Food is everywhere. Here are some of the culinary delights we have enjoyed this spring, made with plants found growing near our house – salads with dandelion greens and mustard flower buds, stinging nettle soup, stinging nettle tortillas, stinging nettle pancakes, stinging nettle casserole (you can see we like stinging nettles!), and roasted vegetables seasoned with wood sorrel and gill-over-the-ground. We look forward to finding and eating more wild foods over the summer, including wild berries, red clover, and many more.
Making pesto is something that never caught my attention until this summer. It started when I noticed that a lot of lambs-quarters had planted itself in my garden and I started thinking about things one can do with an abundance of greens. Once I found a basic formula for pesto, I experimented with whatever greens came my way, including lambs-quarters, radish greens, lemon balm, chard, beet greens, and carrot greens. Some I have liked better than others. My two favorites so far are radish greens and chard combined with basil. Some other greens you could try are spinach, mint, arugula, and kale, as well as dandelion greens and other wild greens.
You can use the recipe below with whatever greens or combination of greens you have available. Nuts and seeds that are commonly used in pesto include walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, and sunflower seeds. I saw one recipe that used pistachios, which sounds yummy. Some recipes recommend toasting the nuts, which I am sure is delicious, but so far I have been too lazy to try that myself. Most recipes recommend using 1/2 or even 3/4 cups of oil. I use much less as I prefer things to be not too oily. Also, I usually use pesto as a sandwich spread. You would probably want to use more oil if you plan to use your pesto as a sauce.
Since I have been making so much pesto, I have put some in the freezer to enjoy in the winter. I froze it in an ice cube tray, then put the frozen cubes in a plastic container for longer storage. This way I can take out whatever amount I need at a time.
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
1/2 cup nuts or seeds
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups greens
1/8 – 3/4 cup olive oil
salt to taste
Pulverize the cheese in a food processor. Add the nuts, garlic, and a pinch of salt and pulse a few times. Add the greens, a cup at a time, and mince well. While the food processor is running, add the oil, a couple of tablespoons at a time, until the pesto is the consistency you like. Taste and adjust salt if needed. Makes about 1 cup.
Wood sorrel is a low-growing plant with heart-shaped leaves and small yellow flowers with five petals. It is sometimes mistaken for clover because its leaves look a bit like clover leaves. One distinguishing feature is that wood sorrel leaflets have a crease down the middle.
Wood sorrel may also be confused with a garden plant with a similar name. However, wood sorrel (genus oxalis) and common or garden sorrel (genus rumex) are quite different plants.
Wood sorrel leaves are tender and have a pleasant lemony taste. A small handful of chopped leaves makes nice addition to a garden salad. You can also make a simple sauce by sautéing wood sorrel in a bit of oil or butter.
Wood Sorrel Sauce
2 cups wood sorrel leaves and stems
2 Tbsp. oil or melted butter
Salt to taste
Chop up the wood sorrel with a knife or scissors. Sauté in the oil or butter until wilted. Serve over steamed or roasted vegetables. For those of us who live where lemons don’t grow, this is a nice way to add a lemony taste to vegetables using a local plant.
If you’re looking for a way to use up all those stinging nettles that are available just for the picking right now, here’s a recipe to try.
Stinging Nettle and Rice Casserole
1 cup raw rice
a colander full of freshly-picked stinging nettles
1 medium onion, copped
2–3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup grated cheese (cheddar is good)
salt and pepper to taste
Cook the rice. Steam the nettles. Rinse in cold water until cool enough to handle, then chop with a knife or scissors. Sauté the onions and garlic. Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Add salt and pepper. Stir in the chopped nettles, sautéed onions and garlic, grated cheese, and cooked rice. Place in a greased baking dish and bake, covered, at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
This recipe could also be made with spinach or any other greens you have available.
I was thinking the other day about the delicious refrigerator pickles I made last summer when cucumbers were abundant, and feeling sad that I would have to wait many more months before tasting them again. Then I realized – why wait, when I have a bag full of locally-grown beets in the fridge right now. I mean, pickled beets, right? I figured I could use the same recipe for pickling the beets as I used for the cucumbers. So I did, and they came out great.
Cucumbers or beets, these pickles make delicious snacks, add sparkle to sandwiches, taste great on cheese and crackers, are delicious however you eat them. You can use the leftover brine for salad dressing, as part or all of the liquid in a bread recipe, or for livening up soups and stews.
1 lb cucumbers or beets
1 small onion
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup water (you can use the cooking water from the beets)
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon each mustard seed, peppercorns, ground turmeric
Slice the vegetables. If using beets, peel them first and steam the slices until tender, about 15 minutes. Pack the vegetables into two clean pint jars. Make the brine by combining the vinegar, water, sugar, salt, and spices in a saucepan over medium heat. Let simmer, while stirring, until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Pour the brine over the vegetables in the jars. Put on the lids, let the jars cool, then put in the refrigerator. Wait 24 hours before eating. These should last about a month in the refrigerator, unless you eat them before then, which you probably will.
When you come home from the Farmer’s Market, the CSA, or your own garden with a bunch of fresh carrots, don’t discard the carrot greens. They are delicious and nutritious and can be used in a variety of dishes.
Here’s a recipe that uses both the carrots and their greens.
Spicy Carrots and Greens
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
1/2 tsp each turmeric, coriander, cumin
1 lb carrots, sliced, and their greens
Sauté the garlic and onions with a small amount of oil in a large frying pan for about 5 minutes, until onions are translucent. Mix in the spices and cook another minute or two. Add the carrots, stir to coat with the spices, and cook until they are beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in the greens and cook until the carrots and greens are as tender as you like them. You can add small amounts of water while cooking if needed to keep the vegetables from sticking to the pan. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with rice or the grain of your choice.
Bee balm is an unusually pretty garden flower, attractive to bees and hummingbirds, as well as to gardeners. It has a delightful fragrance reminiscent of oregano and mint. I dry some bee balm every summer to make a fragrant tea to enjoy all winter long. It is not only tasty but is also supposed to be antimicrobial and soothing to the nerves.
Bee balm is also used in cooking. It can be used to flavor meat, tossed into salads, and added to biscuit and muffin recipes. Today I added it to a whole wheat bread recipe. It came out sooooooooo tasty. Here are the ingredients I used.:
1 1/2 cups water
2 T honey
1 cup bee balm petals and leaves
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/3 cups white bread flour
1 t salt
2 T butter
2 1/2 t yeast
Here are the ingredients in the pan:
I made the bread in my bread machine. You can do the same, following the manufacturer’s instructions for your machine, or you can follow your usual procedure for making bread by hand, or you can just use your favorite whole wheat bread recipe adding 1 cup of bee balm petals and leaves to a two-loaf recipe. However you make it, it is sure to come out delicious, especially when you eat it fresh out of the oven with butter.
This is another great year for apples. Not only are there free apples everywhere, literally just for the picking, but they are also showing up in my CSA basket. So I figured it’s time to move beyond apples for breakfast and dessert and make some into a main dish for dinner. Here’s what we had the other night:
Savory Sautéed Apples
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 large onion, diced
4 large apples, cored and sliced
2 T balsamic vinegar
1/2 t dried thyme or rosemary
sausage, bacon, or ham (optional)
Sauté the onion and garlic in a little bit of olive oil. Add the apples, balsamic vinegar, and thyme/rosemary. Continue cooking until the apples are tender, about 5-10 minutes. If you want, during the last few minutes of cooking add two small sliced sausages (I use garlic sausage), 4 strips of cooked, crumbled bacon, or 1 cup of diced ham. Serve with the grain of your choice.
Local – apples and onions (from CSA), garlic and rosemary (from my garden)
Here’s a fun recipe to try if you have a good supply of stinging nettles available.
Stinging Nettle Pancakes
1 cup milk
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 T melted butter
3-4 cups loosely packed stinging nettles
Whisk together the milk, eggs, and salt. Stir in the flour and then the melted butter. Steam the nettles for 4-5 minutes in boiling water. Remove from pot and reserve the cooking water. Run the nettles under cold water until cool enough to handle, then drain, squeeze out the excess water, and chop. Add the chopped nettles to the batter.
These can be cooked like regular pancakes on a griddle, or cook like crepes, one at a time in a small frying pan. Serve with butter, jam, applesauce, or anything else you like, and mugs of nettle tea (the cooking water you reserved).
If you still have some nettles leftover after making these pancakes, check out more ideas for cooking with nettles here and here. Or, make more pancakes!
Local Analysis of last night’s pancakes
Local: stinging nettles (picked near my house), eggs, milk, and butter (from local farms via co-op)
Crabapple trees are abundant in my neighborhood, and I’ve written in the past about using the fruit to make crabapple sauce. You can use crabapple sauce in baking in the same way you would use applesauce. I always make a large batch and freeze it in half-pint containers. Then I can enjoy eating and baking with it all year round.
Here’s a recipe for a tasty quick bread using crabapple sauce. Of course, you could use applesauce instead if that is what you have available.
Crabapple Sauce Bread
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp each cinnamon, ginger
1/4 tsp each nutmeg, allspice, cloves
1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1/2 c brown sugar, lightly packed
1/4 c olive oil (or other oil)
1/4 c plain yogurt
1 c crabapple sauce
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 c chopped walnuts
Sift together the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs and sugar until well combined. Beat in the oil, yogurt, crabapple sauce, and vanilla. Fold in the flour and nuts. Bake in a greased bread pan at 350° for 45-50 minutes. Cool in pan for 15 minutes, then remove from pan and let cool completely
Local analysis of the loaf I made last week
Local – crabapple sauce (from my freezer, made last fall from fruit from neighborhood trees), eggs (from local farm via co-op), yogurt (homemade from milk from local farm via co-op)
Non Local – flours, baking soda, spices, salt, sugar, oil, vanilla extract, walnuts
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