Thursday, 14 November 2013

Plantain Peregrinations

NAME: _Narrow Leafed Plantain (plantago lanceolata)

Haven't posted in a while, been a bit busy with a local food issue. Narrow leaf plantain (plantago lanceolata) is the name for the plantain that isn't a cooking banana. It's a green leafed low plant that you can look up online, and it's an introduced weed in Australia. It's also classed as edible, grows in quantity around our area and probably elsewhere as well, and no-one's really considered its culinary uses.

I tried it in all the time-honoured but unimaginative methods that wild food people seem to suggest - steam it, use the seeds in stews, in a salad since it's a leafy green. The last one is a bit strange - it's the equivalent of saying "cabbage (or silverbeet) is a green, so you can just make a salad with it. It doesn't work with strong flavours like that, and plantain is bitter. So in this instance "edible" came with qualifiers that I didn't llike.

So my first order of the day was to get rid of some of the bitterness without losing the nutritional value (whatever that may be, see NOTES) of the vegetable. Enter Sandor Katz and his excellent books and website on wild fermentation. The rest, as they say, is history.

The thing that turned out the best for me has been a cross between pickling and wild fermentation, followed by processing as per normal. I dealt with the plants in mid spring, when the flowers have grown and dropped, and the seed production is about to start. It is a weed after all, so we should comply with directives to pull it up and prevent it reseeding. I just couldn't deal with the entire patch at one time....

I pulled up entire plantain plants roots and all, then cut the bunches and pulled out the flower head stems and browned leaves (about 10% of the leaves had too much browning for me to want to try them) and fed those to my livestock. About four large plantain plants was enough leaves around 15cm - 25cm in length to almost half fill a shopping bag.

These were taken indoors and to the sink, where I washed them, cut of the rest of the stemmy bits for the livestock, and pushed the leaves into around a one litre glass jar that has been sterilised for preserving. (A coffee jar was fine.) Then I made a hot brine by boiling about 1.5 litres of water with 5 dessertspoons of rock salt, allowed that to cool a bit, and filled the jar to the top, shaking often to get bubbles out, pressing with a wooden spoon to make sure all the air really was out between the leaves, and closed the jar up.

It takes about a week for the bitterness to migrate out of the leaves and the water will go a bit darker when that has happened. At that stage, you can use the leaves cooked with spinach or silverbeet, or as a last minute addition to a meal for the greens, or (this is about to be tested) with cooked fettucine pasta and lightly fried in olive oil with onion and garlic, pasta added last.

The seed or flower heads are quite solid, not quite as bitter as the leaves, and frying in butter seems to make them quite palatable. Could be used as a green addition to a stew or other meal, or in a stir-fry. Seems the salted butter is needed though to take the edge off first. (Or maybe I'll try experiments to test salting and brining before use, if so this article will be updated.)

As I said, leaves are a good supplemental green with stews and the like, or as a side dish. Once brined, I imagine that it would also be great in a frittata or vege/egg style bake. The seed heads make a good vegetable added to stews.

I'll add recipes as I try them and find them to be good, because this is another example of a good resource being wasted because of the classification as a weed.

I have no idea the nutritional value of plantain. Because it IS a weed, it by definition is good at absorbing nutrients from the soil, so it should provide a load of nutrients. Because the brining process will tend to concentrate the nutrients, that should make it a valuable supplement to meals.

Also because it is so good at absorbing things from the soil, perhaps avoid using plantains that grow by roadsides or other possibly polluted spots, to avoid ingesting whatever they may have gotten from here. (Roadsides = lead, rubbish tips etc = every industrial pollutant known to man, to name just two bad locations to harvest from.) It's probably still better for you at that than a commercially grown spinach or lettuce, but when a walk of a hundred yards more can get you clean healthy plants, why not go the extra?

Also, if a plant was to somehow able to drop seeds in a clean spot, the resulting plants wouldn't have any traces of the pollutants, so as self-seeded plants progress away from a less desirable are, they'd be okay to harvest.


Thursday, 7 November 2013

Stuffed Capsicum Rebooted

NAME: _Stuffed Capsicum Reboot

3 or four large capsicums
250g beef mince
250g cooked rice
1 medium brown onion
1/2 cup beef stock
1 tbsp beef dripping
1 tsp salt
additional salt to sprinkle
1 mediterranean red chilli
1/2 cup chopped sage leaves
1/2 cup mint leaves
juice of one lemon
about 50g goat cheese
(optional) another 100g goat cheese.

Dice the onion finely, add to frying pan along with the beef dripping and beef. Clean and finely chop the chilli, and when meat and onions have definitely browned in the pan, add the chilli, salt, cooked rice, chopped sage, and chop and add half the mint leaves, retaining the rest for garnish. Fry for about two more minutes then turn off the heat, add the stock, stir well, and set aside.

Cut capsicums in half lengthways and clean, remove the stems seeds and internal soft walls. Press out flat with the palm of the hand, then sprinkle lightly with salt on the flesh side. Now roast the capsicum halves over a flame such as the gas burner, until it begins to blacken in spots and starts smelling sweet.

Lay the roasted capsicum in the bottom of a casserole or other oven proof dish, and microwave on high for three minutes, then spoon over half the meat and rice mixture. Break up the goat cheese into fingernail sized lumps and scatter these over the mixture, then add the remaining meat and rice in a flat layer. At this point, if desired, crumble the optional goat cheese over the surface.

Sprinkle the lemon juice over and place in oven at 180C for about 45 minutes, until the surface begins to brown.

Serve hot or cold, garnished with remaining mint leaves.

I made this because I wanted to re-imagine the humble mezze of stuffed capsicum. Mezzes in the Mediterranean are made to eat hot or cold, and consisted of the ingredients to hand. Not limited to stuffed tomatoes and capsicums, either, mezzes are a convenience food of sorts, and served at any time as a starter, breakfast, or lunch, and consist of a whole range of snack-sized foods. We eat stuffed capsicums as a whole main meal, and I've often had disliked the way capsicums cook unevenly, fillings tend to get drowned in juices, and the fact that to me it is a snack and it looks wrong served as a main. The rebooted version takes away those perception problems I have with the dish.


Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Steamed Egg

NAME: _Steamed Egg TEdDLES Style

2 eggs
(see Notes for next three ingredients)
1 cup stock
1/2 tsp salt
pinch fivespice
steamer (see Notes)

(For every instruction that says to "mix," I mean mix gently so as not to include any air. Not "whisk," not "beat," just mix slowly._

(Preheat the steamer, ensure you have a basket or rack depending on your configuration, and ensure that the bowl you want to use is easily able to be placed and removed. Remember the bowl will be hot when removing it from the steamer.)

Allow everything to come to room temperature, then mix the eggs in a bowl until yolks and whites are combined. Mix stock and dry ingredients in a jug, and mix most of the cupfull into the egg. Pour the egg mixture into the bowl, place into the steamer, close the lid, and check after ten minutes and then every five minutes or so. You're aiming for a smooth custard consistency.

Remove from steamer.

Serve as a main or a side.

STEAMER: I use a small electric steamer - saves all the hassles of finding a rack to go into a saucepan, pot, or stovetop steam setup. If you must use a conventional steaming setup, make sure it has a rack that will keep the bowl out of direct contact with the boiling water. My other reason for having a standalone electric steamer is that I can preheat it, put the bowl into the first steamer tray, and put that on top of the steam without needing special tongs.

BOWLS: I use a lot of those stainless steel dishes, bowls, curry bowls, and table serving bowls. These fit the steamer well, transfer heat quickly and efficiently, and are probably the reason why my steamed egg only takes about 12 minutes to cook to the beautiful creamy consistency. The smaller deeper curry bowls could probably make it possible to do four or more batches in one larger steamer if you're feeding a family or guests.

STOCK AND SPICES: One cup of stock is probably just a touch too much. This is how you adjust the consistency of the custard aside from the length of time steaming it. Chicken stock is best, vegetable stock not too bad either.

I use the ingredients above except I use home made chicken stock, and I reduce the amount of salt to a quarter teaspoon, add half a teaspoon of the relevant stock powder, and half a teaspoon each of light soya and fish sauce.

QUANTITIES: Most recipes call for 4 eggs and a corresponding doubling of ingredients, and I have no idea how it would affect steaming time. If making this in quantity I think I'd make it in individual two-egg batches. It just works out perfect for one person, or two as a side.



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