Welcome to my blog all about the things I love to grow and cook. You'll find a collection of seasonal gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan-friendly recipe posts, as well as a round up of my gardening throughout the year. I wish you good reading, happy cooking and perfect planting!
For this week’s post, I have made a slight departure from my usual offerings. I have just returned from a few days down in the south of England celebrating Mothering Sunday with my family.
The county of Sussex is where I grew up and I remember the bluebell woods especially well. Carpets of fragrant blue flowers lined these particular woods in Slindon, most usually from mid to late April onwards. With the early onset of spring this year, I had a feeling that there might be some out in flower and I wasn’t disappointed. There were quite a few of the delicate, sweet-selling blue blooms alongside many other wild flowers.
It was a glorious day in these woods. The sun was warm and the sky was blue. The flowers seemed to almost glow in the bright light, and with the combination of good weather and the untimely blooming of these wild flowers, it was hard to remember exactly what month it actually was.
Not only were there flowers to enjoy in the woods, but the hedgerows and trees around and about were full of life too. Several species of butterfly were darting around from flower to flower (too quick for me to capture), and the bees buzzing and busy collecting pollen. It’s going to be a bumper year for hedgerow fruits if these blossom-laden Blackthorn trees are anything to go by.
My final image this week is of a Sussex pastoral scene and a tree that encompasses this time of year so well, the Salix Discolor, or Pussy Willow, with its fuzzy pollen-laden stamens so tempting to the bees and flying insects.
I hope you have enjoyed the visit to Sussex this week. I will be back with you next week with something equally seasonal. Until then, have a good week and enjoy Spring 🙂
Every year at this time my local river bank becomes swathed in lush greenery and develops a distinctive oniony aroma. A walk on a sunny afternoon can make you feel very hungry indeed.
On a bright afternoon at the end of last week, I went on a foraging expedition and picked a small bag of the fresh, lush wild garlic leaves, also known as Ramsons (Allium ursinum). As with any wild food, only ever pick if in abundance. Take leaves from several plants rather than stripping leaves from just one or two. Pick the vibrant green, broad leaves (shaped rather like those of the tulip) when young and before the delicate white star-shaped flowers bloom to enjoy them at their sweetest.
For safetys sake, take extra care to make that sure you are only picking the leaves of wild garlic. Wash very well before using. I usually put the leaves in a colander and dunk several times in a bowl of cold water before shaking dry.
As with most soft herbs, wild garlic is best used within 24 hours of picking, but once rinsed and shaken dry, I find it well for a few days sealed in a plastic bag in the fridge.
My recipe this week combines the wild garlic leaves with baby kale leaves (or kalettes) and leek in a stir fry. It is delicious served as a vegetable dish in its own right, but is also makes a delicious stirred to a mushroom risotto.
For the stir fry:
1 medium leek
30g wild garlic, washed
175g baby kale (or kalettes)
2 tbsp. olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the risotto:
1l vegetable stock
2 tbsp. olive oil
250g chestnut mushrooms, wiped and chopped
400g Arborio rice
200ml dry white wine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
25g wild garlic, washed and finely shredded
Trim the leek. Split lengthways and rinse well to remove any trapped earth. Shake well to remove excess water, then shred finely.
Shred the wild garlic leaves. Strip the leaves of baby kale from the central stalks. Mix all the vegetables together.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan or wok, add the greens and stir fry for 2 minutes. Season well, reduce the heat to low, and cover and cook gently for 4-5 minutes until tender. Serve immediately as a vegetable accompaniment, or put to one side whilst preparing the risotto.
For the risotto, pour the stock into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce to a very gentle simmer. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large frying pan and gently fry the mushrooms for 2-3 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes until everything is well mixed.
Pour in half the wine and cook gently, stirring, until absorbed. Add the remaining wine along with a ladleful of stock. Cook gently until absorbed.
Continue adding the stock in this way, until all the liquid is absorbed and the rice is thick, creamy and tender. This will take about 25 minutes and should not be hurried. Keep the heat moderate throughout the cooking.
Season the risotto to taste, stir in all but a few shreds of wild garlic, and cook for a further minute until the garlic has wilted. To serve, reheat the spring greens and gently mix into the risotto, then serve sprinkled with the remaining wild garlic.
A bit of a departure from my usual blog posts this week. I’ve had some time away from my home in Scotland, and spent a few days in Sussex, where I grew up, visiting friends and family, and enjoying some fine late spring weather.
On a walk along the South Downs, I climbed down to a secluded cove, only accessible when the tide is low, to discover sea kale growing on the sand and shingle beach and out of the chalky cliffs. The afternoon was still and warm, and the frilly edged, grey/blue-green leaves of the kale appeared silvery in the bright sunlight; the sweet smell of honey hung in the air from its many flowers which grow in clusters above the leaves.
I’ve never discovered sea kale growing wild before, and have never cooked nor eaten it. The opportunity and temptation was too great and I picked 2 or 3 of the smaller leaves from a few established plants. I knew that sea kale kept well – sailors used to take it on voyages as a source of vitamin C – so I put the leaves in a jug of water, in the fridge for a couple of days, before taking them back to Scotland to experiment in the kitchen.
As with most leafy vegetables, I guessed that the smaller leaves would be the most edible. Apparently, sea kale (Crombemaritima) is not actually kale, it’s a type of chard and belongs to the cabbage family. All parts are edible, raw and cooked. but in the interests of conservation, I picked just a few leaves.
And so, to the kitchen. I treated the sea kale as if it were a leafy cabbage or curly kale. I gave it a good soak to remove any sand, etc, and then sliced out the stems. I shredded some of the leaves, and decided to roast the rest whole as I do with kale.
Stems with balsamic vinegar – trim the ends and then slice the stems down the centre, lengthways. Blanch in boiling water for 1 minute, drain well and pat dry with kitchen paper. Heat a frying pan until hot, drizzled with a little olive oil and stir fry the stems for 2-3 minutes until softened and browned a little. Turn off the heat, season with balsamic vinegar, salt and black pepper. Cover with a lid and stand for 5 minutes. Serve sprinkled with freshly chopped chive stems and flowers.
Leaves with garlic, chilli and soy – shred the leaves as you would Savoy cabbage and cook in boiling water for 3 minutes. Drain well. Stir fry chopped leek and garlic in a little oil until softened and then add the boiled sea kale and stir fry for 2-3 minutes until tender. Season with dark soy sauce and sweet chilli sauce.
To bake sea kale, choose the thinnest leaves, remove the stems if coarse, and pat dry with kitchen paper. Place in a bowl and toss in a little olive oil, and massage it through the leaves to coat them lightly. Spread out on a baking tray lined with baking parchment and season well with smoked salt, pepper and caster sugar. Bake at 200°C (180°C fan oven, gas 6) for 10 minutes, turn the leaves and bake for a further 5-10 minutes until dark and crispy. Season with chilli flakes and serve with extra sugar and smoked salt for dipping.
The verdict: if you like strong-tasting cabbage and seaweed ( which I do), then you’ll like sea kale. It’s not a flavour for the faint-hearted that’s for sure. It can be also be seasoned with other strong flavoured ingredients. I was surprised that it is not salty at all. Some of the slightly larger leaves had a slight medicinal bitterness to them, which makes me think that the much larger leaves would be inedible.
If you’re lucky enough to find some, it’s definitely worth trying. I feel fortunate to have stumbled across such a fabulous freebie courtesy of Mother Nature 🙂