Saturday, May 19, 2012

Wild, free..... and tasty

It's rare to find anything for free these days, but right now all over Ireland, swathes of wild garlic are growing wild underneath hedges, in woodland and possibly right under your nose.

From April to June this tasty plant is plentiful in this upland area of Wicklow. Once I climb over a five bar gate it's free for the picking... after I shoo aside my neighbour Michael's sheep who are possibly more competitive about food than me.

Wild garlic grows from April through to June and you'll often find it in damp, woody and often neglected areas where animals aren't grazed. Most farmers consider it a weed, particularly as each year it seems to spread further along the banks of the Dargle river and throughout the hedgerows dotted along the Dublin and Wicklow mountain.
I simply head out with a bucket, gather a bundle - long green stems and pretty white flowers and incorporate it into any recipes I can. It adds a zing of Spring flavour to salads, chopped into omelettes and makes a great pesto. That's the joy of seasonal food - you only have it for a while so it's nice to make the most of it, and when the season ends, move on to something else.

Last year my husband took to making pesto in a big way. I was delighted - after all, what a fabulous way to monetize the local environment, and him. Over last Winter we overdosed on pesto so we're doing less of it this year, and using the wild garlic in other ways.

Soups are a simple and comforting way of eating more vegetables, use up food and experiment with new flavours.

The carrot and coconut soup pictured above is a perfect candidate for wild garlic - I chop the leaves into the carrots while cooking, then add a final sprinkle of flowers when it's served. It's also an easy and versatile soup without any garlic. More importantly - it's really simple, and one of my regular family dishes for the "30 minutes before all hell breaks loose" slot to rustle up dinner.

Carrot, coconut and curry soup

8 carrots
500ml vegetable stock or stock cube
1 tin coconut milk
1 and a half teaspoon curry powder

Peel and chop the carrots, place into a large pot with the stock or stock cubes. Bring to the boil then simmer for 20 minutes.
Add the curry powder and more water as required. When the carrots have softened blitz the mixture and add in the tin of coconut milk. Blitz again, set back on a low heat and add more curry powder to taste.
That's it. Told you it was simple.

It serves four people and the curry powder gives it a lovely deep flavour for a single vegetable soup.

If you're thinking of foraging for wild garlic, anywhere near damp land or river banks is a good place to start. Avoid picking plants near run-off from farms. In woodland you'll find some of the best wild garlic, anywhere you see bluebells you'll probably also spot its pretty white blossom, so grab a bundle and bring it home.

And here's some of Michael's sheep thinking my white colander was a feed bucket.

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