Foraging for food

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I had a great time picking blackberries last weekend, and it got me thinking about why we don’t turn to our hedgerows and woodlands for food more often. For most of us, a trip to the greengrocer’s is about as exciting as it gets, but maybe it’s time to get adventurous.

That said, this post does carry a health warning. It’s all too easy to mistake a poisonous fungus for an innocent field mushroom, but with a bit of common sense, foraging is a great way to get out into the countryside and re-establish that connection with nature.

Wild garlic

Wild garlic is abundant in the UK and is highly versatile. The plant is easily identifiable in woodlands, as it forms lush green carpets near to patches of bluebells and emits a distinctive garlic scent. It tastes much like cultivated cloves, but has a milder flavour.

The leaves can be used to spice up salads and stir frys and can also be used to flavour soups and stews. Wild garlic has many health benefits, including reducing high blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Mushrooms

Wild mushrooms grow across most of the UK, with parks and woodlands providing a good place to start looking. We have a huge diversity of native species, but autumn is prime mushroom-picking season, as this is when most edible varieties appear.

Wild Mushrooms Online has some great tips for fungi foraging. Once you’ve identified and collected your mushrooms, you’ll be spoilt for choice for things to do with them: grill them, stuff them, put them in soups or pies, or fry them with wild garlic and parsley.

Woodland

Woodland

Elder

Elder is commonly found in hedgerows and woods. The bushes are  covered in sweet-smelling flowers by the end of June, followed by berries between August and October. The flowers and berries are sweet and aromatic, but the stems and leaves are poisonous.

The fragrant blooms can be eaten raw, cooked or dried and can be added to cordials, jellies and jams, as well as ice cream, cakes and biscuits. The flowers can be eaten straight from the tree. Visit the Sacred Earth site for more recipe ideas.

Nettles

Although painful stings have taught us to avoid nettles, they are actually a very healthy and versatile plant. You can protect your hands with a decent pair of gardening gloves and boiling the leaves will get rid of the sting.

Nettles are packed with vitamins and minerals and, believe it or not, contain more vitamin C than oranges. They should be harvested before the flowers appear in early spring and only the youngest leaves should be collected. Use them to make tea, soup and even beer.

Dandelions

The old wives’ tale may tell us that dandelions make you wet the bed, but in fact, they are healthy and freely available throughout the UK for most of the year. The whole plant can be eaten, from flower to root.

The leaves can be added to salads, while the flowers, which are in bloom between February and November, can be used in anything from risotto to omelets. The roots can also be dried to make dandelion coffee, which has a hint of chocolate.

Just one final word of warning. Don’t forget to check whether the land you’re planning to forage on is public and remember to get permission if it isn’t. Always remember the countryside code and don’t over-harvest. Have fun!

Photos: kh1234567890, colros, markpeate, Sir_Iwan, Anja Jonsson, Mark ac photos

News in brief

Coffee cup

Coffee cup

Keeping you up-to-date with this week’s most important vegetarian news stories…

Call yourself a vegetarian?

With the recent revelation that international coffee giant Starbucks adds crushed bugs to their strawberry frappuchinos and other food retailers admitting they fry potatoes in pork grease, how can you be sure if you are really eating vegetarian? Read full story.

Adele goes veggie

Singer Adele has lost more than a stone since switching to a vegetarian diet. During an interview for Radio 1, she told the presenter that she was trying to lead a more healthy lifestyle by going veggie, but said she wasn’t a fan of tofu. Read full story.

New inspiration for veggie cooks

Feeling low on recipe inspiration? Cookery teacher Liz Nolan has just published My Goodness, a beautifully illustrated collection of tasty and hassle free recipes. “Part of my mantra is how to cook with beans and lentils,” she said. Read full story.

Photo: @Doug88888

Welsh rarebit

Welsh Rarebit

Welsh Rarebit

Welsh rarebit is quick and easy to make and is perfect as a snack or a light lunch. This traditional Welsh dish is delicious served with some crispy salad leaves and a tasty dressing.

Preparation time: 10 mins

Cooking time: 10 mins

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

  • 50g flour
  • 50g butter
  • 250ml beer or ale, warmed
  • 250g cheddar cheese, grated
  • 2 tsp English mustard
  • Black pepper
  • 4 large slices granary bread

Method:

  1. In a small saucepan, melt the butter and make a roux with the flour. Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring to prevent the roux from burning.
  2. Stir in the warm beer gradually, until you have a thick, smooth sauce.
  3. Add the grated cheese and stir until melted. You should now have a thick paste.
  4. Mix in the mustard and season well with black pepper.
  5. Lightly toast and butter the bread, then pile up the cheesy mixture on each slice.
  6. Cook under a hot grill for a few minutes, until browned and bubbling.

Delicious…

Photo: Tristan Kenney

Vegetarian lasagne

Veg Lasagne

Vegetarian Lasagne

Vegetarian lasagne is so easy and versatile to make. I’ve made varieties with aubergines, spinach, chickpeas and even mixed beans. Great for those end of cupboard meals! I love to crumble loads of cheese over the top to brown.

PREPARATION TIME: 30 mins

COOKING TIME: 40 mins

SERVES: 4

 Ingredients:

  • 500g brown mushrooms
  • 500g spinach
  • 1 tin peeled tomatoes
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
  • 500g feta, plus 100g for the topping
  • 500g plain yogurt
  • Lasagne sheets

 Method:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200oC.
  2. Fry the chopped onion until soft in a drizzle of olive oil. Then add in the chopped garlic.
  3. Cut the mushrooms into small pieces and add to the onion and garlic.
  4. Add the spinach and cover the pan with a lid. Leave until wilted and remove from stove.
  5. Drain the tomatoes and cut into pieces. Then add to the mushroom and spinach and set the mixture aside.
  6. Blend the feta and sour cream until smooth.
  7. Layer your lasagna in an oven proof dish starting with a layer of veg mix, then lasagne sheets and finally the feta mix, repeat as necessary. End off with the feta mix.
  8. Sprinkle the 100g extra feta on top and bake in the oven for about 40 minutes, or until the top is nice and golden.

Yum yum yum…!

Photo: Matt De Turck via flickr

Stuffed butternut squash

Butternut Squash

Butternut Squash

Butternut squash has to be one of my favourite vegetables and I like to cook with it as much as possible while it’s in season. There have been some particularly fine specimens at the market recently! This is a warming and satisfying recipe – winter comfort food at its best…

Preparation time: 30 mins

Cooking time: 1 hour 15 mins

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

  • 2 butternut squash
  • A few thick slices of butter
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 large onions
  • Fresh root ginger
  • 2-3 pinches ground cinnamon
  • 2-3 pinches cumin
  • A pinch paprika
  • A handful of sultanas

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200oC
  2. Cut the squash in half and spoon out the seeds. Score the flesh of the squash in a zigzag pattern, so the heat can get right inside.
  3. Place the squash halves, with the scored sides facing up, into an ovenproof dish. Then dot with butter and season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  4. Roast in the oven for one hour.
  5. While the squash is in the oven, make the stuffing. To do this, heat the butter in a large shallow pan, add the onions, cover and cook gently until softened.
  6. Peel the ginger and cut into matchsticks. Then add the ginger, cinnamon, cumin, paprika and sultanas and cook until the onions start to caramelise.
  7. Place the stuffing mixture on top of each roasted squash half, then return to the oven for 10-15 minutes to allow the flavours to infuse.
  8. Serve immediately with some of the juices from the pan spooned over the squash.

Bon appetit….

Photo: sea turtle via flickr

Red dragon pie

Welsh Dragon

Red Dragon Pie

As I’ve only recently moved to Cardiff, I was planning to seek out some Welsh vegetarian recipes, but this first one is a bit of a cheat…

I was first cooked this dish when staying with a friend in Carmarthen, and what with the name, you can see why I might have thought it was a traditional Welsh recipe!

It turns out the name actually comes from the adzuki beans, which are known as “red dragon” beans in China.

Anyway, it’s a wonderfully warming dish, perfect for those cold, dark winter evenings.

Preparation time: 15 mins

Cooking time: 30 mins

Serves: 2

Ingredients:

  • 2 tins of adzuki beans (or 200g dried beans)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 250g carrots, diced
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • ¼ pint stock
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1-2 tbsps soy sauce
  • Black pepper
  • 450g potatoes, sliced
  • 25g butter
  • Olive oil

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C.
  2. Fry the onion and carrot in olive oil until soft. Add the garlic and fry for another minute.
  3. Add the beans, chopped tomato, stock, herbs, soy sauce and freshly ground pepper to taste. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 5 minutes, before reducing the liquid to a thick sauce. Transfer the mixture to a pie dish.
  4. Parboil the potato slices for 5 mins, then arrange on top of the filling.
  5. Dot with butter and a drizzle of olive oil.
  6. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until the potatoes are nicely browned.

Enjoy…

Photo: Draig Goch via Flickr