Posts tagged ‘recipes’

July 15, 2011

Cooking with flowers

by growingpeople

This needs little introduction. Flowers are the extra ingredient that turn food into a work of art – these species are all suitable for small spaces and containers, and perhaps with the exception of lavender, you’ll need to grow your own as you won’t find them in the shops. Cooking with flowers by its very definition will always mean eating fresh food in season, and their short growing period makes them all the more special.

Lavender shortbread, thanks to theurbanfoodie

Chive blossom on toast, thanks to thekitchn

Elderflower cordial with white dianthus flowers and a lovage stalk straw, thanks to eggsontheroof, the most elegant food blog around – I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Calendula petal and Borage salad, thanks to frenchrecipe

Carrot and nasturtium soup, thanks to stumptownsavoury

Pansy cookies, thanks to stonegable

Courgette blossom fritata, thanks to harmoniouskitchen


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July 10, 2011

Beyond lettuce

by growingpeople

Lettuce and lettuce-type things are among the easiest edibles to grow in containers and small spaces, but too often we stick to unadventurous species of Butterhead and Looseleaf, ignoring the multitude of more unusual (and better looking) leaves and flowers that can be used to make a salad.

Herbs, too, are frequently seen as simply a garnish and added in minute quantities that can barely be detected – but if chosen correctly, and combined with milder flavours, I believe that they can be a main ingredient. My favourite salad ingredients, container-grown in my Hackney garden include chard, parsley, chives, golden marjoram, nasturtiums, borage, baby spinach and lovage.

The selections below are all suitable for containers, can be sown now and taste much better than an iceberg.

I recommend Real SeedsWild Garden Seeds and Suffolk Herbs for sourcing seeds.

Lactuca sativa var. romana “Little Leprechaun”


Levisticum officinale (lovage)

Celery-like shoots, but a milder taste. The young leaves are one of my favourite salad ingredients.


Malva sylvestris (mallow)

The young leaves and flowers can be eaten raw. This is hardly worth growing as you can find it everywhere this time of year (Hackney-dwellers, try the marshes -there’s enough to feed the borough there).


Rumex acetosa (garden sorrel)

This perennial herb is mild enough to be eaten raw as a salad leaf.


Alliaria petiolata (garlic mustard)

As the name suggests, the leaves taste of garlic and mustard, are delicious in salad if you like that sort of thing, and grow in abundance in Hackney Marshes.


Allium ursinum (wild garlic)

One of my absolute favourites, growing abundantly in British woodland in February and March. Use the leaves and flowers in salad – they taste strongly of garlic, so use in addition to a milder leaf.

Trapaeolum majus (nasturtium)

Adds colour to the smallest of garden, grows in the poorest of soils and the leaves and flowers are delicious.

June 15, 2011


by growingpeople

We’ve spent the last three weeks in Morocco, where Safi met her huge extended family for the first time and we gorged on tajine, watermelon, almonds, bekkoula, oranges and pots of mint tea.

I was familiar with the Atlas region and the arid south – Marrakech, Essaouira and Agadir, where the landscape is dotted with the endemic Argan (Argania spinosa) tree – cultivated for oil and home to armies of climbing goats – but this time we stayed mainly along the Atlantic coast in the north of the country –  an incredibly productive area, rich in crops as varied as peanuts, bananas, potatoes and purslane, not to mention a range of non-cultivated edibles which grow freely in the wild.

One of my favourite things to do (anywhere) is to explore markets, and here both my eyes and belly were truly spoiled – the frenzy of colour and the abundance of produce (all local, very little needs to be imported) were a veritable feast before even getting anywhere near my plate.

Supermarkets and convenience stores are very slowly creeping into the suburbs of bigger cities like Rabat, Casablanca and Kenitra, but on the whole the Moroccan respect for good food, properly produced and with nothing going to waste means that the daily trip to the market (souk) remains an intrinsic part of family life, particularly in the smaller towns of the north which are fed by such fertile land.

(above) Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) grows freely as an urban weed but it is also cultivated and sold as the principle ingredient for rejla, purslane stewed in olive oil and flavoured with cumin and ginger.

(above) marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) leaves are used for making bekkoula – similar to rejla in preparation but with a more acidic taste. We bought shredded and boiled marshmallow leaves from the huge tubs that ladies brought to the market and added oil and spices to them at home.
















(left) purple bindweed (Ipomoea), a close relative of the sweet potato (Ipomoea batata) and (right) oranges growing happily in Tangier















(left) limes growing in Larache and (right) the barbary fig, or prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) grows widely throughout the country, producing a sweet, bright red fruit after its yellow flowers.

(below left) mint grows everywhere and is combined with green tea and sugar to make the Moroccan staple, thé a la menthe. (below right) bananas ripening in a Casablanca car park.












May 15, 2011

growingpeople goes coastal

by growingpeople

My mother, my daughter and I spent a few days this week on the Hampshire coast, where we spotted a whole lot of familiar and some more unusual edibles, among a host of wild flowers and natives. A welcome change from Vicky Park.

Armeria maritima (sea thrift), a small perennial adapted to coastal environments.

Ulex europaeus (gorse), an evergreen shrub adapted to extreme dry conditions. The flowers are edible, high in protein, and could be used in salads, or made into tea. This recipe for gorse flower cordial is really making me wish I’d brought some home with me, as is this one, for gorse flower wine.

A young Pteridium aquilinum, or bracken – commonly cooked as a vegetable in Korea, China and Japan, but thought to be responsible for the area’s high levels of stomach cancer, so not recommended.

Silene vulgaris, or bladder campion, is a common ingredient in Spanish cooking, where the leaves, known as “collejas” are used in salads or added to stews.

(left) Equisetum arvense, or common horsetail, is rich in calcium and its tips can be eaten as a vegetable. It is a diuretic and can be used to treat kidney and bladder problems. (right) Cirsium palestre, or marsh thistle, has edible leaves and stems which can be peeled and eaten raw or cooked.

Rumex acetosella, or red sorrel, is a spreading perennial, whose tart leaves can be used in salads and garnishes, or as a curdling agent for cheese.

(left) The flower buds of Leucanthemum vulgare, or oxeye daisy can be used as a substitute for capers, Trifolium pratense (red clover) is made into a tea to treat symptoms of the menopause. (right) Plantago lanceolata, or ribwort plantain, can be cooked as a vegetable or brewed as tea, and its seed husks, known as Psyllium, are sold as an expensive dietary fibre in whole food shops.

(left) The berries of Sambucus nigra, or elder, are used to make jams, the flowerheads to make infusions and elderflower cordial. (right) Anthyllis vulneraria, or kidney vetch, was traditionally known as the “wound healer” and used to soothe skin.

(left) Brassica napus, or rape, is high in essential fatty acids and is heavily cultivated for oil production. Here it grew in the wild on the cliff tops. (right) a field of thrift, red sorrel and rape.

(left) Aquilegia (right) Lupinus beans are pickled and served as a snack similar to olives in several Mediterranean countries, and used in a similar way to soya beans to make tofu.

(left) Silene dioica, or red campion (right) Glechoma hederacea, or ground ivy, is a member of the mint family and can be eaten in salad or infused for a vitamin C-rich tea.

May 5, 2011

Foraging for food in Lower Clapton

by growingpeople

Back in January, I discussed the virtues of the Silverberry, or Elaeagnus x ebbingei, one of the only berries I know of which is ripe in the early spring. The one I walk past every day grows within the gardens of a residential care home, and  is now fruiting heavily. So this afternoon, after weeks of waiting for the berries to ripen, we went and picked a bucketful.

I’d been on the look out for suggestions of what to do with the berries for ages, but the only thing anyone seems to be doing with them is making jam. Until I came across this recipe on the fantastic Gardenbytes, (the owners of which “explore everything from foraging to formal gardens” in NYC) where the bright red berries are blended to a pulp (use a hand moulis with large holes so that the seeds are left behind) and baked into bread. You can also try these as a coulis, sweetened with honey.

Many thanks to the staff of the Median Road Resource Centre for letting me come into the gardens and strip the bushes bare!

April 17, 2011

Edible of the week: Borage

by growingpeople

It’s been many weeks since I’ve done one of these, but as I’ve just sown some in my garden it felt like a good choice to kick start the series with.

Borago officinalis is an annual plant and prolific self-seeder which can grow to 1m tall and just generally seems to take up a lot of space within very little time – perfect for filling up an empty space with colour. It’s a fantastic companion plant, both attracting beneficial insects and repelling the tomato hornworm. The leaves are rich in potassium, which is needed for fruiting, so it’s a good idea to use the leaves as a mulch around potassium-hungry crops such as tomatoes, peppers, courgettes and squashes. The leaves are also edible, but they are hairy and tough so best picked when young if being used in a salad (shred them finely in either case). They have a cucumber-like taste and were traditionally used in the preparation of Pimms before cucumber and mint became the norm.

The seed of the “Starflower”, as it is also called, is the highest known plant-based source of gamma-linolenic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid thought to be beneficial for the treatment of arthritis, eczema and premenstrual tension.  Hemp seed, Evening Primrose and Spirulina are among the other more well-known and widely-sold sources of the same substance.

Borage flowers are a curiosity in themselves as they start off pink, turn to blue in the mid-summer, and often revert back to pink as the summer draws to a close – the latter is thought to be the effects of UV on the flower. They work beautifully as a garnish in salads or cold soups, on cakes or frozen into ice cubes and added to summer drinks. Thanks to Eggs on the Roof for Gazpacho recipe and illustration.

January 28, 2011

Edible of the Week: Chickweed

by growingpeople

Chickweed (Stellaria media) is one of the most common European weeds, considered a real pest in agriculture because of its ability to take over whole crop fields, particularly competing with small grains like barley. In a smaller garden, however, it can be controlled by hand-picking and used as a leaf or salad vegetable.










Unlike most edible “weeds” like Dandelion or Fat Hen which can be quite bitter, it has a mild lettuce-like taste when eaten raw, but it also great for cooking as an alternative to spinach. Like Spinach, it disintegrates quickly when cooked, so 2 minutes of simmering in some olive oil and garlic is plenty.

In the urban landscape, you should be able to find Chickweed alongside any green space or tow path, and you can identify it by its line of thin hairs down one side of the stem (the similar-looking but non-edible Cerastium has thin hair all over the stem). It has small star-like white flowers, and grows in a creeping mat quite close to the ground. It’s available more or less year-round, with the exception of periods of frost.

Chickweed has been used medicinally for centuries – homeopaths recommend a chickweed compress for treating skin conditions including eczema and psoriasis (you can prepare this by boiling a large bunch of the herb for a few minutes in a small amount of water, wrapping it in a cloth and then wrapping it around the affected area).

January 19, 2011

Cooking Weeds

by growingpeople

I’ve just discovered Vivien Weise’s excellent Cooking Weeds, a cookbook dedicated to, as the name suggests, using the abundance of edible native weeds available to us for free in a variety of imaginative and often mouthwatering recipes.  She only includes common weeds that can be found in any London park or tow path, and clearly describes which weeds (and which parts) are edible, as well as including nutritional information for each plant. Plus, they are all illustrated to facilitate your picking efforts.

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November 14, 2010

Edible of the week: Nasturtiums

by growingpeople

Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) are a fantastic hardy annual (not to be confused with the genus Nasturtium, which includes watercress and is entirely unrelated).  Not only are the young leaves and flowers delicious and beautiful in salads (think rocket but more so), but you can also make “Poor Man’s Capers” from the seeds (real capers are the salted and pickled buds of the perennial caper plant, Capparis spinosa).

Pick the seeds before they’re ripe (they need to be bright green, not dark brown) and soak them in salted water (50g salt/450ml water) for two days.  (Do leave a few seeds to ripen fully so that you have more to plant next year or to give to your friends).

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