Along the Grapevine


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Tandoori Pickerel and Curried Spring Vegetables

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A dear blogger pal very kindly passed on to me some of her home-made Indian spices which I have been keen to feature with some of my own local ingredients. Although I haven’t posted many Indian recipes before on this blog,  South Asian cuisine is one of my favourites. I began to learn to cook during our two-year stint in Delhi, just before the craze for spicy Asian food hit North America in the 70s, and I have been at it ever since. It was in India where I really learned to appreciate local and fresh food, including home-ground spices which made everything from soup to nuts just so much tastier.

So when Sonal offered me some of her handiwork, I was thrilled. You can find her fabulous recipes on her blog, simplyvegetarian777 where you will discover some truly original recipes with a strong South Asian influence. Do drop by and check out her fabulous fare.

I met Sonal through The Novice Gardener’s weekly event, Fiesta Friday, so it is only fitting that I share these recipes with this week’s crowd. Our co-hosts this week are Effie @ Food and Daydreaming and Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook who will be working hard to keep the party lively.

The spices Sonal sent me were a tandoori masala, a curry and Kasuri Methi, or dried fenugreek. This latter I intended to use as a garnish and then unfortunately forgot, but I did taste it and it would have made a wonderful accent for the two dishes I did make.

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For the tandoori spice mix I decided to make a fish dish using local wild pickerel, but you could use any firm fish.

Tandoori Pickerel

  • Servings: 4
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Ingredients

1 lb pickerel filet, skinned and cut into serving portions

1 Tbsp tandoori masala

1 Tbsp sumac

1 Tbsp flour, rice, chickpea or jerusalem artichoke

1 tsp grated ginger

1 tsp grated garlic

1 tsp chili powder

1 Tbsp vegetable oil

3 Tbsp plain yogurt

juice of 1/2 lemon

1/2 tsp salt

Method

Mix all the ingredients except the fish in a bowl to make a paste. Coat the fish pieces with the paste and place them on a grilling pan in a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes. Turn the pieces over and continue to cook for another five minutes or so, depending on the thickness, until the fish is cooked through.

I managed to achieve a nice red-coloured paste thanks in part to the addition of sumac which also goes well with this mixture taste-wise.

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To accompany this fish I wanted to make a really green curry with ingredients all from  my garden. The scapes, garlic, mustard seed and green chili are left over from last year’s crop, but the young dandelion leaves, lily shoots, and some nettles were all picked just moments before cooking.

Curried Spring Vegetables

  • Servings: 4
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Ingredients

oil for frying

1 tsp mustard seed

1 green chili, seeded and chopped finely

1 garlic clove, minced

2 tsp curry powder

3 packed cups of mixed greens, e.g. lily shoots, scapes, dandelion greens and nettles

salt to taste

juice of 1/2 lemon (optional)

Method

Heat the oil in a heavy skillet and add the mustard seeds. When they start to pop, lower the heat to medium and add the chili and mustard. Cook for 1 minute and then add the curry powder. Cook for another two minutes, stirring continuously. Add the washed, but not dried greens starting with the sturdier ones like scapes and shoots. When they start to turn a brighter green add the dandelion and nettles, cover and cook until they are just wilted. Remove from the heat and drizzle with lemon juice.

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Maple Leaf Fritters

 

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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. Continue reading


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Sea Buckthorn leather: A Roll-up for Grown-ups!

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Berries on female bush

This is my third post in a row using berries. The first were juicy sweet blue black nannyberries, the second sour red sumac, and this one is a bitter sweet bright orange sea-buckthorn, or hippophae rhamnoidas.

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Male bush

This is a berry I began using when living in Russia and Central Asia, and one I thought I would miss when I returned home. Luckily by then (2007), the cultivation of this had finally arrived in the new world, and although it is far from common, I am sure you will begin finding it in good farmers’ markets before long if you haven’t already. And when you do, I hope my ideas will inspire you to give it a try. Since it can be grown in a cold climate like ours, perhaps people will realize we don’t always need exotic berries from other continents to enhance our diets. How nutritious is it? Just let me say that Ghengis Khan used it as nourishment for his army!

I first came across it at a garlic festival in Perth Ontario, and shortly after found some shrubs at a nursery in the east end of Ottawa. That was about 6 years ago. I have now had two harvests from my three surviving female bushes – I have only one male but he is doing his job well on his own.

I should clarify for those who are turned off the word buckthorn – a nasty, invasive plant that grows around here. This is not a buckthorn really, and have no idea why it has been given that off-putting name. As for the prefix sea, it is not because it grows near the sea. I don’t know for certain, but perhaps it is named so because when you see fields of it blowing in the wind, the delicate silver-green undersides of the leaves make the plants look like waves on the sea. That is just my humble thought.

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Bushes blowing in the wind

You are most likely to find this berry as an ingredient in health and beauty products, and it is being touted by some as the greatest superfood out there. I prefer mine unprocessed, and eat it either fresh or steeped in hot water. The flavour is so intense, you can use the same bunch of berries for several infusions. If you find the flavour too strong, it could be mixed with sweet fruits, like apples, pears or peaches.

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For this week’s Fiesta Friday, I decided to make a fruit leather. I have never made, or even bought or eaten fruit leather, but this seemed like a good time to start. I collected 6 cups of berries, then strained them through my apple sauce mill, but you could also use a blender or food processor and then strain. I mixed the juice with 3 Tbsp of liquid honey and poured it into a lightly greased, parchment lined cookie tin. I put it in the oven a 170 F for about three hours, at which time I noticed the carroty orange colour was getting darker, but it looked too runny for comfort. I therefore sprinkled evenly on top 3 Tbsp of chia seeds, hoping that would absorb the extra liquid. I returned it to the oven for another 9 hours, at which point the fruit could be peeled easily off the parchment, but it was still flexible and soft.

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It has a soft and chewy texture a very intense flavour, tart like a lemon but caramelized. For a less intense flavour, I would mix it with a sweet fruit, or add just a little to any other fruit leather recipe.

A big thank you to Angie and her co-hosts Selma and Elaine. A little tardy this week, I am heading over there now to see what treats await me.


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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.

 


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Grape Leaf, herb and yogurt pie

I just returned from my last harvest of wild grape leaves. They are getting a little tough looking, although I found some good ones in shady areas. We are in zone 5a, so I presume here or in colder zones, the leaves are still good for picking and preserving. Otherwise, you might find preserved ones in some specialty markets.

This recipe for grape leaf pie is one of the best reasons I know for collecting and using grape leaves. I have copied it from Yotam Ottolenghi’s book Plenty, and though I have tried to make a different version using more of my own local ingredients, his original remains my favourite. Actually, he found it in an old book called Classic Turkish Cookery by Ghillie Basan, published in 1995. The combination of grape leaves with dill, mint, lemon and yogurt give it a true Mediterranean flavour even with most of the ingredients coming from local sources.The only variations I made was to add a little lemon zest and parsley to the breadcrumb topping, walnuts instead of pine nuts (because that’s what I had) and  chestnut flour instead of rice flour for no particular reason.

Grape Leaf Pie Recipe

Serves 4

20 to 25 grape leaves

4 shallots, finely chopped

4 tbsp olive oil

1 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

1 cup Greek yogurt, plus extra to serve

2 1/2 tbsp pine nuts, lightly toasted

1/2 tbsp finely chopped tarragon

2 tbsp finely chopped parsley

3 tbsp finely chopped dill

4 tbsp finely chopped mint

grated zest of 1 lemon

1 tbsp lemon juice

salt and black pepper

1/2 cup rice flour

3 tbsp dried breadcrumbs (preferably panko)

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Place the grape leaves in a shallow bowl, cover with boiling water and leave for 10 minutes. Then remove the leaves from the water and dry them well with a tea towel. Use scissors to trim off and discard the bit of hard stalk at the base of each leaf.

Saute the shallots in 1 tablespoon of the oil for about 8 minutes, or until light brown, Leave to cool down.

Take a round and shallow ovenproof dish that is roughly 8 inches in diameter, and cover its bottom and sides with grape leaves, slightly overlapping them and allowing the leaves to hang over the rim of the dish. Mix the melted butter with 2 tablespoons of olive oil; use about two-thirds of this to generously brush the leaves lining the dish.

Mix together in a bowl the shallots, yogurt, pine nuts, chopped herbs and lemon zest and juice, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Then add the rice flour and mix well until  you get a homogenous paste.  Spread this paste evenly in the baking dish.

Fold the overhanging grape leaves back over the top of the filling so they cover the edges, then cover the filling completely with the remaining grape leaves. Brush with the rest of the butter and oil mix. Finally, scatter the breadcrumbs over the top and drizzle over the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil.

Bake for 40 minutes, or until the leaves crisp up and the breadcrumbs turn golden brown. Remove from the oven and leave to rest for at least 10 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve warmish or at room temperature, with a dollop of fresh yogurt.

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