This is the lean time of year for those of us in the northern hemisphere. Spring is so close you can smell the new growth but flowering blackthorn admonishes us to wait, winter is not completely over.
I’m fortunate to have a garden and to know my plants. Our food is not all from the supermarket. We’re on a limited budget just like so many others during this difficult economic climate and we’re trying very hard not to spend beyond our means. Harvesting from your garden is both an economic and aesthetic boon.
Two meals we’ve enjoyed this week have been a forager’s salad and a root and nettle soup.
The forager’s salad at this time of year comprises dandelion, garlic mustard, chickweed, sweet violet, strawberry, sorrel, young dock and spinach leaves together with shoots of cleavers, marjoram, bronze fennel, St John’s wort and chives. If the sea holly were slightly taller, I would pick those leaves and anyone with access to wild garlic/Ransoms could use those leaves sparingly (I ate my first leaf this morning and they are strong!). Once the hawthorn leaves are fully out, I will add those to the salad.
If you have a family member who is wary of eating “weeds and hedges”, you can disguise it by adding a grated carrot and grated apple. It tastes good dressed with home-made violet infused vinegar. You could also add nettle, pumpkin, sunflower or other seeds or nuts and serve with fresh bread and protein of your choice. (We had a small tin of salmon.)
Late last summer my father sowed some carrot and beetroot seed in the new herb bed. They never grew very large and the carrots were consumed by slugs. We shall be digging over the entire bed shortly, so we dug up all the remaining beetroot and carrots and I brought them home with me on Sunday. Yesterday I thought I’d better do something with them.
It took me a good hour, standing at the kitchen sink with a bowl of water to collect all the soil to wash and peel both vegetables. The carrots would not have been a welcome addition on their own, but hidden inside a soup; they were a really useful contribution to depth of flavour.
I used both the new young leaves and the beetroots, setting the large ones to cook for pickling and the tiny ones went into the soup. I’d also picked a large basketful of nettle tops from the garden. I was expecting to make a red soup, but I learned that red and green make brown!
Root and nettle soup
1 dozen tiny beetroot peeled
½ celeriac root, peeled and chopped
1 basket full of young nettle tops (washed)
1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped
1 large onion, diced
1 dried chilli (chopped and seeds removed)
2 large carrots (I had about a dozen tiny ones)peeled and chopped
10 green cardamom pods
1 tsp coriander seeds
2 tblsps crème fraiche (optional)
Sweat the onions in a mixture of olive oil and butter together with the spices for 5 minutes covered until soft. Add chopped vegetables and cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer for ten minutes. Add nettles and seasoning and simmer for a further ten minutes until everything is soft. Remove the cardamom seeds from the top of the soup. Liquidise then pass through a sieve to remove any nettle fibres. Add crème fraiche to give a richer soup if desired. Serve with fresh, homemade bread.
These amounts gave nearly six pints of soup. We’ve eaten it for lunch for two days and the rest has gone in the freezer.
I love foraging in my garden. We had our first free salad on 26th February and yesterday’s soup was my first nettle harvest of 2012. I know there will be many more throughout the months, but such harvests prove the wheel of the year is turning once again.