Nettle quiche

My first bite of nettle quiche was a take-out slice from Duncan’s Garage Bakery and Cafe. Every mouthful was a culinary revelation. Dark chunks of earthy greenness couched among creamy eggs, mushrooms, salty feta and buttery, flaky pastry –  this quiche bewitched. 

It did something else.  It tapped into my brain’s ever-pulsing cooking lobes, prompting synapses to pop like corn. I had to make this. 

The next day, my beleaguered husband is inevitably involved. We’re on Stony Hill Trail and I’ve sniffed out some nettles. Stinging nettles. David is holding a large plastic bag open as widely as he can, while I clip and clip, wearing gloves and laughing. These wild plants are the kind I’ve seen posted on Instagram inside rich, green, layered cakes slathered with icing. The kind that can leave a prickly sensation on your skin for hours, if not days. David is leaning as far away from me as he can,  knowing the sting from this nettle too well. Years ago, he’d picked an innocent bunch of leaves to vigorously wipe bicycle grease from his hands only to inflict a painful 48-hour reaction. I notice a sideways grimace from him as I stuff each bright green bundle perilously close to his bare hands and arms. 

IMG_9836Once home, I carry my two bulging forest bags into the kitchen. I climb a step stool and reach for the tallest pasta pot I can safely lift down without breaking my neck. Once boiling and salted, the water is ready for my nettles to take the plunge.  I put my muddy garden gloves back on. I’d wear clean oven gloves were it not for the dexterity the tongs required.  

In and out. Quickly. Each plunge was a messy affair, stems and leaves flying left and right as I pushed them into the water (not unlike squirming live crabs or lobsters who have seen the same fate.) But nettles die instantly. Each thorn is annulled in a nano-second ready to be pulled out limp from the black-grey water, as I inhale the rich, vegetal aroma. 

“Like spinach, but better,” opines my fellow spinach-lover as we dine.   

That’s after we pick up four dozen eggs at our favourite farm stand on Richard’s Trail.  Promise Valley always has their red cooler out, usually packed high with egg cartons and a big, blue freezer block wedged inside. Only once have we found the cooler empty,  our disappointment dashed by the appearance of the farm’s two pet goats pressing up against the fence their long, silky ears and wet noses begging for a scratch.

Just a week before that fateful nettle-filled bite at Duncan’s Garage, I was invited by dairy farmer Caroline Nagtegaal into Promise Valley’s hen house to witness “afternoon chores.”

“Want it?” asked this tiny blond woman in very tall boots as she smiled and giggled, offering me the handles of a large, wired egg basket.  We were standing with the hens, the air a cackling, bawk-ing din, intermingled with saw dust and chicken shit.  

IMG_0224“I’ve been doing this since I was five, but I still yelp when they nip me.”

Her hand was tucked under the rump of a Highline Brown, sitting proud and unruffled in one of a long line of boxes. Some boxes were empty, others occupied. All were lined with straw, tamped down into a nest-like well. Not all of Promise Valley’s 190 hens were inside that afternoon, but Rocky the Rescue Rooster was standing among a particularly talkative clutch collected around my ankles.   

IMG_0227I chickened-out and made a tentative reach into an unoccupied box to find five or six abandoned eggs.  Brown and beige, these eggs were room-temperature to touch except one that radiated such warmth, it must have been freshly laid. 

Of course, that wasn’t my first instinct, holding that egg.  It felt like eggs I have cooled after hard-boiling, warm but ready to shell. Seeing the hen house, helping Caroline collect the eggs as she does every afternoon every single day, was a privilege for this city girl who is always thinking about food, its whereabouts and how it can be transformed into something delicious. 

Like quiche and nettles. 

I reach into the freezer and pull a small bag of dark, green frozen nettles, the product of my nettle forage with David. Each bulging bag’s forest-fresh contents had been flash-boiled, transferred tong-by-tongfull into a large ice bath and drained. I had removed all the stems, squeezed handfuls over the sink to remove excess liquid and bagged up my nettle cache for the freezer. 

Asparagus was roasting in the oven while chopped onions sizzled in butter on the stove-top.  I grated a chunk of white cheddar and beat half a dozen of Caroline’s eggs.  I dumped the eggs into a four-cup glass measure containing milk, seasoned with salt, pepper, cayenne and freshly grated nutmeg. 

I defrosted half a nettle bag’s contents in a bowl of cold water, then dispersed little mounds  along the bottom of my Einkorn and Red Fife pastry covered with soft, fragrant onions, followed by a showering of cooled roasted asparagus and grated cheddar. 

Once the quiche was safely tucked inside the oven, sitting on a rimmed baking sheet in case of  any run-off, I could relax and dream. Promise Valley is making the transition to organic and will soon be offering Guernsey milk and cream-top yogurt at their farm stand. When they open their doors I will be first in line, conjuring up more tasty recipes to share here at Mado Food.

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Nettle and Asparagus Quiche

If you don’t have stinging nettles substitute with spinach and pretend. 

2 tbsp butter

1/2 large cooking onion, chopped 

1 cup defrosted frozen nettles

6 spears cooked asparagus, sliced into 1- inch pieces

1 cup grated old cheddar

6 eggs, beaten

1 cup milk or cream

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/8 tsp cayenne

Freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Heat butter in a frying pan and sauté onions until soft and fragrant. Set aside and cool. 

Arrange onions, nettles, asparagus and 3/4 cup of the grated cheddar on the bottom of the pie pastry crust that you have made (see recipe below) or bought frozen.

In a medium bowl or 4-cup measure, combine milk, eggs, salt, nutmeg, cayenne and freshly ground pepper.  Pour into the pie crust and top with remaining cheese.  

Bake on a rimmed baking sheet in the middle of the oven for 50-60 min or until the centre of the quiche is golden brown, set and the middle won’t jiggle when gently shook.  Remove from the oven and wait 10-20  minutes before serving (to further set and slice up well).

 

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Einkorn and Red Fife Pastry

This flavour-forward pastry dough is adapted from Flourist and will taste best if you use freshly ground, local grain. If you are stuck with supermarket-only options, use whole wheat pastry flour instead of Red Fife and white pastry flour instead of Einkorn and cut down the ice cold water to 1/4-1/2 cup. Yields 1 double crust pie pastry. Freeze the leftover single crust for your next quiche adventure.

1 2⁄3 (230g) cup True Grain Sifted Red Fife Flour

1 cup (138g) cup True Grain Whole Einkorn Flour

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup (227g) butter, cold and cut into cubes 

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

3/4-1 cup ice cold water, or as needed

Pulse flour and salt In a food processor bowl once or twice to combine. Sprinkle over with cubed butter and process on high for 30 seconds or more, until butter is the size of small peas. Pour vinegar and ice cold water through the tube with the motor running, adding water by the tablespoon until it adheres into a mass. 

Transfer to a large sheet of waxed paper and press the crumbly mess into a round disc. Wrap well and refrigerate two hours or until firm. 

On a lightly floured surface, roll out half of the disc and arrange in a deep (5-cup/1.25L) pie dish.

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Shanghai Bok Choy

Whether it is green stemmed Shanghai bok choy or “regular” white-stemmed bok choy this vegetable is meant for the wok. Baby or full size, bok choy stir-fries beautifully when it is washed and chopped in similar sized pieces. Stir-fry the thicker stem portions first and toss in the chopped green leaves afterwards. Because greens release a lot of water while cooking, no extra water or stock is needed, but you will need a cover to steam until just done. 

2 tbsp oil  

1-inch fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated

1 lb/400g bok choy

1/2 tsp sea salt

Wash and prep the bok choy and ginger, arranging in bowls or plates beside the stove-top. Heat the wok on high.  Add oil, swirl to cover the sides of the wok and toss in ginger. Using a large Chinese spatula, stir for 10 seconds then add the chopped bok choy stems and sprinkle with salt. Stir-fry about 2 minutes or until slightly tender. Add all the chopped leafy ends, mix and cover. Leave to steam 1 or 2 minutes or until leaves are wilted and stems still firm but deliciously tender.

Chinese Steamed Fish

As we usher in the New Chinese Year today, let’s eat fish!  Not only is fish a fine food to eat on Friday (especially if you’re Catholic) but if you’re speaking Mandarin, fish (鱼 yu) symbolizes prosperity, because  yu is a  homonym for surplus.

Steaming is a healthy and delicious way to cook fish creating a sumptuous sauce to spoon over rice.  Moreover, steam heat is gentle yet fast.  Cooking is done in 8-10 minutes.  Once your fillets pass the flake-test,  you can leave your fish covered in the steamer and it will stay warm while you set the table or finish stir-frying some Chinese greens like bok choy or gai lan.

Chinese-style steamed fish

1 lb/450 gm       sea bass, cod, salmon, haddock, tilapia or halibut fillet, cut into 4 pieces

Sauce:

2 TBS    black bean and garlic sauce OR 2 tsp soy sauce

2 tsp      toasted sesame oil

2 TBS      water

2 TBS      Japanese mirin or cooking sherry

1 three-inch knob ginger, peeled and thinly sliced into matchsticks

3 green onion OR 1 small leek, thinly sliced lengthwise

2 TBS      fresh coriander, chopped

Mix sauce ingredients in a small bowl.

Place fillets in a heat-proof dish that will fit inside an aluminum or bamboo steamer. (Or, create your own steamer by placing a rack set in a large skillet.)

Using a spoon, place an equal amount of sauce on each fillet. Sprinkle over with ginger matchsticks and green onions or leek.

Bring several inches of water to boil in the steamer. Wearing oven gloves, place the dish with fillets into the steamer.

Cover and steam 8-10 minutes on high, or until the fish flakes at the touch of a fork and is opaque in the middle.

Garnish with fresh coriander and serve over steamed rice.

© 2015 Madeleine Greey

Kale Winter salad

Kale winter salad


Whenever I find leftover cooked vegetables in my fridge, I like to incorporate them into a salad. Squash pairs beautifully with baby kale and apple gives this crunch. Toasting the pecans and seeds makes it even better!

6 cups baby kale
1 cup chopped apple
1 cup roast squash (acorn, butternut or kabocha), broken into bite-size pieces
¼ cup dried cranberries

Dressing
¼ cup olive oil
1 tbsp white balsamic vinegar
1 tsp honey
½ tsp lemon juice
½ tsp Dijon mustard
Salt
Freshly ground pepper

2 tbsp pecans
2 tbsp sunflower seeds
2 tbsp pumpkin seeds

In a large salad bowl, toss kale, apple, squash and dried cranberries.

In a small jar, combine dressing ingredients, close with lid, shake to emulsify and taste for seasoning.

Pour over kale and sprinkle over with pecans and seeds.

Spicy Laotian Chicken Salad

Larb Gai (Spicy Minced Chicken Salad)

This warm Laotian salad served on a bed of cool crisp lettuce is salty, sweet, sour and hot. Ground roasted rice gives it a delectable nuttiness. 

 1 tbsp raw Thai jasmine rice

1 lb ground chicken

1/3 cup  lime juice

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1 tbsp minced shallot

2 green onions, chopped

1- 1 1/2  tsp chili flakes

2 tbsp chopped coriander

2 tbsp chopped mint

1/4 cup fish sauce

4 Romaine or leafy lettuce leaves

4 wedges cabbage

4 Yard-long beans or 12 green beans, trimmed

In a small dry frying pan on high heat, saute rice grains 2-3 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer to small bowl and cool.  Grind finely in a coffee grinder or spice mill.

In a medium bowl, combine ground chicken with 2 tbsp of the lime juice.

Heat wok on high heat.  Add oil, swirl around sides of wok.  Add chicken and stir-fry until no longer pink about 4 minutes.  Transfer to medium bowl.  Add ground roasted rice, shallots, green onion, chili flakes, coriander, mint , remaining lime juice and fish sauce.   Mix well.Arrange lettuce leaves on serving platter and place chicken mixture on top.  Arrange cabbage wedges and green beans around the chicken.

Tomatillo Salsa Verde

You’ll find fresh tomatillos at Farmers’ Market now, wrapped in their papery husks. Inherently sour, tomatillos make a piquant salsa that can still take a squeeze or two of lime juice. A wonderful item to can. Simply multiply by 6 to create a large batch that will keep your pantry full of salsa all winter long. 

 

2 tbsp coconut oil 

½ red onion, chopped

1 large garlic clove, chopped

12 tomatillos, quartered

½ tsp salt

¼ cup water

1-2 tsp dried chili flakes

1 tbsp sugar

2 tbsp fresh lime juice

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

 

Heat oil in a medium saucepan and saute onion and garlic until soft and fragrant. Add tomatillos, salt, water and chili flakes and simmer 10 minutes, covered until tomatillos turn light green and sauce thickens. Season with lime juice and garnish with cilantro. Makes 1 cup.