Next time you're out in the garden, pause for a moment before you start ripping out the weeds. They might just be your next meal. Greens like dandelion leaves, clover, purslane and even chickweed can all be eaten fresh or cooked. Even the leaves of stinging nettle make a flavoursome meal after cooking neutralises the stinging hairs.
"When you brought me here, I was like, 'This looks like a swamp', now it looks like a food forest."
Matter of fact, with a bit of practise, getting to know your edible greens can completely transform the way you see your garden. As Matthew Evans tells Mick Giuliani in Gourmet Farmer, "When you brought me here, I was like, 'This looks like a swamp', now it looks like a food forest."
This is essentially a variation on tzatziki, and in all earnestness we declare it a superior one. If you plan on kissing someone who hasn’t shared this with you, you may want to add half a cup of very finely chopped flat-leaf parsley to offset the effects of the garlic (add a splosh of extra yoghurt and olive oil in this case). Otherwise, experiment with adding a tablespoon of very finely chopped mint, dill or wild fennel.
This recipe uses duck eggs in the dough, giving the pasta extra richness that is balanced out by the earthy flavours of nettles and a little zest from the lemon. We get beautiful fresh nettles brought to us from late winter all through spring by our friends Brian and Marion from their organic farm. It is possible if a little tricky to find them commercially but they do grow all over the place, so either get foraging or, as I’m sure I’ve said before, befriend a farmer.
Green light for health
Eating a variety of greens that would otherwise be discarded is not only good for the planet, it's good for your health. According to Australia's Department of Health, leafy greens are an excellent source of fibre, phytochemicals, vitamins A, C, E, K and folate, as well as iron, magnesium, potassium, calcium and other minerals. Some even are believed to have compounds which may protect against cancer and reduce stroke risk.
With a bit of practise, getting to know your edible greens can completely transform the way you see your garden.
So it's definitely worthwhile getting to know your own backyard and countertop food forest. It's generally best to pick wild greens when they are young, as bitterness will increase the older the plant grows. Also, remember to wash your greens thoroughly before cooking or consuming. You don't know which animals had to answer the call of nature on or near them...
This stubborn weed that seems to multiply overnight is actually a highly nutritious and tasty salad green. From root to flower, dandelions are in fact edible.
Dandelion leaves are wonderfully bitter, so you may wish to dilute their flavour by mixing them with other herbs and salad greens. Cooking will reduce their bitterness and wilted dandelion leaves are great served with grain like pasta or quinoa. Boil up a couple handfuls of leaves in salted water, then drizzle with lemon and olive oil. In fact, dandelion leaves make a great substitute for kale, radicchio or rocket in most recipes.
Get the recipe for dandelion greens risotto with raw hemp felafel here.
How many times have you cut off the beetroot and left the leaves to compost? Big mistake! The leaves are practically the best part of the plant.
Beet greens have a mild bitterness that goes well with punchy flavours like garlic, onions, ginger and sharp cheeses like Parmesan, pecorino and aged Gouda. Rinse and trim the greens, then sauté them in a little olive oil and ground pepper. If you're using beets in a dish, chances are the leaves will make a great accompaniment.
Make Matthew Evan's flatbread with beetroot leaves, feta and pine nuts.
Broad bean leaf tips
When there broad beans haven't come through on the vine yet, there's still plenty to eat according to Evans. "You can actually eat [the] top bits - the shoots," he says on his series, Gourmet Farmer. "They’re really quite sweet."
Evans recommends char-grilling the tips and serving them as a standalone vegetable, as they've "got a really lovely, beany flavour".
You can also eat the tips raw in a salad, or throw in a handful when making a broad bean dish like these fritters:
The pale, inner leaves of the cauliflower taste like slightly sweeter cauliflower. Toss a handful in your cauliflower soup, dip or curry. They are also delicious roasted alongside the cauliflower head with a little garlic and soy.
You can use the larger, outer leaves of the cauliflower as eco-friendly covers for food you cook in the microwave. Just place a washed leaf over your bowl instead of using plastic wrap or paper towels. You can also use them to wrap leftovers to store in the fridge, but keep in mind that they might transfer a mild slightly cruciferous taste to whatever you're storing.
This stem leaves risotto looks anything but foraged.
Lamb sorrel tastes citrusy and sour and matches well with bitter greens like dandelion and radicchio. Use lamb sorrel sparingly though, as it can cause stomach upset when eaten in large quantities. Its worth seeking out, however, as its distinct flavour means a little goes a long way to add a unique punch to a standard salad. The plant is found all over Australia and chances are it's sprouting somewhere in your lawn.
One of the few foraged greens with a delicate, rather than bitter, flavour, chickweed is commonly found across Australia during the cooler months. As well as containing loads of vitamins A, B and C, this little herb is a surprisingly rich source of Omega-6 fatty acid. Chickweed makes an excellent substitute or addition to spinach or rocket recipes. In Japan, chickweed is one of the seven herbs essential in preparing nanakusa-gayu (seven herb rice porridge), traditionally eaten at the annual Jinjitsu festival on 7 January.
Add chickweed to this edible weed salad recipe.
It may be an automatic reaction to cut off carrot tops before cooking, if indeed the leaves are still in place at the time of purchase.
There's been a persistent rumour for generations that carrot tops are poisonous, but that's simply not true. Instead, they are packed with nutrients and have a bitter, carrot-y flavour that shouldn't be discarded. Carrot tops make a great substitute or complement for parsley in dishes like tabbouleh and chimichurri. They also make a fabulous pesto, as seen in this recipe.
Try substituting carrot tops for the parsley in this chimichurri recipe.
Other leaves to keep rather than discard include radish tops, pumpkin leaves and celery leaves which can all be cooked or eaten raw (with the exception of pumpkin leaves which should be cooked for better texture). Take a wander through your kitchen food forest and get creative with the huge variety of delicious greens that might otherwise go to waste. If you have an abundance on hand, get cracking with this leafy greens pie recipe:
Matthew Evans explores all things farm to table in season 5 of Gourmet Farmer, 8pm Thursday nights on SBS and SBS On Demand. Visit the Gourmet Farmer website for recipes, episode guides and more.
A light pastry dough cooked in butter, apple and honey - virtually all of Matthew Evans' favourite things all in one pan.