As spring transitions into summer here in the Peak District, there is now an incredible abundance of wild greens to enjoy. It’s a great time to forage for dandelions, mugwort, wild garlic, nettles, goose grass, heather and Jack-by-the-hedge. So we have been experimenting, brewing a tasty dandelion beer, dandelion tempura and a mugwort and cranberry gruit ale which we will open soon to see what is on offer.
So many of us are now re-discovering the plants of our ancestors, and there seems to be a widespread hankering for the stronger and more local flavours offered by the wild plants and fungi in our surrounding area. The Belgian-born forager and food writer Pascal Baudar has written a lot about this recently, and has a couple of very good books on the subject, including the excellent The New Wildcrafted Cuisine: Exploring the Exotic Gastronomy of Local Terroir. As Baudar lives in southern California and not Derbyshire, the book is more of an inspiration piece than a how-to guide, but that is Baudar’s style. It’s about understanding and appreciating the tastes of the local terroir or landscape.
Late May is a fantastic time to become familiar with foraged greens which are so much in abundance right now. We have a regular kimchi-making session, usually every fortnight or so. Unlike a traditional Korean kimchi, ours is only very lightly spiced, using a small amount of chilli, sometimes supplemented with turmeric or paprika.
For this batch we decided to fortify the usual cabbage, carrot and onion base with dandelion roots and dandelion leaves as well as wild garlic and daikon leaves. Dandelion provides some real bitterness to the food, and bitterness is a common feature of many wild plants. The domestication process has been designed to remove bitterness from most of the foods we have become used to, so for the modern palette such tastes are unaccustomed and take a little getting used to. But bitterness, if used correctly and in moderation, gives a real boost and complexity to many dishes. Bitterness is also often an indication of nutritional benefits, and dandelion is full of health-giving properties. Dandelion is noted for its ability to improve the liver function as well as being an amazing source of vitamin K.
Wild garlic can be found pretty easily along the riversides near to our home, and this batch of kimchi included a large bundle of the tail end of the season for this plant. As you can see from the photo below, wild garlic is just coming into flower, and the buds can also be pickled and used much like capers. Like its more familiar domesticated cousin, wild garlic has similar health-giving properties, but we use only the leaves, buds and flowers, as taking the roots destroys the plant.
We have also started growing our own diakon, and although the roots still need some time, the leaves are delicious and much in abundance. Although daikon is not a wild plant, it’s easy to grow and, like dandelion, is rich in nutrients, most notably antioxidants and vitamin C. Flavour-wise, the leaves are a little peppery and will add some zing to this batch of kimchi.
In a week or so our kimchi will be ready to enjoy.