Dandelion – weed or wonderful plant?

What do most of us think when we see a dandelion? WEED!!! But wait – this is such a negative view of what is actually a very versatile and edible plant. If we can train ourselves to see it as such, just think how much more relaxed we will be as gardeners!

As we all know, dandelions grow very well in the UK for pretty much most of the year. The dandelion is used by the French and Italians in their cuisine and is even cultivated. Did you know almost all of the plant can be eaten?

The leaves: The leaves of the dandelion plant are best eaten young. The dandelion has a bitter taste similar to chicory that grows stronger with age and leaf colour. Pick the young and tender leaves and you can include them in salads. You can mix them in with other greens such as spinach or cabbage or even use them in a stir-fry.

The roots: The roots are also edible and can be washed (not peeled) roasted and ground to make a caffeine-free coffee alternative. Large roots can also be roasted like small thin parsnips – delicious, but you will need a lot to make it worthwhile. They cook very quickly, so keep your eye on them!

The flower: The flower is really very attractive – I know, hard to see it in this way – but it is! Pull off the petals and scatter them in salad – it looks lovely. Or, you can use the whole flower head as a garnish or dip it in a light batter and deep-fry the flower heads as a snack or starter – they go really well with a hot chilli sauce.

If picking now, make sure you go for the smallest, newest plants. Do be careful not to pick ones have been chemically sprayed. Also avoid picking dandelions by the roadside as they will have absorbed petrol fumes. But if, like me, you have a garden full of them – pick away!

Here’s a simple little dandelion idea for you to try:

Dandelion tea

Most warm herbal teas have a comforting effect. Dandelions are a diuretic and can help to reduce water retention and bloated feelings. Many people find this tea a useful treatment for rheumatism too. The tea also acts as a mild laxative, so don’t drink too much at once!

You will need:

  • 5-6 dandelion leaves
  • Boiling water
  • 1 tsp honey (optional)
  1. Remove any stems from the leaves. Break them into strips and put in the bottom of a mug. Pour on enough boiling water to fill the mug and leave to stand for 5-10 minutes.
  2. Strain, discard most of the dandelion leaves and drink. If you prefer a sweeter brew, add a small teaspoonful of honey.

PS. And don’t forget, guinea pigs and rabbits adore dandelion leaves too!!

Smiles, Joanna

 

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Spinach, Walnut and Gruyère Lasagne with Basil

Having been fooled into thinking spring had arrived in March, we are all now shivering in this cold and wet April. So, time for some comfort food, says I!

This nutty lasagne is a delicious combination of flavours and an all round ‘comfy’ dish!

Serves 8

You will need:

  • 350g/12oz spinach lasagne (pre-cooked sheets)

For the walnut & tomato sauce:

  • 3 tbsp walnut oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 225g/8oz celeriac, finely chopped
  • 1 x 400g/14oz can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
  • ½ tsp sugar
  • 115g/40z chopped walnuts
  • 150ml/¼ pint Dubonnet (or cheap port if you prefer!)

For the spinach & Gruyère sauce:

  • 75g/3oz flour
  • 1 tsp mustard powder
  • 1.2 litres/2pints milk
  • 225g/8oz grates Gruyère cheese
  • salt and pepper
  • ground nutmeg
  • 500g/1lb frozen spinach, thawed and puréed (or fresh, steamed and puréed)
  • 2 tbsp fresh basil, chopped 
  1. First, make the walnut and tomato sauce. Heat the walnut oil and sauté the onion and celeriac. Cook for about 8-10 minutes. Meanwhile, purée the tomatoes in a food processor. Add the garlic to the pan and cook for about one minute, then add the sugar, walnuts, tomatoes and Dubonnet. Season to taste. Simmer uncovered, for 25 minutes.
  2. To make the spinach and Gruyère sauce, melt the butter with the walnut oil and add the onion. Cook for 5 minutes, then stir in the flour. Cook for another minute and add the mustard powder and milk, stirring vigorously. When the sauce has come to the boil, take off the heat and add three-quarters of the grated Gruyère. Season to taste with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Finally add the puréed spinach.
  3.  Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/gas 4. Layer the lasagne in an oven-proof dish. Start with a layer of spinach and Gruyère sauce, then add a little walnut and tomato sauce, then a layer of lasagne, and continue until the dish is full, ending with a layer of either sauce.
  4.  Sprinkle the remaining Gruyère over the top of the dish, followed by the basil. Bake for 45 minutes.

 

 

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Crystallized flowers – what little gems!

This week, I’ve asked Julia Horton-Powdrill to write a guest blog. I met Julia on a creative writing course a few years ago, and was impressed by her great writing, humour and enthusiasm.

When not writing, she keeps extremely busy running a number of ‘wild’ businesses including the Really Wild Food Festival and Wild about Pembrokeshire!

Wild about Pembrokeshire is all about foraging and runs wild food foraging walks and day courses and, as Julia says, encourages you to ‘Discover your Inner Forager’!!

Julia’s mission is to encourage people to have a fun day in the countryside or on the coast and help them to identify and make the most of what is available from Mother Nature! She also advises on the legal side of foraging from the wild and how to collect sustainably and responsibly.

To find out more, visit: www.wildaboutpembrokeshire.co.uk

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As everything is fresh and young in the countryside (apart from me!) now is the time to try out a few recipes. One I mean to do each spring but always forget is to crystallize flowers. Gorse, primrose, sweet cicely, wild violets, apple blossom and rose petals can be used, but experiment yourself as long as you know what you are using isn’t poisonous.

Beat an egg white lightly with a fork, paint each petal, immerse or sprinkle over, some caster sugar then leave overnight on a lined tray. Use to decorate puds or cakes or just to eat on their own. Mothers used to crystallize flowers on the stem where they grew then let their children loose into the meadow to hunt for them and eat them… great idea!

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The cream of Devon!

It may not be healthy and it may not be slimming – but it is utterly delicious! I’m talking about a Devon cream tea and, with this spell of glorious weather, l’ve spotted lots of lucky people sitting outside cafés and in pub gardens all tucking into this simple yet scrummy treat. But is it that simple…?

I always think of Devon as the home of the clotted cream tea… but is it? It’s a debate that has been rumbling on for years between the Devonians and the Cornish. Devon has a pretty strong claim to it as, apparently, there is evidence of people eating bread with cream and jam at Tavistock Abbey in Devon as far back as the 11th century!

In Devon, we start by halving a freshly baked scone, where as in Cornwall, the cream tea was traditionally served with a ‘Cornish split’, a type of slightly sweet white bread roll. But it seems that nowadays, the Cornish have seen sense and have moved over to scones too.

Then there’s the really crucial question: which is correct – do you put the jam or the cream on first? I’m a fan of jam first, it gives you a firm base to then dollop on – I mean delicately spread – the cream. Put the cream on first and it can all get a bit slippery and the jam slides off. But there are plenty of people who insist cream first is right. What do you think?

And is it jam, then cream in Devon, and cream then jam in Cornwall…? Or the other way around? I can tell you, it is a regular topic of heated debate in this part of the world! Feelings run so high that a couple of years ago, the organisers of a Devon food festival had to commission a new publicity poster after the first one featured a cream tea made the Cornish way. Trouble is, what they said was the Cornish way, is what I call the Devon was – jam first. Oh dear!

It’s all so complicated… and we haven’t even considered the jam itself. For me, it has to be strawberry. I’m told raspberry is very good too, while some racy people even opt for damson. Surely not!

All I know is that my Mother, Diana, makes the most perfect cream tea. She’s of a generation that can turn out two dozen scones at the drop of a hat and always seems to have clotted cream to hand. She makes her own jam, of course and, with the addition of a few slices of fresh strawberry as an added treat, can produce the most delicious cream tea you’ll find anywhere. Lucky me!

 

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Salmon & Ginger Pie, with Lemon Thyme & Lime

This exceptional pie is highly recommended! The recipe uses salmon’s special flavour to the full.

Serves 4-6

You will need:

4 salmon fillets (The flat shape, not the chunky ones) weighing 800g/1¾ lb

3 tbsp walnut oil

1 tbsp lime juice

2 tsp chopped fresh lemon thyme

2 tbsp white wine

Salt and pepper

400g/14oz puff pastry

50g/2oz flaked almonds

3-4 pieces stem ginger in syrup, chopped.

  1. Place the four salmon fillets in a shallow dish. Mix the oil, lime juice, thyme, wine and pepper, and pour over the fish. Leave to marinate overnight in the refrigerator.
  2. Divide the pastry into two pieces, one slightly larger then the other, and roll out – the smaller piece should be large enough to take two of the salmon fillets and the second piece about 5cm/2in larger all round. Drain the fillets and discard the marinade.
  3. Pre-heat the oven to 190ºC/350ºF/gas 5. Place two of the fillets on the smaller piece of pastry, and season. Add the almonds and ginger and cover with the other two fillets.
  4. Season again, cover with the second piece of pastry and seal well. Brush with beaten egg and decorate with any leftover pastry. Bake for 40 minutes.

 

 

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