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Weekend Herb Projects

By: Elizabeth Hinds - Updated: 1 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Herb Project Weekend Herb Projects Quick

It's a lovely weekend in springtime. The brightly-shining sun has taken the chill out of the air, and brought new energy to your life. What could be better on a day like this than to wander into the woods, amongst the bluebells?

Well, what about if you could combine your walk with getting something for nothing?

From late winter through spring wild garlic grows freely in woods, especially near rivers and alongside bluebells. The leaves are long and glossy, and look a bit like Lily of the Valley leaves, and during the spring the plant carries heads of star-shaped white flowers. If you're in any doubt, give the leaves a good sniff! The smell is unmistakable, and, unlike cultivated garlic, it's the leaves of wild garlic that are used in cookery. Collect a large bundle of them and head for home.

Remove the stalks and wash and dry the leaves. Then you're ready to start cooking.

Wild garlic pesto

  • Large handful wild garlic leaves, washed and dried
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons freshly-grated parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Start off by whizzing the pine nuts, garlic leaves and garlic together in a blender or food processor. Add the parmesan and whiz quickly. Add the oil while processing to make a smooth sauce. Season to taste.

Serve with pasta, bread, fish, vegetables - anything simple that needs a tasty lift.

Bottled in sterilised air-tight jars and stored in the fridge the pesto will keep for several weeks.

* * * * *

Now cast your mind back to your childhood. Do you ever think, 'Food tasted better then'? If, like us, you've bought a punnet of cress from the supermarket recently thinking it will liven up your salad, again like us, you may have been disappointed.

That's because, not so long ago, when shops sold cress what they were actually selling was a mixture of mustard and cress. Proper cress (Lepidium sativum) and mustard (Brassica hirta) are both slightly hot and add a peppery zing to traditional egg and cress sandwiches or a mixed green salad. Today's 'cress' is usually rapeseed, which is bland to taste.

Most children at some point during their school years will experiment with growing mustard and cress. Teachers love the exercise as it's simple, and children love it as it brings quick results. To rediscover the traditional taste, this is all you need:

  • Shallow dish
  • Paper towel
  • Plastic bag
  • Mustard and cress seeds

Dampen the paper towel and lay it in the dish. Sprinkle the seeds on top. Place the dish in a plastic bag and seal loosely. Leave in a dark place until the seeds have sprouted and the seedlings reached about 5 cm in height. Take the dish out of the plastic bag and leave on a sunny windowsill. Keep the paper towel damp.

  • Cress seeds germinate faster than mustard seeds so, if you want to eat them together, sow the cress seeds 3 or 4 days ahead of the mustard.

Something else that grows quickly is the shoot of the mung bean (bean sprouts). Traditionally used in Chinese dishes and stir-fries but also ideal in salads, bean sprouts are quick and easy to grow at home.

For this you need

  • Empty cottage cheese/crème fraiche-type container with a lid
  • Mung beans

Soak a handful of beans overnight in water. Put them in the pot and cover with the lid. Make a few small holes in the lid. Leave the pot in the airing cupboard or alternative warm and dark space. Twice a day, morning and evening, fill the pot with water, and then, using the lid as a filter, tip the water out again. The beans will be ready to eat in about 3-4 days.

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