Cooking with Weeds
Nettles can be made into crisps, dandelions taste better when picked in the morning, and the humble daisy can make a great cup of tea... many surprising uses for weeds are featured in the book ‘Eat your Weeds!’ by Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal.
What does and what does not constitute a weed is an argument for the ages, but the mis-placed plants that we commonly think of as having little use in the garden provide a vital part of our ecosystem, from holding soil together to providing a food source and habitat for wildlife. As our verges start to sag with the weight of summer vegetation, these recipes are a fun way to learn to look at weeds in a different way.
Daisy tea is calming like chamomile tea, a relative. The taste is mild and pleasant.
Pick a handful of daisy flowers and put them in a teapot. Pour boiling water over them, put the lid on the teapot, and leave to brew for 5 to 10 minutes. Strain and enjoy.
Alternatives: Dried daisy flowers can also be used. Also nice with fennel seed or mint.
Dandelion Flower Nuggets
Every year we look forward to the two or three weeks in April when dandelion flowers are abundant enough to have them for lunch. We say for lunch because they become bitter if picked in the evening – if you like bitter tastes, that’s not a problem – but they are tastier if gathered on a warm sunny morning.
Pick enough dandelion flowers to allow about a dozen per person, depending what else you are serving with them. Wash them in water, then shake off the excess and roll the flowers while they are still wet in a bowl of flour or gram flour (or chickpea/garbanzo flour). Fry in a little oil until they are browned on each side. Salt to taste.
Serve hot, with a salad and whatever else you like. The taste is more breaded mushroom than dandelion, and they are remarkably good.
Alternatives: Add some chopped herbs to your flour mixture, and cook the flowers with garlic. If you use gram flour, they will be gluten-free.
Nettle crisps have a crunchy, satisfying texture and are a really quick way to make a wholesome, healthy and moreish snack. You need medium-sized nettle leaves.
Gather a handful or so for your first experiment and vary the amounts as you prefer.
Check the leaves carefully for aphids and butterfly eggs (on the underside) and discard any if need be. Be aware of the sting, which will, rest assured, disappear in the cooking. You can, however, get stung while gathering, so take care.
Wash the leaves, ready for your dipping sauce. You will need about 4 tablespoons of sauce.
Blend toasted sesame oil (or any cooking oil), some flakes of nutritional yeast, pepper and salt. We had intended to use paprika but added sumac instead, a lucky improvisation.
The oil and the yeast are the heart of the taste and the condiments are refinements. The sauce should be of a paste consistency and is so umami that any green leaf tastes good in it.
Dip your leaves in the sauce, making sure both sides are coated, and put them on a baking tray. Bake in a medium oven for a few minutes until they are crisp. Keep your eyes on the progress of the crisping as it can quickly go too far and you end up with a burnt offering.