Along the Grapevine


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Sweet and Sour Dandelion Soup with Soba Noodles

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Freshly Picked Dandelions

This recipe has two parts to it – the dandelion part and the noodles. The dandelion ‘soup’ can be served on its own, or with anything else you like, and of course the noodles are soba noodles, so you probably know how you like them.

I’ll start with the dandelion part. I weeded two patches of garden and found some dandy looking ‘lions. This is the best time of the year to eat the greens, before the flowers appear, as this is when they are at their sweetest. The roots also looked thick, crisp and white on the inside. I have made tea and ersatz coffee with them before, but wanted to do something else, so I thought of combining them in a soup. The roots are a little bitter when raw, but lose most of that bitterness when cooked. I decided to offset the slight bitterness of the greens with something sweet, which made me think of adding something sour, which in turn suggested hot and spicy. With the saltiness of the soya sauce, I think I covered every taste we have.

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Dandelion Greens

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Dandelion Roots

For more on identifying dandelions and their spectacular nutritional value, check out this site.

To make the soup, you will have to clean the leaves several times to make sure they are really clean. I don’t bother cleaning the roots too much, as I peel and then rinse them. Of course, you can use a mixture of other greens too. Because it is a soup, quantities can vary, as can the ingredients. I used mushrooms, green onions and flavourings, such as chili, garlic and ginger. Pretty simple really.

Sweet and Sour Dandelion Soup

4 cups water

a handful of chopped, cleaned dandelion roots

1 in. ginger root, sliced thinly

4 medium sized mushrooms, chopped

2 green onions, chopped

2 cloves of garlic

1 hot chili pepper, chopped (or dried flakes or hot sauce to taste)

4 Tbsp soya sauce

2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar

2 Tbsp honey

Mix all these ingredients in a saucepan, heat and simmer until the dandelion roots and ginger are well cooked. Just before serving, add a big handful of dandelion greens and cook for another couple of minutes.

Such a soup suggested to me soba noodles – but I didn’t have any – so had to make some. I started making soba noodles long ago, in a far-away country where I couldn’t buy them. I decided just to mix buckwheat flour with water, roll and cut it like any other pasta, and that was it. The best soba noodles I had ever had. Now I have the luxury of being able to consult the internet, and  it seems it is harder to do right after all. But maybe that’s not the internet’s fault. I think my buckwheat is the wrong kind. Yes, not all buckwheat is made equal, and I believe mine is of a course nature. If you have the choice and want to make your own, I would buy a very fine flour in an Asian shop. The type you want is called sobakoh. But if you are like me, have no choice, but still want to make your own, just use whatever buckwheat you have. They will still be good, they will just break more easily. Another solution is to mix 3 parts buckwheat with 1 part wheat flour. I might do that next time just to compare.

I did do two things I never tried before. One was to use a food processor to mix the dough because now I have one. The other was to add boiling water to the flour – a process I can’t justify but it seemed to work quite well.

Soba Noodles

1 cup of buckwheat flour

1/2 cup boiling water (approx.)

Add the boiling water slowly to the flour while processing until the dough forms into a ball.

You can also do this by hand, in which case you should mix it in a bowl and kneed once you are able to form a ball.

 

Divide the ball in two and roll each piece on a floury board into a rectangle. No need to make it super thin, – it will probably start breaking if you get it too thin.

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Soba Noodle Dough

In my first attempt I cut the strands by hand, which is quite easy to do, but mine did not look very neat.

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Hand-cut Noodles

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Machine-cut Noodles

For my second batch I used  my pasta maker. I got more breakage, but it looked neater.

Put the pasta into a big pan of boiling water – give it lots of room so it doesn’t stick together – and boil for 1 minute. Strain through a sieve, and run it under cold water, shaking the sieve to prevent the strands from sticking.

To serve, spoon some noodles into a dish.

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Cooked Noodles

Ladle out the soup on top and garnish with something green. I used green onions.

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Sweet and Sour Dandelion Soup with Soba Noodles

So anyone at Angie’s Fiesta Friday #13 up for trying a sweet and sour soup made with entire dandelion plants and some slightly fractured soba noodles, I hope you enjoy this thoroughly original, tried and tested only by me recipe.

 

 

 


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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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Purslane and Cabbage Salad

Purslane (portulaca oleracea) is yet another weed I have growing wildly in my garden, but only now have I decided to stop thinking of it as a pesky weed. I am even considering collecting some seeds in the fall, and growing some in its own little garden – away from my onions and leeks which it likes to snuggle up to. Image

Canadian Gardening says this about it:

Nutritionally, purslane is a powerhouse. It has more than double the omega-3s that kale has and, as far as I know, more than any other leafy green ever analyzed. It has over four times the vitamin E of turnip leaves, more than any other leafy green ever analyzed. It has glutathione and other antioxidants and about as much iron as spinach. It also has reasonable amounts of other nutrients as well as phytochemicals, like all these leafy greens. So purslane is no slouch, not a poison, and definitely worth eating.

Rich in omega-3s
Many people studying the Mediterranean diet think that it is foods like purslane and other omega-3 greens that give the Greeks their good balance of fats. Olive oil only contributes some of the omega-3s; the greens, walnuts, oily fish, and a few other foods give them the rest of what they need.

To help you identify it, it is a spreading plant, looks much like portulaca, and has reddish-green or purple tinted stems that are very fleshy. It has small, inconspicuous yellow flowers.Image

If you pick only the succulent stem tips, the plant will continue to grow. Remove flowers as they appear, unless you wish to collect seeds. The flavour is lemony-sweet, and they are crunchy when fresh.

As my first experiment in eating it, I decided to try it in its raw form to see how I liked the taste. This salad is not really a recipe – just an idea for using fresh purslane.100_0423

I used cabbage, shredded carrot, purslane, olive oil, salt and cider vinegar to keep it as simple as possible. Other herbs, shredded beets, jerusalem artichokes, or even a base of lettuce or some other greens would work just as well.100_0426


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Lambsquarters

Lambsquarters
Chenopodium album, meaning white goose foot, related to spinach, rhubarb, beets and chard, known as lambsquarters, pigweed and a number of other names, grows in all gardens in this area – anywhere that soil has been turned. Of all the weeds I pull in my vegetable and flower gardens, fully half of them must be this weed. So if cleaning your garden means you have some healthful and tasty vittels for dinner, you kill two birds with one stone.
Like so many overlooked wild plants, this one is full of good stuff: niacin, folate, iron, magnesium and phosphorus and, even more, dietary fibre, protein, vitamins A, B6 and C, thiamin, riboflavin, calcium, potassium, copper and manganese. If you are still not convinced that this is worth eating, it is a great substitute for spinach, at no cost, and if you pick it in an unpoluted garden free of chemicals and contaminants, probably better than spinach.
If you know how to cook spinach, there is no real need for recipes. Young shoots can be used in salads, and as the plant ages, just pick the leaves off the sturdy stem (discard any blemished ones), rinse well and use as you would spinach.
This recipe I am sharing is one that requires a little more effort than sauteing or steaming, but I think highlights the rich green colour and delicate flavour of the plant. It could also be made with rice, as you would a risotto.
If my pictures are not enough to help you identify it, there are plenty of pictures and descriptions available on the internet, and if you are still not sure if you have it in your garden, check with someone familiar with local weeds – there must be one somewhere near you.
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Barley with Lemon and Lambsquarters

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1/2 red onion, finely chopped

1 cup barley

1 1/2 cup water or vegetable stock

grated rind of one lemon

2 cloves minced garlic

1 Tbsp. mint

1 Tbsp. parsley

1 tsp. salt

4 cups lambsquarters, leaves only.

Heat the oil in a saucepan and fry the onion until soft, but not browned. Add the barley and fry for a couple of minutes, being sure to coat all the barley with oil. Add the garlic and fry for another minute. Stir in the herbs, salt and grated lemon peel. Pour 1/2 cup of the water or stock and stir the mixture occasionally until most of the water has been absorbed. Continue to add water, 1/2 cup at a time. When the last addition of water is made, add the lambsquarters and mix  well until there is no more liquid visible.