Sometimes knowing that you can cook something without too much hassle is not enough for you to try it, even when you are quite curious to try new plant-based food. I’ve been meaning for quite a few weeks now to cook with nettles, for example. But, without the intervention of Kensal to Kiburn harvesters, I would still look at the urtica diodica specimen in my garden with suspicion.
As I had signed up to the workshop organized by Michael Stuart from Transition Kensal to Kilburn, there was no going back. So, last Saturday, with my gardening gloves pulled up to my elbows, I harvested some nettles and put them in a plastic bag. Quite an achievement in itself! Yes, I felt brave because I still remember how I stumbled into a high bunch of nettles as a kid with bare legs. And I remember how painful it was.
Even Gemma from Urban Harvesters, who was leading the workshop, confessed that using nettle in her cooking didn’t come to her very naturally. And she is probably one of the most knowledgeable and daring people in London when it comes to cooking with foraged plants!
During the workshop, we transformed nettle into nettle pesto with some garlic, olive oil and pine nuts. This is how I learned that you can use nettle either cooked or raw. Obviously, if it’s raw, it needs to be crushed with a pestle and mortar or pulverized. You don’t want to take the risk to get stung. (Nobody did, by the way!) We also tasted it in a smoothie, mixed with some apple juice. We even got a second round of it. Yep!
Emma also introduced us to a natural fast food alternative to an Indian take-away –which I will definitely try at home. You can cook a handful of nettle in the microwave with a bit of water – or boil them in a pan, if, like me, you don’t have a microwave. Open a tin of Hodmedod's vaal dhal which are British beans cooked with Indian spices, and mix both ingredients together, et voilà! You don’t need any other ingredients. It’s a super quick and highly nutritious meal.
We also experimented with wild garlic (scrumptious as a base for a pesto!) and wild garlic flowers. I had never seen them before and the wild garlic flowers look really beautiful and are delicious covered in a bit of batter and deep-fried.
Finally, despite there not being an abundance of elderflowers this season –the weather has not been dry enough over the last (few?) week - we did have enough to prepare some elderflower cordial and also some elderflower fritters.
Cooking with foraged food turned into a bit of a food feast! I didn’t count the number of wild garlic flowers fritters and elderflowers fritters that we ate as a group. The fritters disappear from the plate too quickly for that.
Surprisingly, you can taste the delicate elderflower flavour through the batter. And, once you’ve tasted it, you’re hooked! Yes, it’s deep-fried food but it’s foraged deep-fried food, my friend…
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