Ways of Wild Garlic

Nobody is lucky to be in a lockdown. I think of families jammed into a small apartment at the top of a high-rise or people stranded abroad in hostels, unable to reach their homeland. There are those forced by circumstance to cohabit with people they might not ordinarily wish to or those without much contact at all with anyone. In any circumstance we must try to make the best of things, now more than ever.

Relatively speaking I am one of the lucky ones. I am in the countryside, surrounded by acres of open fields and woodlands. My parents’ house has a garden too. I am social distancing, like everyone, but with much more space.

And it’s Springtime. The hedgerows sparkle with the flowering gems of this season: periwinkle, stitchwort, dandelion, celandine, wild strawberry, vetch, bluebell, primrose, daffodil, herb robert, marsh forget-me-nots, coltsfoot. Among this colourful abundance is hidden other treasure too, evident not by its purple, white or yellow flowers but by its subtly pervasive scent.

Wild garlic. Not exactly out of sight either. On my walks I’ve come across whole pastures of the plant by roadsides, in forested glades and on grass verges. It is the perfect opportunity now to maximise the harvest of this ubiquitous allium in the kitchen. Members of the onion family are well known for building up immunity in the body and apart from anything else, it is a lesson on how to use the natural resources which are around us, rather than relying on produce from further afield. 

In the spirit of community sharing I called upon friends and neighbours in the village to contribute their recipes, tips and ideas for making the most of this ubiquitous allium. This post will include I hope quite a comprehensive resource on what to do with this plant otherwise known as ramsons.

General preparation: Good overall advice from Jayne: ‘…wash the leaves thoroughly, snap off any harder stems…Wild garlic is best added towards the end of cooking the dish, so you retain the flavour and “bite” of the leaves…’ 

As Pesto: Probably the most common and versatile method. Easy to whizz up a batch if you have a food processor or blender. Experiment with ratios of wild garlic and basil, or just go with the former alone. Similarly try different nuts rather than pine nuts; walnuts seem to be a favourite alternative in the community. I also insist on  a squeeze of lemon in my pesto. You can leave the cheese out for a vegan alternative or if you want more of a French ‘pistou.’

Ingredients: wild garlic (big handful); pine nuts (lightly toasted in a pan); good grating of parmesan cheese; olive oil (generous glug); salt and pepper; squeeze of lemon. 

Method: put all ingredients into a blender or ground by hand in a pestle and mortar until you have a rough paste and everything is combined. 

Uses: so many: as jacket potato or sandwich filling; pizza topping or with cheese on toast; accompaniments to meat or fish; with spaghetti etc. 

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In Soup: Another classic. Feel like a proper forager by adding some nettles. Follow the same principles of prep for these too.

Plenty of easy soup recipes on the internet and in cookery books. For example this one. Sara D suggests substituting wild garlic for the leeks and almond milk for the cream – ‘honestly totally delicious’ she says, and who am I to disagree. 

With Eggs: The garlic leaves fold really nicely into all manner of egg dishes. They can be a substitute for the spinach in Eggs Florentine, for example, if you fancy a posh breakfast. Why not I say. Otherwise as additions in scrambled eggs or an omelette they are ideal. One of my favourite things to do is make more spaghetti with pesto than I need in order to make a frittata the next day. 

You chop up the the remaining cold pasta, combine it with one beaten egg, more cheese (if you like a lot of cheese – I like a lot of cheese) and some salt and pepper. In a shallow pan melt butter so it starts to froth. Then, on the lowest possible setting, add the frittata mixture and flatten it out into a kind of cake shape. Now, don’t touch it for at least 20 minutes until you see the edges begin to crisp. Flip it over –  it should have a beautiful golden crust – then repeat on the other side. Super savoury and tasty.

With Rice/Grains/Pulses: Hannah says she added some leaves to a risotto. That’s a great idea. As Jayne recommends, putting them in towards the end is the best thing to do. Apart from risotto, we can experiment with other similar dishes and ingredients such as pearl barley, spelt and lentils. 

Jayne cooked up a fantastic feast of a sausage and wild garlic oven baked paella. ‘…it had carrots, celery, green beans, mushrooms, peas, chipolatas, chorizo, vegetable stock…paella rice and wild garlic.’ Got to get that recipe Jayne! Should work well without the meat too. 

Other Ideas:   Sara D made a version of Colcannon, the classic Irish dish of mash and greens, substituting wild garlic for the traditional kale or cabbage, which might even be an improvement on this online masterclass

It occurred to me the one thing that hadn’t yet been tried with the leaves was to wrap things. Certainly you can find specimens which are long and broad enough to contain fillings. In the spirit of experimentation then I set out to make a version of the Greek staple, dolmades. This is a dish of stuffed vine leaves, traditionally served as an appetizer. 

I harvested about twenty of the biggest leaves I could find to use as the wraps. I made a simple rice dish as follows for the filling, taken from the above link:

 “Place the rice in a colander and rinse with running water. Heat a large saucepan over medium heat, add 1/3 of the olive oil and the chopped onions. Sauté the onions, until translucent (but not coloured). Add the rice and sauté for 1 more minute. Pour in 2 cups of warm water and half lemon juice and simmer for about 7 minutes, until the rice absorbs all the water and is parboiled. Season with salt and pepper, stir in the herbs, remove from the stove and set aside to cool down for a while. This will be the filling for the dolmades.”

I used about 130g rice and finely chopped parsley as the herb. I didn’t want to make too much in case it wasn’t a great result. 

Once the mixture had cooled I began to make the dolmades. It was a bit of a faff, to be honest. After some trial and error – and some cursing – I found the best method was to make a cross of two leaves (which I needed to blanch under boiling water for a second to soften) and then place about a teaspoonful of the filling in the centre before wrapping the leaves over, one by one, to make an envelope. 

After this I followed the cooking instructions as before:

  1. “Place the stuffed vine leaves (fold side down) on the bottom of the pot and top in snugly layers. Be careful not to leave any gaps between the dolmades to prevent them from cracking open when cooking.
  2. Drizzle the stuffed vine leaves (dolmathes) with the rest of the olive oil and lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Place an inverted plate on top to hold them down when cooking and pour in enough water just to cover them. Place the lid on and simmer the dolmades for about 30-40 minutes, until the water has been absorbed and the dolmades remain only with the oil.
  3. Remove the pot from the heat, remove the lid and plate and let the dolmades cool for at least 30 minutes.”

They turned out to be pretty good, if I say so myself. Worth having a go at and perhaps experimenting with fillings. A good way to use up leftover risotto or other such dishes.

I hope you’ve found some inspiration here. I’ll update the page if anybody wants to contribute. Amazing the resources on our doorstep if we know where to look. Keep it local and keep resilient. 

 

 

 

Life in plastic

I had a hankering for a vegetarian curry in the evening and some spiced apple sauce to stir into my breakfast porridge. I got off at the last-but-one subway stop to my apartment so I could buy the supplies I required: a couple of apples; a bunch of coriander; a sweet potato and cauliflower.

The picture below shows the amount of plastic used to wrap all the produce. Especially unnecessary are those styrofoam nets around the apples. I know, I know, keeping things in plastic keeps them fresh for longer. And plastic producing companies argue that it lightens the load for transit purposes, thereby enabling more products on fewer journeys, saving the world in that way. And the irony is that plastic is a good product. Cheap, durable and versatile, it has myriad uses, from the dashboards of millions of cars to the containers we use for our lunch boxes.

We’ve seen it too as a massive moving carpet of filth across the Pacific Ocean, choking up the water and the life within. We’ve read about tiny particles of the stuff that contaminate our drinking water supplies meaning serious health risks. Plastic, we can confidently say now, is bad news.

We can make lifestyle choices. We can carry around our own shopping bags and re-usable water flasks, we can try to shop in places which don’t offer plastic bags or drink without using a plastic straw. We can compartmentalise our waste so that plastics are deposited into the appropriate boxes where available. This is all good. We feel better about it all. We feel less guilty.

What? Wait, guilty? Where did that come from? After all, it’s not our fault that a very large percent of products are made of some form of plastic. The stuff is everywhere. As consumers, ourselves a product of the times, we are trapped into buying it. Life in plastic. It’s fantastic.

Because we are beings blessed – or cursed – with a conscience, we feel it being pricked with every news article, shocking docu-reveal and plastered image. That conscience leads us to question our own activities, we secretly blame ourselves for the predicament. And so either we forget about it all – someone will work something out won’t they – or we start to change the way we live our lives.

And the plastics industry helps fuel this sense of individual responsibility. Plastic is petroleum-based and an essential by-product of the fossil fuels industries. In response to the growing environmental crisis, a by-product of mass disposable consumerism, littering initiatives were funded by this industry who, having shifted the onus onto the individual to do something about it, did not cease the production of the damaging materials.

Nowadays, gratifyingly, it is more than just individuals who are taking action. Bill McKibben writes recently about the divestment of funds from carbon-intensive companies, signifying a huge realisation from a vast variety of former investors including, amazingly, the Rockefeller family.

Like the Pacific trash vortex, however, the real issues lie even further underneath the surface. It is, as William Catton points out in his groundbreaking work, Overshoot:

‘…easy to succumb to the temptation to vilify particular human groups and individuals …”if only those_____ weren’t up to their nefarious business…then history could resume its march of millennial progress…'”

The journalist and activist George Monbiot, while directing a lot of his ire towards those ___________ in power, is even more concerned with the insidious all-pervading nature of consumerism.  Whatever we consume, he says, is already too much. The planet cannot give us any more than it has. Richard Feinberg, of the Post-Carbon Institute, echoes this by saying we need to become ‘conservers, rather than consumers.’  We use too much of everything. A simple life, with dependence on localised resources, seems to be one of the solutions.

It is with this in mind I have made at least one serious resolution. That is to cut down by at least 75% my weekly intake of animal protein: meat, fish, eggs, dairy. This means that during the course of seven days I am allowed a maximum of five meals including some or all of these ingredients. Monbiot calls for total global veganism, his principal beef with animal grazing, however I am not yet convinced such an extreme is necessary. A collective cutting-down will itself have positive effects, as outlined comprehensively here. All food for thought.

With this new dietary regime in place, I will endeavour to be a bit more regular with my posts as I am forced into further experimentation very much out of my comfort zone. Experimentation also involves what to do with food waste, stuff I’d normally discard. To this end I have already started using sweet potato skins and apple peel, crisping them up in the oven with oil and cinnamon, for moreish snacks. I am also trialling the utilisation of rotten satsumas as compost for my window-ledge plants.

Happy to say while this post was being composed I was also working on a rather delicious warm salad which fit my new profile.

The inspiration was a roasted chick-pea soup I had for lunch the other day in a cafe near work. Roasted chick-peas eh? I could see them being the main player in a kind of lightly-spiced melange. The one I have fashioned and devoured included these ingredients:

  • chick peas, two tins, drained
  • one carrot, diced and left raw,
  • one cucumber, ditto carrot
  • one tomato, ditto above
  • one head of sweetcorn
  • broccoli
  • mixed nuts and seeds (cashew, pumpkin, sunflower)
  • ras-el-hanout
  • smoked paprika
  • coriander, one bunch, chopped

I roasted the corn and the pulses at the same time, although the former I wrapped in foil with some thyme, garlic rub and oil. The chick-peas I laid out on the tray, glistening with salt and more olive oil. Temperature 200 degrees. It all took about twenty minutes and everything was ready together. As soon as the pulses came out of the oven I sprinkled them with the paprika. Meanwhile I blanched the broccoli until tender in boiling water, chopping it up into florets. After scraping the corn off the husk I mixed it all up, throwing in the nuts and seeds – lightly crushed and toasted in a pan – and the herb. The final addition was the ras-el-hanout mixed with a little oil. As is my wont, I have made enough for a couple of meals.

With toaster

One of the main stimuli for starting this blog was to see what culinary explorations I could make in the limited confines of my kitchen. As the title indicates I was possessed of only two hobs, a toaster and scanty preparation space. In past posts I’ve demonstrated quite effectively how one of my cupboards can act as a kind of proving drawer, something I will be turning to again as the weather starts to get colder over the next month or so. I have an oven too – a portable thing that sits on my fridge, replacing the microwave that came with the apartment and which is now in a bedroom cabinet, under towels. Best place for it.

This week I was to have my meagre equipment tested to its capacity as the hobs were put out of action by the chance discovery of a gas leak. With the kitchen effectively out-of-bounds and my hands restless to prepare some kind of meal I turned to the oven, to see what kind of supper I could fashion. I could bake. I could roast. Roast on toast? I had to do better than that.

My aim was to cook everything together so that it would all do evenly and to this end I decided to wrap it all in foil. Not sure what the science is behind this but I thought that by encasing the temperature would be contained moreover the combination of ingredients would meld into each other and at the end there would be a nice naturally made sauce.

I chose fish. Fillets of frozen tilapia I found at Twin’s. Never cooked with this fish before although I had eaten a much larger specimen at this restaurant in Chiang Mai and knew therefore it could handle some big flavours. I have also subsequently read an article listing the benefits and dangers of this fish, something I should perhaps have taken on board before buying it here. Well, I don’t have to buy it again.

So along with the fish in the foil I added:

  • half of one onion, sliced
  • handful of sun-dried tomatoes (with their juice), chopped
  • scattering of capers
  • twigs of thyme
  • dustings on the fish of smoked paprika and ras el hanout
  • yellow and green courgettes, half of one each, cubed
  • salt and pepper
  • drizzling of olive oil

I fancied a sweet-sour-savoury combination and also to see which flavours punched through the most. The fish lay on the bed of onions with the courgettes casually slung about over the top, thus:

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What would I do about accompaniments? I could roast some potatoes on a separate drawer, but I doubted the machine’s capacity to cope with all of that and in any case I wanted to be a little bit more imaginative. What could I make that didn’t require any hob-or oven-work?

Couscous. I always forget about couscous. Silly when it’s such a super easy thing to prepare and also extremely versatile. I started to think what I could add to the grains once they’d soaked up the hot water. Something with some crunch. I decided I would sprinkle some seeds and pine-nuts on the bottom drawer of the oven, for literally ten seconds. Parsley could also be chopped in, then there would be a squeeze or two of lemon with a knob of butter and a little oil to lubricate. I’d thought about throwing in some sultanas too, but in the end forgot about them.

After about thirty minutes at about 190 – I am nothing if not imprecise – I unwrapped the foil. Coming on lovely, but I decided to uncover it for a ten-minute blast on a higher heat just to get a bit more colour going. Turned out nice. The onions hadn’t quite cooked through and in any case they were one of the more extraneous elements in the mix. If I do this again I wouldn’t bother with them, or else use shallots. The ras el hanout had also got lost; probably next time one not both of the spices or else experiementation with something else. But the courgettes still had a nice bite to them, the fish was meaty and juicy and, as I’d hoped, a delicious sauce had formed from the mingling spices,

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Served on top of the couscous the plate had a very colourful, appealing aspect to it. The aromas were rich in different fragrances and it ate very well. As is my wont, I’d made enough for at least three meals and I can attest to its being equally good out of Tupperware off my knees in a crowded staff break area. Next time no tilapia though: what other fish could I use? I put it to you, dear reader.