Don’t underestimate nettles, try them in Nettle & Paneer Koftas!

Nettles, to my way of thinking are one of the most underrated free vegetables that we have. They contain 10%  protein which is more than any other vegetable, they are packed full of iron, contain vitamin A, C and D, along with potassium and calcium.

They’re also a natural antihistamine. So if you suffer with allergies including hay fever, it makes sense to try and include as much nettle into your diet as possible. Now that you know all of this, please don’t dig them up out of your garden without at least pinching the crown out of each one and giving them a try. If you like the irony taste of spinach, you’ll feel the same way about nettles.

Before you know it, buying spinach at the green grocers will be a thing of the past and you’ll be cultivating that patch of nettles rather than digging them up!

The best time to harvest nettles is when the first delicate growth makes an appearance in May, after that the stalks become woody and tough and the larger the leaf the more bitter it is and once they flower, you’re better off leaving them alone. Before the flowers appear, just pinch off the very top leaves to use. If you have a patch of nettles, as long as you regularly chop them down (maybe with a strimmer), new growth will keep appearing for you to pick.

I made some lovely Nettle and Paneer Koftas last night and thought that you might like to give them a try. Please don’t do what I did though – I forgot that I’d used nettles and tasted a spoonful of the raw mixture to check that there was enough salt in the mixture! After that, I wasn’t sure if I’d used too much chilli or that I’d stung my tongue! Taste the mixture BEFORE you add the nettles – ouch.

NETTLE & PANEER KOFTAS

Collect around 10 nettle tops (using rubber gloves) and chop them finely along with a handful of fresh coriander. Put the coriander in a large bowl, but put the nettles to one side to add at the end!

Chop the nettles, but don’t forget to keep the gloves on if you’re moving them around the chopping board!

To the bowl add half a block of grated paneer (you can buy it from most supermarkets now, or have a go at making your own – the recipe is on this blog), 1 small onion finely chopped, a 5cm (1″) piece of ginger grated, 1 clove garlic crushed; chilli to taste (use fresh, ground or flakes) along with 3tblsp chickpea flour (also known as gram flour, this is available from most supermarkets in the world food section). You could add 3 tblsp processed canned chickpeas instead with 1tblsp normal flour added to the mixture.

Spices1/2 tsp of ground coriander and cumin and 1/4 tsp turmeric and garam masala. If you haven’t got all of these, just add the ones that you have.

Add 1tsp salt (or to taste), 1tblsp oil and the juice of half a lemon.

Mix well and taste at this point so that you can add more salt/chilli/lemon juice. Finally add the stinging nettles and a little more flour if the mixture seems overly wet. Give everything a good stir. You want a mixture that holds its shape.

Thick mixture

Take desert spoons of the mixture and put them onto greaseproof paper. Try and make them into some sort of shape so that they hold together during the frying process. I made quenelles with mine using 2 spoons.

Fill a wok/deep pan half full of oil and heat. The oil is ready when you drop a piece of bread in, it will sizzle gently.

Gently and carefully slide the kofta into the oil, not too many at a time so as not to reduce the oil temperature too much and fry until golden.

These can also be baked in the oven if preferred, just make sure you spray/brush each kofta with oil before putting in a medium oven until golden.

Draining the kofta after frying

I served mine with a mushroom curry sauce and rice. They are also good served with cucumber raita with drinks.

Nettle and Paneer Kofta – worth leaving the nettles in the garden for!

Cooking in the woods – a foraged feast of Pignuts and Fungus!

My Dad used to talk a lot about the Pignuts that he ate as a child, telling me about them tasting like a cross between celery, parsnip and fresh nuts and that he used to carefully find his way down the plant with a stick, to find the tasty buried treasure, hidden in the soil below. I found out a lot about wild food from my Dad, but never got round to finding pignuts with him.

A couple of weeks ago, I asked my local Countryside Rangers if they knew of anywhere that pignuts grew. I was really excited when I found out that not only had they found some, they’d also got permission for us to dig some up! Pignuts are protected, so you need the landowners permission to dig them up and don’t forget that every bit of land in the UK is owned by someone. You could have a look in your own back garden to see if there are any lurking there – then you can give yourself permission to dig!

We decided to make a morning of it and meet up at the ‘secret location’ (very James Bond) with equipment and ingredients so that we could cook up a feast in the woods!

The pignut plant is very similar to other species of umbellifer (such as hemlock and fools parsley), some of which are poisonous – so it’s important that you correctly identify it. Even though it’s called a pignut, the part you unearth and eat, is actually a tuber.

We found a patch of ground that had a lot of pignut plants on it, which unfortunately were growing in heavily matted grass weed. This was going to make digging down for the pignuts a lot more difficult!

Our first sighting of a patch of pignut flowers

I understand why my Dad told me that he needed a solid stick to assist in the digging – I looked around for a stick to help us carefully dig out the fragile stem, but could only find deadwood which was no help at all! Luckily, Morgan had brought some cutlery to use and along with a sharper knife, we were able to dig our way down.  It’s important not to cut through or break the stem as you will lose your way down to the tuber. We dug down as carefully as an archaeologist unearthing a piece of history!

A close up of the ‘umbels’ of the pignut – the flower formations are called umbels.

After clearing some of the grass away so that we could see the stem more clearly, we started to dig carefully down with a knife.

Carefully digging down

The stem twists and turns like a twisty, turny thing making the journey down to the nut, perilous! We had a couple of shouts of ‘yesssss!’ only to pick out a stone which looked like it might have been tuber treasure. Finally, Nige pulled out a dry clump of soil which promised great things!

*squeal* it’s a pignut!

After some gentle dusting off, we’d found a lovely heart shaped pignut. Not all pignuts are heart shaped, we liked to think that this one was special – just for us!

The outer skin peels off very easily to reveal a milky white nut.

Our heart shaped pignut still attached to its stem.

We decided to cut the pignut into three so that we could all try a piece before we dug any more up. If we didn’t like them, we were going to leave them there! The texture was similar to a raw chestnut – quite mealy but pleasantly crunchy. The taste was celery straight away, leading on to nutty parsnip and then a lovely sweet ‘cake’ kind of taste. We decided to crack on and dig some more up. Soon, we had a few to take away with us for our woodland feast.

Our pignut harvest

Morgan had previously spotted some ‘Chicken of the Woods’ which she  took us to see. She’d already cut a small amount off for her supper a couple of weeks earlier, but had left the rest there for another day! Chicken of the Woods is an edible fungus that grows on trees. It’s one of the few fungi that is easily recognised as being edible, it’s very difficult to confuse it with anything else. It has layers of yellowish white structures, which grow out of trees. Don’t eat any Chicken of the Woods that you find growing on Eucalyptus, Yew, Conifers or Cedar Trees as these can upset delicate tummies – any other trees are fine. It’s supposedly called Chicken of the Woods because of it tasting rather like chicken.

Chicken of the Woods hiding behind a piece of holly!

We spotted another one, although it was a little bit too far up for us – but it looks so tasty!

The lower down clump was soon cut off and put in the basket for our lunch!

We set up the tiny camping stove in a clearing with a fallen down tree to act as a place to sit. There, we chopped up the Chicken of the Woods and our Pignuts and started to cook. If you’ve never cooked outdoors before (other than in your back garden when you’ve got the barbecue out – that doesn’t count!) you should give it a go. It’s something that connects you with nature and feeds your soul as well as feeding your body.

We melted some butter in the pan and added the Chicken (otW) with some salt and pepper. We cooked it quite a bit longer than you would mushrooms and then added a splash of cream and some Wild Garlic and Walnut Pesto along with the chopped Pignuts. The fungus was lovely, it has the same smell as mushroom but has a chewier texture and is a lot like chewing a piece of Quorn and the crunchier texture of the pignuts was a perfect accompaniment. I certainly didn’t get the ‘like chicken’ taste, but can imagine that if you’re down on your luck meat wise, finding a piece of Chicken of the Woods would certainly give you something meaty to chew on for your supper.

I’d brought along some Wild Garlic and Cheese scones which was great to mop up all of the wonderful juices left in the pan.

Woodland Feast? DONE!

The texture of Chicken of the Woods makes it a perfect sponge for absorbing different flavours. It soaks moisture up in the same way as an aubergine. When I got home, I cooked the rest of the CotW and this time pan fried it very gently with some butter and garlic. Then to give more moisture to the cooking Chicken of the Woods, I cubed a courgette to add to the pan. I put the lid on and left it all to braise together. When the lid came off, the Chicken of the Woods had turned a beautiful golden colour which looked just like perfectly roasted chicken. It had absorbed all of the butter, garlic and courgette juices and was delicious. If you find a clump of Chicken of the Woods on your walk, I’d recommend that you cut off what you need and take it home, or better still go back the next day armed with a camping stove and cook it just where it grows.

Chicken in the Woods really is a funghi to be with :-/

Home made butter, jam and vanilla scones – Jubilee food!

As a child, I loved making butter, bread and growing cress to make every part of the cress sandwich that I was going to eat. I loved all of the processes and felt very clever when I sat there eating something so simple and so good!

Butter making was my favourite bit. My Dad showed me how to make it with creamy milk, in a jam jar. We took it in turns to shake the jam jar until small, wet pearls of butter sat on top of the watery milk. Not much butter to go round, but it was delicious!

This is a great project to do with your children during half term in readiness for your afternoon Jubilee tea!

Butter making is a doddle with a food processor and from a large tub of double cream (which was in the reduced section at our local supermarket), we got a good amount of butter.

Our butter, decorated with pretty Borage flowers

How to make butter

Pour the cream into the food processor and turn it on. You’ll hear it slosh around a lot and then all of a sudden the sound will change to a dull thud when the butter ball bumps onto the sides of the processor bowl. The liquid that has separated from the butter is buttermilk and this (handily!) can be used in scone making. Pour off the liquid and put to one side. We were going to use the butter straight away, but if you want to keep it for any length of time you need to wash the butter to remove every last trace of butter milk or it will quickly go rancid. To wash the butter just pour some very cold water (if the water is even slightly warm, you will melt the butter) into the processor bowl with the butter and process again for 15-20 seconds, strain and repeat the process until the water is clear.

Scones

Everyone has their own scone recipe and butter milk can be substituted in any recipe for the liquid that you would normally use. Our recipe is: sieve together 225g (8oz) self raising flour and 1tsp baking powder in a large bowl or in the bowl of a food processor. Add 40g (1 1/2 oz) butter and either rub it in, or process until the butter has disappeared. Add 150ml (1/4 pt) buttermilk and 1tsp vanilla extract and pulse or stir gently until a soft, sticky dough is formed. You may need a little more or a little less buttermilk, depending on the flour.

Tip out onto a floured surface and roll out to 2cm (3/4 inch) and cut out circles with a glass or a cutter. Put onto a baking tray lined with paper. Bake at 220C (425F) Gas 7 for about 10 minutes until golden and risen.

Fresh from the oven.

We made a very small amount of low sugar strawberry jam, which didn’t set very well but tasted heavenly! We kept the rest of it in a jam jar, in the fridge and used it on ice cream.

If I had best china and a best teapot, we’d have got it out for this occasion!  Instead we sat out in the garden with our wonderful cream tea and huge smiles on our faces!

It seemed rude not to add the obligatory clotted cream – we didn’t make it though!