Friday, 25 September 2015

In search of Brussels sprouts at Otago Farmers Market

“Spring’s here” announced  the plum trees, the borage and the daffodils.
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A lovely spring bouquet created by Elke from our Broad Bay garden including calendula, jonquils, forget-me-nots, rosemary, kale and borage.

“Not so fast” screamed the Southerly on the Dunedin Railway platform of the Otago Farmers Market last Saturday.  I’ve found a particularly good recipe for roasted Brussels sprouts. This southern market should have plenty of sprout photo opportunities as Otago (especially North Otago) is renowned for the large sweet Brussels sprouts it produces.
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“We need bees. Bees pollinate one third of the food we eat, and life would be a struggle without them.” wise words from market chef, Alison Lambert. Today every dish she made included honey and she made a Brussels Sprouts salad,  Brussels Sprouts with Honeyed Walnuts.

The Otago Farmers Market stall holders all joined in the spirit of National Bee Awareness Month by wearing a variety of bee headwear and costumes.
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Paul and Karen from  Steamer Basin Brewing.

New boutique beer brewers Paul and Karen from Steamer Basin Brewing went a step further by creating a Honey Bee beer for the occasion. I caught up with my husband Peter who said,  “This  platform must be the coldest place in the South Island”… but he did manage to stay for a taste of the beer and to chat with Paul and Karen who confirmed  it was 1° Celsius.
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Peter purchased a Honey Bee beer made especially for the market’s Bee Awareness month for us to try.. it was delicious.

Brussels sprouts Brassica oleraceae, variety gemmifera are only grown commercially in two regions of New Zealand.
The first is Ohakune, in the Central North Island with it’s cool mountain climate.  Ohakune sprouts tend to be the smaller hybrid variety with compact heads and are available early in the season. They have a higher mustard oil content than the larger, looser leaved, and sweeter sprouts produced in the South Island around Oamaru in North Otago.
Sometimes at the farmers market you can buy the complete stalk.  The sprouts will keep the best and for longer if stored on their stalks. These sprouts I purchased in Auckland are from Ohakune.

Brussels sprouts are a curious looking plant with mini cabbages growing up long tough stalks. Just like broad beans, the formed sprouts are picked from the bottom of the stems up, leaving the plant to continue growing. Brussels sprouts will not grow good “sprouts” in warm areas – they remain open and floppy and most likely will be infested with aphids.

Spicy Roasted Brussels Sprouts

This simple recipe makes the sometimes “dreaded” Brussels Sprouts moreish with the addition of honey, chilli sauce ( a mild sweet chilli sauce if encouraging children to eat them) and rice wine vinegar.
The marinade is in the same proportions as most dressings, double the oil to the vinega. Use as many roasted sprouts as you wish using these proportions.

Consider doing what I do.  make more than what is needed for one meal, as they are delicious the next day when part of a salad, like a warm lentil salad.
This recipe uses approx 750 g of sprouts and preheat the oven to 180°C.
750g Brussels sprouts, ½ cup olive oil (or a mix of olive and rice bran oil), ¼ cup of brown rice vinegar (you can replace this with apple cider vinegar), 1 tbsp of honey, 2 tsp of chilli sauce (or to taste).
Before cutting in half, remove any untidy stalk ends but careful not to cut too close to the sprout or you will lose the outer leaves.

Mix the marinade in a bowl, add the sprouts that have been cut in half and mix to cover the sprouts with the marinade. Lay the sprouts cut side down onto a large oven dish – big enough for every sprout to fit cut side down.
Tip any remaining marinade over the top of the sprouts and cook for around 20 minutes until the tops begin to crunch (even slightly char if you like that) and the underside has begun to caramelize.
These were the first attempt and they ended up charred on the outside. They don’t look as good but when I read the original recipe again it was suggested to allow them to crisp on the outside. They did taste good and the crisp exterior leaves were a contrast to the soft interior of the sprouts.
Stuart Kelly is a beef farmer south of Dunedin at Taieri Mouth.  Stuart’s commissioned neighbouring stallholder Havoc Pork to make beef sausages for him to sell. I just had to try some Origin  beef sausages.

One stop I like to make at the market is Origin Meats. With Stuart I get to talk to the farmer and he’s passionate about the product he produces and sells here every Saturday morning. He told me that by talking to his customers he’s gained a better understanding of what they are looking for and is now making decisions on cattle breeds based on feedback.
Brussels sprouts and lentil salad with its cabbage green and muddy coloured lentils doesnt look wildly exciting but it sure is a good taste combination. This salad is best served slightly warmed.

Green Lentil, Brussels Sprouts and Walnut Warm Salad
French green Puy lentils are the main ingredient for this ideal winter come spring salad and if you have leftover sprouts make sure you slightly warm them or at least have them at room temperature.  You can slice up the sprouts or keep them in halves. Make a robust dressing with lemon juice, oil, mustard and a touch of honey to flavour the lentils.  I like to add a little crushed preserved lemon to salt the lentils after they are cooked.  Alternatively keep aside a little of the marinade to put through the lentils as a dressing.  I also like to add some colour like roast carrots or preserved red pepper.  Walnuts are in season now and add a delicious crunch. If you have time baking the nuts for a few minutes in the oven with a little oil and a sprinkling of ground cumin will really add to the salad’s flavour.
Valda and Otto Muller (NZ Nut Products) from Cromwell grow varieties of walnuts that the European market wants. Luckily we also get an opportunity to buy them at the Farmers Market. I have talked about their walnuts in a previous post Afghans – an old fashioned favourite in July 2014.

Valda is a seasonal visitor to the market and I was so pleased she braved the cold so I could chat to her about their walnuts. One of my favourites is the variety called Vina.
With my hand luggage allowance I couldn’t take the beer or the beef back to Auckland but I did take a pack of Vina walnut pieces to enjoy in salads over spring. It’s best to keep shelled walnuts in the fridge if not using all at once.
You don’t need to miss out on these walnuts if you live in Auckland as Valda said she will be having a stall at La Cigale French Market in Parnell. She promised to let me know when so I can alert you on Jeannieskitchen Facebook page.
The Brussels sprout season will soon be coming to an end, or may be hard to come by where you live, but kale seems to be everywhere.  I experimented a little by using this marinade with thinly sliced Cavolo Nero kale (thick stems removed) and roasting it in the oven.
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Kale with just enough marinade to moisten and add gloss to leaves.

I ended up with kale chips only with more flavour. It looked better before cooking than after but I enjoyed the crispy chips on top and the slightly more chewy bits underneath. I also sprinkled in a little seaweed seasoning and this taste of the sea would be great with fish.
The kale darkens a lot when it crisps up into crispy bits. I could have continued to make it all chip like or opt to cover with foil to have a softer greener outcome.
bee on brassica
Honey bee laden down with pollen on its legs after visiting some brassicas flowering atSanctuary Community Garden.

In early spring it’s delightful seeing the flowers start to bloom, but there is still not the number and variety that occurs in summer for the bees. Spring is also the time when we want to start working the garden – getting rid of those winter brassicas that are starting to flower.  Think about the bees before you clear fell.  Bumble and honey bees♥love brassica flowers.  That cabbage, Brussels sprout, rocket, brocoli, kale or mizuna can continue to provide food for the bees after we have finished harvesting them.  I see plenty of evidence of brassica pollen collection by bees at our community garden. In a warm spring day the place is literally buzzing.
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This young man of Waikouaiti Gardens was quite over being a bee sheltering in the van towards the end of the morning.

I was so busy talking with the brewers, the beef farmer and the walnut grower that I missed out on photographing Brussels sprouts…they had all gone.  We decided the bees were right to hide away from the last hurrah of winter in Dunedin – it was time for us to go and warm up by the fire.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Augustines Apricot Tarts and perfecting the art of making shortcrust pastry

When I bite into a warm Augustines of Central apricot cradled in a sweet almond shortcrust pastry it transports me back to long hot summers in Central Otago. This apricot has been suspended in time, tree ripened in the summer sun of 2015, protected by a syrup flavoured with Central Otago Riesling. It’s preserved perfection.
Augustines Apricot and Almond Tart
I recently saw an episode of Twin Peaks. You too may remember this off beat American series that made an impact on our TV screens in the early 1990’s. I remember well that FBI agent Dale Cooper had an obsession for cherry pie.
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“They’ve got a cherry pie there that’ll kill ya.” Agent Dale Cooper
But as Twin Peaks was airing in the 1990’s, another more sombre memory was happening in New Zealand. The beautiful Cromwell Gorge in Central Otago was to be flooded to make way for the Clyde hydro dam. We were about to lose 86 hectares of prime apricot orchards.
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The Cromwell Gorge before flooding to become Lake Dunstan. Photo from blog “The Mighty Clutha – Otago’s Stolen Treasure” –  it contains images of the people who lost their homes and orchards to the dam.
Apricots are still grown in Central Otago but the loss of many orchards contributed to the local Roxdale cannery closing in early 2000’s, so now we no longer have access to New Zealand grown apricots in cans on the grocery shelves. (Any current canned apricots you buy are made from imported fruit.)
Gus Hayden – Wanaka chef and preserver extraordinaire. Visit his facebook page: Augustinesofcentral (Photo by Mickey Ross of Micimage)
I’m very proud to say, our son Gus is the preserving artisan behind Augustines of Central. His passion for preserving, and apricots, will bring back memories of the preserved fruit once made by our mothers or grandmothers.
Vintage 2015 Gus has preserved two apricot varieties Sundrop and Vulcan. The tie on labels allow you to reuse the jars..without sticky labels…even take the labels off and pretend you made them.
My mother preserved apricots when I was young, but my generation tended to use the convenience of commercially canned fruit or the home freezer. Now that the preserving skills have been lost to many and there isn’t an option of good quality canned apricots like Roxdale, Gus has created an opportunity to join a growing number of artisan food producers. His apricots not only look good on the shelf, they taste like apricots used to.
If you cannot access preserved apricots the following almond shortcrust pastry will work well for cherries, gooseberries, or blackcurrant tarts.
Shortcrust pastry is one of the easiest and quickest pastries to make, but like anything, there are some useful rules that if followed will ensure good shortcrust everytime.
Home made shortcrust uses simple ingredients, just flour and butter (in this recipe we are also using ground almonds, sugar and an egg) to make a rich sweet shortcrust. There are no added chemicals or butter replacements like palm oil or margarine. Next time look to see how many extra ingredients there are on a packet of  pastry. The one I bought had additional fats, acidity regulators flavourings and emulsifiers.
By simply omitting the sugar you will have savoury shortcrust pastry. I only sweeten the shortcrust if the fruit is tart to create a contrast between the sweet and the tart.
Sweet Almond Shortcrust Pastry – with pastry techniques sprinkled through
(Makes 1 x 25cm tart or up to 20 individual tarts – depending on the size of your tins)
Heat oven to 180 Celsius
Ingredients: 150g plain flour or spelt flour, 
100g cold butter, 50g ground almonds, 
50g caster sugar, 
1 large egg yolk, 1-2 Tbsp of ice cold water with a squirt of lemon juice (if needed)
#1 rule:  keep it cool. If the butter begins to melt it will fail to do its job in coating the flour molecules to prevent the gluten doing it’s job of helping the proteins in the flour stretching. We want short protein strands to obtain the short crumbly texture.
The butter should be cut into little cubes to make the crumb easier to produce. It also helps to sift the flour before adding the butter to add air.
Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl, then mix in the ground almonds and caster sugar. Add to this the butter and use a pastry cutter or a food processor to create a texture that looks like fine breadcrumbs. This takes time with a cutter but less than 20 seconds with a food processor.
The flour I used this time for the recipe is a wholemeal spelt flour.  I wanted to see if spelt would create lighter pastry cases than if I had used standard flour. (Always use a low gluten flour for short pastry – avoid high grade.)
#2 rule: Avoid using your hands to work the butter into the flour.  The heat from your hands will soften the butter. The finer the butter is cut up to produce a fine crumb, then the more rise and lightness you’ll make the pastry. 
I haven’t got a food processor here so used a pastry cutter. This is about half way through the process. Shake the bowl and the larger lumps will come to the surface.
Now add the egg yolk and mix everything with your finger tips – do not squeeze dough, just gently bring together  to form a soft ball of dough. If more liquid is required add a tablespoon of ice cold water at a time. This step can  be done in a food processor using the pulse button.
#3 rule:  Do not overwork the dough. To obtain the short texture  – crumbly and light – it’s important to keep the protein strands short and that means minimum handling. ( It’s the opposite for bread – you want the gluten to help the protein strand be stretched to create a strong texture with stretch.) 
For kefir users: I used some whey extracted  from kefir as the extra liquid for my pastry.Alternatively non kefir users could squeeze a little lemon juice into the cold water for pastry.
Gently with your hands roll the dough into a short, thick sausage, This recipe is from Nigel Slater  and he suggests this techmique rather than rolling out into one big piece because rolling out can be difficult and this simple method limits the handling time.
Cut thicker slices than you need if the sausage round is not quite big enough for your patty pan. I use medium sized muffin tins.Gently roll in one direction turning each time to flatten out to the desired size for your individual tins.
Nigel recommends for a large flan dish to cut disks to the finished thickness you want and just press together with your fingers to cover the flan dish.
#4 rule:  Only roll in one direction. Roll from the bottom to the top, then turn the dough a quarter turn and roll again from bottom to the top. shape the edges of the dough with your hands to get the shape you want if putting into a large flan dish.
Gus suggested I use the screw top lid from the apricots to cut out the tarts that fit into a muffin tin. This is the ready made store bought pastry I used. I also used the jar cutter to even up the circles I rolled a little from the disks of homemade almond pastry.
If you wanted to bake these to be used as cooked pastry shells for fresh fruit tarts, then just prick with a fork to help keep the pastry flat.
Mould the pastry into the base of the patty pans and place in the fridge to rest for 30 minutes.
#5 rule:  Give the dough a rest. It’s important to rest the dough as this will stop shrinkage once it gets into the oven.
Now the next stage I did a little bit of experimenting. Do I blindbake or not?  The rule of thumb is it’s best to blind bake if the fruit takes a shorter time to be ready than the pastry. If your filling will take around 40 minutes there is no need to blind bake.
For the blind baking I cut out circles of cooking paper and added some lentils. The idea of the added weight is to keep the pastry from rising up. Next time I would cut them out larger using the apricot screw top lid because getting the paper and lentils out was fiddly.
The tarts that weren’t blind baked, I helped out by placing the tin directly onto my pizza stone to boost the heat under their bottoms. I identified the non blind baked tarts from the others  by giving them an A for Augustine out of the scraps of pastry.
Gus makes hundreds of these little pies for the Wanaka Vintage Fair each summer and he doesn’t blind bake.
Gus makes apricot tarts for the Wanaka Vintage Fair - they sell out really quickly.
Gus makes 100’s of apricot tarts for the Wanaka Vintage Fair – they sell out really quickly.
I have experimented cooking the tarts both blind bake and not and I’m not sure the extra work of blind baking the individual tartlets was worth it. I definitely would blind bake for one large flan. On the taste tests, the tarts that weren’t blind baked were softer and my grandson Beau preferred the blind baked ones.  Either way works because the stars of the show are the apricots.
With all the information I’ve given, you probably think I’m a pastry expert.  I have always made my own shortcrust but I have to admit it was only when I heard Radio NZ “This Way Up” with Julie Clarke of Floriditas in Wellington, that I realised following these few rules will guarantee the result I will get each time.
Cook the apricots for 20 minutes or until cooked at 180 Celcius.
These were the blind baked pastry cases. You bake them for 10 minutes then pop in an apricot and continue cooking for another 10 minutes. These have been glazed after cooking.
While the tarts cooked, I reduced some of the syrup from the apricots down to a thick glaze to paint over the apricots as they come out of the oven.
These are the wholemeal spelt cases and the pastry was indeed short and crumbly with no fatty after taste.
Cool in the tin, then carefully remove and put on a cooling rack.
As I was doing so many trials I had a lot of apricot tarts on my hands. I tried freezing them to see how they would come out.  They freeze perfectly.  I just pre-heated the oven to 180 and put them in frozen – you may need to cover the tops with foil as the extra sugar glaze can easily burn. Or if you intend to freeze them avoid the glaze step until reheating them.
Tarts on the left unglazed, on right glazed. You can instead of glazing just sprinkle the tops with a little icing sugar as Gus does for the Vintage Fair.
I like to serve them warm and simply with a little pour of runny cream. Anything creamy is a wonderful companion to apricots.  If you want to be truly decadent serve with a dollop of mascarpone cheese.
There are many ways of serving or using preserved apricots – both sweet and savoury, so over the next few weeks and months I am aiming to post  more about apricots.
For fans of Twin Peaks, the good news is that there will be a returning series of 9 episodes in 2017.
Gus produced 500 jars this year and will increase production and outlets in 2016. Behind the apricots is a Cherry Cola cordial he is working on. I’m sure Agent Cooper from Twin Peaks would love his cordial…we do!
You’ll have to wait to see Twin Peaks but Augustines of Central apricots are available right now at Smith & Caugheys (Auckland), Moore Wilsons (Wellington) and Florences (Wanaka).

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Mahuru Goddess of Spring Weed Salads

A paving stone in an innovative playground was a springboard for me to think about spring salads and some of the edible weeds available early spring. Why not let weeds contribute to your salads?
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The Maori word “Mahuru”  means August-September. This was one of many pavers around a slide complex in the developing Wynyard Quarter residential area of Auckland that reflects on weather, seasons and gardening. I like that there are areas of text on the woodwork and pavers for parents to contemplate on while watching their children play on the slides.
Mahuru is the Goddess of Spring here in Aotearoa. Spring’s longer hours of daylight and warming of temperatures signals tough pioneer weeds to burst forth in abundance.  Weeds are not only tough guy survivors, they usually contain more nutrients than your average well bred garden vegetable and some taste pretty good too. So until the lettuces come on through in numbers I suggest eating some of these uninvited guests.
Endive, shaved fennel, pear and mandarin salad. For leaves with an element of bitterness, like endive or dandelion, then it really helps to contrast with some sweetness – in this salad pears and mandarins. Broadband leaf shoots and flowers, fennel leaves and walnuts are also present.
But first, I have a few rules about making a well balanced salad:
  • Contrast flavours of mild leaves with astringent herbs, fruits or vegetables and contrast (as above) bitter or strong flavoured leaves with sweet or creamy additions
  • Include for a stand alone salad a carbohydrate element, e.g. lentils, chickpeas, couscous, bread
  • Try to include one protein element – egg, cheese, beans, tuna, bacon, salmon, lentils or chickpeas
  • Contrast textures – soft with crisp e.g. soft avocado or cheese with crisp leaves, nuts, radishes or celery or croutons
  • Leaves of weeds that have a hairy surface make chewing tough work, so cut thinly, make sure you cover well with a dressing and minimise the quantity used
  • Addition of flowers makes an attractive finish to salads, eg. calendula petals, heartsease violas, violets and borage
  • Think plant diversity and include as many different green leaves as possible into a salad
  • But avoid adding too many different flavours with the additions you make of fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices
  • Always include a herb – soft herbs like parsley, mint, coriander or basil
  • If the salad is part of a larger meal try to complement the main
  • Be bold – try different combinations.
For a quick lunchtime salad I like to utilise leftovers with additions from plants ideally gathered fresh from the garden minutes before.
Spring Salad 1: Couscous, mandarin and avocado salad
A lunchtime salad of couscous, endive,  Italian rocket, mixed green weeds, parsley, salad burnet, onion weed and flowers, violet flowers, half an avocado and half a mandarin with a sprinkling of walnuts.
This salad was made with a base of leftover couscous and weeds included in the green salad are chickweed, red dead nettle, and scrambling speedwell.  Each layer of the salad has squeezed lemon juice and some avocado oil. The avocado and the onion weed I mixed together in a separate bowl before adding to the green layer.  Next the segmented mandarin and walnuts are added with a final dressing of avocado oil. The finishing touch are the flowers, violets and onion weed blossoms.
Chickweed Stellaria media
In the past, before lettuce was developed, chickweed was used in the same way as lettuce is today. The soft green leaves are fairly bland and are a soft texture that is easy to chew.
Chickweed contains mucilage and saponins which assist in the absorption of nutrients, especially minerals, and is a rich source of vitamin C.
Stellaria means “little star” and reflects the white, five, deeply divided, petalled flowers that grow on thin stalks in clusters around the stems of the upper leaves. The flowers are quickly followed by tiny egg-shaped seed capsules.
It’s nutritional values make Chickweed sought out by those with hens or caged birds and indicates a high nitrogen level in the soil.  It prefers cool, rich and moist conditions. It’s a temporary weed as It won’t live through summer.
Media means “in the midst of” and aptly refers to the way chickweed grows in and around and over other plants. The tender, small, oval leaves with pointed tips are pale green in opposite pairs, on round, thin, sprawling stems.
Consider chickweed as an easily obtained, nourishing and strengthening food.  You can just grab a handful to add to a green smoothie, but for salads I tend to use just pieces of the thin stems where there are a cluster of leaves or pick off the leaves from the stem.  It takes a little more time but avoids your salad being too stringy.
Spring Salad 2: Lentil and feta salad
Best practice is to collect and eat the plants soon after, but I’ve found that I often don’t have time to go foraging in the garden just before dinner and at this time of the year the weather can be most off putting.  Once or twice a week I go to our organic community garden and do a harvest of weeds.  I wash them, give them a spin in the salad spinner, and then sort into bags and store in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator.  This harvesting and sorting allows me to access prepared weeds as quickly as opening a bag of supermarket salad greens through the week.  Always harvest where you know the ground hasn’t been sprayed with herbicides and avoid collecting near roadsides.
Green lentils with preserved lemon and garlic, grated carrot, orange, endive, parsley, chickweed, scrambling speedwell, plantain, Italian rocket, red dead nettle, feta, calendula and heartsease violas.
The base of this lunchtime salad is warmed green lentils with added preserved lemon, crushed garlic and olive oil.  On top of this is some leftover grated carrot, a little orange, endive and parsley (from the taco meal the previous night). Now I add a good handful of harvested weeds, followed by slices of feta cheese and finished off with a scattering of calendula petals and heartsease violas. This salad took only a couple of minutes to prepare.
Scrambling Speedwell Veronica persica
Speedwell is easily identified by its pretty blue flower. You can see why it’s also known as birds-eye speedwell with it’s distinctive white centre. It can be found scrambling around most gardens over winter and spring.
The small blue flowers are 1 cm wide and appear as solitary flowers. They open on sunny days on thin stalks.The pale to medium green leaves grow in opposite pairs, are oval, short stalked, coarsely toothed and hairy.The stems are round and flexible growing up to 70cm long and easily root at the nodes.
As it has soft hairy leaves it can be included in a salad with other greens but is best used added to a smoothie.  If including in a salad I run my hand down the rough stem and the leaves easily peel off. It has an astringent quality to it and in the past was used as an black tea substitute in France (called Europa tea) because of that astringency , plus it’s smell is reminiscent of tea.
It’s used as a medicinal tea to clear excess mucous, calm sore throats and eyes and assist with bad skin.  Who would have thought that this small and abundant weed could do all that.
Spring Salad 3: Lettuce, apple, walnut and onion weed salad
A salad is greatly improved if dressed by the addition of oil, vinegar or lemon juice. Save your best oils for your salads. I usually make the dressing in the salad bowl by simply squeezing lemon juice over the salad, season it and then drizzle over a good oil. If there is a delay between making and eating then you should prepare a dressing separately and toss in just before serving. Sometimes too a salad might need a little sweetness with the addition of honey, a little more spice with mustard or a creaminess and in those cases I make up the dressing separately.
This salad has a base of torn lettuce leaves and weeds. The apple, avocado and onion weed salad is mixed with kefir cream and topped with walnut pieces. Final touch is placing red coral mizuna around the edge of the green salad and adding the onion weed flowers, a sprig of salad burnet and a baby dandelion leaf.
The green leaf base is constructed first and a squeeze of lemon juice and a drizzle of oil ensures the greens are easily digested and flavourful.
I use a mandolin to finely slice the apple and squeeze lemon juice over the apple and avocado to prevent from browning.
The creamy dressing doesn’t have to be kefir based, it can also be made from yoghurt or use your favourite mayonnaise.
I counted 13 plants and flowers in this salad before adding the fruit and nuts: lettuce leaves, red coral mizuna, salad burnet, onion weed and flowers, dandelion leaves, nipplewort, chickweed leaves, chervil, parsley, fennel flowers and leaf, baby celery stalk and leaves, baby broadleaf plantain, and broad bean leaves. All these plants have different nutritional benefits.
Red Dead Nettle Lamium purpureum
Red Dead Nettle’s leaves have soft hairs unlike real nettles. It’s usually plentiful in loose soils in the garden. For me, it’s often an unwelcome early guest in a newly planted seedbed so it’s some comfort that I can eat it.  It’s adaptable and can grow almost anywhere.  In lush garden conditions it will grow up to 50cm tall or quite low and spreading where it’s dry,  e.g. in a drive way. It’s most commonly found during the cooler months.
Red Dead Nettle Lamium purpureum has toothed heart shaped leaves in opposite pairs with long leaf stalks. The stems are square and hollow similar to other members of its family,  mint and lemon balm.
It’s a highly nutritious plant full of fibre, chlorophyll, vitamins, iron and other minerals. The oil from the seeds is high in antioxidants. Red dead nettle is mild tasting so is a great plant to include in your salads or smoothies…but those hairs need dressing.
It’s important to correctly identify your weeds. Never add anything to a salad that you are unsure of. As a part of my organic horticulture course I completed a plant identification project with over twenty plants that could be found growing wild in a New Zealand garden. If you are interested in identifying more edible weeds in your garden, as well as see their medicinal values, you are welcome to visit my organic growing blog Soil beneath my fingers.
Nipplewort Lapsana communis L. The juvenile form produces”spoon-shaped” leaves that later become more pointed. This is the best stage to harvest if you want to avoid the bitterness of older plants. Plants tend to grow in semi-shade areas and in summer shoot up to over a metre tall with dandelion type blooms. The shape of the flowerbuds gave this plant it’s common name nipplewort.
When our children were little Peter would tell them to eat up their vegetables or salad because the strong silver backed gorillas ate a lot of plants. It’s true silver backed gorillas will eat various parts of over 200 different plant species.  We would be hard pressed to achieve that level of diversity in our diet.
This spring take another look at the weeds in your backyard, think about adding them to your salad greens to add diversity and nutrition to your salads.  You’ll never be accused of a boring salad if you do.