Three kinds of tasty, nutritious leafy green vegetables have survived in my Mudgee garden despite the harshest summer ever. They’re all “wild” greens- chicory and sorrel, which also grow on local roadsides and river banks, and Warrigal Greens, an Australian native plant which grows on sand dunes close to coastal rivers and beaches. With winter on the way and shopping trips drastically curtailed I’m making the most of these right now.
(L) Chicory flower, (R) tender chicory leaves
Chicory’s pretty blue flowers are often seen on country roadsides in spring and summer. It’s growing happily in part shade in my garden, and with recent rain there are lots of very tender new leaves. The leaves can be added to salads for a tart/bitter zing. When cooked they’re still tart, but with an elusive sweet-ish flavour in there as well. I’m careful to use only tender, young leaves. Older leaves are edible, but are tougher and can be slightly prickly!
Here’s the recipe I use, from my Greek cook book. A variety of wild greens can be used- but chicory is a favourite used in this traditional dish.
Horta (serves 4)
- 1kg chicory, endives, silver beet or other leafy green vegetable (leaves and tender stems)
- Olive oil
- Lemon juice
- Trim the leaves and stems and wash very carefully. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. If the stems are thick, add these first and cook a little, then add the leaves. Cook over high heat until tender. (This just takes a few minutes.)
- When tender, drain and serve hot or cold with olive oil and lemon juice to taste.
Chicory horta, tonight’s greens sorted
Several years ago I purchased a packet of French Sorrel seeds and I’ve had sorrel in my garden ever since as it self-seeds every year. It’s past its best in autumn but is having a bit of a resurgence thanks to the recent rain.
Important note– For centuries sorrel has been cultivated around the world for culinary use. It has a high content of oxalic acid, so consumption should be limited- a bowl of sorrel soup every couple of months is perfectly safe and delicious.
French Sorrel, a bit shabby after a tough summer, but still tender and ready to use in the French culinary classic, sorrel soup.
Sorrel is most commonly used in sauces and soups. Sorrel soup is a famous dish made with eggs, chicken stock, and cream. Pureed sorrel sauce is served with fish. Young, fresh sorrel leaves are also mixed into salads for their lemony flavour.
Here’s the recipe I use for tangy, lemony sorrel soup cooked in the French style.
• 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 1/2 cup chopped spring onions
• 4-6 cups of chopped sorrel, packed
• 3 tablespoons flour
• 1 litre chicken stock or vegetable stock
• 2 egg yolks
• 1/2 cup cream
1. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the spring onions and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover the pot and cook gently for 10 minutes.
2. While the onions are cooking, pour the stock into another pot and bring to a simmer.
3. Turn the heat up on the spring onions, add the sorrel leaves and a good pinch of salt and stir well. When the sorrel is mostly wilted, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and cook 10 minutes. Stir occasionally. Mix in the flour and cook over medium heat for 3 minutes, stirring constantly.
4. Whisk in the hot stock, stirring constantly. Bring this to a simmer.
5. Whisk together the egg yolks and cream. Temper this mixture by ladling a little soup into it with one hand, while you whisk the egg-cream mix with the other. Repeat this three times. (This slowly heats the eggs so as to prevent them from scrambling.) Now start whisking the soup. Pour the hot egg-cream-soup mixture into the soup pot, whisking constantly. Add the final tablespoon of butter. Let this cook — below a simmer — for 5 minutes. Do not let it boil or the soup will separate. Serve at once.
Warrigal Greens (aka Coastal Spinach, New Zealand spinach or Botany Bay greens)
This was one of the first native Australian vegetables to become popular with European “settlers”. Captain James Cook encouraged his men to eat them to prevent scurvy. The plant was taken back to England by the botanist Joseph Banks and became popular there for a time.
(L) harvest of tender leaves and shoots, (R) Bountiful crop following the summer rain,
Growing up on the coast, I was familiar with this plant, but was never tempted to eat it due to its usual dry and straggly-looking appearance. Recently I was given some seeds and found it grows incredibly well in my Mudgee garden- lush, green and tender. After the late summer rain it has taken off! It will die down in winter but it survived the frost OK last year.
Important note: Warrigal Greens leaves contain oxalates, which can be harmful if consumed in large quantities. To remove the oxalates, blanch the leaves for 3 minutes or so, then rinse in cold water before using.
I use the tenderest leaves and shoots and it’s a really good alternative to baby spinach. The blanching step is very quick and easy.
(L) Blanching the Warrigal Greens, and (R), after rinsing in the colander.
Once the leaves have been rinsed, squeeze them gently and they’re ready to use. As you can see, they retain their emerald green colour and don’t wilt down the way spinach does. The leaves can be eaten on their own with olive oil and lemon juice, or stirred through soups and stews.
(L) Squeezed blanched leaves ready to use; (R) Yellow dal with Warrigal Greens, garlic and chilli.
If you’re interested in this post, you may also like to have a look at a post I did last year, when I went foraging for wild greens on the Goulburn River. Here it is: Wild greens harvest on the Goulburn.
Are wild greens on the menu in your part of the world?