Meals inspired by fresh produce

FOR those of us who love to grow some of our own food, this is the beginning of the bountiful season where each meal begins with an ‘oops’ in my tummy and a feeling of delight at the first radishes, first new potatoes, the first beets, the first fresh green peas, the first cucumbers, and most amazing of all, the first little cherry tomatoes, the earliest ever.

My fussy little grandchildren run in and out of the rows of peas and broad beans picking, choosing the fattest pods, the greenhouse is their greengrocer. 

This is where food comes from as far as they are concerned, not off a supermarket shelf. 

They pull the carrots out of the ground, run them under the tap and munch them, there and then. They show their friends excitedly how to pod the broad beans, pluck them out of their furry nests, and nibble them fresh out of the pods. Every day is a new thrill for them.

The cookery school students too are enchanted by the abundance of fresh produce. Several planted a little veg plot in a raised bed, five or six weeks ago and are astonished to be harvesting produce from them already. 

Others have box gardens with lettuce, little carrots, fresh herbs and radishes on the window sills of their cottages. It’s like magic, and remember, if you teach someone how to sow a seed to grow some of their own food, you change their life — and no you don’t need to live in the country or a farm or even have a garden. 

All you need is a container, could be a seed tray, an old box or even a drawer, a seed, light, and water and hey presto, you can grow on your window sill, balcony, roof, up walls, down walls, in your back yard...

In fact, it’s happening already everywhere. ‘Grow Food not Lawns’ is a big movement in the US now. www.growfoodnotlawns.com

There’s a huge grass roots movement , an explosion, urban farming and gardening from Manhattan to Tokyo.

We also had the first of the kohlrabi recently, they all seem to be ready at the same time, so we were frantically testing recipes so we wouldn’t waste a single scrap. 

Not sure if you know them, they look like ‘sputniks’ with stalks and leaves growing haphazardly from the sides. They too are edible. The kohlrabi itself tastes like a mild white turnip and is delicious either raw or cooked.

We also use both the stalks and the leaves of the young beets, they are so delicious, just chopped and cooked in boiling salted water. Stalks first for a few minutes, then add the leaves for a minute or two more. 

Drain very well, then toss in butter or extra virgin olive oil. One of the best greens of all, but we also made a beetroot stalk soup and a separate beetroot leaf soup. One was a grey/green the other pinky red, both were so delicious we will definitely make them again.

For a little bit of fun, we poured some of each into a soup bowl so we had two distinct colours and an impressive cheffy presentation. But think of it, when you grow your own beets one has three vegetables rather than just the one. 

The beet greens and stalks are normally just chopped off and disregarded in the retail system.

Hedgerows all around the country have fluffy white elderflower and the green gooseberries are prefect to use so don’t miss the magical combination, delicious on their own or with panna cotta, ice cream, carrageen moss… a flavour combo made in heaven. Another reason to give thanks to Mother Nature and gardeners…

Kohlrabi or White Turnip and Coconut Curry

Serves 4-6

225g (8oz) onion, peeled and finely chopped

25g (1oz) butter

1 tbsp olive oil

700g (1½lbs) kohlrabi or white turnip, peeled and cut into 2cm (¾ inch) dice

2 tsp black mustard seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp fennel seeds

1 tsp ground turmeric

1 tsp ground coriander

seeds from 8 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed

20g (¾oz) fresh root ginger, peeled and finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

2 green chillies, deseeded and finely chopped

sea salt and black pepper

1 x 400g (14oz) tin chopped tomatoes

400ml (14fl oz) vegetable stock or water

200ml (7fl oz) coconut milk

handful fresh coriander leaves

Accompaniments:

Rice and Naan bread

Mint or coriander yoghurt

Melt the butter and the oil in a wok, add the onion and sweat over a gentle heat until soft and translucent.

Meanwhile, prepare the kohlrabi, add to the onion and cook uncovered for 3-4 minutes.

Stir in the mustard, cumin and fennel seeds and cook for 2 minutes, careful not to brown the seeds or they will become bitter. Add the ground turmeric or coriander, crushed cardamom seeds, ginger, garlic and chillies and cook for 30 seconds. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, add the chopped tomatoes, stock or water.

Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes, then add the coconut milk and cook for a further 20 minutes or until the kohlrabi is tender. Taste and correct seasoning if necessary.

Pour into a hot serving bowl, scatter with coriander and serve with rice, naan bread and mint or coriander yoghurt.

(Recipe adapted from www.hellomagazine.com)

Kohlrabi, White Cabbage and Cranberry Slaw with Herbs and Sesame Seeds

Love this salad which we borrow from Yotam Ottolenghi — the pickled ginger provides a zesty burst of flavour.

Serves 4

3-4 kohlrabi bulbs

200g white cabbage

25g parsley, chopped

25g dill, chopped

25g tarragon, chopped

70g dried cranberries

2 tsp pickled ginger

1 tbsp grated lemon zest

120ml lemon juice

2 tbsp honey

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 tbsp sesame oil

4 tbsp toasted white sesame seeds

2 tbsp nigella seeds

salt and black pepper

Peel the kohlrabi, slice thinly, and cut them into matchsticks. 

Meals inspired by fresh produce

They pull the carrots out of the ground, run them under the tap and munch them

Quarter, core, and slice the cabbage across the grain as thinly as possible.

Put into a large bowl, add all of the other ingredients, mix well. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, taste and tweak if necessary.

Beetroot Soup with Chive Cream

Serves 8-10

In Season: Summer & Autumn

900g (2 lb) young beetroot

25g (1oz) butter

225g (1/2lb) onions

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1.2l (2 pints) homemade chicken or vegetable stock approx.

125ml (4fl oz) creamy milk

Chive Cream

125ml (4 fl oz) sour cream or crème fraiche

Finely chopped chives

Wash the beetroot carefully under a cold tap. Don’t scrub, simply rub off the clay with your fingers. You won’t want to damage the skin or cut off the top or tails because it will ‘bleed’ in the cooking. 

Put the beetroot into cold water, and simmer covered for anything from 20 minutes to two hours depending on the size and age.

Meanwhile chop the onions, sweat carefully and gently in the butter until they are cooked. The beetroot is cooked when the skins will rub off easily.

Chop the beetroot and add to the onions. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. * Put into a liquidiser with the hot chicken stock. 

Liquidise until quite smooth. Reheat, add some creamy milk, taste and adjust the seasoning, it may be necessary to add a little more stock or creamy milk.

Serve garnished with little swirls of sour cream and a sprinkling of finely chopped chives.

Watchpoint: Be careful not to damage the beetroot during preparation or it will bleed.

Golden Beetroot Soup

Use the golden Chioggia beetroot variety in the recipe above.

Chilled Beetroot Soup

Proceed as in the master recipe above to *.

Liquidise with just enough stock to cover. The mixture should be smooth and silky. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Fold in some cream and yoghurt.

Serve well chilled in small bowls with little swirls of yoghurt and finely chopped chives.

Green Gooseberry and Elderflower Compote

Serves 6-8

2 lbs (900g) green gooseberries

2 or 3 elderflower heads

1 pint (600ml) cold water

1 lb (450g) sugar

First top and tail the gooseberries. 

Tie two or three elderflower heads in a little square of muslin, put in a stainless steel or enamelled saucepan, add the sugar and cover with cold water. 

Bring slowly to the boil and continue to boil for 2 minutes. 

Add the gooseberries and simmer just until the fruit bursts. 

Allow to get cold. Serve in a pretty bowl and decorate with fresh elderflowers.

Green Gooseberry and Elderflower Compote

Serves 6-8

2 lbs (900g) green gooseberries

2 or 3 elderflower heads

1 pint (600ml) cold water

1 lb (450g) sugar

First top and tail the gooseberries. 

Tie two or three elderflower heads in a little square of muslin, put in a stainless steel or enamelled saucepan, add the sugar and cover with cold water. 

Bring slowly to the boil and continue to boil for 2 minutes. 

Add the gooseberries and simmer just until the fruit bursts. 

Allow to get cold. Serve in a pretty bowl and decorate with fresh elderflowers.

Hot tips

Só Sligo Food Festival: If you’re in the North West, don’t miss this. It includes foraging walks, pizza-making for kids, and the Irish Stew Championship. On Sunday as part of the wider festival, a smaller fermentation festival is being held at the Organic Centre in Co Leitrim. JP McMahon, Prannie Rhatigan, Gaby and Hans Wieland are participating — www.theorganiccentre.ie or tel: 071-9854338

Slow Food Mayo: It’s all happening in the North West. Slow Food Mayo have a convivial day out next Thursday beginning at 12.30pm with a tour of Mescan Brewery, a tasting lunch at The Tavern in Murrisk, Co Mayo, and seaweed foraging along the coast of Clew Bay. Tel: 098 64060 or log onto www.slowfoodireland.com 

World of Coffee comes to Dublin: The World of Coffee comes to Dublin on June 21 and 22, featuring a coffee symposium, sustainability forum, world barista championship, and educational and workshop seminars. www.worldofcoffeedublin.com 

Ben Russell, leading photographer and tutor, will teach a one-day garden photography course at the Ballymaloe Cookery School on Monday. Learn how to get the most from your camera and photograph plants and gardens in their summer beauty. Log onto www.cookingisfun.ie for details.


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