Category Archives: Foraging

Wild Green Paleo Pie – Foraging the wilderness for food

By | Foraging, Paleo | 2 Comments

Did you know how easy it is to forage for wild greens near where you live? Watch my foraging video to see how much I was able to gather in less than 30 minutes. The video shows you a method that is very popular in the Mediterranean for cooking wild herbs & greens. These bitter herbs benefit greatly from braising in olive oil. The fat soluble nutrients can then be absorbed by our digestive tract and with the increased bio-availability, you get all the benefits without having to force yourself to eat a challenging salad of rough wild greens. Also, I used the braised greens to make a pan-fried wild herb Paleo pie. The recipe for the pie will be found in my upcoming cookbook, Quirkier Cooking (early 2017).

 

The Urban Olive

By | Foraging | 10 Comments

Consider an olive tree, full of large juicy fruit with hues of green, red and black. It’s there, and it’s free, waiting to be picked and turned into food. If this tree was in the middle of nowhere, which incidentally is the worst part of nowhere, I’d understand if the fruit went undiscovered and met its maker as it dropped off the branch – death by natural causes. But if this tree is in the middle of a thriving suburb, with thousands passing by it daily, isn’t it a crime for the fruit to go to waste?

I found this little olive tree in Newtown! Yes, Newtown – the urban center of alternative bohemia, the old and the new, the deeply carnivorous and the savagely vegetarian, the eco-conscious and the overconsumer, the good, the bad and the ugly. Newtown has it all. Sure it does. For some reason though, it still isn’t the kind of place people would consider foraging to be an acceptable hobby. I passed by this tree on my way back from my birthday lunch. Lainy and Sara were there and so was my brother Maroun and the omnipresent Ludwig. I got 2 paper bags from a local cafe, Ludwig climbed and picked the high branches, Maroun and I took care of the lower ones, while Lainy held Sara who was wonderfully amused by the whole scene. Fifteen minutes later, or should I say 2 kilos of beautiful olives later, we were all buzzing with joy from our little treasure. What can I say? The best birthday present ever!

So olives are now at the end of the season. Pick them this week or wait a whole year. I bet there are some in your neighbourhood going to waste. I know there’s a huge tree near Central station that would feed 20 people for a year. Seek it! I would have done it, but I am no where near the city these days. So here’s your chance. Get out there and pick some olives!

Here’s what I imagine you’d ask:

Q: I don’t know how an olive tree looks like
A: It’s the one with olives on it

Q: I don’t know if they’re ripe
A: They are. Now’s the time to pick them

Q: What if they’re poisonous olives
A: They’re not

Q: What if they belong to someone
A: Any self-respecting olive grower has harvested by now, so should you

Q: I tasted the olive from the tree and it was still bitter
A: It will certainly be bitter, regardless of how ripe. You need to cure it

Q: Cure it? Is it sick?
A: No! Curing means adding salt/brine or using a method to extract the bitterness and preserve the olive

Q: How do I cure it?
A: Use Google to find out. All you need is rock salt and a bit of patience – usually 3 weeks or so of waiting. Recipes vary. Mom uses around 200 grams of salt per  kilo (at the most). Others use a kilo. Search for Greek salt cured olives recipe

Good luck!

Foraging Sydney – Mulberry Cordial

By | Foraging, lebanese food, Recipes | 9 Comments

Mulberries

There’s this Lebanese proverb, “only free vinegar is sweeter than honey”. It’s basically the cheapo Lebanese way of saying that the best things in life are free. For me, the old adage rings truest in reference to food, and I get a good dose of life’s free stuff by foraging. I’ve spoken about this before so there’s no point regurgitating. There is so much food, and I try my best to get out there and grab my share. Over the years, I’ve made orange and blossom cordial from a neglected shrub, harvested snails for spaghetti, made loquat jelly from a randomly self-seeded tree, collected wild dandelions for hindbeh from a sidewalk, found chestnuts in abundance in Armidale, picked a dozen different types of fruit, written poetry and made blackberry jam in Germany for God’s sake! I’m not even counting all other non-documented foraging expeditions I’ve enjoyed. Foraging and cooking from what I’ve collected is without doubt the source of my most rewarding food memories.

For some reason, foraging is not Sydney’s favourite pastime. You can blame it on the lack of fruit trees and forage-worthy wild food as much as you’d like, but you know that it would be untrue. Sure, I agree that Sydney’s landscape is dominated by bluegums, Port Jackson figs, Moreton Bay figs, bottle brushes and banksias, and they don’t seem the ideal choice for good eating; but there is also so much food out there ripe for the picking. It could be a tree heavy with mandarins forgotten in your neighbour’s backyard waiting for you to visit. Maybe it’s a generous olive tree studded with fruit, sitting there lonely on a dead end street; or perhaps two young bulbs of wild fennel making out discretely in the park – it is good, abundant and free food, but no one will bother harvesting it. Sydneysiders just don’t forage.

Last Sunday I visited Laurice, a childhood friend of my mother’s from back when they both lived in the south of Lebanon in the tiny, remote farming village of Jarmaq. From the age of seven, Laurice and mom would walk every day for two hours – rain, hail or shine – to get to school, and then two hours back. As you could imagine, the girls became inseparable; but life happened and Laurice migrated to Australia when she was around 18 and lost contact with my mother for 40 years. When I drove mom to Laurice’s in 2006 for their first reunion, they stood facing each other, crying, speechless for what felt like a lifetime. In a daze of decades, they mentally pulled away the lines and creases from their estranged friend’s face until, once more, they saw each other, two young children running down one of Jarmaq’s wheat fields, late for school. They hugged and sobbed for the remainder of the visit.

Since that day, Laurice has become like a mother to me, and she treats me like a son. I tease her as much as I possibly can and raid her fridge constantly (indoor foraging, another great hobby). She has a fig tree that produces some of Sydney’s sweetest fruit, and on Sunday I found out that she also has a mulberry tree, with berries so ripe they dropped down from their own weight. I gave her a hard time about it and she gave me some lame excuse – something about being diabetic and 1.4m tall. She handed me a bucket and sent me off to pick mulberries to my heart’s content and told me I could take them home. I gorged myself on these little wonders while I picked them, and ate more when I got home, but realised that I needed to preserve them somehow because there was no way I was going to get through a kilo of mulberries before they went past their prime.

A traditional Lebanese drink is mulberry cordial. You see it served on hot summer days, in weddings, funerals and baptisms. Our love for the mulberry tree is unparalleled; at the turn of the century, it was the tree that fuelled our local economy and allowed the Lebanese to create an industrious silk trade to satisfy the French’s demand for fine fabrics. Silk worms favoured mulberry trees and so Lebanon went crazy with mulberry plantations which fed the silk worms and also fattened our sheep for qawarma, Lebanese lamb confit.

But back to the cordial, making it is easy and black mulberries are ideal – they have the right balance of sweet and sour; but I had to make do with pink mulberries. The end result turned out just fine, but in hindsight, I should have doubled the amount of citric acid. Use a mouli to juice the berries and for every cup of juice, use 2 cups of sugar. Stick the mixture in a pot and heat to dissolve the sugar. Before it gets too hot, add citric acid to taste. You want it sweet but sharp. Bring the mixture to 102 degrees Celsius, skim any froth and pour into a clean bottle. Close the bottle when the mixture is tepid. Serve diluted with water, on ice. The cordial keeps well at room temperature, but once the bottle is opened, store it in the fridge. For some excellent photos of the whole process and how it’s done in Lebanon, see Bethany’s fantastic post.

Do you forage? Leave a comment and let us know, where and what, or why not.

 

Eating Dandelions – Hindbeh Recipe

By | Foraging, lebanese food, Recipes | 17 Comments


Lebanese style dandelion leaves

Before I begin this entry, I want to direct your attention to the ceramic bowl above which I made in December. This one is my pride and joy.
OK. Let’s start.

Talk to any real food lover out there and they will sing the praise of simple, honest, traditional food. One might be seduced by the luxury of foie gras, the aromatic intensity of truffles or mesmerising power of silky wagyu beef, but it’s easy to get something ethereal out of ingredients that are so good (and expensive) to start off with. But in my opinion, real ingenuity comes from creating flavour out of ingredients that are undervalued, humble, or even down right met with disdain. Having gone through several famines, my Lebanese ancestors have had to put their devious talents where their mouth is and derive their nutrition from the least likely of plants and cuts of meat. One example is akkoob (gundelia tournefortii, ????), a thorn that grows in the high mountains of Lebanon and in Syria and Jordan. This thorn is notoriously difficult and painful to harvest and its preparation is equally hazardous. But what you are left with, apart from green-hued bleeding fingers is a stem that works culinary wonders in stews, stir fries and with eggs. What drove someone to identify this wicked thorn as a potential source of food is beyond me. My guess is nothing short of extreme hunger.

Another such example of unlikely food is the dandelion (??????). In Australia, dandelion is mostly considered a lawn weed suitable only to feed guinea pigs, yet it is widely loved in Lebanon and is the main ingredient and namesake of the popular dish hindbeh. Dandelion gets its name from the French dent de lion, meaning lion’s tooth, in reference to the serrated shape of the leaf. Dandelions might be commercially grown in Lebanon, but most families I know gather their supplies from the wild, or buy it from the forager. So while Lebanese children are picking the dandelion flowers and making a wish before blowing on the parachute-like seeds (the wish comes true if the seeds fly in the direction you chose earlier), the savvy, cost-conscience mothers are busy harvesting.


dandelions growing wild in a garden in Portland NSW

The dandelion could be mistaken for other weeds with similar but hairy/thorny leaves (ones whose name I do not know, so avoid hairy leaves please). The smooth dandelion leaf is best harvested in early spring if intended to be eaten raw in salads, as its bitter flavour has not fully developed. As the leaf matures, it grows larger, thicker and more bitter. This bitterness can be minimised by blanching or by washing thoroughly and then squeezing out the liquid. However, bitterness is not a bad thing, as most naturopaths will tell you. It is usually an indicator of a plant’s ability to detoxify the body and the liver (or that the plant is poisonous!). Dandelions are high in protein, naturally diuretic and anti-inflammatory and are rich in potassium and beta-carotene and many other highly beneficial minerals, which is why this humble plant has been very popular in herbal medicine.

This time of year sees a proliferation of dandelions in New South Wales, and since I am a lover of wild/foraged food, I did not want to miss the opportunity to feast on dandelions this year. A brief half hour walk down the road in Earlwood resulted in 400 grams of fresh dandelion leaf. Sure, the neighbours looked on suspiciously, the dogs barked madly and the joggers gazed in distrust. But don’t let that stop you. The sunshine and the buzz you get out of collecting your own food is alone worth it. But to make things even better, this is a recipe for hindbeh, our favourite way of cooking dandelion. The idea is to fry the leaf with garlic and onions in olive oil until it is almost dry, and then it would be ready to absorb the lemon juice you add. It is then topped with caramelized onions and eaten cold. To make mine a bit more of a proper meal, I added chickpeas, toasted pine nuts and a nice dollop of yoghurt on top. Such classic Lebanese flavours. It’s too cheap to be true.

NOTE: If dandelions are not available, you can substitute them with endive (available at supermarkets)


half an hour’s worth of dandelion foraging

Hindbeh – Dandelion Recipe

Preparing the Dandelions

  1. When you pick the dandelions, make sure you don’t pick other weeds with them and be careful of insects such as spiders. You should find dandelions grown in lawns and on sidewalks.
  2. Chop the dandelions finely, wash thoroughly in several changes of water and drain. Wrap the leaves in a tea towel and twist the tea towel to drain all the excess water and bitterness.
  3. Taste a dandelion leaf. If it is not too bitter, then it should be good to cook. If it is (and by bitter, I mean BITTER), blanch the dandelions in boiling water and 1/2 a tsp of sodium bicarbonate for 3 to 5 minutes. It’s preferable not to blanch if you can handle the bitterness.

Cooking the Dandelions (Hindbeh)

Ingredients

500 g dandelion leaf, prepared as above (weighed before blanching)
4 large onions, cut in thin wings (halved, then diced vertically)
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
½ cup olive oil
½ cup lemon juice
2 tsp salt
1 cup boiled chickpeas (optional)
½ cup Greek style yoghurt (optional)
2 tbsp toasted pine nuts (optional)

Method

  1. In a large frypan, heat up the olive oil and fry the onions with a tsp of salt on a gentle heat
  2. When the onions are slightly golden, remove half of them and set aside
  3. Continue to fry the onions, stirring every couple of minutes until they caramelise. Turn the heat down if they are cooking too quickly and keep a watchful eye, as they burn very easily
  4. Once caramelised, remove the onions, and keep the oil in the frypan
  5. Using the same oil, add the half cooked onions you removed earlier and the garlic and fry until the garlic begins to turn golden
  6. Add the dandelion leaf and the remaining salt. It might look like too much in the frypan, but the volume will drop significantly once cooked for a minute or two
  7. Keep cooking, stirring every couple of minutes until most of the moisture in the dandelion has evaporated. The colour should be getting dark, but not burn. The ingredients will begin to stick to the bottom of the pan. Keep cooking for 5 minutes, turn off the heat and add the lemon juice
  8. The dandelion leaf will absorb the liquid quickly. You can now set aside to cool and then refrigerate
  9. Once cool, you can toss in the boiled chickpeas (cold) and the pine nuts. Top with yoghurt and then the caramelised onions and enjoy

Foraging Bamberg

By | Foraging, Germany | 8 Comments


a meadow in Bamberg

If you’ve read my earlier post, you would know I am currently in Germany attending my brother’s wedding. This is my first trip to Germany, and having been here in Nurnberg for around 10 days now, it’s difficult to imagine leaving. I am not sure it is the travellers syndrome, where you like somewhere more than home because you are simply care free, away from your stressful job and incessant phone calls from Citibank’s Mumbai call centre asking you to pay a bill you paid 4 months ago, getting assured every time by the manager that they will fix the problem. Though, I’m sure that helps.


old fence

But there is something tangibly good about this place, something peaceful and green. Endless meadows of garlic, cabbage, wheat, corn, lettuce and asparagus in rich dark soil create a harmony of colors in perfect alignment, and the sight of farmers picking their crops gives me intense joy. It could be reminiscent of my childhood, but things were never this peaceful, and the Lebanese never planted this much cabbage.


view of forest

So I find myself travelling around 70 km to the World Heritage listed city of Bamberg, in order to attend Johanna’s dad’s birthday. Bamberg is stunningly beautiful, the Franconian Rome where fascinating churches line the many surrounding hills, and the town is crossed by the river Regnitz as it makes its way to the Main. And did I mention it is home to 10 local breweries? Johanna’s family lives in an eco village on the outskirts of the city and right behind their house is a path that leads you along one of the most pleasurable walks you will ever experience, a road full of fruits, nuts and berries. This wealth of wild food makes it very different to the Australian bush. I could write a small novel about how happy this place makes me feel, and how foraging through the path brings me closer to inner peace. But as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, so enjoy.


wild strawberries


walnuts


chestnuts


mirabellas


hazelnuts


more hazelnuts


blackberry


more blackberries


the fruits of my labour, mirrabellas (yellow and red), rose hip, apples, plums, blackberries and elderberries