forgotten vegetables

gewone melkdistel1

(Nederlandse versie hier)

Common and spiny sow thistle (Sonchus asper and S. oleraceus) aren’t just two very common weeds, Both of them are also very tasty free vegetables, and they even do pop up right in the vegetable garden: Both are best used young, before they flower, and can be used to replace a slightly bitter lettuce or endive, were it not that they are often quite prickly, being a thistle and all. This makes them not that suitable for raw use (depending on the specimen,  some are still soft enough for a salad, and the leaves are, always very soft and tender, regardless of the spines). I mostly use them for my wild ‘andijviestoemp ” (Flemish traditional mashed potatoes with endive, very delicious with a baked  sausage), or a simple mixed vegetarian lettuce soup, like I did ​​today.

The recipe for the soup is very simple:

1 onion
1 small potato
2 hands of  milk thistle leaves
a borth cube, salt, pepper

Cut the onion into small pieces and fry,  add potato cubes and chopped milk thistle and let simmer with a little water; Add broth and herbs, and then when everything is cooked, mix with an immersion blender.  Add water and then let it cook for the flavors to mix and develop some more …

That’s all…
It’s just a nice simple vegetarian summer-soup, made of a vegetable that you would otherwise just have disposed of as a weed …

Tip: this kind of mixed soups has an even better taste the day after you’ve made it …




Dutch version here

DSCF1081Today it’s time to go back to one of the so-called ‘forgotten vegetables ‘ that seem to currently be very popular: the Jerusalem artichoke, sunchoke or topinambour (Helianthus tuberosus)., a tuberous sunflower species, as anyone who knows a bit of Latin should have derive from the scientific name by now. the plant is rarely grown for its flowers in these areas nevetheless. They are indeed small sunflowers, but they only appear very late in the year, since the species is dependent on the length of daylight and starts to think of producing flowers only if the day is shorter than the night (sometime after the autumn equinox on sept, 21), which happens to be just before the foliage dies from frost in our climate…
Not that the plants will only get noticed from October though, all summer long they’ll give you plenty of long green leaf-covered stems that can grow up to 3 meter  tall. Because of  the size, and because the plant sometimes gets invasive, it’s better to think about the place where you want it, before you plant it in your garden…

Unlike the ordinary annual sunflower (Helianthus annuus), the Jerusalem artichoke is a perennial species of sunflower. In the winter half-year the foliage dies off, but the plant itself remains alive thanks to underground root tubers, which are also the part of the plant which we are interested in here. Those tubers are used as a vegetable and have a special taste, unique but somewhere reminiscent of Salsify, and according to some also to the artichoke (hence the name ‘ Jerusalem artichoke ‘ despite the fact that the plant has nothing to do with Jerusalem, nor is it an actual artichoke) This taste is found in more plants of the sunflower family, for example in sunflower petals and the mysterious guascas, and comes partly from the presence of the sugary inulin, that also makes the plant quite healthy for diabetics. (Note here that insulin and insulin are not the same, though they are both beneficial for diabetics!)

There are several ways to prepare the sunchoke. A “basic-Flemish recipe ‘ could be to serve them, as we would with Salsify or cauliflower, with white sauce, meat and boiled potatoes. A little vinegar in the boiling water is not a bad idea, because the sunchoke otherwise may color brownish grey due to oxidation. But there are many more possibilities in the kitchen with this vegetable, and in recent years the so-called ‘ forgotten vegetables ‘, including the sunchoke, have been getting more attention, so many more recipes have been invented for them.(It’s alsomuch easier to find them in a supermarket over here as it used to be…) It’s also always possible to experiment yourself and make up new recipes. (that’s where new recipes come from…)100_2182

Jerusalem artichokes are not that difficult to harvest: You just pull the stem out of the ground, and you’ll get some of the tubers already, and the other ones are easy to find with some digging. A disadvantage of Jerusalem artichokes is that won’t store for very long. Tthey dry out quickly, so it’s better to keep them in the ground and actually wait to pul them out until the moment you you are going to eat them… You shouldn’t fear the frost, the tubers are very frost-hardy.

My parents used to have the plant in our garden since I was 12 or so, but we never were that enthusiastic about the plant as a vegetable. Partly because the variety that we have always tends to form huge knobbly tubers, that seem to keep dirt on them no matter how hard you try to wash them A tuber that you can’t peel well and stays dirty  is not really the most convenient vegetable, so the sunchoke as I knew it was an interesting tasting vegetable that was not much fun to cook with. (Only later I found out  that it’s much easier to cook them first and then peel them…)

That ambivalence about sunchokes seemed to be more relative when I realised that the plant that  we had until then was but one race of many. Apparently there were other breeds of Jerusalem artichoke, some of which which seemed to be more promising. So this spring I started to try out new varieties. Apart from my old variety (which I had dubbed “knobbelmonster”) I planted 2 types of tubers from the supermarket, as well as a variant that I found somewhere in the wild, escaped from a garden. The logic was that commercial varieties usually have properties that are interesting for sale, and on the other hand, that plants that are able to make the escape to the wild certainly are adapted to our climate and other local growth conditions.

(It would be nice to cross them and then to select a variety best suited to what I want, but that is difficult in this climate with the species, because it doesn’t produce seed due to the late flowering period. All breeds are clones over here, and propagated vegetably, so new varieties will not arrive quickly.. . Maybe I should try to force them one day inside to get seed formation?)

The 2 types from the grocery store proved to be completely identical, so in the end I had  3 different types sunchoke: my old “knobbelmonster”,   the wild “back to nature”, and the commercial “supermarket”.  It is clear that if we compare “knobbelmonster” is not exactly the most interesting variety in the kitchen. Both the wild form as the supermarket form score much better on form and washability. The wild form had a lower yield though, although that might had something to do with transplanting them very early in the season.DSCF1091

After a test to compare the taste the case is all even more difficult: “knobbelmonster”, as is often the case with old varieties case, has a much better taste in spite of all its disadvantages, and “supermarket” has, despite all the good properties, much less character in terms of taste …  So it’s not easy after all

(On the photo, we see  “supermarket” on the left, “back to nature” in the Middle, and “knobbelmonster” on the right, while on the photo at the beginning of the article they are in reverse order.)


taste: full, superior aroma
color: purple red
yield: high
form: small bulbs are round, large tubers are monsters of knobbly bits and stuff that’s impossible to peel.
other comments: difficult to wash the earth off the tubers for some unclear reason

“back to nature”
taste: good
color: brownish white
yield: low
form: nice simple tubers, more oval in shape
other comments: lower yield might be due to transplanting.

taste: okay, but not specifically interesting compared to the others
color: reddish
yield: good
shape: usually regular shaped tubers, very round shapes

The message here is therefore a bit conflicting: the old breed is better in terms of taste, but otherwise rather difficult in use. On the other hand, the commercial race is not that interesting in taste, but much better on all other things, and the wild selection is in the middle. Further experimenting might be a good idea: The first trial clearly showed that there are big difference between varieties. Trying more breeds will definitely be a good idea!



Some pictures from october, from right before the first nocturnal frosts…/Een paar foto’s uit october, van vlak voor de eerste nachtvorst…

Tomatillo (Physalis ixocarpa), rabarber/rhubarb (Rheum rabarbarum), biet/beet (Beta vulgaris), wortel/carrot (Dauca carota) , jaltomato (Jaltomato procumbens), bladbroccoli/leaf-broccoli (Brassica oleracea) , amarant/amaranth (Amaranthus ssp.) , postelein/purslane (Portulaca oleracea), Courgette (Cucurbita pepo)

Ijsplant/Iceplant (Mesembryanthemum crystalinum) tastes like something in between sour-salty watermelon and iceberg lettuce…/smaakt als iets tussen zoutzure watermeloen en ijsbergsla

Epazote (Chenopodium ambrosioides)

Niet nader geïdentificeerde blad-broccoli/ An unidentified leaf-broccoli… (zie ook foto 1/see also picture 1)



We are currently at my parents’  place for a couple of days with the children. It’s in their garden I grow most of my plants, So I can relax, and just try some experimental food stuff and do some works that need to be done in the garden  … Currently it’s a bit quiet here in terms of vegetables: pumpkins have been harvested, and a few things like the last beetroots (eh, some huge beets actually) are still there ready to be harvested. But not much exciting stuff going on at the moment…

The nocturnal frosts of last week killed off  a number of plants for this year, including the garden Nasturtiums, and the foliage of my oca’s, and I also noticed that the cold weather had done some damage to my Malva verticillata ‘ crispa ‘. I’ve noticed that this plant was totally gone last winter after a full week of temperatures below zero Celsius, and it had to come back from seed. So I tried to do something with the leaves before they were gone, but used them in for an afternoon soup. It was a recipe for a soup of Egyptian origin,  that I encountered as a child in ‘wild food’ by Roger Phillips, a fantastic book that I unfortunately do not have in my possession, but I did come across the recipe against when I was looking for recipes for Mallow on a Dutch site.

The original recipe is meant for Molokhia or Mulukhiyah, the leaves of the same plant of which jute is made (Corchorus ssp.), from the same family as our mallow species. It is apparently popular as a vegetable in (sub)tropical areas. This recipe can also be done with other plants of the family malvaceae, Roger Phillips used the common allow, and I have now tried with Malva ”crispa’. That curly mallow species (see photo) is a cultivar of an East Asian species, and also an old and not always that well-knoywn vegetable that grows quite well, and of which I still don’t know what what to do with. Except for letting it grown really big there’s not that much that I’ve ever done with it, except for some leaves in mixed salad or other leafy vegetable mixes then …

This mallow soup is very simple, but quite tasty. Mallow has a slightly slimy feel, but is otherwise a very tasty spinach-like leaf vegetable. I do not know whether an Egyptian would recognize his soup the way I made it, but I found it very tasty, and my family members who tasted it too last evening were also enthusiastic…

(My version was also somewhat ‘wilder’ than what I write down here, because due to a lack of garlic I did use some crow garlic (Allium vineale) bulbs.)

The recipe is simple, but fun to make:

Mallow Soup

A large bowl of mallow leaves, very finely chopped
Bouillon (water with broth cube for example)
garlic cloves
coriander and pepper
olive oil

Make a soup base with water and a broth cube. When it’s boiling add the very finely chopped leaves and boil through briefly. Turn the fire off then.

Crush the garlic with a garlic press and heat it with pepper and coriander powder in a small pan with a little olive oil until the color changes, and then add to the rest of the soup. Let the tastes mingle for a few minutes.

Serve for example  with brown bread and mature cheese (like this traditional ‘oud Brugge’ cheese). (Probably not specifically Egyptian, but a very good combination…)



(Original version posted on blog van Brambonius in dutch on October 6th, 2011, this version is slightly edited. Dutch version here)

Late last summer, just before the frost killed off everything, I managed to find the time to try a recipe that I had been wanting to do for a long time, but I hadn’t been able to find the right moment for it yet: an African stew of pumpkin leaves with peanut . Today I made a variation on the same recipe for my family, and it was very well received and  apparently it was worth repeating, so I though to also post it here.

About the most specific main ingredient: pumpkin and zucchini leaves (actually all edible varieties of Cucurbita pepo, C. maxima and C. moschata, but in Africa leaves of other species like gourds are eaten too) are very edible, though it is not very well-known over here. In Africa, however there are more dishes based on it, and it is a cheap, tasty and original dish if you have some pumpkin plants in your garden, and a nice extra from your pumpkin patch, apart from the pumpkin harvest itself.

Young leaves are preferred since older leaves can get quite tough, and in fact you can use all the young parts of plants, including young stems and flower buds. Wash them very thorough. If you don’t have any pumpkin leaves want to try this recipe nonetheless, you can still use other leafy vegetables, although the flavor will be a bit different probably. In the African cuisine amaranth leaves are used as an alternative in this recipe, but I think spinach, tree spinach or beet greens will also work fine.

The variation on chicken satay here is one that I invented on the spot. I vaguely had ordinary satay from the supermarket in mind, but also Japanese yakitori. The use of a baby pumpkin (just a very young immature pumpkin, the size of a peach), adds a special touch. The taste is somewhere between pumpkin and zucchini if you harvest it young enough. This year I didn’t just use a baby yellow pumpkin, but a young fruit of an accidental cross between zucchini and spaghetti squash from seed that I had saved from a spaghetti squash last year. (See photo left. Taking pumpkin seed yourself without precautions against intercrossing is not the best idea if you have more varieties. Both varieties are Cucurbita pepo and can easily cross, and crosses between pumpkin varieties can be very tasty, or disappointing in terms of edibility. This one was good and fitted perfectly into the dish.)

ingredients for 2 persons:

pumpkin-leaf stew:
1 onion
1 medium tomato
peanut butter
curry powder
salt and pepper

1/2 chicken breast
1 baby-pumpkin
1 half peppers
Japanese soy sauce
chicken spices
white wine
(And skewers)



Pumpkin Leaves-peanut stew:
Wash the pumpkin leaves thoroughly, chop them into small pieces, and fill about three quarters of your pot with it. Then add chopped onion to it, and let simmer for a while with a minimum of water with your pot closed. when the vegetables are tender and cooked thoroughly, add the tomatoes, chopped into small pieces, and season with curry powder, salt and pepper. Keep it on the fire until the tomato is tender (add a little water if necessary) and then add 2 tablespoons peanut butter) You better put the heat lower, and now stir continuously and let simmer a bit.

Chicken satay
Cut the chicken breast into cubes, and let marinate for at least 15 minutes in a mixture of Japanese soy sauce, chicken spices, a little white wine, salt and pepper. Cut the baby pumpkin into very thin slices, and do the same with half the pepper.(The second time I made this recipe I used onions instead of paprika, and that works well too!)

Thread the chicken cubes on a satay stick alternated with one time a narrow slice of pumpkin baby, the other time a slice of pepper or onion. These skewers are then baked in the pan until tender.

Just  prepare it as you are used to. I like it with sticky rice.

Serve with a nice red wine!



(Dutch version here)

Quickweed, Galant soldier, or Galinsoga is one of the most terrible weeds that make work in your garden a lot harder here in Belgium, and in big parts of the world.A very fast-growing annual that  disappears as soon as the first frost comes, but it does spread a lot of seeds and will be back as soon as the temperatures climb back at the end of spring.

Less known is that this same plant, under the name of ‘guasca’, is a very important kitchen ingredient in south-America for certain dishes, like the Columbian ‘ajiaco‘,a very heavy soup with chicken, 3 types of potatoes, and whole combs of sugar-maize that are cooked as a whole, for hours and hours until the small potatoes have dissolved. If you go looking on the internet for recipes you’ll find it described as very mysterious native stuff from Anti-Americanism Mountains, but in both Europe and N-America you have a big chance it’s growing in your garden, and that you’ve even been cursing it!

There are 2 species of Galinsoga in Flanders and in this part of Europe, (G. parviflora and G. quadriradiata), and identifying them is more for specialists. Both can be used in the kitchen, but be sure to use young plants, and don’t use too much stems. When they start to form seeds the edibility of the plants goes backwards..
My first try to make something like ajiaco (but with influence of our Flemish chicken waterzooi) did not have 3 species of Andes potatoes, but 2 varieties of waxy potatoes, one with a yellowish peel, one with a red peel. Also I didn’t use combs of maize but just a simple little can of sweetcorn-grains. Recipes say that it should be served with slices of avodaco, capers and sour cream, but I didn’t have sour cream so I made some guacamole.

The result was surprisingly good, and a very strong soup good for a whole meal. The guascas contribute a very interestingtaste that is (to me at last) quite new, and that reminds me of sunflower petals (am I the only one to ever nibble on those?) New combinations with it are waiting to be invented! But for those interested, here’s the first aijaco-recipe:

ajiaco-waterzooi with guascas (for 2 persons)

1 onion
1 shallot
1/2 chicken breast
2 red potatoes
2 yellowish potatoes
2 big handfulls of fresh guascas
2 cubes of chicken broth
1 tomato
a hanfull of fresh peas
1 small can of sweetcorn
pepper, salt, chilli pepper, oregano…
1 avocado
1 spoon of yoghurt

chop the onion and shallot in small strips, and sauté them in a little oil. Cut the chicken breast into small pieces and fry it with some of the chopped Galinsoga. Then add the potatoes, diced or sliced. (I vary the shape of the pieces per variety.)

Add a can of sweetcorn grains, peas and a diced tomato, and cook everything for at least an hour simmer (don’t forget to stir occasionally)  until the potatoes begin to dissolve and a thick sauce is formed. Add new water when it all is boiled away. Add the rest of the chopped quickweed 10 minutes before you serve it.
Meanwhile, make some guacamole with a soft and ripe avocado and a spoon of yoghurt, some lemon juice, salt and pepper, and pepper. Before serving add guacamole ass well as capers like you prefer it.

Serve with red wine.

A vegetarian / vegan version should also work very great here btw!

Ground-elder (Aegopodium podagraria) is olne of the most agressive weeds that one can have in a garden in this part of the world. A quasi-undestructable plant that made the hairs of quite a lot gardeners turn grey long before their time. But maybe the hate that some people direct towards the plant is quite exaggerated, in fact it’s not ugly at all, and a very interesting native ground-cover, which bears beautiful white flowers in the spring. The fact that not everyone hates the plant can be proven when we see that there are even garden varieties of this plant.

But ground-elder is quite useful too on other domains than aesthetics, and it actually has a long and interesting history. The Romans used it as a vegetable, and they imported it everywhere, to have a very easy source of food, and the plant is indeed a tasty and nutritious vegetable. Very young leaves can be eaten raw, but the older leaves are too tough, and taste too strong. They are better when cooked. After flowering time the leaves are too strong and they become inedible. The taste is somewhere in between parsnip, chervil and celery, a mix of other members of the umbilifer family.

It is also used in herbal medecine against rheumatism and painful joints, and this use dates back to the middle ages, when monks grew the plant specifically for that person.

If you still want to fight the plant, in spite of all it’s usefulness, then the best way is to exhaust it. Pulling and cutting away every part of it until all underground storage is lost and it doesn’t come back. You can use those leaves in the kitchen, and it’s possible that you start to miss it when the time is there that you’ve finally gotten rid of it…

This simple soup is one of my summer soups, and very similar to my basic recipe for nettle soup. It appears to be very popular, and it also is very easy to make, and quite cheap!

!!If you collect plants in the wild (even in your own garden), you should always be sure that you have the right species, so use a good flora or fieldguide. Never use anything unless you’re really sure!! The umbilifer family happens to include some quite poisonous plants that no-one wants to put on his plate, but (at least in this part of Europe) it has no real dangerous lookalike, with the same leaves and the triangular stem profile if you cut of the leaves.

Groun-elder soup

1 onion
1 potato
2 hands of ground-elder leaves
broth-cube and water

Cut the onion in little pieces, and heat it with a little bit of oil. cut the potato in small pieces, wash and  and slice the ground-elder, and add it to the onions. Let it boil with a tiny bit of water, until everything is soft. Then add more water and a broth cube, and go through it with an immersion blender until there are no pieces left. Let it boil again so the tastes can mingle some more.

serve hot!