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Children and Nature Personal Sustainability: How-To Recipes Uncategorized

Stinging Nettles! Yum?

Yes, you really should try eating nettles!  And if you’re adventurous enough to try, now is the best time of year.  Foraged wild greens are often most tender, and therefore best to cook with, early in the spring when plants are still young.  Compared to many other wild greens, nettles are quite mild, with a flavor similar to cooked spinach.  They are nutritional superstars, rich in vitamins A, C, D, K, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium!  Nettles and nettle tea are believed to have many medicinal qualities and have been used as a traditional medicine by many cultures for centuries.  Most importantly, when cooked, nettles loose their sting.

nettles-growing

Look for nettles by the edges of fields and yards, along river banks, and along forest edges.  They are often quick to grow where fertile land has been recently disturbed.  I use gloves when harvesting and pinch the tender tops off of young plants.  In the kitchen, I rinse the leaves in a colander, stirring with a slotted spoon to avoid being stung.  Boil in a shallow water bath for about 5 minutes to get a deep green spinach substitute.  Be sure to save your cooking water to drink as tea or for adding a nutrient boost to soup.  Leaves can also be thrown directly into soup broth without cooking ahead of time.

Nettles-fresh-and-cooked
Stinging Nettles fresh (don’t touch!) and cooked

Make sure to sample some nettles plain, so you can get to know their mild flavor.  Then try using them as an early spring spinach substitute.  Here are some recipe ideas I’m planning on trying out this season:

Cream of Ramp and Nettle Soup: This recipe is THE annual favorite in our household!

Nettle Quiche: Use your favorite spinach quiche recipe, but trade spinach for nettles.

Nettle Yogurt Soup: The original recipe is one of our favorite ways to cook with spinach. The surprising combination of nutmeg and cayenne give it a wonderfully unique flavor. This year I’m going to try it with nettles instead.

Nettle Pesto: A delicious garlicky spread!  Use your favorite recipe for kale pesto, but use nettles instead of kale.  This paste would also made a great layer in home made lasagna or pizza.

Saag paneer: This delicious Indian dish traditionally features spinach, fresh Indian cheese (that’s easy to make at home!), and curry spices.  These flavors would also go well with nettles.

Spanakopita: This savory Greek spinach and feta pie would be great with nettles instead of spinach!

Nettle dip: Google “spinach dip” and you’ll get all kinds of mouth-watering options.  I bet they’d be great with nettles too.

nettle-harvest

ramp-nettle-soup

 

Categories
Home Gardens Musings Recipes

Spring In Our New Home: First Harvests & Weeding Invasives

The landscape is greening up, more edible plants and shoots are emerging, and some less desirable plants are perfect for pulling!  Now is a great time to enjoy green fresh first harvests and remove any invasive plants from your yard and garden.

Our driveway is now a garlic mustard graveyard.
Our driveway is now a garlic mustard graveyard.

Garlic mustard was in full bloom in a previously disturbed area to the south of our house.  The moist soil made for easy pulling.  It’s important to pull this invasive plant before seeds mature, and dispose of it properly!  Learn more about Garlic Mustard and other invasives here.

Nettle and ramp harvest
Nettle and ramp harvest

It’s time to enjoy wild edibles!  Fiddleheads are just starting to emerge.  Nettles and ramps are thriving on the river banks and forest edges at this time of year.  I love using them to make Cream of Ramp and Nettle Soup (recipe here).  It’s great warm or cold, and I love to garnish it with sauerkraut.

Cream of Ramp and Nettle Soup with Sauerkraut.
Cream of Ramp and Nettle Soup with Sauerkraut.

It’s magical to watch the progression of spring from the big windows of our new home.  Everything seems wonderfully green this week.  Trees are blossoming and leaves are emerging, providing dappled shade and protection from the strengthening sun.

The grass is growing and leaves are emerging!
The grass is growing and leaves are emerging!
First gardening efforts.
First gardening efforts.
View from the north east.
View from the north east.
Categories
Personal Sustainability: How-To Recipes

Spring Foraging

Things are finally greening up around here!  

Forage-Harvest

Early spring is the perfect time to forage for wild greens.  Many of the first plants to emerge from river banks, forests, and fields are edible, and they’re available before anything is ready from the garden.  In addition, early shoots are often the most delectible part of plant to eat!  If you need any more convincing, research the nutrition content of these greens – they’re all packed with vitamins and minerals.

When foraging, remember: Never take everything!  Leave enough healthy plants so that your favorite sites continue to produce year after year.  This, of course, is not true if you’re harvesting edible invasive plants.

Wild Leeks: Also known as Ramps, these are our favorite wild spring edibles.  It’s delicious and if you know the right places, can be quite abundant.  It often grows by river banks and is one of the first green leaves to emerge in the spring.  Bring a trowel with you to harvest the nice white bulbs along with the green leaves and purple stems.  We fry it to bring out its sweet mild oniony flavor and use it instead of leeks or onions in recipes.

Wild Leeks growing by the river, chopped, and fried
Wild Leeks growing by the river, chopped, and fried

Marsh Marigold: We harvest Marsh marigold leaves, stems and flower buds before the flowers open.  Stems are tender and break for an easy harvest.  This plant can be toxic if eaten raw!  Because of high tannin levels, we boil in three water baths.  Bring a pot with your chopped marigold harvest to boil and simmer for 5 minutes.  Drain and repeat three times.  The result has a mild flavor and a texture similar to over-cooked spinach – soft and slimy.  If they can accept the texture, marigolds are good for those who don’t like the common bitter hints in many wild plants.

Marsh-Marigold-prepared
Marsh Marigold blooming and cooked

Dandelion Greens: Everyone knows a place where dandelions grow!  Young leaves are tender and less bitter than older ones.  We harvest before the plants bloom and fry the leaves.  The slightly bitter and very dark green leaves can be used in place of collards in recipes.  Dandelions have thin tender leaves though, so they don’t need as long a fry time.

Dandelion harvest fresh and fried
Dandelion harvest fresh and fried

Nettles: I first harvested nettles to dry for tea.  Now I enjoy them as an edible green.  The leaves loose their stingy-ness once they are boiled, but use caution when harvesting!!  I use gloves and pinch the tender tops off of young plants.  I wash in a colander, stirring with a slotted spoon to avoid being stung.  Boil in a shallow water bath for about 10 minutes to get a deep green spinach substitute!  Leaves can also be thrown directly into soup broth.  Some tasters found the mild green flavor to have hints of fishyness.  This disappeared when used as an ingredient in a larger dish but was present when eaten plain.

Stinging Nettles fresh (don't touch!) and cooked
Stinging Nettles fresh (don’t touch!) and cooked
Full Pockets Post-Forage
Full Pockets Post-Forage

Want to learn more about foraging?  There’s a lot of really good books out there! I like The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants as well as A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants: Eastern and Central North America to use as references and field guides. Stalking The Wild Asparagus is a great read that was very popular in the 70s, but is less well known today.  

Our next eagerly awaited harvest will be fiddleheads.  Once they’ve finished up, we should be on to asparagus and spinach from the garden!

Categories
Home Gardens Recipes

Root Season: Parsnips, carrots, and horseradish, oh my!

With a few hard frosts behind us, our options are slimmer if we want to eat straight from the garden.  There are still some great things out there to eat, however, before we dive into our canned and frozen foods for the winter.  Beet salads, carrot miso soup, home made horseradish, and even foraged roots from the back field have graced our table this week.

 

This weekend’s warm temperatures motivated me to find a few of the edible plants I had read about in my foraging book.  At this time of year, roots make up most of the options.  I dug burdock, thistle, and parsnip – digging deep down into our dense clay to free the taproots so I could tug them from the ground.  Interestingly, two of these three species (thistle and parsnip) have leaves that cause skin irritation. The roots, however, are completely safe to eat!

After taste testing our peeled boiled root selection, wild parsnip was the clear champion.  It was very similar to the parsnip available in the store – just a little less sweet.  We are trying to eradicate the plant from our back field but is is still very common in our neighborhood, making it easy to find and harvest.  The roots of medium sized plants each yielded a decent amount of food.  I seared round disks of the parsnip in vegetable oil, adding water and covering my pan to steam and soften the roots.  Once they were fully cooked, I sprinkled them with salt and maple syrup.  Mmmm….

Making our own horseradish was pretty easy.  It’s one of those foods that is so much better fresh!  This year we moved some plants into our garden so that we could have our own source of roots.  Now that the leaves have started to die back, it’s time to harvest.  We peeled and diced the horseradish roots, used a food processor to finely grate the pieces, and mixed it with white vinegar for our final product.  The finer it can be grated, the spicier it will be.  For more details, check out this article.  We’ve been enjoying on sandwiches, salad dressings, and to spice up soups.

After so many summer salads, our root crops are offering a welcome seasonal change.  Our next challenge: what to do with a 22 pound hubbard squash!