Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Foraged Wild Green Pancakes, and Any Flower Syrup


I've forgotten how good it feels to be able to cook in my own kitchen, with ingredients gotten fresh from people who grow them. It's my second blog post since I returned to London, but only the first one about the sort of food I cook.

I've had people ask about the way I cook, and I go 'as local and organic as I can, with Asian influences, and usually very simple'. Then they roll their eyes. ‘Oh, pretentious.’ The whole seasonal, local, organic, sustainable thing is very trendy nowadays, and I almost wish it isn’t, because now it’s become an overused chefy/ hippie/ marketing concept.  (The whole Asian-influenced bit I get away with because my skin is yellow.) Believe it or not, I cook the way I do because it's 1. much fresher (hence healthier) 2. cheaper and most importantly, 3. it tastes better.


It is spring/ summer now in London and prime season for all kinds of wild plants. This also means it is prime season for foraging, in other words pinching unloved weeds off the land for your kitchen. Yes another pretentious trend, but only if you are foraging for the sake of hashtagging it and not actually eating it. 

Just within London, there are lots of spots where you can find edible plants off nature, and these plants are unfortunately going to waste because not many people recognise them as food. I last went foraging at Hampstead Heath, one (very) early morning. I’m not the greatest at recognising the edible ones from the ones that will kill you (lesson 1: my mum has taught me never to trust strangers, and certainly not to put them into my mouth), but I was lucky enough to have a friend who does know his shit with me. We were after the elderflowers– he for a posh crowd he was cooking for, and I for making syrup– but we came across alexanders, burdock, borage flowers, nettles, and a whole patch of wild garlic. We picked just enough for what we wanted (lesson 2: forage responsibly; if you're harvesting huge commercial amounts there will be no more fun for others!) and then hurried home before work began. 


Sean heading for elderflowers; Atiqa amidst nettles

The last two plants I identify easily even without Sean's advice. Yes I got stung by the nettles (lesson 3: wear long socks that don't slip). As for the wild garlic, a gentle rub of its lush green leaves releases the unmistakeable heavenly scent of garlic. It's coming to the end of the season now but the flowers are amazing too. Instead of a single recipe-focused blog post, I thought I'll share a couple of things I did with my foraged treasures. 

The first (very pretentious, local, seasonal, Asian-influenced) recipe is one for crepes made with wild garlic and rice flour, with a sweet-sour chilli dressing. It's inspired by the Vietnamese sizzling rice flour crepes banh xeo, but more tender and almost pancake-like because of the eggs.


WILD GREEN PANCAKES
serves 2
1 handful wild garlic leaves and flowers*
2 large organic free-range eggs
½ cup rice flour
2 tbsp tapioca flour
pinch of ground turmeric
water, to loosen
1 tsp fish sauce
sea salt and white pepper, to taste
groundnut oil, for frying

sweet-sour chilli dressing
½  cup apple cider vinegar
½ cup unrefined cane sugar
¼ cup fish sauce
1-2 Thai bird’s eye chillies, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped

Method
1. Whisk the eggs and flours together, adding water to loosen till you get a thin crepe-like batter. Use a bit of bicep work to make sure there are no lumps. Season with fish sauce, salt and pepper.
2. Heat an 8-inch frying pan till medium hot, and then add a little oil. When the oil is hot, pour just enough of the batter to get a thin layer covering the pan, swirling to distribute it evenly. 
3. Once the batter has started to set, add some of the wild garlic on top, then cover the pan for a minute until the pancake is fully cooked.  Remove the cover, and then flip the pancake over to fry on the other side, till both sides are golden brown.
4. Repeat till you finish the batter. 
5. Whisk all the ingredients for the dressing together until the sugar has dissolved. Pour over the warm pancakes to serve.


*You can replace this with your choice of fragrant greens/ herbs. 

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The second is for a flower syrup. You can use any flower, but obviously it has to be edible and it has to taste of something or it's just sugar-water. I used elderflowers in this one. Another nice one would be wild rose. You can pimp up your cocktails with this, pour it over cake, stir into fruits, whip through yogurt and top over granola, the possibilities are endless and you can have fun with it over the next 2-3 weeks.



ANY FLOWER SYRUP
Ingredients
1 cup water
3 cups unrefined sugar*
1 cup fresh edible flowers

Method
1. Tap the flowers and leave for a while for any insects to crawl off. You can rinse lightly but say with elderflowers, you do want the pollen bit.
2. Boil everything together for 10 min or until the mixture thickens into a syrup.
2. Strain through a muslin cloth into a glass jar and seal. Yeah, that's it.

*You can change up the taste by using different kinds of sugar– cane sugar, coconut sugar, palm sugar etc; or even try adding honey. 

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These are very versatile recipes so you can play around with whatever wild greens and flowers you get your hands on; or if you really don't like getting your hands dirty or your ankles stung, the pancakes would work with spring onions or any pungent herb, while the syrup would work with any edible flower you can get your hands on. Don't be a sissy though, because foraging is fun, and knowing that your 'organic seasonal local sustainable' food didn't cost you a thing, makes it somehow more delicious.

Oh last lesson: Try to pick where the dogs haven't been or you're going to get pee-tainted food.


More wild food adventures:
Wild garlic foraging and fried beehoon (Video!)
Steamed sea bass with crispy sea purslane
Free blackberry pie
Stinging nettle saag aloo

Thanks Sean @eatmygarden for the best outdoor lesson one can get.

Photos and tips of more of these wild plants on my newsletter. Do sign up– I only send good stuff.