Friday, July 27, 2012

Wild Greens Can Make a Spring-time Treat


We are so inured to shop-bought factory-farmed foods that we forget that all our foodstuffs originated in the wild. Indeed, everything we eat today started out life as a wild plant. Due to selective breeding cabbages and kale may not look much like their wild ancestors any more. Which is not to say that those wild ancestors don't exist and remain perfectly edible.
If you know what to look for and how to recognize the plants then the wild harvest can provide many completely free delights for your table. What's more wild foods are truly and completely seasonal and provide a sense of what our ancestors used to eat.
With spring just around the corner it's time for all serious foragers and anyone curious about wild foods to venture out once more. We're about to enter the season of fresh spring greens where dandelions, mustard greens, stinging nettles, deadnettles, ramsons (wild garlic), bedstraw and many other edible delights are at their very best.
Here are two recipes that will show-off many of these wild spring greens to their very best:
Wild Garlic and Wild Mustard Greens Pesto
1 garlic clove, chopped
sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper
150g wild mustard greens, washed and with leaves shredded
12 ramson (wild garlic) leaves, chopped
100g pine nuts, very lightly toasted
100g freshly grated Parmesan cheese
extra virgin olive oil
a small squeeze of lemon juice
Add the garlic, wild mustard greens and ramsons to a food processor and pulse to a puree. Add the pine nuts and pulse once again. Tip into a bowl and add half the Parmesan. Stir gently and begin adding the olive oil. Add just enough so that the mixture is bound together and you achieve a thick but pliable consistency (a bit like mud). Add the lemon juice and most of the remaining cheese. Season to taste then add a little more olive oil. Alternate adding oil and cheese until you are happy with both the consistency and the taste.
This is best used fresh, but will store for a week if placed in a jar and stored in the fridge.
Nettle Soup

900g young nettle tips (you need to pick these when the nettles are about 6 to 10 cm tall. May is a good time)
900g spinach
900ml chicken or vegetable stock
3 tbsp flour
60ml cold milk
4 cold, cooked, sausages
3 tbsp sour cream

salt and black pepper, to taste
Be careful when picking the nettles as even the young tips can still sting. Also only pick young, fresh, nettles as they become very bitter as they age. Wash the nettles when you have enough then blanch them in boiling water (this removes the formic acid). Drain the nettles and return them to the pot along with the spinach. Pour in the hot stock, season and allow to simmer for 4 minutes (add more stock if the mixture becomes too dry).
Set the soup aside to cool then purée in batches in a blender. Meanwhile mix the flour and milk to a smooth paste. Return the soup and the milk mixture to the pot and return to a boil. Chop the sausages into small rounds and add to the soup. Add the sour cream, swirl and serve immediately.
These are only two recipes of the many thousands possible and they feature only two of the many hundreds of edible plants that are all around us in the countryside. Why not begin exploring the culinary possibilities of your own backyard today?
Dyfed Lloyd Evans is the author of the Celtnet Guide to Edible Wild Plants and the recipes to accompany this guide have been collected in his Wild Food Recipes. He also writes articles on wild foods and wild food cooking at Celtnet Articles

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