Hawthorn Leather

Fruit leathers are a brilliant and simple way of preserving fruit, especially when it’s in excess or overripe and would otherwise go to waste. The basic principle is to purée the fruit (which can be combined to taste), spread it out and dry until no longer sticky. The “leather” can then be cut into strips or rolled up, will keep for a very long time, and is a handy healthy snack to keep on hand (no sugar needs to be added).

In this recipe, foraged blackberries are used to add flavour to the nourishing-but-plain-tasting haws, but the juice of other fruit (and a little sugar if really needed) can be added instead. Add a little water before step 2 if the pulp is too stiff. (Start with more information about foraging for haws.)

Poppy

Stumbling across a patch of poppies, a firework of red over a green or golden field, is the joy of my summer hikes. There is little danger of mistaking them for anything else. A few recipes:

Foraging

I fell in love with foraging when I moved to the edge of the city, with fields and woods within a few minutes’ walk. Nature walks and learning the names of birds and plants had already changed my relationship to the living world around me; foraging introduced a whole new degree of intimacy, eating of the wilderness to make it part of the substance of my body. I started to experience seasonality directly (things grow when they grow), with the attendant acceptance and relinquishing of control, and also to acquire our ancestors’ instinct for where and when to find plants. There is also the wonder of the landscape changing constantly, of flavours not available in shops, and the relationship to place.

While I’m hoping these foraging notes of mine will encourage others to venture into the woods, this is not an invitation to see all of nature as a free buffet we are entitled to. Please be sure to start with the ethics and practical advice below.

Foraging Ethics

Robin Wall Kimmerer, a biologist of Potawatomi heritage, offers precious guidance for respectful foraging in The “Honorable Harvest”: Lessons From an Indigenous Tradition of Giving Thanks (also a TED talk):

The canon of indigenous principles that govern the exchange of life for life is known as the Honorable Harvest. They are “rules” of sorts that govern our taking, so that the world is as rich for the seventh generation as it is for us.

The Honorable Harvest, a practice both ancient and urgent, applies to every exchange between people and the Earth. Its protocol is not written down, but if it were, it would look something like this:

  • Ask permission of the ones whose lives you seek. Abide by the answer.
  • Never take the first. Never take the last.
  • Harvest in a way that minimizes harm. 
  • Take only what you need and leave some for others.
  • Use everything that you take. 
  • Take only that which is given to you. 
  • Share it, as the Earth has shared with you. 
  • Be grateful. 
  • Reciprocate the gift.
  • Sustain the ones who sustain you, and the Earth will last forever.

Practical Advice

To the above points, I would add:

  • Err on the side of caution. Only pick plants you can identify with certainty, and let someone experienced teach you how to recognize the trickier ones. This is especially important for mushrooms! It is wise to learn about poisonous plants in your area in addition to edible ones.
  • Avoid collecting from the sides of busy roads, industrial areas, near farms that spray pesticides, and other contaminated areas. Small amounts from such places may not be harmful, but the effect of heavy metals and chemicals can be cumulative and show over time.
  • Refrain from collecting roots in the wild. Many are edible, of course, but when you collect the roots, you kill the plant, and the wilderness can’t afford this anymore. We have to be content with the renewable parts of a plant.
  • What you need to go foraging depends on what you aim to collect. If you’re starting out and just picking what turns up at this stage, keep some paper bags on you (useful for most things) and maybe one small tupperware (for instance for poppy seeds or juicy berries). As you gain experience, you’ll know what you like and how to be prepared. A pair of snips and garden gloves are helpful for certain things.

For more information

It’s always recommended to learn about a plant from several different sources before attempting to collect and eat it. On this blog I only post plants that cannot be mistaken for a toxic look-alike, but if you want to expand your range, it’s really advisable to check whether such “evil twins” exist. Here are a few useful sites that are reliable as far as I can tell.

Plant identification and foraging info:
Properties of plants:

Full List of Recipes

I started drawing recipes a few years ago to make them easier to follow, both for my own sake and to spread the love of cooking around, and they have proliferated beyond control. I focus mostly on simple recipes requiring little to no exotic ingredients or kitchen gadgets, with the occasional jazzy number. A notable exception are traditional recipes, which tend to be slow and labour-intensive; all the more reason to make them more accessible through a pictorial treatment. (A good number have been gathered in recipe books, available in my shop.)

Here is the full list of my recipes posted to date, and you can also use the tags in the margin to look for specific requirements. Nearly all the recipes are vegetarian, so there is no tag for that. Sahtein!

Main courses:

Pasta
Pizza & Flatbreads
Curry
Fish 
Other

Sides and Salads:

Warm
Cold
Rice
Foraged

Stews and Soups

Foraged

Breakfast

Bread:

Savoury
Sweet 

Desserts:

Cakes
Cookies & Bite-sized
Other
Foraged

Drinks:

Foraged:

Pantry Basics & Preserves:

Foraged:

 

Ingredients for DIY Cleaners

These are the basic ingredients in my cleaning cupboard: these are all I need to make all the cleaning recipes on this blog (sometimes with addition of kitchen ingredients). In addition to being non-toxic, they’re all easy to source with minimal or no plastic, which is equally important to me.

Bicarbonate/Baking soda (any grade)

You could almost use nothing but baking soda for all cleaning purposes, it’s so versatile. I order “Dri Pak Ltd Bicarbonate Of Soda” on eBay or Amazon, which comes in 500g cardboard boxes. (In the US, the omnipresent Arm&Hammer is also packed in card.)

White vinegar

A natural disinfectant and descaler, its smell disappears as it dries so don’t let that put you off. I used to buy distilled vinegar in glass bottles (and still for some uses, like descaling the kettle), but I now use my home-fermented kombucha vinegar for most of my cleaning. Live vinegar is less strong but smells better and spreads beneficial bacteria around, making it much harder for harmful bacteria to thrive.

Liquid soap

There is nothing easier than liquefying a soap bar, so although this is an all-important ingredient, I never buy it, thereby avoiding both the plastic bottles and the inflated cost. Instead, I pick up soap bars whenever I come across one, especially the basic unscented ones: savon de Marseille, savon d’Alep, castile bar soap, which are wrapped only in paper, if even that. I also pick up scented bars but I reserve these to make handwash. I keep them all in my wardrobe (where they deter moths) until needed, and they go an incredibly long way: A 120g bar will make 1 liter liquid soap (4 cups)!

To make liquid soap: Bring water to the boil in the amount of 250-500ml (1-2C)* for each 30g (1oz) of soap. Grate the soap and mix it into the boiling water till dissolved. Let cool 12 to 24 hours: it will thicken. Give it a vigorous mix to fully incorporate before storing or using it. You can always add some water if it needs thinning (if you do, tiny soap “beads” may form, but they’re only soap that’s not fully dissolved).

*Depending on how thoroughly your soap bar has been dried. In my experience, savon de Marseille and Dr Bronner’s Castile Bar Soap are driest and require the most water; handmade soaps are moistest and require less water; traditional soaps like baladi, Aleppo are in-between. When tryign a new bar, it’s a good idea to start with only 30g soap and 1C water and see what happens (and note down your results!)

Essential Oils

Any essential oil that’s safe to breathe can be used in cleaning, and I like to add lavender to my laundry soap. But here are three cleaning staples, used for their properties rather than their scent:

  • Lemon: Disinfects and cuts through grease. It can be replaced with the fresh, strained juice of a lemon, but this reduces the product’s shelf life.
  • Rosemary: Kills mold and mildew.
  • Clove: The most powerful germicide/antimicrobial oil. Other good but less powerful germicides: tea tree, cinnamon, bay and thyme. These also extend the shelf life of the product containing them, by preventing mold.

Cheap vodka

Alcohol is a great sterilizer, and cheap vodka is easy to find. Mixed with water in equal portions, it does a great job of cleaning surfaces and appliances.

That’s it! Combined together in different ways depending on need, they leave my home feeling fresh without being as life-stripped as the surface of the moon.

Here are two more ingredients that I don’t use myself, but can be useful to know:

Citric Acid: This substance which is available as a white powder is found naturally in lemon and other citrus, so it’s actually edible. It’s also cheap and comes in cardboard (look for the brands Dri-Pak Ltd or Clean & Natural). Like vinegar, it counters water hardness, but it also creates foam (making it a major ingredient in bath bombs, for instance). Like lemon essential oil, it is antibacterial, antiseptic and efficiently cuts through grime. It makes a brilliant kettle descaler, but it can apparently take the enamel off toilet bowls, so check before using on other surfaces. Also note that while safe in general, it can aggravate pre-existing respiratory problems.

Hydrogen peroxide: I’m not too keen on this, but for those who feel the need for something more sterilizing than vinegar, this is a better alternative to the highly poisonous chlorine bleach. Available in pharmacies in small glass bottles, it can be transferred to a spray bottle to maximize its usefulness.

Mighli (Caraway cream)

This is more than a dessert: in Lebanon it is traditionally prepared to celebrate a birth and also for Christmas (because baby Jesus). Ground caraway and even aniseed are not regular fare in Western supermarkets but you’ll find it in spice shops, Middle-Eastern shops, and if all else fails, try eBay, or just grind the whole seeds, which seem to be more common.
I’ll admit that this is not my favourite, but I love making it for friends who just had a happy event, and it is meant to be good for the mother after giving birth, with all these energy-packing nuts.

Bobalki

The Slovak Christmas Eve supper consists of twelve meatless dishes representing the twelve Apostles, and these bread balls sweetened by honey are one of them. It seems however that they predate Christianity, and in the central European Pagan tradition were made around the winter Solstice to communicate with the ancestors.

Ground walnuts can replace the poppy seeds; in which case, skip step 8!

Mákos Guba

In Hungary, the day-old, dry bread used for this recipe is kifli, a crescent-shaped bread roll (npothing to do with a croissant!) but any stale bread will do. It’s actually a good way to use bread left over from the holiday meals, if you’re happy to have it for Boxing Day instead, or it can be a way to use bread for breakfast similar to pain perdu (French toast).

Zimtsterne

These cinnamon starts are allegedly THE German Christmas cookie. The vanilla sugar that is required is simply a way of adding a vanilla flavour without using liquid. You can make your own (well in advance) by simply placing a vanilla pod in a jar and filling it with sugar, which after a few weeks will be infused with the spice.

Melomakarona

Also known as finikia, these cookies are closely related to Lebanese maakaroun, though the latter are far less elaborate.  They are an essential part of a Greek Christmas, but leftovers will comfortably last for a few weeks after, thanks to being soaked in syrup! Do not refrigerate, as that makes them harden.

Turrón de Navidad

This “Christmas nougat” dates back to the turun of Moorish Spain. This variety is made with only three ingredients, and as it contains only honey and no sugar, the result is not too hard. You can add some extra flavour in step 6 such as orange blossom water or cinnamon.

Pompe à Huile

Christmas in Provence is famous for its thirteen desserts, symbolizing Christ and the twelve Apostles. The exact items tend to vary from place to place or even family to family, but they typically include nuts, dried and fresh fruits, calissons (marzipan-like candy), quince paste, black and white nougat, and the crown of them all, the sweet bread known as pompe à huile.

Blueberry Chocolate Mousse

This is a very rich dessert that involves no added sugar at all. Other fruits can be used, for instance raspberries go equally well with dark chocolate. The heavy cream can actually be replaced with coconut cream, which whips equally well, if you like the additional coconut taste. You can also replace the butter with coconut oil to really minimize the dairy/animal fat (you’ll only be left with what the chocolate contains). Either way, pour into small cups as you won’t need a big portion to feel satisfied.

Mohallabiyeh (Rice cream)

Another classic Lebanese dessert that I’m sure is also known to other cultures under other names. It’s understated, which is really nice, not too sweet, and you can always play around with the flavour, for instance replacing the orange blossom water with vanilla extract, or lemon extract, amaretto and so on. I have not tried it with non-dairy milk but I think it would work, as the rice powder is the thickener. It won’t thicken a lot in step 3, but after a night in the fridge it will be thick enough to eat with a spoon.

Madeleines

One of the promises I made regarding this blog is there would NOT be paragraphs of Proustian moments (or dozens of photos) before you can get to the recipe. Instead I give you the root of all Proustian moments — the madeleine itself! Such a lovely little cake, not overly sweet, and very, well, French. It does dry out after the first day, and that makes a big difference, so I only make them for gatherings. Madeleine are usually made in specialized baking tins to give them their scallop shape, but mini cupcake tins work just as well, or use regular-size cupcake tins and underfill them.

Simsimiyeh (Sesame candy)

This can be a bit tricky to get right. Too hot and it’ll be hard, not hot enough and it won’t caramelize. If you’re familiar with candymaking, the idea here is to reach a “firm-ball” stage (118-121ºC/245-250ºF on a thermometer).

Sfouf (Lebanese turmeric cake)

Sfouf is a plural (meaning “rows”, referring to how they’re cut), just like “brownies”, and as much a classic of Lebanese homebaking as brownies are in the US (as far as I know). Although again, the attraction of western things is such that sfouf have been somewhat left by the wayside while brownies and co. are widely available in coffeeshops and restaurants. Ah well.

Sfouf have a dense texture, are not too sweet (at least with this recipe), and have a startling orange colour due to the turmeric, which also gives them a particular taste hard to describe. To make them more nutty, you can pour half the batter into the pan, sprinkle nuts liberally, then pour the second half before creating the grid.

Below is the original recipe, followed by a vegan version!

Orange-Poppy Cake

The first time I made this cake, it didn’t look like much and I was a bit self-conscious bringing it to a party. But not a crumb was left, and six months later I was still hearing about “THAT cake”! At the time I used a blood oranges as that’s what I had on hand. Lemon could be substituted as well.
Prepare the glaze (steps 5-6) towards the end of the baking, so that both are warm when it is poured over.

Sweet Galette

This slightly odd pastry is very mild and pleasant. It’s great for tea- or coffee-time, and you can sprinkle more sugar or even jam or chocolate on top if you have a sweet tooth. The double cream + milk can be substituted with 3/4C half-and-half (total, not each), and you could also just use 3/4 milk and leave out the cream altogether.