought it to a boil for another five minutes. Drizzle cooled mixture over the cake.

This cake is good any time of day and would make a great treat in packed school lunches – if you don’t mind sharing it.

 


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Fiddleheads

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I had the opportunity to visit a fellow backyard forager’s property where I was able to collect another regional delicacy – fiddleheads. These can be found for only about a two-week period in the spring, and grow only in the wild. However, if you’re lucky, you can find them in some markets and grocery stores at this time of year in areas where they grow.

There are many types of fiddleheads, but the ones harvested in the north and east of North America are the ostrich ferns. Be sure only to harvest a type of fern that is edible, as there are many which are toxic. The ostrich fiddleheads have to be cooked well or they can have nasty consequences. I know from experience and now am very careful to cook them well. I have found different advice on just how long well-cooked is, and some recommend boiling in two lots of water to get rid of any bitterness. I followed the advice of steaming them for about ten minutes and found the flavour to be only a little stronger than and similar to asparagus with no ill effects.

Once you have identified them for certain, picking them is quite easy, although it involves a lot of stooping and bending. You only need to snap it off – no digging or cutting. It is important to note that each plant produces seven fronds, so you should be careful to pluck no more than three from each plant in order for that plant to survive.

Before the fern appears, they can be identified (which is important so you don’t step on them) by what looks like a burnt piece of wood, about the size and shape of a large artichoke.

 

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The first sign of growth are little copper-coloured nubs which is the skin covering the green fiddleheads. Eventually the green appears and grows out of this black stump and when large enough is ready to be picked. It doesn’t take long to fill a bag with them.

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To prepare, you have to remove all of the copper coloured skin. I spread them on a tray, took them outside and tossed them a little and most of it blew away (luckily there was enough breeze blowing to help me in this). The rest I did by hand.

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I then soaked them in salted water with lemon juice to get rid of any lingering microbes.

I steamed them for ten minutes. After that they are ready to prepare as you like. The most popular method is to fry them in butter and/or oil, garlic and salt with a little lemon. You can also use any asparagus recipe

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I decided to fry some in a pakora batter, which is simply chick pea flour mixed with a little salt and chili powder to taste and enough water to make it the consistency you want. Mine was like a thick pancake batter, but if you make it thinner the coating won’t be so doughy. Just dip the fiddlehead in the batter and fry until it is crisp and golden. Serve it with a chutney or tamarind sauce, or even ketchup.

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A Backyard Forager’s Pasta Dish

Pasta is a great dish when you want to be creative, or even when you don’t have much in the pantry. With a few pickings from our garden, lawn and fields, I decided to make a vegan, gluten-free pasta dish using Jerusalem artichokes, wild strawberry leaves and chives. I was pleased with the effect of the artichokes and lemon juice in creating a creamy white sauce with no dairy products. As for the greens, you could use any of your edible wilds or not so wilds, but I wanted to try the wild strawberry. I learned that all parts of wild or cultivated strawberries are edible, and since our wild plants are plentiful and don’t give much fruit, why not use the greens instead. For more information about identifying, using and finding resources, check out this site.

If you do decide to use strawberry leaves, there are a couple of points worth mentioning. First, as always, be sure you have identified the greens properly. They are pretty easy to spot, but be sure you know what you are picking. The other point is that, while these leaves are most often used in making tea, they should be eaten only when dried, or very fresh. Once the wilting process has begun, they enter a stage of non-edibility until they are perfectly dried. So that is something to bear in mind if using them.

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Most articles I read said that they are edible, but not really tasty. I beg to differ. They are mild, with a pleasant citrusy after taste. Not remarkable, but certainly nutritious, especially rich in vitamin C. If not sure, sample a leaf or two. This is always a good idea anyway to make sure you don’t have any problem if it is new to you, and you can decide if you want to add them to your dinner.

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Jerusalem Artichoke Sauce

1/2 pound Jerusalem artichokes, boiled and peeled

juice of 1/2 lemon

1/2 cup blanched almonds

1/2 cup almond milk

1/4 tsp salt

2 cloves garlic

Puree all the ingredients in a food processor. Heat the sauce gently, without boiling. Add some chopped chives and strawberry leaves, and then mix in half a pound of cooked, hot pasta (I used quinoa spaghetti). The flavour of the artichokes worked very well as a cheese substitute, but feel free to add cheese, or anything else, to suit your own taste.

 


18 Comments >

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The best part of foraging is that you can harvest without ever planting a thing, and harvest before you have even had a chance to plant. My seeds for my vegetable garden are just beginning to sprout now inside the house, and it will be some time before any of them are useable, and I face a lot of work before any reach maturity. Meanwhile, wild greens are quickly making their appearance, and I don’t have to walk more than a few feet from my back door to find something tasty, or at least nutritious and green. That’s a good thing, considering it’s snowing outside as I write this, and the ground is just plain muddy. Luckily I picked a few leaves yesterday to add to a vegetarian curry of sorts. I am not suggesting you make curry necessarily – just to be aware that these harbingers of the growing season are already there for the picking, to be used in soups, salads, stews, baking, or wherever you want them.

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L to R nettles, dandelion, creeping charlie

I picked only three varieties for this dish: nettles, creeping charlie or mallow and dandelions. The total amount was about two cups, but enough to green-up my dish.

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These are all common in this area, relatively easy to identify, and impossible to over harvest. However, it’s still worth remembering two of the basic rules of foraging: always make sure you have identified the plant correctly and be sure to pick only from clean, non-treated areas .

Dandelions.  These are the easiest to identify and are super abundant in spring. My very first post was on dandelions and the dandelion pesto in it lasted me all winter. I will no doubt be posting more dandelion recipes this spring, but so far the pickings are slim. The leaves are so young and tender that they do not yet have the strong bitter flavour that I am looking for, but they offer such a load of nutrients, I wanted include them even now.

Mallow or Malva. This is another mild flavoured green which I have only recently started to use. You can read more about its identification and uses here. Again, it is more for its nutritional value than flavour that I use it. The roots are edible too, and I hope to figure that part out soon. I have also pickled the seeds in the summer to make something resembling capers.

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Creeping charlie can be used instead of mallow. They are similar in appearance, easily confused and interchangeable as far as the leaves go. To identify this plant, this site will help.

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Stinging Nettles. I found two recipes calling for nettles this morning just going through my regular blog mail, including this one for pesto and this one for spring rolls. As long as you are careful to pick these with sturdy gloves to protect you and then immediately dry, grind or blanche them to remove all the sting, these are really very easy to pick. Dried for tea is a popular use for them, but I like them in place of spinach, cooked the same way, quickly and with little water. My nettle patch is just getting started, but it has spread considerably since last year, so I hope to be able to experiment liberally with it. I will also keep chopping at it as there seems to be one school of thought that once it flowers, the leaves become more toxic. Not sure if that is so, but better to be safe.

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My curry was made with chick peas, onion, a home-made curry mixture, carrots and freshly dug Jerusalem artichokes. I added the greens just before serving, giving them only enough time to wilt.

 


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Grape Leaves with Roasted Vegetables

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Given this seemingly endless winter, I am fortunate that I still have a few of last year’s foraged foodstuffs in my freezer while we wait for the new greens to appear. This week I am bringing to Angie’s Festive Friday a platter of a kind of pinwheel where I was able to use two of my favourite ingredients:  wild grape leaves and dandelion leaves in the form of pesto. These, some roasted vegetables, and a dough I invented on the spot which is so tasty and easy, I look forward to using it in other ways.

This recipe can be altered any way you like – you can use any bread dough, stuff them with any vegetables, or even add cheese, nuts, seeds,herbs, dried tomatoes, etc. I’m sure I will find more variations, but for my first attempt I decided on using only roasted vegetables with a little flavouring from the pesto. I made the dough gluten-free because I like the buckwheat base of this bread and wanted to share it with some who are unable to eat gluten.

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The Dough

1 tsp yeast

2 tsp honey

1 cup warm water

3 cups buckwheat flour

1 1/2 cup quinoa flakes

1 tsp salt

4 Tbsp olive oil

1 Tbsp onion flakes

Dissolve the yeast in the water mixed with honey. Add the rest of the ingredients, mix and form into a ball. Wrap it in plastic or parchment paper and leave to sit a few hours or overnight.

Fillings and Casing

2 doz. grape leaves (more or less depending on the size of the leaves)

1/2 cup dandelion or other pesto

2 cups mixed roasted vegetables (e.g. eggplant, celeriac, leek, mushrooms)

1 roasted garlic bulb

salt and pepper to taste

To Make the Rolls

Divide the dough in two, and roll each one into a 9 in. square between two layers of parchment paper.  To assemble, I used a sushi mat. If you don’t have one, use a clean towel or parchment paper to hold the leaves together and make it easy to move to the baking sheet. Lay out the grape leaves vein side up on your mat overlapping each other a bit and slightly larger that the 9 in. square. Transfer one dough square onto the leaves. Spread the dough with half the pesto. Mash the garlic bulb and distribute half of it around the square in little dabs. Lay the vegetables randomly in one layer. Season with salt and pepper. Roll up the mat firmly. Tuck leaves over the ends, and add a bit of leaf to the end if they are not covered. Repeat for the other half

Transfer to parchment covered cookie sheet seem side down and brush or spray all the surfaces with oil. Bake at 325 for about 45 min. The grape leaves will be slightly browned. Cool a little before slicing.

I apologize for not having pictures of the rolling step of this process. I took some fine pictures, but didn’t realize until it was too late the chip wasn’t in the camera. I hope my explanation is clear enough.

These can be eaten warm, or cold like a sandwich. They can be frozen before slicing, and would make a great addition to a picnic.

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Pickerel in Grape Leaves with Mushroom Za’atar Sauce

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Pickerel, or walleye as it is often called here, is a fresh water fish common in North American lakes. It is the fish I might have caught had it been warm enough to go ice fishing, but given the small number of fishing huts in the area, I am not the only timid one. I did manage to find a good source of fresh, local fish which I’m sure is as good as any I would have caught. Besides, it came all cleaned and filleted. So this is my contribution to The Novice Gardener’s Fiesta Friday – seasonal, easy and wild.

This fish is a close relative of the pikeperch, so that could be substituted in this recipe, as well as any white freshwater fish. The other main ingredients are grape leaves and za’atar, and those are available in most areas. If you don’t have a stock of wild grape leaves in your freezer from last year, regular leaves are sold in jars in some supermarkets. Just be sure to rinse the brine off before using. If you don’t have za’atar, or the ingredients to make it, use any recipe for za’atar and replace the sumac with grated lemon zest.

Pickerel in Grape Leaves

1 1/2 lbs fish fillets

3 Tbsp finely chopped sweet onion

2 Tbsp za’atar

juice of 1/2 lemon

1 tsp salt

2 Tbsp olive oil

30 grape leaves, approximately

Remove the skin from the fillets if there is any. I used the skin to make stock which I used later in the sauce. Just cover with some water and allow to simmer until you are ready for it.

Cut the fillets into pieces – some will already be small from the skinning process, but others can be about 2 inches long. Place them in a bowl and mix in the remaining ingredients, except for the leaves.

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Lay two or three leaves on a flat service overlapping slightly. If the leaves are very small, you might need four – two if they are very large. Place a large spoonful (1/4 cup) of the fish mixture at the base of your leaf arrangement. Fold upwards once, tuck in the sides and continue to roll up. If grilling, it might be wise to secure them with toothpicks which have been soaked in water.

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If using an oven, place them in a casserole dish, brush with a little olive oil and garnish with lemon slices. Bake in a 425 degree F oven for about 1/2 hour.

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These can be eaten hot or cold. I’m thinking of making some next time I pack a picnic. Meanwhile, I served these warm with saffron rice and a mushroom sauce. No need for a sauce really, or you can make whatever kind you like. This is how the sauce was made.

Mushroom Za’atar Sauce

Fry about a cup of sliced mushrooms in butter until lightly brown. Make a roux with 1 Tbsp butter, 1 Tbsp flour (I used chestnut flour to  make it gluten-free), and 1/2 cup of fish stock. When the sauce has thickened, add the cooked mushrooms, 1 tsp of za’atar and salt and pepper to taste. Heat through and it is ready. This is a small quantity for two people, so just multiply it to get the amount you need.

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The grape leaves keep the fish from drying out or getting scorched if being grilled. They also add flavour to the delicate fish, and provide good packaging for any leftovers to be eaten cold the next day. There doesn’t seem to be any difference in flavour that I can detect between wild and other grape leaves, so just use whichever is convenient.


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Sumac Rice Pudding

100_0831When in New York last week, I had to visit the famous Rice to Riches in Lower Manhattan. Their website is under construction, but you can find a list of their rice pudding flavours for delivery, and will give you an idea of how this little shop gives this lowly dessert a whole new makeover. Something like an ice cream parlour, and just as busy, they serve puddings of every imaginable flavour with catchy names, like Almond Shmalmond, Take me to Tiramisu, and Fluent in French Toast. And toppings!

When I first heard about it last year, I decided to try my own hand at making rice puddings of an unconventional sort. As a base I used 1 cup arborio rice, 2 cups water, and 1 cup coconut milk. To that I added flavourings, such as rose or orange blossom water, or lavender. But vanilla, nuts, fruit or whatever would work just as well. I combined all these ingredients, added a little sweetener (I usually used coconut sugar).

But this is a blog about wild foods, so I can’t try and recreate even their Secret Life of Pumpkin for this space. However, I can share with you my recipe for sumac rice pudding, which by the way cannot be found at this NYC restaurant. I’m sure there are many other wild edibles which would make interesting puddings, but one at a time.

I used sumac molasses for this, so there was no need to add any sugar. However, you could probably use powder or sumac tea and add sugar as necessary.

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1 cup short-grained rice

1 cup water

1 cup sumac molasses

1 tin coconut milk

toasted nuts (optional)

Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and cook covered, stirring occasionally, over medium heat for about 1/2 hour, or just until the rice is thoroughly cooked. The pudding will set as it cools, so don’t worry about it being too saucy. And feel free to be creative with your own toppings, although I personally prefer it just with a few toasted nuts and some sumac powder.