ArchiveMay 2021

Sustainability

Sadly Ireland, the ‘green clean island’ has consistently ranked among the poorest performing countries on the environmental sustainable development goals (SDG’s) presenting ‘a very disturbing picture of pollution and biodiversity loss’.  According to the latest Sustainable Progress Index (SPI) commissioned by Social Justice Ireland, we rank 11th out of 15th comparable countries in the EU.  It’s also pretty shocking to learn that although some areas are performing well, the biggest transgressor of environmental law in Ireland is the State.

In 2015, countries worldwide came together for the first time under the United Nations and adopted the 17 sustainable development goals.  They covered a wide range of areas from climate change to health, education and food waste.  An ambitious agenda for a better world by 2030. 

Since then, there has been many missed deadlines and many summits including a recent 2-day virtual summit hosted by President Biden to celebrate World Earth Day.  The US, China, Russia and EU participated.  Greta Thunberg has rocked the world with her clear science based message and direct challenges to world leaders and more recently Pope Francis appealed for the world to ‘take care of biodiversity, take care of nature’ and reminded us that Covid-19 and climate change demonstrated what scientists have been screaming from the roof top for decades we no longer have time to waste. 

Not for the first time, the general public are well ahead of the politicians, we’re all properly fed up of empty, flamboyant promises.  We crave action and direction.  We long for courageous leaders who will walk the walk not just talk the talk and we are ready to walk with them.  Time is most definitely running out. 

Coupled with the trauma of living with Covid, the enormity of the challenge can seem overwhelming. 

What can we do?  Let’s rack our brains to think of little things we can change in our everyday lives to live more sustainably and benefit the planet.

First, let’s pick up our pens and write to our politicians to emphasise that as citizens, we want Ireland to step up to the plate and honour our commitments.  I’ve always dreamed of Ireland, the Organic Food Ireland – think of how it would enhance the prosperity of our farmers and food producers at a time when people are craving food they can trust and are well aware of the damage pesticides and herbicides are doing to our health, the health of the soil and the environment in general…

In no particular order:

1. Avoid single use plastic and switch to reusable water bottles.

2. Let’s grow some of our own food – check out Grow Food not Lawns

3. Grow our own herbs, immediately we are eliminating all those plastic trays.  Grow perennial vegetables, herbs and flowers. 

4. Shop at a Farmers Market which also supports local farmers and food producers and small food businesses. 

5. Keep a stash of reusable shopping bags in your car.

6. Carry a coffee mug or glass in your bag.

7. Work towards Zero Waste, almost 50% of plastic waste globally is generated by shopping.  Leave the packaging behind and politely urge your supermarket to reduce unnecessary excessive packaging. 

8. Buy loose vegetables and fruit…

9. No need to line your trash bin with plastic – these bags takes 10-20 years at least to decompose.

10. Keep a few hens – 3 or 4 hens in a little coop in your garden will eat all your food scraps and reward you with eggs instead.  They are the ultimate recyclers and the manure will make your soil more fertile to grow more nutritious food – or link up with a neighbour who has hens, swap eggs for food scraps.

11. Keep bees, even one hive on your roof or in your garden, if you don’t want to be a beekeeper, why not contact a local beekeeper, they may be happy to look after your bees, buy the honey from them in exchange…see www.irishbeekeepersassociation.com

12. Think natural cleaners.  Make your own all-purpose cleaner.  Combine half a cup of white malt vinegar with a quarter cup of bread soda and 4 pints of water. 

13. Use cloth rather than paper napkins and washable wipe down cloths.

14. Let’s try not to buy more than we need, get creative and have fun with leftovers.  You’ll be surprised how much money you save and how little food you waste.

15. Buy local flowers, about 90% of flowers sold in florists are imported and heavily sprayed.  Ask for Irish foliage and flowers. 

16. Learn ‘how to recognise’ food in the wild, forage…

17. During Covid, many of us have realised we need a lot less ‘stuff’.  Shop in thrift or charity shops, donate, reuse, recycle, repair. 

18. Use a bar of soap rather than liquid soap in dispenses that have a far heavier carbon footprint. 

19. Use timber chopping boards and wooden spoons rather than plastic – they are more hygienic and in many cases are easier to clean. 

20. Collect kindling when you go for a walk in the country.  There are a million other ways we can make our homes more energy efficient.

21. Support small local shops, your local butcher and fish monger.  Seek out lesser known fish and cuts of meat, less expensive and absolutely super delicious.

22. Use all parts of vegetables, the green part of leeks for stocks and soups, stalks and leaves of beets, leaves of radishes…

23. Make the most of seasonal gluts, have fun preserving in oil, vinegar, jams, chutneys, ketchups, make kimchi….

24. Leftover bread can be whizzed up for breadcrumbs, frozen and used for stuffing’s or gratins, alternatively dice and use for instant croutons.

We can all make a difference in a myriad of ways and enjoy the feel good factor.

Nettle and Wild Garlic Soup

In late April, the air in the wood is heavy with the smell of wild garlic interspersed with nettles.  The pretty white flowers of the wild garlic mix with the bluebells and primroses. 

Use the wide leaves of the allium ursinum (ramsons) and the flowers of the allium triquetrum, the pretty flowers are divine sprinkled over the top of each soup bowl. 

Serves 6-8

45g (1 1/2oz) butter

150g (5oz) peeled and chopped potatoes

110g (4oz) peeled and chopped onion

salt and freshly ground pepper

900ml (1 1/2 pints) water or homemade chicken stock or vegetable stock

300ml (10fl oz) creamy milk

75g (3oz) chopped nettles

75g (3oz) chopped wild garlic leaves

Garnish

wild garlic flowers (preferably allium ursinum)

Melt the butter in heavy bottomed saucepan, when it foams, add the potatoes and onions and toss them until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile prepare the nettles (use plastic gloves) and wild garlic leaves. When the vegetables are almost soft but not coloured add the stock and milk bring to the boil and cook until the potatoes and onions are fully cooked. Add the chopped nettles and wild garlic and boil with the lid off for 4-5 minutes approx. until the leaves are cooked. Do not overcook or the soup will lose its fresh green colour. Purée the soup in a liquidiser or food processor. Taste and correct seasoning.  Serve sprinkled with a few wild garlic flowers.

Roast Megrim with Dill Butter

This is a very simple ‘master recipe’ which can be used for all very fresh flat fish, e.g. plaice, dover sole, lemon sole, brill, turbot, dabs, and flounder.  Megrim is less expensive but also delicious when super fresh.  Depending on the size of the fish, it can a starter or a main course.  It’s also delicious with Hollandaise Sauce, Mousseline or Beurre Blanc.

Serves 4

4 very fresh megrim on the bone

Dill Butter

50-110g (2-4oz) butter

1 generous tablespoon of finely chopped fresh dill

salt and freshly ground pepper

dill flowers (optional)

Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/Gas Mark 5.

Turn the fish on its side and remove the head.  Wash the fish and clean the slit very thoroughly.  With a sharp knife, cut through the skin right round the fish, just where the ‘fringe’ meets the flesh.  Be careful to cut neatly and to cross the side cuts at the tail or it will be difficult to remove the skin later on.

Sprinkle the fish with salt and freshly-ground pepper and lay them in 1cm (1/2 inch) of water in a shallow baking tin.   Roast in a moderately hot oven for 20-30 minutes according to the size of the fish.  The water should have just evaporated as the fish is cooked.  Check to see whether the fish is cooked by lifting the flesh from the bone at the head; it should lift off the bone easily and be quite white with no trace of pink.

Meanwhile, melt the butter and stir in the freshly chopped dill.  Just before serving catch the skin down near the tail and pull it off gently (the skin will tear badly if not properly cut).  Lift the fish onto hot plates and spoon the herb butter over them.  Serve immediately with a few dill flowers sprinkled over the top if available.

Breast of Lamb with Sea Salt and Coriander

Breast of lamb – also called flank, flap or lap – is the sweet and delicious equivalent of pork belly and is a very inexpensive cut of meat. Lean layers are interspersed with layers of fat, which renders out and gives the meat a sweet, succulent flavour. Freshly roasted and ground cumin is also delicious in this recipe, as is a mixture of coriander and cumin.

Serves 6

1-2 breasts of lamb, about 1kg (21⁄4 lb)

1 1⁄2 tablespoons coriander seeds

1 1⁄2 tablespoons sea salt

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Score the fat side of the breast of lamb with a sharp knife.

Roast the coriander seeds over a medium heat for 3–4 minutes or until they begin to smell aromatic. Turn the seeds into a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder and grind into a coarse powder.

Mix the coriander powder with the sea salt. Sprinkle and then rub it evenly over both sides of the lamb. Roast for about 45 minutes.

Serve with roast potatoes.

Rhubarb, Fresh Ginger and Sweet Geranium Jam

This delicious jam should be made when rhubarb is in full season and not yet thick and tough.  Even if you don’t have access to sweet geranium leaves, it will still be delicious.

Makes 8 x 450g (1lb) jars

1.8kg (4lb) trimmed rhubarb,

1.3kg (3lb) granulated sugar

grated rind and juice of 2 lemons

8 sweet geranium leaves, finely chopped

25g (1oz) bruised ginger plus 1 teaspoon grated ginger

50g (2oz) chopped crystallized ginger or stem ginger preserved in syrup (optional)

Wipe the rhubarb and cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) pieces.   Put it in a large bowl layered with the sugar, add the lemon rind and juice.  Leave to stand overnight.  Next day put into a preserving pan with the chopped sweet geranium leaves and the grated ginger.  Bash the ginger with a rolling pin, add the bruised ginger tied in a muslin bag to the pan.  Steadily bring to the boil until it is a thick pulp – 40-50 minutes approximately.  Remove the bag of ginger and then pour the jam into hot clean jars, cover and store in a dry airy cupboard.

If you like 50g (2oz) chopped crystallized ginger or preserved stem ginger can be added at the end.

Rhubarb and Ginger Bakewell Tart

We sometimes omit the pastry lattice and sprinkle flaked almonds over the top instead.

Serves 6

Pastry

50g (2oz) butter

110g (4oz) flour

pinch of salt

25g (1oz) castor sugar

1 beaten egg (use about half)

50g (2oz) butter

40g (1 1/2oz) castor sugar

1 egg

25g (1oz) ground almonds

40g (1 1/2oz) flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

3-4 tablespoons Rhubarb, Fresh Ginger and Sweet Geranium Jam (see recipe)

Garnish

Sweet Geranium leaves

1 x 18cm (7 inch) tin with a ‘pop-up’ base

Make the shortcrust pastry.

Sieve the flour and the sugar into a large bowl. Cut the butter into cubes, toss in the flour, rub in with the fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Whisk the egg with 2 teaspoons of cold water and add enough to bind the mixture. But do not make the pastry too wet – it should come away cleanly from the bowl. Flatten into a round and wrap in parchment paper and rest in the fridge for 15 minutes.

Line the flan ring.  Spread a thin layer of rhubarb, ginger and sweet geranium jam in the base of the flan. Cream the butter, add the castor sugar and beat until white and creamy, add the beaten egg, and then stir in the flour, ground almonds and baking powder. Spread this mixture carefully over the jam and smooth the top. Cut the remaining pastry into thin strips and arrange in a lattice pattern over the top of the flan. Egg wash carefully and bake in a moderate oven 180-190°C/350-375°F/Gas Mark 4-5 for approx. 40 minutes. Sprinkle with icing sugar and serve warm or cold with a bowl of softly whipped cream.  Garnish with Sweet Geranium leaves.

* If you would like to decorate the tart with a pastry lattice, use 62g (2 1/2oz) butter and 125g (4 1/2oz) flour.

Wild Food of the Week

Pickled Wild Garlic Buds

By the end of April, wild garlic or ramps will be about to flower.  Pickle the unopened flower buds – they are delicious.   Serve with pâtés, starter salads and cheese.

3 parts white wine or cider vinegar

1 part granulated sugar

Fill a jar with unopened wild garlic flower buds.  Warm the vinegar, add the sugar, stir to dissolve and bring to the boil for 1-2 minutes.  Cool.  Pour over the buds, cover the jar and leave for 2-3 days before use.  Add to starter sala

Instagram – @niamhs_larder  

Grow Your Own

As I write this column the skies are blue and the sun is shining and new seasons produce is leaping out of the ground in the garden and greenhouse.  I so hope you too have managed to sow some seeds and experiment the sheer joy and excitement of seeing the seeds germinate and the first leaves unfurl and then there’s the gradual growth until your crop reaches the peak of perfection, ready to enjoy even if it’s just a few salad leaves in a seed tray on your kitchen windowsill.

Your very own organic leaves will taste sooo much better, because you, yourself have grown them, you’ll relish every bite and want everyone else to know how you grew and looked after and anticipated enjoying them for weeks.   When you grow some of your own food, it gives an added insight into the work and commitment that goes into producing beautiful produce, you’ll never want to complain about the price of food again and will want to hug every farmer and producer you meet.  I’m super lucky to have several garden heroes here who grow beautiful produce for us to enjoy and cook with and to sell in the Farm Shop, Farmers Markets and NeighbourFood.  So far we’ve had rhubarb, outdoor sea kale and now the asparagus is gleefully popping up out of the bed.  We’ve even had a few beets, they are about the size of table tennis balls at present but swelling every day.  Look out for new seasons beets in the Farmers Markets and use every scrap of the stalks and leaves as well as the beets themselves.  They are every bit as delicious as spinach, if anything, more delicious and meltingly tender and cook in minutes – also fantastic for juicing.  I’m a huge beetroot fan, love it hot as well as roast and pickled, for me it’s the vegetable that keeps on giving.  The new season’s crop is so mild and delicious compared to the end of last year’s crop which by now is woody and unpleasantly strong.  Try this beetroot gravlax with a side of salmon, it’s a delicious riff on the classic Nordic pickled salmon, gorgeous for a Summer lunch or as a nibble before a Summer BBQ, you love the cucumber and dill sauce and find lots of other ways to enjoy it. 

This week, I also include my new favourite cake which I told you about in November, it’s called Lori De Mori’s Olive Oil cake from Towpath, a little café on the edge of Regent’s Canal in London.  It may not sound appealing but for me it’s my new ‘best find’ of the last few months, a richly flavoured ‘madeira’ type cake that keeps brilliantly and if anything improves with age.  Try it, you’re going to love it, delicious with a cup of tea or coffee but also perfect as a dessert with some berries and a blob of crème fraiche.  This is ‘definitely a keeper’ as Rory O’Connell would say.

Wild garlic will soon come to an end so make a batch of Wild Garlic Pesto for your store cupboard before it disappears until next year.  Pick the smaller, sweeter leaves for best flavour. 

Another Tip…rhubarb is also at its best at present, so buy or harvest more than you need.  Chop into slices and freeze in kg bags for Winter –best to do this now while rhubarb is at its best.

Hope you too are feeling uplifted by the Summer weather, the bounty of the seasons and the gradual easing of Lockdown.

Here are some delicious recipes to enjoy this week.

Leila’s Olive Oil Cake

I find it just delicious on its own or with a little sprinkling of icing sugar.  I loved it recently with a compote of kumquat and some coarsely chopped pistachio over softly whipped cream but a generous tablespoon of roast rhubarb would be pretty irresistible too.

Serves 12

butter, for greasing the tins

3 organic eggs

300g (10oz) caster sugar

175ml (6fl oz) best quality olive oil

180ml (6 1/4fl oz) full-fat milk

1 organic orange, zested and juiced

325g (11oz) self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting

Preheat the oven to 180°C /350°F/Gas Mark 4 (160°C Fan).

Line, butter and flour a 24cm (9 1/2 inch) cake tin.

In a large mixing bowl or mixer, beat together the eggs and sugar until pale yellow. This should take about 5 minutes.

Slowly, in a continuous stream and on a high speed, pour in the olive oil, milk, orange zest and juice. You may need to lower the speed towards the end to prevent the mix from splattering everywhere.

Gently, fold in the flour, until fully incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared tin. Bake for about 45 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick or skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin.

(from Towpath by Lori de Mori & Laura Jackson, published by Chelsea Green Publishing)

Use every Scrap – Zero Waste Beetroot Tops (Stalks and Leaves)

Young beetroot tops are full of flavour and are often unnecessarily discarded; but if you grow your own beetroots, remember to cook the stalks as well. When the leaves are tiny they make a really worthwhile addition to the salad bowl, both in terms of nutrition and flavour. This isn’t worth doing unless you have lovely young leaves. When they become old and slightly wilted, feed them to the hens or add them to the compost.

Serves 4

450g (1lb) fresh beetroot tops

salt and freshly ground pepper

butter or olive oil

Keeping them separate, cut the beetroot stalks and leaves into rough 5cm (2 inch) pieces. First cook the stalks in boiling salted water (1.8 litres/3 pints water to 1 1⁄2 teaspoons salt) for 3–4 minutes or until tender. Then add the leaves and cook for a further 2–3 minutes. Drain, season and toss in a little butter or olive oil. Serve immediately.

Beetroot Tops with Cream

Substitute 75–125ml (3–4fl oz) cream for olive oil in the recipe above. A little freshly grated nutmeg is also delicious.  Taste and correct the seasoning.

Beetroot Gravlax

This modern Scandinavian version results in a two-tone gravlax, with a deep-red beetroot colour on the outside and salmon pink within.  Wild salmon is very difficult to source but why not try a side of fresh haddock.   

Serves 30–40

2 sides of wild salmon or organic farmed salmon

2 heaped tablespoons sea salt

3 heaped tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons dill, chopped

175g (6oz) beetroot, peeled and grated

Cucumber and Dill Sauce (see recipe)

First prepare the salmon.

Fillet the salmon and remove all the bones with a tweezers. Mix the salt, sugar, pepper and dill together in a bowl.  Place the fish on a piece of parchment paper and scatter the mixture over the surface of the fish. Wrap tightly with parchment paper and refrigerate for a minimum of 24 hours.

Line a long oval dish with parchment paper. Put one fillet, skin side down, on the lined dish. Mix together the salt, sugar, pepper, dill and freshly grated beetroot and spread over the surface of the salmon.

Place the other salmon fillet on top and wrap the salmon tightly with the cling film. Place a weight on top (I use a chopping board). Turn a couple of times during the next few days. Serve with the Cucumber and Dill Sauce (see recipe).

Cucumber and Dill Sauce

Serves 8 – 10 depending on how it is served.

1 crisp cucumber, peeled and diced into 1/2 – 1cm (1/4-1/2 inch) dice approx.

salt and freshly ground pepper

1-2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 heaped tablespoon of freshly chopped dill

450ml (15fl oz) Greek yoghurt or best quality natural yoghurt

4 tablespoons cream

Put the cucumber dice into a sieve and sprinkle with salt and allow to drain for about 30 minutes.  Dry the cucumber on kitchen paper, put into a bowl and mix with garlic, a dash of wine vinegar or lemon juice and the yoghurt and cream.  Stir in the dill and taste, it may need a little salt and freshly ground pepper, or even a pinch of sugar.

Boost your gut biome    

Beetroot Kvass


This is a slightly sour/salty tonic of a deep-red colour known to help clean the liver and purify the blood.

2 large beetroot
1 1/2 litres (2 1/2 pints) filtered water (or non-chlorinated)
2 teaspoons sea salt
50ml (2fl oz) starter – this could be whey, water kefir, sauerkraut juice or kombucha

Scrub the beetroot but do not peel.

Chop into small chunks – 2cm (3/4 inch) cubes (roughly).

Put into a 2 litre Kilner jar or something similar with a lid.

Add the water, sea salt and starter and secure the lid tightly.

Allow to sit in a warming undisturbed place for about 5 days.

Bubbles will start to appear (fermentation is taking a hold) – taste it after day 3, if it is to your liking.  Strain out the beetroot chunks.  Bottle and store in the fridge once it reaches the desired sourness.

New Season’s Asparagus with Mussels and Hollandaise on Toast

Swap out seakale for asparagus if you are fortunate to have some.

Serves 4

8-12 stalks of asparagus in season

20-24 mussels

Hollandaise Sauce

2 egg yolks

1 dessertspoon cold water

110g (4oz) butter cut into dice

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, approx.

4 slices of pan loaf bread for toasting

sprigs of chervil or dill

First make the hollandaise.

Put the egg yolks into a heavy bottomed saucepan on a low heat.  Whisk with 1 tablespoon of water, then gradually whisk in the butter, cube by cube as it thickens gradually – careful it doesn’t overheat.  If it does, pull the saucepan off the heat and dip the base in cold water for a minute or two.  When all the butter has been incorporated, whisk in some freshly squeezed lemon juice to taste.  Transfer to a small Pyrex bowl or measure and keep warm in a stainless-steel saucepan of hot but not even simmering water while you prepare the asparagus and mussels. 

Break off the ends of the asparagus spears where they begin to get woody.  They will snap at that point if you bend over your index finger. 

Bring about 2.5cm (1 inch) of water to the boil in a saucepan, season well with salt and add the asparagus.  Cover the saucepan, bring the water back to the boil and cook for 3-4 minutes (depending on the size of the asparagus spears) or until the tip of a knife will pierce the thickest end.  Drain while still al-dente, it will continue to cook a little.

Wash the mussels, check they are all tightly shut.  Choose a wide sauté pan, add the mussels in a, maximum, double layer and cook for 3-4 minutes over a medium heat which is usually enough for the mussels to open.  Remove, strain and save the mussel liquor.

To Serve

Meanwhile, toast and butter the bread. 

Cut the asparagus spears into 2 or 3 pieces at an angle.

Remove the mussels from their shells, scatter over the asparagus, drizzle with Hollandaise and garnish with sprigs of chervil or dill and serve ASAP.

Rhubarb and Sweet Cicely Compote

Sweet Cicely is one of the first herbs to pop up in Spring, the seeds are spicy and the leaves have a liquorice sweet anise like flavour.  Use liberally to garnish sweet dishes. 

Serves 4

450g (1lb) red rhubarb, e.g. Timperely early

450ml (16fl oz) stock syrup (dissolve 175g/6oz of granulated sugar in 300ml/10fl oz of water and boil for 2 minutes)

4-6 sprigs of sweet cicely

Cut the rhubarb into 2.5cm (1 inch) pieces. Put the cold syrup into a stainless steel saucepan, add the rhubarb and sweet cicely.  Cover, bring to the boil and simmer for just 1 minute, (no longer or it will dissolve into a mush). Turn off the heat and leave the rhubarb in the covered saucepan until just cold.  

Remove the sweet cicely, serve garnished with fresh sprigs of sweet cicely and lots of softly whipped cream.   

Letters

Past Letters