Pam Jenkins, from Diamond Creek, discusses some alternative winter green vegetables.
Variety being the spice of life, let’s talk about some alternative winter green vegetables that may well just show up, uninvited, in your garden. They may be classed as weeds or they may just be growing in an inappropriate place.
Today’s specialties include chickweed, mallow, parsley, three-cornered leeks (aka onion weed) and warrigal greens.
Chickweed is a lovely little plant that is a delicate ground cover. It will pop up anywhere that there is bare earth. It needs correct identification to differentiate it from petty spurge – no white sap when you pick some and tiny hairs up one side of the stem. The stems are quite stringy so it needs to be coarsely chopped before adding to any dish. It can be cooked but I also like it in a salad.
Commonly known as marshmallow, the one that grows in my garden is Malva parvifolia. This is another weed that will just pop up if there is an area of bare ground. It produces millions of tiny long-lived seeds in very small, highly nutritious seed pods known as cheeses. The leaves of this plant have mucilaginous properties and can be used as a substitute for spinach but can feel a bit gooey if used alone. I like to add them to spinach type leaves as they give the dish a silky texture and a satisfying mouth feel. Use the young leaves as you pull the plant out before it goes to seed.
My second use for mallow is as a soothing tea for irritating dry coughs and sore throat. Chop up four or five leaves, crush them a bit, then steep in boiling water for five or ten minutes before slowly sipping as required.
Yes, it is a well-known herb. Because I allow my parsley to flower and seed, it ends up growing all over the place. A plant in the wrong place is a weed. I thin it out but like to have some in flower for as long as possible to give any beneficial insects some pollen to keep them in my garden over winter.
Three-cornered leek (aka onion weed)
These are problem weeds in dairy areas as they can taint the milk giving it an oniony flavour if the cows eat it. They were endemic in my garden when we arrived. I allow a small patch to grow in my orchard but they are persistent in other areas as well. As I have to weed them, I eat as many as I can find use for, otherwise I dig them out before they flower and then I drown the bulbs. I use them as substitutes for spring onions. They are fairly mild so you need to bump up the quantities to get the same effect especially if you are cooking it.
In my garden, I allow it to grow rampant as a ground cover over winter. It is a lovely bright green colour and makes the garden look really lush and fertile. As each plant scrambles over a fairly large area, it works well as a green mulch, preventing other weeds from taking hold. When I need the land that it covers, it is easy to pull up leaving the ground under it moist and ready to prepare for the next season’s plantings.
As I have very little success growing spinach, I find it is a great spinach substitute. It drops seeds as it grows so there will be more for harvesting next year. I collect great armfuls of it and, in nice weather, sit on the back step and strip the leaves off into a bucket before bringing it inside for processing. As it has a high amount of oxalic acid, it is necessary to blanch it before using it in any recipes.
Here is a recipe that combines all of the above into a tasty dish of greens.
Pam’s wild version of Staffordshire frying greens
a big armful of warrigal greens, leaves picked and washed, chickweed, mallow leaves and other dark leafy greens yielding about 500–600 grams of leaves
2 big bunches of three-cornered leeks
1 big bunch of parsley
2 or 3 tablespoons of olive oil and a little butter if you like
salt and pepper to taste
Blanch the warrigal greens and drain well.
Roughly chop all the greens.
Thoroughly wash and chop the three-cornered leeks.
Wash and fairly finely chop the parsley.
Heat the olive oil in a large pan over moderate heat.
Add all the vegetables and salt and pepper to taste.
Stir through the oil until wilted – about a minute or two.
Cover and cook over gentle heat for about 15 minutes, stirring from time to time.
Remove lid, increase heat to reduce liquid in the pan. Stir frequently to ensure that it doesn’t burn.
Eat as a green or use it as a filling for breads and pastries or as an ingredient on pizzas.