Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Recipe: Best Homemade Balkan Style Yogurt!

For the first half of geological time our ancestors were bacteria. Most creatures still are bacteria, and each one of our trillions of cells is a colony of bacteria. – Richard Dawkins 

This isn't my yogurt but looks just like it. My photo was out of focus... sorry.
Photo: I Believe I Can Fry, Flickr ccl
I’ve been branching off from cheese lately. I’ve become fascinated with “bacterial cultures” and their health benefits for you. So I’ve started to make my own yogurt. Quite successfully if I do say so myself.

There’s so much spin around the advertising and marketing of yogurt it’s difficult to separate hard fact from hot hype. Suffice to say that you CAN make yogurt at home that is every bit as healthy as store-purchased, AND at much less cost.

Homemade yogurt with honey and pecans.
Photo: I Believe I Can Fry, Flickr ccl
Here’s a crash course on the benefits of yogurt:
  • Yogurt is a natural creation by bacteria on the lactic acid of milk to create a thick creamy substance.
  • Some purchased yogurts are “heat treated” to increase shelf life. This also kills some of the healthy bacteria (defeating the purpose of eating it I would say…).
  • When brands use the words “live” or “active” on their packaging that means the bacteria is still living in the yogurt.
  • Gelatin is often used to thicken commercial yogurts. Milk powder is a better alternative since it is more nutritious.
  • Yogurt’s "friendly" bacteria help keep bad bacteria and yeast from growing in your intestinal tract. Bacteria also help make vitamin K and keep your immune system functioning properly.
  • Yogurt is high in calcium, and in concert with the bacteria helps the body absorb it more easily.
  • Yogurt is often beneficial to the lactose intolerant, as it contains lactase which is the enzyme our bodies need to break down lactose. 
  • Yogurt is also a good source of protein, riboflavin, phosphorous and vitamin B12.
  • Yogurt potentially helps with gastrointestinal disorders such as constipation, diarrhea, colon cancer, inflammatory bowel disease and H. pylori infection (info from a recent Tufts University study).
  • Yogurt’s active cultures may discourage candidia infections. This is a common problem in female diabetics.
  • Besides killing bad bacteria prescription antibiotics also kill the healthy bacteria in our stomach and intestines, so yogurt is a way to bring that balance back into alignment.

There are many more. Google "health benefits of yogurt."

This is my yogurt, layered with muesli and
macerated strawberries. Looking forward to lunch!
What about Prebiotics and Probiotics?
This well advertised pair (check any yogurt TV, print or online ad…) help restore the balance of bacteria in your digestive tract. 

Probiotic bacteria are naturally found in fermented foods like sauerkraut and yogurt.  When you eat probiotics, you will add these healthy bacteria to your intestinal tract. Common strains include Lactobacillis and Bifidobacterium families of bacteria. 

Prebiotics are non-digestible foods that make their way through our digestive system and help good bacteria grow and flourish. Prebiotics keep beneficial bacteria healthy.

Prebiotics that feed the beneficial bacteria in your gut mostly come from carbohydrate fibers. Sources of carbohydrate prebiotics include fruits, legumes, and whole grains. 

Some commercial yogurts have prebiotics added in, but they can be obtained solely through a well balanced diet so not having it in homemade yogurt is not a detriment.

Part of your daily diet
To benefit the most from yogurt, it must be consumed daily. The bacteria will only live for a day in us before our bodies consume it. This is not a bad thing though, as daily consumption also gives us the benefit of all the vitamins, minerals, etc that are present in yogurt.

A "daily serving" is one of those little 6 oz. containers, or about 1/2 cup.

Yogurt is unlike kéfir (it’s “cousin”) in that kéfir actually colonizes our intestines with healthy bacteria as opposed to yogurt which requires depositing the healthful nutrients on a daily basis. You can get by with as little as a few tablespoons of kéfir and I don't think it's necessary to consume it daily. 

I'll look into that before I post about kéfir. I expect to get some kéfir grains this weekend so you will read of my exploits quite soon.

Here’s some easy tips for adding yogurt to your diet:
It would get rather repetitive having to eat a small yogurt every day with lunch or at break, etc. So here's some more imaginative ways of using yogurt in your diet.

  • Replace mayonnaise and salad dressings with yogurt
  • Replace ice cream and milkshakes with frozen yogurt and yogurt smoothies (strawberry kiwi is my favourite!)
  • Replace sour cream with tangy yogurt
  • Try using yogurt cheese instead of cream cheese (strain the yogurt overnight to make it more solid)
  • Use as a marinade for meat and poultry (deliciously common in Middle Eastern cuisine)
  • Yogurt can also be stove cooked, but will curdle if heated too high. Add 1 tbsp cornstarch per cup of yogurt before using to cook.

So it’s good for you and shouldn't be a problem to introduce into your diet.

My incubation lab: an insulated bag and 2 heating pads.
Luckily it’s easy (and inexpensive) to make. The recipe I made for a Balkan/Greek gives a stellar result. Balkan/Greek style yogurts are thicker than normal yogurt, which is something I quite enjoy. You can stand your spoon up in it.

The recipe is based on one from www.food.com, posted by HannahBoBana on May 16, 2008. This is the direct link, and I thank her for posting such a great recipe. 

You don’t necessarily need special equipment, but since I’ll be making yogurt, kéfir and other things that need higher than room temperature heat, I bit the bullet and bought some heating pads. 

By heating pads I mean Sunbeam “aches and pains of the body” pads—not specialized equipment. And I also commandeered an old soft sided zip-up cooler bag we had, just to keep everything warm and snuggly.

So here we go. Let’s make yogurt!

Homemade Greek/Balkan Style Yogurt
Based on a recipe posted by HannahBoBana on May 16, 2008

2 litres whole milk (or 2 quarts)
1 cup skim milk
1/3 cup powdered skim milk
10g yogurt starter (I used “Yogourmet” brand powder, purchased in the health food section of a local chain grocery. 6 packs for about $4.50; I used 2)
Note: once you've made yogurt, you can substitute 1/3 cup of your previous yogurt for the starter.

AUG 1/11 ADDENDUM: I've had stellar results using the following: 2 quarts (or litres) of milk; 1 cup powdered skim milk and 1 cup of previously made yogurt. Heat the milk and powder as directed; let it cool; stir in yogurt and incubate. Then let drain through cloth for 1 hour. It is very, very thick and tangy. Thick enough a spoon will stand upright in it.

2 ingredients other than milk: milk powder and yogurt starter.
After the first batch you're supposed to be able to start your yogurt using
some of your remaining yogurt. I'll be trying that soon.
Combine the milk and powdered milk in a large stainless steel pot. Heat it to 185°F. Stir it so the milk doesn’t scorch to the bottom of the pan. Remove from the heat.

Then let the milk cool back down to 110°F. This may take 1 hour. Do not add the culture before the milk cools back down or you will kill it, and the whole thing will be for naught.

Stir a little of the lukewarm milk into the starter and mix well. Then pour the starter into the milk and stir.

Cover with a well fitting lid.

Note: I have also read you can heat your oven to 175°F, turn off the heat and use that; or wrapped in a blanket on top of a warm radiator, or well wrapped and in a warm window. Regardless, it needs to be done in the dark.

These are my directions for culturing the yogurt using my highly sophisticated heating pads. It worked like a charm:
Place one heating pad in the bottom of the cooler bag and turn it on high. (High on my Sunbeam heating pads isn’t as hot at one would imagine.)

Heat to 185°F, then let cool to 110°F.
Put the pot with the milk inside the bag on top of it and place the second heating pad on top, turned on high. Zip the whole bag up and let culture for 12 hours.

After 12 hours, check your yogurt. Mine was tangy, creamy and thick. If it’s not thick enough, let go for a few more hours. Also, the longer you culture the tangier your yogurt will be.

Remember, your yogurt will get slightly thicker in the refrigerator.

Place a piece of fine cotton (Dollar Store pillow cases work very well…) in a colander. Pour the yogurt in the colander and let the mixture drain for about 1 hour. This will thicken the yogurt even more.

After draining, place in a clean coverable container in your refrigerator. Since homemade yogurt has no shelf-life extenders it should be consumed in one week.

I doubt you will find that a problem.


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Monday, May 30, 2011

Gardening: The Rhodos are doing their thing already…

Flowers seem intended for the solace of ordinary humanity. – John Ruskin

Beautiful clusters of Rhododendron flowers. Actually quite exotic looking.
So it’s all happening hard and fast outdoors now in Nova Scotia. Part of me wishes it would just slow down a bit. Before we know it we’ll be in the dog days of summer and then September. Or so it seems.

A red variety, just starting to open.
There’s a lot of herbaceous perennials bolting skyward in the flower beds, but today I’d like to show you something a bit more structural. Rhododendrons. They’re those magnificent bushes that have huge pom-pom style heads of blossoms as Spring reached its apex. They can form part of the bones necessary to ensure you garden has 4 season enjoyment. They also do not loose their leaves in our USDA zone (Zone 5-6).

Rhododendrons come in almost all colours: pink, rose, deep red, apple blossom, creamy yellow, soft blue… Usually if you want the more fiery colours (like orange) you’ll need to resort to azaleas but I’l sure someone’s working on them.

Rhododendrons set their blooms for the following Spring in the Autumn so it’s easy to see what your ratio of bloom to new growth will be. 

A little about rhododendrons
Rhododendrons (from the Greek rhódon (rose) and déndron (tree) are a genus of over 1000 different species. They are all members of the heath family and also include what we call azaleas. All are members of the heather family, which are plants fond of acidic soil, and include cranberries, blueberries and huckleberries among its members.

Rhododendron canadense, our native rhodo.
Rhodos range from the very small to the very large depending on the variety. Before Halifax was hit by Hurricane Juan in 2003 the Victorian Public Gardens boasted some magnificent showy specimens, some approaching 20-25 feet high by at least as wide. 

Sadly they are now quite reduced from what they were. They were mostly growing quite close to the front gates which lost almost all its surrounding trees causing considerable damage to the plants underneath.

Rhodos as a species is quite diverse. They range from small Alpine varieties to ones almost 100 feet high. Eastern Canada and the USA (including Nova Scotia) is home to one of the wild ones – rhododendron canadense. 

In Spring (right now actually) it produces sparse, spindly purply-pink flowers on sort of sad looking bushes in ditches. As you can tell, I’m no great admirer, but many poets were, including Ralph Waldo Emerson.

One of the Rhodos at the Public Gardens, Halifax.
Photo: ekpatterson, Flickr ccl
History of the family
Rhododendrons have been noted by historians (usually in an unfortunate way because they are poison) since ancient times. They flourish on every continent north of the equator, although there are some exceptions south of that point as well.

Rhododendrons were first classified by a Flemish botanist in the 1500s and soon after started their way into cultivation. Cultivated Rhodos followed Europeans to the New World and established themselves in North America as a subject for horticultural improvement. 

This is not to say that there were not species of wild Rhodos already present in North America. They just weren’t “decorative” enough for our liking.

This Rhodo came from Capt. Steele. It was one of his attempts
at breeding for a true red. Beautiful none the less.
A local connection
Cultivars of Rhododendrons are almost too numerous to count. They are continually being bred for increased hardiness and better, bigger flowers. One Nova Scotia breeder, Captain Richard Steele (1915-2010),was inducted into the Order of Canada in 2004 for his outstanding contributions to horticulture in our country. 

I have mentioned his garden centre Bayport Plant Farm in Rose Bay, Lunenburg County (on Highway 332)  in a previous post. I was fortunate enough to have bought Rhodos from Captain Steele. One is actually in full bloom right now. It wasn’t in the most ideal spot, but it’s settled in quite nicely.

Basic planting and maintenance
Rhodos do like their acidity. One simple way to do this is to top dress the soil around the trunk with pine needles. As they decompose they release elements into the soil underneath them which changes the pH to slightly acidic. They will reward you with more vigorous growth and better bloom set. They like some sun, but do not require full day exposure. Partial shade will suite them just fine.

Never plant a rhododendron or azalea too deeply. The root ball should be level with, or even slightly above, ground level. Also either check, or know, what your soil pH actually is so you give your new plant the best opportunity to flourish.

If you feel the urge to prune your Rhodo don’t do it until you visit marthastewart.com. A few years ago she had a great article in Living about how and when to prune Rhododendrons. It should be available to read on her website.

I hope you either own, or are willing to try, to grow a Rhododendron. They are a beautiful thing to behold in full bloom. You can purchase rather large pot-grown ones are (fairly) reasonable prices, but even a small one gives you something to hope for in the future.

And if there's one thing all of us can appreciate, it is doing whatever we can do to hope for a better tomorrow.


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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Recipe: 3-4 Servings of Veggies per Bowl? Canada Food Guide would be proud!

To feel safe and warm on a cold wet night, all you really need is soup. – Laurie Colwin

Anyone who doesn't love vegetables is really missing something special.
Photo: comprock, Flickr ccl
Adult males need 8-10 servings of vegetables and fruits per day and females 7-8. If you’re trying to get all your daily servings of the various food groups you can see how sometimes it can be a bit of a challenge.

But what is a serving? A serving of fresh, frozen or canned fruit or veggie is 1/2 cup. If it’s a leafy green that goes to 1 cup – like a salad, not packed "tight." A normal apple is 1 serving and a very large one is 2 (1 cup...), for example, so you only have 6-8 more to go for the rest of the day,

One thing you will find is that you do need to be a bit creative to keep your diet interesting. There’s no surer way to kill healthy eating than for your food consumption to become repetitive and/or boring. Use the Canada Food Guide like a "shopping basket" for what you need to eat. How you combine your food it is entirely up to you.

Luckily there’s literally tons (no pun intended) of vegetable and fruit recipes to titillate the taste buds. In my foraging posts I’ve been trying to introduce you to unusual ingredients. That’s one way to vary your diet.

Photo: CocoteauBoy, Flickr ccl
Another way is to use interesting combinations. One such recipe off the top of my head is black bean and pineapple enchiladas. Not only do they have a fruit and veg/protien but the salsa to accompany them has tomatoes and other veggies, there's cheese on top, they're wrapped in 1 serving of grain each... See what I mean?

I will be posting this recipe the near future.

A third way is to vary your cooking is with what I would call veggie “bombs.” One such bomb is minestrone. I posted a recipe for Genovese Minestrone earlier in the year that had no tomatoes but used pesto for its flavour carrier. Another way to “bomb” is to make vegetable dense puréed soups. Highly flavourful and highly nutritious.

Red peppers were on sale at the grocers last week, so it was time to do fire roasted red pepper soup. Pay attention to the sale items, use your creativity and you can dine well for less and keep your menus varied.

Recipe: Fire Roasted* Red Pepper Soup
Prep: 10 min  |  Broil: 5-10 min  |  Cook: 15 min
4 red peppers
1 large red onion
1 cup daikon (or other radish), cut into slices
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
1-1/2 cups pre-cooked potato, cubed
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp basil
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
4 cups chicken stock
1 tbsp tomato paste

* If you wish to truly fire roast, disregard the oven broiling directions and roast the veggies on your barbecue until blackened. Directions given are for broiling, which you can do indoors year round. Fire does give a better flavour.

Preheat the oven to broil and move a rack to broiler setting.

Cut the red peppers in half and remove the stems and seeds. Slice the onion into thick pieces. Arrange the red pepper skin side up, onion and daikon on a baking sheet. Broil until the peppers begin to show some scorching.

Remove from the oven and place the vegetables and garlic in a large stock pot. Add the olive oil and cook until vegetables begin to colour from the pan. 

Add the stock, tomato paste, herbs and red pepper flakes to the vegetables. bring to a boil, reduce the heat and let simmer for 5 minutes.

Using an immersion blender (stick blender), purée the vegetables in the cooking liquid until smooth. Add the potato and purée again. Cook for a few more minutes to blend.

Taste and add salt and pepper as desired.

Ladle into bowls and swirl some extra virgin olive oil on top of each bowl of soup. Serve hot with crusty bread.


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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Gardening: Don't sit under the apple tree with anyone else but me…

Anyone can count the seeds in an apple, but only God can count the number of apples in a seed. – Robert H. Schuller

The blossoms in Nova Scotia are just about peaking this weekend.
I thought I would post some musing about apples today because in Nova Scotia there is no better date in the whole year to do so. The blossoms are on full show and there's a festival this weekend.

The main title of the post is meaningful to me as well. The old wartime Andrews Sisters song has a lot of relevance for me as we DID sit out under the apple trees. Mind you it was the 1960s, not 1940s, but still...

This weekend is the 79th Annual Apple Blossom Festival in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia. Every year that area of the province, famous for its orchards and farms, celebrates one of its major crops with a weekend long festival. If you have the time and want a fun little road trip I suggest you take a drive down there and catch some of the festivities. 

All the info you need is at http://www.appleblossom.com/. The blossoms are at peak right now, and the sun will break through later today. I'm sure of it.

This old apple tree is so covered in blossoms you can't see the leaves!!
When I was young my two maiden Great Aunts looked after me. My mom and dad both worked so it fell to them, both in their 70s/80s, to entertain a toddler.

Their house was across the street from ours so it was an easy "commute". They had a large lawn out front of their home which was built on a natural knoll (or small hill) in the landscape. 

Flowering crabapple.
When they cleared the land they left several apple trees standing. The land where they built was part of a homestead and orchard owned by their mother and father, so I'm sure sentimentality had something to do with it. 

I can remember, even as a very small child, those apple trees arching over the driveway. They made a cool canopy for summer lawn chairs and an idyllic vantage point to watch the villagers and other seasons march by.

One of those seasons was of course Spring, and late each May those apple trees would become literally covered in sweet scened blooms.

There were then (and are this year) so many that they filled the air with a delicious fragrance. Subsequently we would also have "May snow" when the petals began to fall after the blossoms were pollinated.

Over the intervening 45 years these apple trees have grown greatly and still stand as old friends of happy times. Some years they bloom prolifically, some not as much.

It's a bit funny because I always remember them being large but it must be more of an instance of me being small so the trees looked larger than they were. Everything looks big when you're 3 feet tall, right? I will never think of Spring and Summertime with my aunts without a fond remembrance of their apple trees.

My remembrance of apple trees isn't the first thoughts most people have of them, I know. When most think of apple trees we think orchard, and big farms. But apples can be successfully, and beautifully, incorporated into a small garden. The apples that Aunt Hilda and Aunt Nettie grew weren't the greatest (actually pretty bad), but you can purchase the same varieties you buy in bags at inflated prices in the grocers. 

This is a wild apple tree at my Mother's. You don't have to have a fancy name
to be part of the fun.
Macintosh, Red and Golden Delicious, Northern Spy, Russet... You name it, you can grow it in your own garden. There are also grafted apples with multiple varieties on the same trunk if that makes you happier. The size of the trees sold in garden centres (at the price of about 15-20 bags of apples) are such that possibly within a year or two you could be harvesting your own sizeable crop.

Me? I've started a russet apple tree from a grocery store apple seed, and have a "summer apple" out back which yields in August. I'm debating what other kinds I want. The old apple trees out front are still going great, but are starting to show some age. I'll be certain to replace them as they pass. Probably with more "edible" varieties than are there now.

There is not much more beautiful than blossoming fruit trees in spring. Unless you're seriously after crop yield, let them grow naturally to twist and weave as they reach toward the sky. Apples may grow overhead, but underneath you will plant memories.


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Friday, May 27, 2011

Foraging 15 & Booze of the week: Go look on your lawn for…Dandelion Liqueurs

A weed is a plant that has mastered every survival skill except for learning how to grow in rows. – Doug Larson

They're literally everywhere!!!
So we have a lot of dandelions in Nova Scotia right now. People are calling in complaints to the City about dandelions on city property, and ordinary folks like me are fighting our usual Spring battle. So nothing is out of the ordinary, or is it?

It seems like all the wet weather we have had over the past month have encouraged the growth of our yellow friends. They do seem to be quite ferocious in some spots. Quite healthy looking...

So what do we do when something is growing well? We eat it! Or drink it in this case.

The red circled parts are the flower sepals. They are
bitter. They need to be trimmed off as well as the stem.
As a total aside, do you know where the name dandelion comes from?  In Old French they were dens lionis (lion’s tooth) because of the ragged leaves; in Middle English they were dent de lion.

If you remember from my previous posts, you can pick dandelion blossoms, batter and fry them. Everyone knows you can eat dandelion greens in a salad. An earlier post of mine also outlined how to make dandelion and burdock soda using the roots of both plants.

So it’s time to make some booze. Maybe a little inebriation will let us appreciate these wildflowers a little bit more. Ir at least not have the desire to rush at them waving a hoe.

Believe it or not patio weather will come sooner or later, so you’d better be prepared. Unless you’re the kind of person with friends who only drink beer you should probably arm yourself with some “company’s coming” liqueurs for mixing fancy drinks. And if you’re going to do that, you may as well make your liqueurs interesting.

My recommendations? Strawberry, rhubarb, definitely lavender, and one of these two Dandelion liqueurs (or both). Overall I find the floral liqueurs quite interesting. They add an herb yet sweet taste to mixed drinks. They make you think of blossoms. Of course, you can serve any or all straight up.

I just want to say this next bit to avoid any confusion. This is not dandelion wine. These liqueurs are an infusion from the flowers or roots into already distilled booze. No backyard “still,” carboy or whatever else is required.

If you want dandelion wine try here: http://winemaking.jackkeller.net/reques2.asp or here
Both recipes take months to age after fermentation, but apparently it's pretty good stuff.

Makes a great gift!
Dandelion Liqueur (2 ways)
2 quart mason jars
750 ml vodka*
dandelion roots and flowers
2 cup sugar
2 cup water
1/2 lemon, juice and rind

Flowers: cut off the small green parts around the bottom edge of the flowers. They’re bitter tasting. 

Roots: Dig up the roots and trim off any of the green. Wash the roots well and let them dry. Then chop up.

Fill 1/2 of each jar, one with flower heads and one with chopped roots. Add 1/2 of the vodka to each jar. Place a piece of lemon rind in each jar. Seal tightly. Let steep in the dark for 1 week (but not in your refrigerator). Every so often give the jars a shake.

After 1 week, strain the infused vodkas into two separate containers.

To make the sugar syrup, combine the sugar and water in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer, add the lemon juice and let simmer for 10 minutes.

Cool this syrup and then add half to each of the infused vodkas and bottle separately. Both liqueurs will be substantially different from each other.

A 50/50 ratio of vodka to syrup will render a liqueur of about 20% alcohol content.

I have been led to believe that the dandelion blossom liqueur does not have a shelf life longer than a couple weeks. The root liqueur will age for several months – that’s “age,” not necessarily “last,” if you get my drift...

* I have seen recipes where the base alcohol was gin or white rum, so feel free to experiment.


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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Foraging 14: Nasty Weed Pesto, otherwise known as Ground-elder Pesto

Earth was not built for six billion people all running around and being passionate about things. The world was built for about two million people foraging for roots and grubs. – Doug Coupland 

This used to be a flower bed...
Ground-elder (Aegopodium podagraria) is a perennial of the carrot family (Apiaceae) that grows in the shade. Perhaps I should say thrives in the shade, or invades the shade (or semi-shade or sun) areas of your garden. It goes by several other names including herb gerard, bishop’s weed, goutweed and snow in the mountain.

Photo: Wiki Creative
Ground-elder is not closely related to elder (sambucus), but they do have somewhat similar leaves and flowers. Confusion often arises when it is misspelled as two words: ground elder. It is always hyphenated.

Ground-elder can make a beautiful lush cover in difficult shady spots. There is also a variegated variety that you can purchase at certain garden centres. If you want any, I'll give it to you.

It flowers in umbrels composed of small white flowers not unlike Queen Anne’s Lace, which is in the same family. Ground-elder leaves grow to about 12” high. The flower set somewhat higher than the leaves.

Ground-elder can also be the most pernicious of the weeds. Once you have it established in your garden good luck trying to get rid of it. We had some sneak in under the neighbours fence several years ago. We were not vigilant and now it’s even coming up in the lawn. 

One info site says it’s “aggressive.” That’s an understatement. Hateful stuff it is. It quite literally will crowd out everything else if left unchecked. It also has the “interesting” ability to regenerate from even less than 1cm of root left in the soil. Good thing you can eat it…

Ground-elder as food
Ground-elder grows in North America, Britain, and Europe through to West Asia. In times past it has been an important food source in most of these regions. Its earlier popularity is easy to understand. It grows prolifically (to say the least) and you can begin to harvest early in the year when almost nothing else is available.

There are still good recipes to be found and it is often still eaten in parts of Scandinavia, Russia and Lithuania. Britain was introduced to ground elder by the Romans, who planted it as their legions marched. It grows so rampantly that they could be guaranteed a food source quickly.

Note the triangular shape of a cut stalk. No toxic lookalike
has this stem profile according to Wikipedia.
The best leaves to pick are the young “shiny” ones. You can note the difference when you see the plant. After flowering apparently the plant takes on a bitter taste.

You can stop flowering by pinching, this will ensure the plant remains edible if used more sparingly as a pot herb.

The stems of Ground-elder are triangular when cut (see photo). According to Wikipedia there is no toxic lookalike plant to ground-elder that has this triangular profile.

Medicinal properties
Ground Elder has a long history of medicinal use and was cultivated as a food crop and medicinal herb in the Middle Ages. The plant was used mainly as a food that could counteract gout, one of the effects of the rich foods eaten by monks, bishops etc at this time. The plant is little used in modern herbalism. 

All parts of the plant are antirheumatic, diuretic, sedative and vulnerary. An infusion is used in the treatment of rheumatism, arthritis and disorders of the bladder and intestines. Externally, it is used as a poultice on burns, stings, wounds, painful joints etc. The plant is harvested when it is in flower in late spring to mid-summer and can be used fresh or be dried for later use. A homeopathic remedy is made from the flowering plant. It is used in the treatment of arthritis and rheumatism.

The European Food Safety Authority examined claims about the benefits of ground-elder in maintaining or achieving a healthy body weight in 2009. Unfortunately they were not able at that time to verify the claims because of their inability to discover a cause and effect reference for the claim. But they do in their roundabout scientific way list Aegopodium as a food source.

I sacrificed one just so I could show you... Nasty stuff it is.
I have eaten ground-elder. I have survived. It tastes like a cross between parsley and carrot tops. Quite pleasant. If you have some of this “stuff” growing in your yard give it a taste. It’s a better way to try to get a grip on it than to poison everything in your back yard. (Just make sure it's from a place where your dogs or cats don't pee...)

Of course the standard warning: Only harvest from places that you know are unpolluted and ensure you are harvesting the plant you intend.

You can use ground-elder very much like spinach, kale or swiss chard (all of which are classified as “pot herbs”). I have used it as a seasoning in turkey burger patties and as a green topping in lieu of lettuce on burgers as well, with some tomato ad mayonnaise.

It probably wouldn’t be too bad in a smoothie with pear and yogurt. Or as a salad with dandelion greens and some balsamic vinaigrette... I also bet it would make one heck of a saag if you ran out of "lambs quarters."

I read on someone else’s blog that they successfully eradicated it by foraging. The problem was by the time they were through they had developed a taste for it! One never knows what seeds one sows...

Ground-elder Pesto with Walnuts
Pesto on spaghetti. Photo: diekatrin, Flickr ccl
2 cups ground-elder leaves, washed well
3/4 cup walnut pieces, toasted
1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 lemon juice and zest
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Place all ingredients except for the olive oil in a food processor. Pulse a few times to chop up. Add the olive oil in a thin stream until a paste forms. It may or may not take the full amount.

Taste and season with more salt and pepper if desired.

Stir into warm pasta with garlic sautéed shrimp, or just alone with pepper and parmesan on top. It can also be used as a delicious spread for pitas. Other recipes will follow I’m sure. I have an “over abundance” of the stuff in my back garden.

Note: leftover pesto can be frozen in an ice cube tray and then a cube or two added to stews or soups for a burst of flavour.


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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Recipe: Is there a least awful offal? Try Beef Heart Stew!

Vegetarian: an old Indian word for bad hunter. – Author unknown

Underused cuts of meat can be prepared in many excellent ways.
Photo: devittj, Flickr ccl
Since I’m on a health kick lately I been looking for high nutrient foods. I was instantly directed in my search to offal. I’m going out on a limb here by assuming that many of my readers do not consume offal on a regular basis. Or do you?

Most of us only eat the outside of the animals we butcher.
That's a waste. Photo: stevendamron, Flickr ccl
About Offal, from Wikipedia:
In some parts of Europe, scrotum, brain, chitterlings (pig's small intestine), trotters (feet), heart, head (of pigs, calves, sheep and lamb), kidney, liver, "lights" (lung), sweetbreads (thymus or pancreas), fries (testicles), tongue, snout (nose), tripe (reticulum) and maws (stomach) from various mammals are common menu items.

Ok, so if we check the list, all of us have had liver, wether we liked it or not, and many of us have had kidneys as well. 

If you have tasted those you start to understand that these types of meats are slightly stronger in flavour than the usual "muscle" cuts. But there is absolutely nothing wrong with consuming them.

I personally ate liver, heart and tongue when I was growing up. We didn’t always have a lot of money and these cheaper cuts allowed my parents to stretch the money they had. They’re also good for your health.

My mother and father used to boil heart and serve it sliced. I like it, but it’s a bit of an acquired taste that way (like any boiled meat its colour is grey...). 

This stew is a delicious way to serve heart. Tons of fluffy mashed potatoes soak up a gravy of red wine, mushrooms, olives and spices. It’s a deep flavour that pairs very nicely with a rainy day (again) and a glass of wine.

Stop going ewwww. If this was a steak you'd be drooling.
Photo: LucienTj, Flickr ccl
Here’s some nutrition info about beef heart:
  • Heart has high concentrations of CoQ10, vitamin Bs and folic acid which are building blocks for cell nutrition.
  • Beef heart contains selenium, phosphorus & zinc, and amino acids that help burn fat, store energy and boost stamina and endurance.
  • CoQ10 is highly protective against cancer. 
  • CoQ10 is present in every cell in the body and essential for cell production. 
  • 40% of our daily requirement of CoQ10 is in a single serving of heart.
  • heart has nearly no internal fat.

So if you have any room in YOUR heart for your family, perhaps you should start to cook more awfully…I mean “offal”ly. It’s about time we all started to eat more “nose to tail.” If we are going to use animals as food we should respect them enough to use all we take.

Nose to tail isn’t a new idea by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a process we have forgotten in our wasteful modern lifestyle. Our forefathers would be ashamed to see the amount we waste.

By the way, the meat for this meal for four only costs about $4 CAN. Food for thought?

Recipe: Beef Heart Stew
Prep: 15 min  | Total: 1 hour 30 min  |  Serves: 4

1 tbsp olive oil
1 lb beef heart
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
5 Roma tomatos, quartered
1 cup red wine
1/2 lb portobello mushrooms, cut in 1” pieces
3/4 cup kalamata olives
1/2 tsp sage
1/2 tsp thyme
salt and pepper

Mashed potatoes with cracked black pepper and butter for four large servings.

Prepare the beef heart by removing any visible fat and sinew. Chop into 1” pieces.

Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan. Brown the beef on all sides. It will not be cooked through. Remove to a bowl.

Add the onions to the pan and cook until they start to soften. Then add the garlic and fry for a few minutes. Pour the red wine into the pan scraping to remove any bits stuck to the bottom.

Add the mushrooms, tomatoes and beef, with any collected juices, into the pan.

Stir in the sage and thyme. Season with salt and pepper.

Cover and allow to simmer for 1/2 hour. Then add in the olives and let cook for a further 30 minutes.

Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve either on top of, or beside, lots of hot mashed potatoes.


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