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Free-form lunchtime delights

19 Aug

A friend commented on the food I’d produced for a sunny summer lunch a couple of weeks ago, that her mother would never have eaten the salad, as it contained raw peas and weeds. My friends, however, were more daring, and ate the lot with gusto.

salad, wildflowers, Carpathian Mountains, free food, foraging, nutrition

Weedy salad, full of vitamins, minerals and Carpathian sunshine

Salads are free-form food. Brought up in boring British kitchens of the 1960s and 1970s, where ‘salad’ was limp lettuce, soggy tomato slices, bits of cucumber and (in liberal circles) some grated carrot, I gradually realised that a salad could incorporate almost anything edible, from leaves to nuts, fish to fruit, spices, herbs and flowers. I went through a knickerbocker-glory phase of salad making, with layer upon layer of exciting ingredients in a huge bowl, delighting in the planning of it. But these concoctions took forever to produce, so these days I’ve scaled back a bit.

However, I now live amongst organic wildflower meadows, 1,000 metres up in the mountains, and my lawn is full of free and delicious greenery which gives me more nutrition than any shop-bought veg (including curly kale). What many call ‘weeds’, I call lunch. These are plants common to British gardens, so frustrated gardeners fed up of the unwanted leafy squatters in the veg patch: embrace them. Eat them. Ribwort and broad-leaved plantain, Fat Hen, wild carrot, Good King Henry, dandelion, chicory, caraway, chickweed, purslane, ox-eye daisy, smooth sow thistle, nettles, and the bane of gardeners, ground elder: all add texture and flavour to mild lettuce leaves or wilted spinach. Raw or steamed for 30 seconds, these are tasty, healthy and free-of-charge additions to your menu.

Back to salads. We know now that the more colourful the food we eat, the greater the health gains. Fruit, salads and veg come in the full spectrum of hues, and every colour brings different benefits. Raw is almost always healthier than cooked, so salads are the optimum eats.

So be bold. Experiment with different combinations. These bowls contain little heaps of: red cabbage (vivid purple when grated), tomatoes, crushed peanuts, peas (raw) from my garden, toasted sesame seeds, wild leaves (see list above), and spring onions. Topped with a wild carrot flower, and dressed with olive oil and a choice of lime juice or balsamic vinegar, they are filling, satisfying, pretty and delicious. Cheap, too, and easy – nothing clever required. Have a go.

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Smoked salmon a la Preston

22 Aug

Inspired by Heathcotes Brasserie's more elegant photograph

Smoked salmon might not sound exactly cheap, but as a starter, it goes quite a long way with a big flavour and some pretty trimmings from the garden. It might fall into the not-exactly-cheap bracket of cheapeasydelicious, but it’s certainly easy and definitely delicious.

This was inspired by a photo on the Heathcotes Brasserie Facebook page, of smoked salmon with radish and sour cream. No recipe, so I’ve guessed. And – unlike the Heathcotes chefs – as a food stylist I have a long way to go…

cheap easy deliciousWhat

smoked salmon

3 radishes

sour cream

chives

lollo rosso leaves

quarter of a lemon

black pepper

How

Squeeze the lemon into the sour cream and mix well.

Slice the radishes and chop the chives.

Arrange on a plate prettily, and serve

Weed salad

27 Jul
All picked less than 10ft from the back door - weeds and home grown lettuce

Goose-foot orache, comfrey, red and white clover, vetch, woodruff, ox-eye daisy flowers, basil, thyme, chives, feta and salami; with a lemon and olive oil dressing

It’s been a bad summer for growing things here – two weeks of wind and rain when the seeds were just planted, then unrelenting sun ever since. Result – lots of seeds never germinating, and anything that did start growing has not thrived. Except, that is, for the weeds. Hurrah for weeds! Many of them are good to eat, most are packed with nutritional goodness, and some are both. One of my favourites is goose-foot, which is a form of orache which grows with abandon on turned earth – building sites, dug over gardens, and so on. Another is Good King Henry, which is a relative, and grows happily in meadows and fields. A third is comfrey, which I thought was good for healing wounds and feeding other plants until I picked one of the pretty purply-pinky-mauvy-creamy flowers and ate it, just to see. Delicious, sweet with nectar, and so pretty. More than just a decoration on top of the salad – a distinct honey flavour.

I picked about fifteen fresh new tips of goose-foot, and two leaves from each little lettuce plant (cut and come again type); I cut a few chives and basil leaves, and added one spring onion (from neighbour’s garden) and an inch or so of cucumber. A slice of feta and a few slices of salami, a dressing of olive oil and freshly-squeezed lime juice, with cracked black pepper.

Delicious, very cheap, as easy as it gets, and capital H, capital EALTHY.

Arabella FullofLife photo of self-seeded garden orache or goosefoot

Goose-foot or orache, self-seeded and growing abundantly in lime-rich soil.

Fridge lunch – Italian flag salad

30 May
Thymus serpyllum, Mother Of Thyme

Thymus serpyllum, Mother Of Thyme (Photo credit: KingsbraeGarden)

What to eat? I raid the fridge and ponder. No lettuce. But… cucumber, tomato, red (bell) pepper, spring onions (salad onions in US), mozzarella, feta. Ho ho.

Who needs lettuce? There’s greenery outside the door. I step outside into the drizzle and search my lawn for goodies. Some Good King Henry, a few leaves of sorrel, wild thyme flowers, Fat Hen or orache – can’t be sure which it is – and from the pots: parsley, basil, chives.

Back inside – wash the wild leaves and the herbs, and chop up. Chop up all the other ingredients and fling all into big bowl. Squeeze juice of half a lemon and throw into mix with glug of olive oil (or walnut oil, if you’ve got it, but it’s quite pricey). A few grinds of black pepper and a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds.*

Toss well, cut a bit of good sourdough bread or a couple of oatcakes, and eat. Wonderfully healthy – especially the wild stuff – much fuller of vits and mins than the cultivated stuff – and low carb (except the bread), and vegetarian. Substitute tofu or nut butter for the cheeese, and it’s vegan.

Bull’s eye. Healthy, quick, cheap and very delicious. Ker-ching.

* toasted sesame seeds: buy a bag of raw sesame seeds and toast them – spread on baking tray and put in oven for about 10-15 mins. Keep an eye on them and don’t let them go more than a middling tan. Toast the whole packet and keep in a tin.