Dandelion & Calendula Breakfast Egg Cups: The Perfect Marriage of Health & Flavour

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These egg cups were inspired by Jennifer’s upcoming nuptials. Because ever since she and my brother announced their upcoming wedding, the women in the family and invited close friends have been “watching their weight”. Including me. Normally I don’t pay much thought to the extra padding one accumulates around the middle (from consuming too many possets) but there is something about a summer wedding that motivates one to look their best, which sigh, sadly in this day and age, means slimmer.

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And it was to the egg cup I turned. High protein, low carb, its reputation as the perfect diet and convenience food is well known. I found oodles of recipes online. Described as a “natural choice for a healthy, active lifestyle”, “guilt-free, fast, and easy” and ready “to eat on the go”, they are clearly a fuelling favourite for busy women everywhere. And packing them with spinach and chopped vegetables, makes them doubly good for you.

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But in the end it wasn’t cutting carbs that convinced me to explore the glories of the breakfast (in my case more brunchy) egg cup, it was the many mouth-watering recipe images I discovered on Pinterest.  And now I’m sorry to say that it took me so long to give them a try!  The rich eggy flavour, the savoury feta cheese, the flavours of fresh herbs – all combined in a perfect storm. And eaten warm from the oven, these cups are no mere convenience but a comfort food extraordinaire.

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And yes, they are super healthy. Especially this version which is filled with the wild super-greens of the season like dandelion and wild mustard, not to mention tasty healing herbs like lovage or the antioxidant and flavonoid packed calendula petals.  But it is lovage’s distinctly celery like taste which gives this egg cup its wonderful flavour.

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Upper Left Corner: Lovage, Bottom Left: Dandelion. Strewn throughout Calendula & Dandelion petals

I chose lovage for no particular reason other than it was just so abundant and vibrant. In our community herb garden one plant is well over 6 feet already!  Lovage is a member of the parsley family, and its aromatic flavour has been described as celery, anise and curry like, which has long made it a favourite herb for soups, stews and stock.

And not only did it work to season this egg cup beautifully, I’ve discovered since that it can help aid weight loss. Well, according to the internet anyway.  Billed as a cleansing herb that helps expel toxins from your body, research suggests it works as a diuretic that encourages water loss without losing electrolytes in the process.

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Bottom left corner: Lovage leaves

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From bottom left to top right: field meadow mustard greens, calendula petals, dandelion leaves

Dandelion too is a renowned diuretic, used by herbalists to detoxify the liver and support kidney function. Its bitter qualities, like the pungent qualities of mustard, also stimulate and support digestion. And the better your food is digested, the more nutrients you’ll absorb from your food. Plus studies have shown that better digestion leads to better metabolism  – which helps us burn fat more efficiently!

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But in the end, I love these egg cups not because they are so healthy, but because they are just so warming, yummy and pretty.  Recently I served them up to my visiting mother and sister and law for breakfast – and they absolutely loved them. So much so we ended up eating the whole dozen. Some diet. Who cares? Sometimes there are more important things in life that watching your waistline!

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Dandelion & Calendula Breakfast Egg Cups (With Feta & Lovage)

(serves 6)

Ingredients

  • 6 eggs
  • Splash of cream
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 2 tablespoons minced dandelion leaves
  • 2 tablespoons minced wild mustard greens
  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh lovage leaves
  • 3 tablespoons of calendula petals
  • 1/4 of large onion or half of small onion
  • 1 garlic clove
  • tablespoon of olive oil

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Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350°.
  • Grease cups of a muffin tin.
  • In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, salt, and pepper until smooth.

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  • Lightly saute your greens with olive oil, garlic and onion, add in the feta, give a stir.
  • Remove from stove and fill your muffin cup with the mixture (about 3/4 full).
  • Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until the cups are solid and slightly brown on top.
  • Let cool 10 minutes, and then remove from muffin tin. Eat warm if you can!

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Naked Pasta: Wild Garlic Gnudi

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Wild Garlic Gnudi “Dumplings”

Love gnocchi? Then try Wild Garlic Gnudi! This oh so simple to make, lesser known “naked pasta” is just bursting with flavour, not to mention protein, vitamins, minerals and healing properties. And if you love the green, oniony taste of chives, scallions, and leeks like I do, then Allium vineale, paired with a salty cheesy grating of Parmigiano Reggiano, makes the satisfying comfort of pasta and dumplings – pretty guilt free.

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Allium vineale, commonly know as Field or Crow Garlic, is one of the most plentiful and overlooked wild plants. Her fall bulbs are from the same genus (Allium) as garlic, shallots and onions, but it’s her fresh, vibrant oniony spring greens we’re focusing on here. And they can be extremely tasty in any recipe that calls for scallions, chives or green onions. I love them sprinkled fresh over salads, soups, vegetables, savoury side dishes and dips – I could go on!

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Herb Curd! Combining yogurt & sour cream with chopped Allium vineale greens and a sprinkling of fresh spring herbs makes a lovely dip. I used it to dollop on a few gnudi dumplings!

Herbalists consider Allium vineale a tonic plant, which means it’s packed with nutrients that help stimulate and cleanse (or tonify) our bodies, especially our digestive systems.  Studies have shown that Allium contains sulphur compounds (which give their oniony flavour) and can help reduce blood pressure, regulate blood sugar, even act as a prebiotic encouraging the growth of gut friendly bacteria!

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Image from Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook by Dina Falconi; illustrated by Wendy Hollender.www.botanicalartspress.com. Lots of recipes in this wonderful book for Field Garlic and other wild greens! 

And as Allium vineale thrives practically everywhere, she is considered an invasive plant. Originating from Europe and brought over by settlers, she is now growing wild from the west to the east coast, in lawns, fields, open woods and trailsides. But in spring she is often difficult to see because she blends so easily into nearby greenery. But look closely and soon you’ll notice plants that look just like chives – tall, spindly, with dark to bluish green leaves.

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And you’ll know you’ve found her for sure as soon as you take a whiff, because you can’t mistake her oniony aroma. And like chives, Allium vineale can be identified as having a hollow leafy structure with a single hollow tube.

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Once you’ve located a patch, it’s just a matter of snipping off the greens with scissors and piling them into a basket. Once home, you’ll go through your greens and discard any flat grasses, plants or leaves that may have been accidentally included in your harvest (some could be toxic). And you’re ready to begin.

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For this recipe you’ll need a tub of ricotta, one egg, cup of flour, parmesan cheese, pinch of salt and 1 cup of chopped greens. Traditional Gnudi recipes don’t even use flour, so if you want a gluten-free version there are plenty of recipes online. But if you go flourless or gluten-free you will have a wetter stickier dough that will be harder to work with. Be warned. 

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Left: Gnudi w/flour  Right: Gluten-free Gnudi with cottage cheese

But either way you go, both dumplings are equally delicious although different in texture – the flourless cottage cheese gnudi being less dense and much lighter. And to me it tastes just like a naked pierogi! You can lightly cook the greens before using them, but I’ve used them raw because I like the sharper flavour.

Whatever dumpling you decide to make, you will mix them into a simple dough, from which you will pinch off plump balls and roll into whatever shape you desire. These you boil for 7 minutes or so, then slather with a fresh tomato or cream sauce. Or you could gently fry in browned butter, then add a grating of cheese and sprinkling of pepper.

Heavenly flavour! Good Nutrition! Easy to make! Wild Garlic Gnudi is great.

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Wild Garlic Gnudi

Makes about 1 Dozen

Ingredients

  • 1 cup chopped wild garlic greens
  • 1 cup Ricotta Cheese (or full-fat Cottage cheese if you go gluten free)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup of flour
  • sea salt (to taste)
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • four tablespoons butter (for browning)

Directions

  • Chop & mince your greens, the finer the better.
  • Combine with the Ricotta cheese, eggs, 3/4 cup of flour, pinch of sea salt and 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese.
  • Mix well and form into a dough. Knead and add rest of flour till it becomes a workable consistency. Don’t overwork. Let sit 30 minutes or so.
  • Break off small clumps of dough, roll in flour ,and fashion into dumplings about 2 inches long and an inch wide.
  • Boil water, add some salt and a few drops of oil. Once boiling roundly, drop in your Gnudi and let boil for about 7 – 10 minutes. Don’t overcrowd your gnudi as you boil!
  • Drain.  Place in a fry pan with butter & allow to brown up slightly.
  • Sprinkle with rest of grated cheese, some chopped greens, or a dollop or two of Herb Curd – and serve!
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Left: Gluten-free Cottage Cheese Gnudi       Right: Ricotta Cheese Gnudi w/flour

Eating Wild: The Missing Link to Optimum Health

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love that wild foods are the most nutritious, natural and sustainable of all foods – which is why they are a daily part of my diet. But because I still have to pay for the bulk of my sustenance, I’m ever so grateful to food journalist Jo Robinson and her wonderful book “Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health”. And while I do have one small reservation (more on that later) her book provided me with a practical and empowering guide to the most nutritious foods that money can buy – the fruits and vegetables closest to their wildest relatives.

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Touted as “the next stage in the food revolution—a radical way to select fruits and vegetables and reclaim the flavour and nutrients we’ve lost” her book drives home the point that whether its tomatoes, kale, lettuce, apples, berries, wheat and grains – all our foods descend from wild foods. The problem? “Ever since farmers first planted seeds 10,000 years ago, humans have been destroying the nutritional value of their fruits and vegetables. Unwittingly, we’ve been selecting plants that are high in starch and sugar and low in vitamins, minerals, fibre, and antioxidants for more than 400 generations”. 

In other words, we bred a wealth of nutrients out of the human diet. For example, our pale overbred iceberg lettuce (descended from wild greens) contains only a fraction of the nutrients found in wild lettuce, dandelion, nettles, chickweed, garlic mustard, sheep sorrel, yarrow, garlic mustard and many other herbs and plants which have been consumed by our ancestors since prehistoric times.

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Her book shows us “how to regain these lost nutrients by choosing modern varieties that approach the nutritional content of wild plants.” From lettuce, potatoes, onions, berries and apples, she categorizes over-domesticated foods to avoid and provides lists of foods are closest to their original  “natural” state like green apples, green onions, black concord grapes, artichokes and many other varieties. 

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All of which begs the question – why not just eat wild foods in the first place? This doesn’t mean giving up the sweet starchy pleasures of the modern diet to scratch in the dirt for leaves, seeds and roots. To me it just makes sense to go back to the source and add back as many lost nutrients as we possibly can.

Which brings me to my small bone of contention. While I agree with Robinson that living on wild plants is no longer feasible – “there are too many of of us and not enough wilderness” her book fails to mention that wild foods are a viable, nutritious, freely available food source that can supplement modern diets, enhance our health and increase the security of local food systems. And we don’t need to shell out for pricey superfoods either – it’s as simple as stepping out our front door, picking some dandelions and making a soup.  

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Cream of Dandelion Soup

Fact is, eating wild doesn’t require wading deep into the backwoods, or trampling endangered ecological areas. Wild plants grow in abundance as “weeds” in our backyards, our neighbourhoods, our city parks and urban green spaces. Many of these plants are so plentiful they are classified as “invasive” by our government and are eliminated at great effort and cost (often with carcinogenic pesticides) in our regional parks and local municipalities.

And in this time of rising food costs, climate change and food insecurity, does it really make sense to eliminate foods that require no work or resources to plant, grow or water? After all many of these plants and herbs like chickweed, thistle, burdock, dandelion, gorse, lambs-quarters, garlic mustard, blackberry and hawthorn, were once part of a beloved seasonal and medicinal cuisine eaten for thousands of years. 

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Of course we can’t just step outside and start picking everything we see. Some wild plants are poisonous. But the truth of the matter is that edible plants far outweigh deadly ones. And once we learn to identify and avoid harmful plants, a vast cornucopia of nourishing food abundance begins to offer itself; fresh greens, berries, nuts and herbs. And they are growing all around us – for free.

I realize that for many the idea of eating “weeds” is still, well, a little strange. But wild foods are part of a growing ecological and culinary movement grounded in the virtues of local sustainable eating – and they’ve been enjoying 5 star ratings in the worlds top restaurants for years!

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Wild Food Dishes by Noma

That said,  it’s important to remember that wild foods are more a return to tradition than a trend.  Not always the sole provenance of “back to nature” hippie dippy types, big-bearded hipsters, top chefs or ethnobotanists – they were the food of the people. Knowing which plants to pick and when, how to prepare them, and how to use them medicinally, was part of body of traditional knowledge passed on through the generations. Both my grandmother and husband’s mother remember being taught by their mothers and grandmothers how to forage for such seasonal delights as wild berries, nettles and mushrooms.

So what happened? How did we lose this knowledge in the space of a few generations? One reason could be the emergence of food experts (funded by agribusiness) whose food pyramid charts told us the “right” way to eat. A way to eat that put profits in pockets by convincing us that “real food” was the food we buy at the store. And slowly those foods not mass-produced by industry, became just plain forgotten.

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But today, as the nutrient levels of domestic foods dwindles (and prices skyrocket) it’s become more important than ever to learn how to eat wild once again. As a wild food educator and activist, I believe its time we recognize that wild foods are a valuable food resource for local communities. And as such, I advocate they deserve a place at the table alongside food security initiatives such as community and boulevard gardens, urban farms, urban orchards and food forests. Because by finding a way to give “weeds” a little space of their own to grow in our community green spaces (free from toxic chemicals) we can once again make their nourishing sustenance accessible to all.

So while I urge you to pick Robinson’s book and spend your food dollars on the wildest foods possible – let’s also remember there are other options available beyond the supermarket aisle. With just a little investment in community education, wild foods could be transformed from pests and weeds into vital food resources, part of an evolving “agri-hood” in which communities, in harmony with their local environments, can feed themselves.  So let’s begin to take wild food seriously and recognize as Robinson does, that they constitute the missing link to our optimum well-being .

Note: If you live in Victoria you can hear Jo Robinson speak at the upcoming Sustainable Health and Wellness Festival. Link here.

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Chickweed & Peppercress & Rosemary Pate

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It’s been such an unseasonably warm winter up here in the Pacific Northwest that we’ve literally been swimming in wild greens.  And while it seems wrong to benefit from the ill-gotten gains of climate change, well, you still gotta trust mother nature to know what’s right – right? 

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So if she wants me to feast on her tender and succulent Chickweed and Miner’s lettuce in January, so be it. And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing – so much so that I’ve been casting about for some new exciting ways to take advantage of the green bounty.

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left to right: chickweed, peppercress, miner’s lettuce

So I came up with this Winter Greens & Sunflower Seed Pate, and it’s perfect for cold winter days when you crave something a little more hearty than a salad. Inspired by this recipe for Chickweed Pate, based on wildman Steve Brill’s original, I tweaked it with what was already found in my cupboard.

I used white navy beans instead of chickpeas and substituted Rosemary for Tarragon because I thought it would complement the flavours of the navy beans better (and besides I had none anyway). I also added sunflowers seeds for crunch, and because Peppercress (otherwise known as Bittercress) is coming up like crazy in my garden beds- and I like its peppery bite – I added some leaves as well.

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I love that’s its full of protein, not to mention the nutritional and medicinal properties of the greens themselves. Full of anti-oxidants, vitamin C, chlorophyll and Omega -3 Fatty acids, Chickweed, Miner’s Lettuce and Peppercress are all reputed healers that help boost immunity, ease inflammation, cool inflamed tissues, cleanse our blood, digestive tract and lymphatic system.

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Savoury, creamy, and just the littlest bit peppery, it’s perfect served on crackers or flatbread, and as you can see, I enjoyed it liberally slathered on on miniature scones. So if you too have “spring greens” in winter, this pate will be sure to please. And if you don’t, just wait a while, these tender, delicious and revitalizing greens will be emerging in a landscape near you very soon!

White Bean & Sunflower Seed Pate w/ Wild Winter Greens & Rosemary

Ingredients

  • 1 can of White Navy Beans 
  • 2 ounces (or so) sunflower seeds
  • 2 cloves of garlic (minced or crushed)
  • 1 large handful of fresh chickweed, finely chopped
  • 1 large handful of miner’s lettuce, finely chopped
  • 1 large handful of bittercress, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoons of minced green onion (or crow garlic greens)
  • 1 tablespoon rosemary, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons of miso
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt (or to your taste)

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Directions

  • Mash your navy beans to a rough paste (or you can also give em a quick whiz in the food processor
  • Mix in the rest of  your ingredients and blend well. 
  • Serve!

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Savory Dessert or Sweet Appetizer: Ox-eye Daisy Phyllo Rolls with Honey and Thyme

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Betwixt and between – is how you might describe this time, halfway between late summer and true autumn. This is the time when cooling weather and beginning rains cause the wild greens to regenerate and grow vigorous. 

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Ox-eye Daisy Greens

This is the time of year when the leaves of plants fill with solar energy as it goes about photosynthesis, taking energy to its root.  This not only plumps and sweetens the leaves, it fills them what we might call in yoga, prana or life-force energy.

In herbalism the theory goes something like this. In spring plants send out leaves to soak up the growing sun – but all it’s energy is directed towards making the blossom. After the fruit, as things go to seed, the coming fall sends the plant’s energy back to the root. There it recharges and rests until the sun returns. So this is the time when leaves and greens are fattening with energy for winter.

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Early fall forage: hawthorn berries, rosehips, ox-eye daisy greens, plantain, red clover, self heal, cleaver, wild aster, and grindelia

This “betwixt and between” time is the ideal time to invigorate yourself with a little plant magic.  You can come into the flow of this natural cycle and boost your vitality by eating these fresh, delicious and reinvigorated greens. (And a few of the other seasonal goodies, Hawthorn berries and Rosehips, ripening now.)

Start by going out into your backyard or a nearby field. Look for the healthiest most vital, shining, wild greens. Depending where you live, you might find Dandelion, Chickweed, Cleavers, Plantain – or my absolute favourite Ox-eye Daisy. Make these into something – a salad, a pesto – or how ’bout these Ox-eye Daisy Rolls with Honey and Thyme?

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I think Ox-eye Daisy leaves are sweetest and most delicate of all wild greens. Chickweed is also mild, but Ox-eye Daisy greens have a flavour signature all their own, nutty, fruity with just a hint of bitter.

I wanted to create a dish that captured their unique flavour – without overwhelming it. I remembered a recipe I’d once seen – phyllo “cigars” with goat cheese, honey and thyme. Obviously goat cheese would be too pungent for the Ox-eye Daisy greens, so I would substitute with a creamy Mascarpone and incorporate the greens – inside the roll.  Thus this recipe was born. And in homage to “betwixt and between” it could be either a savoury dessert or a sweet appetizer!

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Ox-eye Daisy derives from the Asteraceae or Compositae family and has been used medicinally in herbalism for hundreds of years. Its Latin name is Chrysanthemum leucantheum which comes from the Greek chrisos meaning golden and anthos meaning flower, while leuka means white. She was the flower of the Scandinavian Goddess Freya and in early Christianity she was the flower that symbolized St. Mary Magdalene. Today she is regarded as an invasive – though edible – “weed”.

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The leaves of the Ox-eye Daisy are pretty simple to identify. They grow in a rosette shape (round) from the base of the plant, and they are spoon-shaped with undulating rounded tooth edges.

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Aside from its many medicinal benefits Ox-eye Daisy has tonic properties. Which means it is used to reinvigorate and support the body. In general, tonics help restore and maintain balance or homeostasis, throughout all of the body systems, plus they increase energy and boost our immunity.

So this humble little Ox-eye Daisy Phyllo Roll offers you much more than delicious flavour. It’s not only good for you, I’m pretty sure it’s bursting with prana and the life-giving energy of the season.

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Ox-eye Daily Phyllo Rolls with Mascarpone, Honey and Thyme

NOTE: This is an approximate recipe, I didn’t keep track of the exact measurements when I put it together. I bring it you early and untested because by the time you wait for me to ‘perfect’ it, the brief window of time during which these greens thrive- might be over!  So adjust to your own wisdom.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups Ox-eye Daisy Greens
  • 1 box of Phyllo Pastry (you’ll only need half of it- and look for organic versions!)
  • 1/4 cup of butter
  • 3 ounces Mascarpone Cheese (or more if you want it creamy)
  • 1/4 cup of organic honey (or more if you want it slathered)
  • Few springs of fresh thyme
  • dash of sea salt

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • Take half of your phyllo pasty and cut into rectangles (approx 10 by 8)
  • Brush the bottom and top layers with melted butter
  • Lightly(!) saute the greens in a smidgen of butter
  • Chop greens finely or throw in food processor
  • Combine with cheese, 1/8 cup of honey, salt and a teaspoon of thyme
  • Spread thinly over phyllo pasty
  • Roll up
  • Brush all over with melted butter (or olive oil) dust with thyme leaves
  • Place in pre-heated oven to bake for approx. 15 – 20 minutes until golden and browning.

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P.S. I also just made this with plantain – and it was really tasty!

Curly Dock Seed Crackers with Wild Herbs (For Prosperity!)

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You’ve probably seen the tall reddish-brown spires of the mature curly dock everywhere in fields, yards and lanes – but you probably didn’t know they are food. A member of the wild buckwheat family, each plant contains thousands of seeds which are very easy to harvest, and wild food websites abound with recipes for curly dock seed flour, bread and crackers.

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Curly dock seeds have an amazing life span, they are said to be viable for 80 + years!  So it’s not outlandish that all winter I’ve had a jar of rust coloured seeds sitting on my shelf earmarked for a cracker making project. This finally came to culmination last week when I decided I needed some wild canapés for our very first Community Supported Foraging meeting. That went okay so I decided to make them as a snack for our Wild Edible Culinary Tours at the Creatively United For The Planet Festival last week-end. And as you can see below, they went over quite well!

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And so, due to requests, here is the recipe!  If you don’t have any curly dock seeds on hand I bet you can still find them in a field somewhere near by. But you can always use buckwheat flour bought from the store.

Because I’d read that the flavor of curly dock seeds are not much on their own, I decided to add in some seasonal spices to these crackers. First, I chose the fresh tiny mustardy pods and blossoms of the Money Plant (a wild mustard) which I diced. It is pictured above and below.

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To this I added a generous helping of tangy crunchy sheep sorrel seeds, and then the oniony flavour of minced crow garlic (allium vineale). And while that may sound a little pungent, these crackers were surprisingly mild.

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I harvested my curly dock seeds on a sunny September day and lay the seed heads on paper-lined cookie trays to dry. After a week I simply winnowed the seeds and the husks from the stalks by hand, they came off very easily. Because (as I often apologize) I am a lazy cook I went the easy route and kept the chaff and husks together. (Many online recipes advise keeping the husks as they add fiber and don’t detract from taste.)

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But if you want to use just the seeds, you can rub the seeds briskly between your palms to take the husks off, then use a sieve with holes large enough that will permit the seeds to go through but not the chaff.  At any rate, whether you’ve got just seed or seeds and husk, just take it all and grind in a spice mill or coffee grinder, then store in an airtight container for future use.

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Perhaps because of the abundance of seeds the plant produces, the magical uses of curly dock are said to attract success, commerce and prosperity. Add to this the magical monetary power of the money plant and you’ve got yourself some wealth attracting crackers! So if you’re looking for a little financial boost perhaps put some of the pretty purple blooms of the money plant in a vase, or some hang some dried curly dock stalks from a rafter somewhere. Or you could just eat them of course!

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Curly Dock Seed Crackers w/ Wild Herbs

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unbleached (preferably organic) white flour
  • 1 cup ground curly dock seed flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons minced crow garlic stems
  • 3 tablespoons minced money plant seed pods and blossoms
  • 3 tablespoons sheep sorrel seeds
  • 1/2 cup cold unsalted butter cut into half-inch cubes
  • 1 large farm egg
  • 1/4 cup water

Directions

  • Mix dry ingredients ( but reserve one tablespoon of sorrel seeds) together
  • Add cold butter and cut into flour with pastry cutter until well mixed
  • Add egg, vinegar and water and combine until dough forms a soft ball
  • Let the dough rest in refrigerator for 30 minutes
  • Divide dough into 4 equal pieces. Using a rolling-pin on a floured board, roll out until dough is 1/8 inch thick

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  • Sprinkle the rest of sheep sorrel seeds onto dough then using the roller lightly press them into the dough
  • Cut out into squares with knife, or cut out shapes with cookie cutters ( I also used the cap of my oil olive container – I wanted them small)
  • Using a fork prick the crackers to prevent air bubbles
  • Bake on a cookie sheet at 350 F until lightly browned or about 15 minutes 
  • Serve immediately or store in an airtight container

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P.S. If you’re interested in the yogurt cheese that accompanied the crackers you’ll find the basic recipe here. I used garlic mustard, money plant pods and blossoms, sheep sorrel seeds and crow garlic for flavouring for the cheese instead of the herbs listed in the linked recipe. But you can use whatever you like!

Nettled Eggs: Tasty Little Spring Devils

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This spring I’ve been blessed with multiple bumper nettle harvests and I’ve been able to try my hand at all sorts of nutritious and crazy delicious recipes like nettle lemon balm cupcakes, nettle ginger jelly, nettle chips, nettle-infused honey, nettle pesto and now…nettle devilled eggs!

I needed something to serve at our first Community-Supported Foraging Initiative meeting and due to my amazing powers of disorganization—it was going to have to be made from whatever I had on hand. Thankfully, I had a dozen Red Damsel Farm eggs and a 1/2 cup of pureed nettles just dying to meet each other…

Ingredients

1/2 cup of steamed & pureed nettle tops

12 organic, farm fresh eggs

2 tablespoons organic mayonnaise

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon finely chopped crow garlic (wild garlic) + some for garnish

1 tablespoon finely chopped cleavers (tops)

1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic mustard

sea salt & pepper

chive blossoms, dandelions, daisies, forget-me-nots, sweet woodruff, spring gold, rosemary flowers, sweet cicely blossoms

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Instructions

Boil the eggs in simmering water for 10 minutes. Drain them and cover with cold water.

Cut the eggs in half and pop out the yolks. In a medium bowl, mash the yolks with a fork.

Add the mayonnaise, lemon juice and cleavers. Mix thoroughly.

Start adding in the pureed nettles until you get the consistency you like. You can use a food processor for this if you’re after a silky smooth filling.

Stir in the chopped wild garlic mustard and crow garlic and season with sea salt & ground pepper to taste.

Pipe the filling into the halves and decorate with colourful blossoms. Chive and rosemary blossoms add a particularly wonderful flavour.

Sweet & Savoury Dandelion Rosemary Shortbread

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Growing up with Scottish grandparents, shortbread featured heavily in our family celebrations—Christmas, mainly. Each aunt made a version of my grandmother’s standard recipe, while my mother (a defiant non-Celt) makes a light whipped cookie with neon green and red cherry centres. I like my shortbread dense, crazy buttery and undecorated. Not quite like my grandmother’s, not quite like my mother’s… More like…mine. In fact, one could say I’m somewhat uptight about shortbread. But one, would be kind of nasty in saying so. So, let’s not even go there. What really matters here is that I pulled the proverbial butterstick out of my arse and broadened my shortbread horizons. We needed a gluten-free confection for an Urban Wild Foods Walk and Tasting. And so, I set to dreaming up something sweet, but not too sweet. Herbal, but not too herbal. Interesting but not too fussy. To me, these provisions described two of my favourite things perfectly—dandelions and shortbread. Traditional, simple, magical. Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients

2  cups brown or white rice flour

1 cup organic, unsalted butter

1/2 cup honey

1/2 cup organic sugar of your choice

1/4 cup emmental cheese (Swiss cheese – You can substitute sharper hard cheeses, but watch the salt! If you go for parmesan or asiago, then skip the sea salt)

1/4 cup dandelion petals & greens, finely chopped

2 tablespoons finely-chopped rosemary

black pepper to taste

sea salt to sprinkle on top

Preparation

In a large bowl, beat butter with sugar and honey until light & fluffy. Add in dandelion petals and chopped leaves. Be sure to remove the green sepals. I just pinch them until petals pop out. Mix in just until combined.

Stir the rice flour into butter mixture in 2 additions. After the first addition, stir in the emmental cheese, rosemary and a bit of fresh ground black pepper (to taste). Stir in the 2nd addition of flour to make smooth dough.

Roll the dough in waxed paper to form a firm cylinder. Cover and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 325°F (160°C)

Slice your cylinder of gorgeous, dandelion/rosemary/pepper-flecked dough into 1 inch thick rounds (*note* in the photo the cookies are thinner – I was running short on dough and needed A LOT of cookies for an event, so I cut them thinner and reduced the time) using a sharp knife and place a good 2 inches apart. Sprinkle with a little sea salt.

Bake for 20 minutes—rotating your pan half-way through. Keep a keen eyeball on them during the last few minutes. You want them just golden.

The cookies will be very delicate when they first come out of the oven. Spare yourself some heartache and let them cool on the cookie sheet. When cool, transfer them to…your mouth.

Dandelion: powerful, yet gentle diuretic; liver-supporting; stabilizes blood sugar levels; contains Vitamins C & A; high in iron; rich in potassium, regulates excess fluids—good for skin, liver & kidneys

Magical properties: Divination, wishes, calling spirits

Rosemary: tonic; astringent; diaphoretic; stimulant; excellent stomachic and nervine; good for headaches; externally used to treat dandruff

Magical properties: Fidelity, remembrance, dispels jealousy

Women’s Magic & Wild Herb Yogurt Cheese: A Modern Milkmaid’s Tale (and recipe)

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Transforming dollops of rich yogurt, colourful blossoms and wild herbs into beautiful rounds of fresh cheese is more magic than food science. The process is as old as the hills and requires nothing more than yogurt, cloth, gravity and time. According to Andrew Curry’s Archaeology: The milk revolution:

During the most recent ice age, milk was essentially a toxin to adults because — unlike children — they could not produce the lactase enzyme required to break down lactose, the main sugar in milk. But as farming started to replace hunting and gathering in the Middle East around 11,000 years ago, cattle herders learned how to reduce lactose in dairy products to tolerable levels by fermenting milk to make cheese or yogurt. Several thousand years later, a genetic mutation spread through Europe that gave people the ability to produce lactase — and drink milk — throughout their lives. That adaptation opened up a rich new source of nutrition that could have sustained communities when harvests failed.

Thank God for genetic mutations, am I right?! Apparently while we waited for that little evolutionary miracle, we made yogurt. Although herding primarily fell to men, the milking and yogurt, butter and cheese-making—the magic—fell to the women. And ever since we’ve been practising the dairy arts, we’ve had dairy goddesses to look over us. Nimhursag of Mesopotamia and her dairy temple, the ghee-producing Kamadhenu, Roserta and her butter churn/magic cauldron…the list goes on. (Roles of the Northern Goddess, Dr Hilda Ellis Davidson)

Kamadhenu with her calf

Kamadhenu with her calf

And where there’s deities, there’s religion and superstition. Should the family goat’s milk dry up or the farmer’s butter spoil, it was women who took the fall. I’m sure more than a few witches were burned over spilt milk. It seems, the pure, life-giving properties of milk have often been at odds with the dangerous sexuality of the women who kept it. Like those wanton 16th-century milkmaids, for example. With their widemouthed jugs and smooth milkmaid arms, tempting good men and threatening the honour and security of Dutch homes! Those poor fellows. Powerless in the face of such milky seduction!

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Until fairly recently, women continued to man the churns and cheesecloth on family farms. Nowadays—unless you have a neighbourhood cheesemonger—we get most of our dairy from the supermarket where estrogen growth hormone is the only feminine magic that touches it. Of course, the cheese-making women still exist in other parts of the world—like Turkey’s Yörük people—but not so much in North America.

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a Yörük woman, separating fresh butter from buttermilk

And so, this cheese-loving, North American woman, is pretty smitten with the idea of following in the footsteps (clogs?) of the many milk maids and matrons before me. With my confidence buoyed by Danielle’s yogurt cheese successes and the fact that Tree Island Goddess Yogurt (full fat, grass-fed, local and my favourite), was marked down due to an impending, over-zealously perceived expiry date—I set out to make my own magic.

Wild Herb Hung Yogurt Cheese Recipe

Ingredients

4 cups of full fat organic yogurt “greek style”, if you can swing it (pun intended)

1/2 cup chopped lemon balm

1/2 cup chopped sweet cicely

1/4 cup chopped cranesbill geranium leaves & blossoms

2 tablespoons chopped wild mustard leaves & whole blossoms

2 tablespoons chopped mint

ground black pepper and sea salt to taste

unbleached cheesecloth, string, sieve, small plate and heavy rock or weight

Instructions

1) Harvest your wild herbs & blossoms just before noon, if possible. This way the oils have had a chance to reach the leaves, but haven’t been burned off by the afternoon sun. Rain can wash away some of the aromatic oils, so you may want to postpone harvesting for a dry day.

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fresh herbs, picked before noon

2) Chop up everything fairly finely. Chances are you’ll be spreading your fresh cheese, so think about what kind of texture you’d like.

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sweet cicely, cranesbill geranium, lemon balm, wild mustard & mint. the oregon grapes for for something else…

3) In a bowl, mix your herbs and yogurt until fully combined. Add salt & pepper to taste.

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chopped sweet cicely

4) Douse your cheesecloth with boiling water. With clean hands, ring the cheesecloth out, double it up and line a sieve big enough to hold all your ingredients. Make sure you leave enough excess cloth for hanging. Place the cloth-lined sieve over a clean bowl.

5) To create a bit of floral art on the top of your finished fresh cheese, drop a few herbs and blossoms into the bottom of the cheesecloth and spoon the yogurt gently into the sieve.

6) Gather up the corners of your cheesecloth, tie your bundle of yogurt up with string or elastic and find a place to hang it. I hang mine off a cupboard handle in my kitchen. Make sure you place the bowl under the yogurt to catch the whey or you’re going to be super annoyed when you next visit your cheese-to-be.

7) Leave for minimum 5 hours or overnight, if you’re after a cream cheese consistency. I personally like a firmer cheese, so after a day I transferred the hung yogurt back into the sieve and weighed it down with a plate and a rock for another day or two to strain out even more liquid. I also really like the dome shape this gives the finished cheese.

You do not have to refrigerate your yogurt during this process. You just want to find a cool place in your house, out of the sun. I made mine in April, so after a night in my kitchen,  I left it out in a shady corner on my porch. If you’re more comfortable with controlling the temperature, there’s certainly no harm in keeping it in the fridge—I just don’t think it’s necessary.

8) Once you’re happy with the consistency, place a plate over the bottom of your cheese, flip it over and remove the cheesecloth.

Allow time for marvelling, photographing and social media bragging. Seriously. You will want to just spend a few moments looking it at it. The  imprint & texture left behind by the cheesecloth, your artful herb and blossom art on the top, the smooth creamy texture and incredible herbal flavours… sigh. Feel free to experiment with different herbs. This version is very mild with a subtle anise lemon flavour. Adding wild onion or garlic gives it a totally different taste—zippy and bright. Try adding honey and rose for a show stopping sweet cheese. Really, the possibilities are endless.

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis):
Medicinal: Carminative, diaphoretic and febrifuge. Induces a mild perspiration and makes a pleasant and cooling tea for fever
Magical :Love, Success, Healing

Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata):
Medicinal: Aromatic, stomachic, carminative and expectorant. Gentle stimulant for debilitated stomachs. Valuable tonic for teen-aged girls. Roots are antiseptic.
Magical: Lifts the spirits and bring joy and happiness to ceremonies, particularly those of Beltaine and Midsummer. 

Wild Mint (Mentha sativa):
Medicinal: Emetic, stimulant, and astringent qualities. Used to treat diarrhea and as an emmenagogue.
Magical: Money, Love, Luck, Healing, Exorcism, Travel, Protection

Field Mustard (Sinapis arvensis):
Medicinal: Used in Bach flower remedies – the keywords for prescribing it are ‘Black depression’, ‘Melancholia’ and ‘Gloom
Magical: Fertility, Protection, Mental Powers

Cranesbill Geranium (Geranuim maculatum):
Medicinal: Soothing to the digestive tract—helps alleviate diarrhea, inflammation in the bladder and other symptoms related to Chron’s disease. Used to treat conjunctivitis.

Magical: Counter-magic, Sympathetic Magic, Luck, Happiness, Good Fortune, Health, Fertility

Wild Bewitching Pesto: Conjuring Culinary Magic

my favourite dandelion pesto

Fresh, vibrant, tangy, zesty, spicy and garlicky are only some of the adjectives used to describe wildcrafted pesto. But how about spell-binding? From dandelion, garlic mustard, sorrel, and lemon balm, these “weeds” and herbs not only have a long magical history, they can be transformed into tasty and nutritious sauces, dips and condiments—and served with practically anything!

A celebrated tradition of Mediterranean cuisine from whence it originates, pesto gets its name from the word pestle, as in mortar and pestle, the traditional tool used to make pesto. (Also indispensable to every kitchen witch I know). But don’t worry, in this recipe we’ll utilize my favorite kitchen tool – the modern food processor – to make the process less labor intensive. Okay it might be more noisy but that’s no reason not to work in some meditative magical intention as you go.

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Plant folklore claims that dandelions promote inner and outer transformation, mustard garlic “revives the spirits” and “expels heaviness”, fennel protects you from evil and lemon balm will bring a lover into your life.  So create a magical pesto – why not?

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Pesto can be eaten as a dip with crackers or a baguette, dolloped on pasta as a sauce, a condiment served atop fish and meat dishes, as a dressing for salads and vegetables, even in soups (pistou). Aside from amazing flavor, I especially love wild pesto because they are such an easy way to add nutrient packed fresh greens into our diet.

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Brimming with essential minerals, vitamins, anti-oxidants and Omega 3’s, many have long been used as medicinal herbs. And pesto needs no cooking at all, which means none of their essential nutrients are lost  – and they are perfect for the lighter fresher meals of spring and summer.

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Anyway, pesto was traditionally made with basil, roasted pine nuts, Parmigiano Reggiano, extra virgin oil and a pinch of sea salt. But these wildcrafted versions of pesto use local greens that grow in abundance on Vancouver Island. Many will be found in your lawn or garden beds, or in suburban back alleys.

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Tangy Wood Sorrel

And when comes to nuts feel free to experiment with sunflower, pumpkin, almonds, walnut, and hazelnuts. All will add their own distinct flavor profile. For the cheese, well there are many local choices, Salt Spring Island Cheese makes a lovely chèvre, soft, fresh goat cheese, with a nice sharp flavor. And Natural Pastures Cheese Company makes a parmesan style cheese with a deep rich nutty flavor called Parmadammer.

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Here are some suggestions for some magical pesto flavor combinations (some of which we’ll be serving up in a “pesto bar” for our April 12th Urban Wild Food Walk and Tasting in Vic West). Of course each plant can be a starring ingredient by itself – just google whatever plant you’ve got with the word pesto – and recipes will pop up.

Old-Fashioned Dandelion Pesto

Golden flowers and jagged lion toothed leaves identify the prolific dandelion. Long reputed to enhance second sight, these bitter greens are surprisingly delicious and mellow as a pesto. Our version goes classic, with traditional toasted pine nuts and Parmigiano Regganio. (see full recipe here) My favorite way to serve is as a delicious dip with crackers or swirled into pasta. Always a big hit with family, friends and company.

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Dandelion

Stinging Nettle Pesto

Tall and graceful, the nettle packs a powerful sting so be careful when handling! But if you’re looking for protection or to break a curse, well this is the plant/pesto for you. Local First Nations are reputed to have (secret) magical nettle traditions too. My herbalist teacher Betty Norton taught me the delicious advantages of keeping this pesto simple. Not too much garlic, lots of olive oil, throw in a little grated parmesan after it’s whirred. In our class we enjoyed it straight up on crackers.

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Nettle

Wood Sorrel &  Fennel Pesto

Wood Sorrel is tart, bright and lemony. This native perennial is often used as an ornamental ground cover and its three lobed shamrock style leaf (with downy purplish undersides) is easy to identify. It is often used in spells to promote family togetherness and affection. (Note: wood sorrel contains a high amount of oxalate, which means you don’t want to eat tons, but this pesto eaten occasionally is just fine.)

woodsorrel

The lacy fronds of the fennel leaves are heady with liquorice flavor. Imparting courage and strength, it helps drive away evil spirits. Long a favorite culinary herb used in aperitifs, it has gone feral and grows in profusion on the bluffs of Cattle Point and Beacon Hill, and neighborhood lanes everywhere.

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Fennel

The sorrel is tangy and lemony, and the aromatic fennel imparts a rich anise depth.  I used sunflowers seeds for a buttery crunch. This pesto is wonderful served alone with with a baguette, or tossed on boiled new potatoes, even drizzled over grilled lamb chops. Nice for vegetable dishes and soup flavoring too!

Lemon Balm & Bittercress Pesto

Lemon Balm, is in the same family as mint, gentle and lemony, and is said to be calming herb. Magically it is said to be especially helpful in soothing emotional pains after a relationship ends.  Also brought here by early settlers, Lemon Balm has escaped cultivation and spread into the wild.

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Lemon Balm

Bittercress is another common weed found nearly everywhere. And its magical history as one of the “Nine Herb Charms” to invoke the divine and create healing in Teutonic and Anglo-Saxon culture is well-known. Its small round leaves add a spicy bite similar to arugula and watercress. Young seed pods and delicate tiny white flowers give a radish like jolt.

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Bittercress

I used walnuts for fuller flavor and added a mild goat cheese. This aromatic pesto is wonderful on pasta and sautéed vegetables.

General Pesto Tips

  • Use the smallest leaves near the top of the plant—these will be tender.
  • Wiping (rather than washing) the leaves activates the herbs fragrant oils without dampening its flavour and texture. That said, I do recommend washing the leaves before drying them thoroughly in a salad spinner.
  • Toasting the nuts gives a richer nutty flavor but raw is just fine too. Toast them in a 350°F oven for a few minutes.
  • Pouring a layer of olive oil over the pesto will seal it from oxygen and inhibit browning and spoilage. Replenish this layer of oil as you use the pesto.
  • Although homemade pesto sauce is most flavorful and fragrant at room temperature (traditionally stored in a cool dark cabinet) I recommend storing it in the refrigerator, where it should keep for a week.
  • Pesto can be frozen for up to six months. Just thaw 30-34 minutes on a counter-top to soften, scoop out what you need, and re-freeze.  One common trick is to pour sauce into ice-cube trays, then store the frozen cubes in a zip-lock freezer bag. You can toss frozen right into sauces or cooked pasta.

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Wild Green Pesto

Makes one approx. one cup

Ingredients

  • 3 cups of wild greens
  • 1/2 cup of extra virgin oil (avocado oil also works nicely, but less flavor)
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • 1/4 cup of roasted (or raw) nuts or seeds. (again choice is up to you)
  • 1/4 cup grated or softened cheese

Directions

  • Place greens in the bowl of your food processor.
  • Whiz until the mixture is well chopped.
  • Add nuts/seeds and process again until finely chopped.
  • With the motor running, slowly pour the oil through the feed tube.
  • Then add cheese (you can also add cheese later after processing if you want a chunkier pesto, but be sure cheese is well grated)
  • Season the pesto with sea salt and pepper, to taste.

Bon Appétit & Happy Spell Casting!FinshedBurratta_CU2_zps3476ff76

(Note: Many of these pictures are not mine. There were so many wonderful recipes online that I decided to use the photos as links. So click away for more wonderful pesto ideas!)