Archive for ‘Vegetables’

July 7, 2013

Foraged Food Indian Style – Creamy Buttered Nettle Panir

by Ciaran Burke


When I mention foraging to people, one of the first remarks made is often in relation to nettle soup… It seems that it is probably the best known foraged food, and while nettle soup can be tasty and delicious, it is a pity to limit the experience of harvesting wild food to the same old recipes. Nettles are delicious and tasty, and can be cooked in a number od ways as a vegetable, steamed and eaten with melted butter and freshly ground black pepper, saured in rape seed oil and eaten with new potatoes or even raw in a salad! If you rub nellte leaves roughly between the palms of your hands you remove the stinging hairs. It must be done firmly and with confidence, as the old saying about grasping the nettles says…

Nettle pesto is also delicious, used as a topping for potatoes or crostini, and of course, mixed with pasta and some finely grated cheese, I like a hard goats cheese with my nettle pesto. One of the most delicious ways that I have cookeed nettles this yerar though, is replacing spinach in the classic Indiam Saag Panir recipe.

While nettles are usually used as young shoots in the spring, older nettle clumps can be chopped back now and the new growths can be harvested in afe weeks time.

Creamy Buttered Nettle Panir – Recipe

Panir is a soft cheese that is easy to make at home. Bring one litre of milk to the boil then add about 3 tablespoons of lemon juice, to make the milk curdle. Then pour the curdled milk through a muslin cloth. Squeeze the cheese in the cloth to emove remaining fluid and then shape into a flat block, like whenyou buy feta. Place the cheese in the cloth on a plate and cover with a chopping board weighed down with a tin of beans or a bag of sugar. Leave for two hours and then either refrigarate or use.

Homem ade panir cheese cut into cubes

Home made panir cheese cut into cubes


  • About 30 young nettle shoots
  • block of panir cut into cubes
  • 125 butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon of onion seeds (nigella seeds)- nothing to do with onions nor Nigella damsecena
  • 4 curry leaves
  • clove of garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon of ginger powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 150ml of cream
  • 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
  • 1 red chilli choped (optional)
mixing the panir and wilted nettles

Mixing the panir and wilted nettles


  1. Put nettle leaves in a steamer and cok until wilted. then cool and set aside
  2. Melt 25g of butter in a large saucepan and slowly fry the panir cubes until browned, then remove and place on some kitchen paper
  3. Melt the rest of the butter, add the remaining ingredients except the lemon juive and chillies. Stir for a few minutes.
  4. Mix the spinach and panir cubes and then add to the mix.
  5. Add the lemon juice and sprinkle the chillies on top.
  6. Serve with brown basmati rice or home made Naan bread- delicious!
Creamy buttered nettle panir

Creamy buttered nettle panir

January 7, 2013

Gotcha Oca! Oxalis tuberosa – A new root crop with a future?

by Ciaran Burke
An Oca tuber

An Oca tuber

I first grew Oxalis tuberosa about fifteen years ago. I received the seed from a seed list, it was listed as an alpine plant from South America. I grew it in a well drained compost, lean, without much fertilizer and it eventually produced an attractive yellow flower. It was quite nice. Last year I was re-acquainted with this Oxalis, under quite different circumstances. A gardening firend of mine, Carmen Cronin who runs the Clare Garden Festival gave me some tubers of a vegetable plant which she described as having shamrock-like leaves and that it came from South America. I suspected that it was indeed my old friend O. tuberosa, although she called it OCA and pronounced it Och- ah.

Young Oca plants being potted up into compost bags

Young Oca plants being potted up into compost bags

Well I was intrigued! The tubers were waxy textured and brightly coloured, some red, some yellow, others almost white. The following week I planted them in pots with the help of some students taking part on The New Growth Project course that we run in our garden. We watched the plants closely, all were curious to see how they would grow, would these funny looking tubers be a substitute for the beloved spud? We joked that one day people might be ordering bags of Oca fries to go with their burgers.

Oca plants potted up

Oca plants potted up

That was back in April. We planted the tubers in 2 litre pots of garden compost and later potted on the plants into re-cycled compost bags filled with more of the garden compost. These were kept in the polytunnel where we work with the students. The growth of the Oca was far more than I expected and by mid-summer we were battling for space with the South American vegetables.

Oca plants growing in the tunnel during the summer- they grow very big

Oca plants growing in the tunnel during the summer- they grow very big

Ocas are relatively unknown as a vegetable, apparently they grow them in New Zealand where they call them yams, which is a very misleading name. Oca or Oxalis tuberosa are related to wood sorrel, Oxalis acetosella, a native of Irish woodlands. The foliage is very similar being trifoliate and shamrock like. The foliage can be eaten, it has an acidic sour taste which is quite appealing, similar to sorrel.

Oca will grow vigorously, some of the plants produced stems 2 metres (over 6ft) long by the autumn. Oca are not suitable for growing outdoors in all parts of Ireland, early frosts will turn the fleshy stems to mush before tubers start to form. The plants have a short day photoperiodic response for tuber formation which means that tubers do not start to form and swell until mid-October. Covering the plants with polythene or fleece will help protect them from light frosts.

Frost in October killed outdoor Oca plants before their tubers developed

Frost in October killed outdoor Oca plants before their tubers developed


I found that plants in the polythene tunnel also got frost damaged when temperatures went below zero degrees Celcius (32F). As the days got shorter the students and I checked the plants weekly. After the tomato plants were cleared from our upper tunnel we moved the plants that we had been fighting for space in our potting tunnel to the bed vacated by the tomatoes. We laid the trailing stems of the Oca on the beds. Along the stems small tubers started to form. Portions of the stems that were covered with soil developed larger tubers.  Next year I will earth up the tubers more as some close to the surface had holes eaten in them by birds. Otherwise the Oca were untroubled by pests and untroubled by diseases. I did not give any extra fertilizer to the plants while they were growing as the plants were growing so big, but addition of supplementary fertilizer low in nitrates might help increase the yield of tubers if applied late in the growing season. We kept the plants watered throughout the summer.

oca plants transferred into other tunnel- the long stems trailed onto the raised bed after the tomatoes had been cleared out

oca plants transferred into other tunnel- the long stems trailed onto the raised bed after the tomatoes had been cleared out


During late summer I experimented with taking cuttings of the Oca plants. They rooted quickly and easily and by Christmas most of the plants had made one or two decent sized tubers. I will use these plants for replanting this year.

One of the Oca plants grown from cuttings

One of the Oca plants grown from cuttings


Our first harvest of the tubers was made just before Christmas. Two good portions were made from a well cropping bag.

Red oca from one of the bags

Red oca from one of the bags

So after all this, how do Oca taste? On Christmas Eve my wife and I roasted our first harvest of red and yellow Oca tubers. Oca tubers can even be eaten raw, but i prefer to cook them. They can be fried, boiled, steamed, deep fried or roasted. After washing the well, they are easy to clean due to their smooth and waxy skins. We then tossed them in rapeseed oil and baked them for about 20 minutes until they were tender.

Oca tossed in oil and baked for about 20 minutes...delicious!

Oca tossed in oil and baked for about 20 minutes…delicious!

OCA ARE DELICIOUS! They remind me a little of a fried potato seasoned with vinegar.

So next season we are going to grow more Oca. I look forward to experimenting with them; I am going to take cuttings from the first flush of growth and see if the plants make more tubers, I will earth up the stems as they grow. I will also experiment with day length control, and try to induce tuber formation early by covering the plants with black polythene for a few hours each morning to produce a shorter day length.

I can see it now, fast food outlets on Saturday nights after closing time “Do you want Oca fries with your burger?” “Yes please!”

Oca tubers from one of the bags

Oca tubers from one of the bags


Moving some Oca plants in composst bags outdoors- these were covered with fleece

Moving some Oca plants in composst bags outdoors- these were covered with fleece

Tubers developing at the base of the plant grown from cuttings

Tubers developing at the base of the plant grown from cuttings

Oca grown from cuttings in late summer

Oca grown from cuttings in late summer







January 7, 2013

The First Weeds Are The First Harvest- Chickweed Soup Recipe

by Ciaran Burke
Chickweed soup... will warm you up on a cold day

Chickweed soup… will warm you up on a cold day

Happy New Year!

the weather here in the west of Ireland has been unusually mild, which is great in some respects; I can look forward to inhaling the sweet fragrance of Daphne bholua flowers in the next few days, the gorse bushes are about to flower and I can soon enjoy some sweet gorse flower cordial, about 2 months earlier than last year! The downside of the mildness is that weeds keep growing, some have not stopped at all. One that has kept a year round presence in our garden is Stellaria media, known as chickweed or mouse eared chickweed. Luckily it is a tasty plant that can be made into a delicious soup or included in a pesto. So the year’s first weeding session can also be this years first harvest!

Chickweed -Stellaria media

Chickweed -Stellaria media

Chickweed, Stellaria media, is an annual weed which can germinate at any time of year. Its botanical name refers to the starry white flowers that are produced at the ends of the lush green growth. Chickweed often grows in abundance in recently disturbed ground, the seeds are stimulated into growth by light. So when you have done a hard days work getting the flower beds all neat and tidy or sown some vegetable seeds in a carefully prepared seed bed, the first thing you can expect to see is a fresh crop of chickweed starting into growth.

Every one of its flowers is self fertile and each seed pod can produce 2500 seeds. These seeds can lie dormant in the soil for up to four years. When growing well they can re-seed within 6 weeks of germinating. Chickweeds foliage is rampant and can easily swamp out slower growing seedlings and young plants.

Chickweed -Stellaria media foliage

Chickweed -Stellaria media foliage

Chickweed is easy to remove by hand or by hoeing in dry weather. Disturbance of the soil does however encourage a new batch of seeds to grow. A troublesome weed for all gardeners, so what better way to exact your revenge than to eat it, turn it into to lunch or dinner and make a nice soup, it is easy.

Only collect chickweed from ground that has not been treated with weed killers, never collect from busy roadsides or  public places. Make sure you know the plant you collect is definitely chickweed, if you are not sure, never take a chance!

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  1. •1 Medium onion
  2. •2 Small potatoes
  3. •1 Litre of chicken or vegetable stock
  4. •2 Good handfulls of chickweed  pulled from the garden, only use fresh green growth which has not flowered.
  5. •Water
  6. •A good knob of butter and some olive oil
  7. •Salt and Black pepper
Diced onion, diced potato and chickweed - wash the chickweed well.

Diced onion, diced potato and chickweed – wash the chickweed well.


  1. 1.Peel and finely dice the onion
  2. 2.Peel and finely dice the potatoes
  3. 3.Remove big stalks from the chickweed and wash well

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  1. Melt the butter in some olive oil in a large saucepan
  2. Saute the onion until soft and golden but do not let it burn.
  3. Add the diced potatoes and stir in the oil for a couple of minutes.
  4. Add a little water, enough to cover the potatoes and simmer until the potatoes are soft.
  5. Then add the chicken stock and cook until it is boiling.

    When onions are soft pour in the chicken or vegetable stock

    When onions are soft pour in the chicken or vegetable stock

  6. Throw in the chickweed leaves and simmer for about ten minutes.

    Cook until the potato is soft then add the fresh chickweed and cook for a further 5-10 minutes before blending with a hand blender

    Cook until the potato is soft then add the fresh chickweed and cook for a further 5-10 minutes before blending with a hand blender

  7. Season with salt and pepper.
  8. Remove pan from the heat and use a hand blender to blend the soup.
Chickweed soup... chickweed has its own unique flavour...surprisingly delicious

Chickweed soup… chickweed has its own unique flavour…surprisingly delicious

Now serve and enjoy.

From the summer... Chickweed soup, seakale florets and sour thistle salad, a foraged meal...

From the summer, a foraged and home grown meal: Chickweed soup, seakale florets, sautéd nettle shoots and sour thistle salad with new potatoes from the garden,

November 24, 2012

Karjalanpiirakat – Karelian Piroques – Recipe – a Traditional Finnish Savoury Pastry

by Ciaran Burke

Karjalanpiirakat – Karelian piroques ready for eating…

Karelian Piroques are a popular Finnish pasty, originating in the east of Finland, Karelia. Every visitor to a Finnish house will be served these tasty savoury pastries. Home made ones are the best, variance occurs. Hanna’s grandmother taught her how to make them, the authentic Karelian way, and of course everybody’s granny makes the best ones! Otherwise known as Helsinki granny, she was a Karelian native who moved to Helsinki after the war when a large part of Karelia was given to Russian as part of a peace treaty in 1945.

What makes a real Karelian piroque authentic is that the rye based pastry is rolled really thin. The filling is added, the pastry folded and pinched to make pleats and then cooked in a really hot oven. The pastry cooks hard, but upon removal from the oven, melted butter is brushed on top of each piroque. The melted butter soaks into the pastry, leaving it soft and tasty. Karelian piroques are best served warm and an ample dollop of egg butter on top.

The traditional fillings were either barley porridge or mashed turnip. These days the most common filling is rice, like rice pudding but savoury. Potato is also commonly used. My favourite is turnip, but other fillings could be used such as beetroot or pumpkin. There is plenty of chances to experiment, sweet potato and butternut squash are two alternatives and there is no reason why one could not add spices to the mix.

Hanna decided it was time to pass on her familial recipe and technique to me, to share the tradition of Karelia with her Irish man. The real skill is mastering the pulikka, the rolling pin used for Karelian piroques. After a couple of odd shaped attempts were produced, i started to get the hang of it, and after the batch was completed Hanna reckoned Helsinki granny would be proud of my effort, that there was a happy granny looking down from the heavens.

Wrap the butter piroques with greaseproof paper and leave for 10 minutes so that they soften. If you make too many, they freeze well.

Karelian Piroques – Recipe



  • 200ml water
  • 1tsp. salt
  • 450ml rye flour (It has to be rye. You can get in health stores)
  • 100ml white spelt flour (or wheat)

Rice, potato and turnip fillings


1)   potato mash


2)   turnip mash


3)   Rice porridge

For the potato mash:

  • 10 potatoes
  • 1tbsp. butter
  • salt


For the turnip mash:

  • 1kg turnip
  • 1tbsp. honey or syrup (mixture of golden syrup and black treacle 2:1)
  • pinch of ground ginger
  • salt and pepper

For the rice porridge:

  • 300ml rice (short grain like for rice pudding or follow instruction on package for amount of rice to milk)
  • 1, 5 l milk (or soy milk)
  • salt

For brushing: quite a bit of melted butter

Fillings – Method

  • Make first the porridge or the mashes. For the porridge: boil the rice in milk until soft and thick (porridge). Add salt. Let cool.
  • For the potato mash: peel the potatoes and cook in salty water until very soft. Take care that they don’t become watery. Mash and mix with butter, add salt to taste. Let cool.
  • For the turnip mash: peel the turnip and cut into small cubes. Cook in salty water until very soft. Try to cook all the water away, not to pour it away. Mash and add the honey/syrup, ginger, salt and pepper. Let cool.

Kakkara – the Finnish name for Karelian piroque pastry balls

Method for the pastry:

  1. Mix flours, water and salt with hands until you get flexible pastry.
  2. Make a ball and roll it into a fat sausage. Then cut into 25-30 pieces.
  3. Cover with some flour to stop trying.
  4. Put the oven to heat as hot as you can. Ideal would be 300°C, but most of the modern ovens heat only upto 250°C.
  5. Take then the pastry pieces one by one, clean excess flour off, roll between your hands to a ball and flatten against table. These are called kakkara.
  6. Cover each formed kakkara with some flour  to stop them drying.
  7. Take kakkaras one by one. Brush of the excess flour and roll with rolling pin on a floured table to very thin circles. The thinner the better.
  8. Finnish rolling pin for these type of pastry is pulikka, a piece of wood which gets thinner towards both ends. While rolling the kakkara should turn under the rolling pin in circle. This might need a bit of practice… In fact most of the Finns don’t know how to do this, so roll whatever way you want as long as the kakkaras get thin.
  9. Lay rolled kakkara aside and cover with flour. Lay next kakkara when rolled on the top of the first one and cover with flour as well. Continue like this until you have all the kakkaras rolled, and a pile on flat round pastries.

Rolled pastry

Filling – Method

  1. Take the one on the top of the pile. Brush carefully off all the excess flour from both sides. Lay on the table and put filling in the middle along the whole diameter of the pastry circle.
  2. With your fingers pinch the pastry up on both sides of the filling to form pleats. The pastry should be now oval in shape and in the middle a filling stripe should be visible. Put on a buttered oven tray.
  3. When all pastries are prepared put them in the oven and bake for 12- 15min at highest setting.
  4. Remove from oven and  brush with melted butter while they are still hot.
  5. Wrap into baking / greaseproof paper to soften for 10min.

Tray of piroques ready for the oven, use a pastry brush to remove excess flour

Eat when still warm. If you eat them later they are better to be heated up. Traditionally they are eaten with butter or eggbutter.

Karjalanpiirakat – Karelian piroques ready for eating…


  • 3 eggs
  • 50g butter
  • salt


Boil the eggs hard and mash roughly with fork. Add the butter and salt to taste and mix well.

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November 11, 2012

Tom’s Tom- From red centiflor to little yellow pear

by Ciaran Burke

A few years ago we sowed some seed of a Tomato, the variety was called Tomato ‘Red Centiflor’. We purchased it from Irish Seedsavers Association. It grew well, a tasty little tomato. It bears its fruit in big clusters. The trusses, the fruiting branches f tomatoes, are packed with a huge mass of flowers and bear masses of small red fruit. We saved some seed of our own. Some of it we gave to my Dad, Tom.

The following year our seeds germinated and grew as we expected, masses of tiny red fruits on large trusses, but one of Tom’s plants of ‘Centiflor’ produced not round, but plum shaped red fruit, nice. In all other respects it was the same as the original variety, but the shape was like a tiny plum tomato instead of round. That is the nature of seed raised plants, genetic variation can lead to variants, new varieties. We encouraged Tom to save some seed. We sowed some seed this spring and the couple of plants that we grew produced masses of flowers in large trusses, and when the fruit appeared they were plum shaped, actually more like pear shaped.

It grew all summer and when towards the end of the miserable season the fruit eventually ripened they were yellow, not red! So from round red ones they have changed to plum yellow fruits. So this year we will save some seeds and see what comes up next year.

I want to keep the yellow pear shaped centiflor going so before the frosts finally put an end to the plants in the polytunnel I took a few side shoots off to make cuttings. Cuttings are clones, no variation. Tomato cuttings root very easily, even in a little water on the windowsill. I will try and keep it going through the winter and plant it in the tunnel next spring when the weather warms up again.

In the meantime, I will pickle the green fruits that I harvested yesterday using Helsinki Granny’s recipe that I used before. The small funny shaped fruit will look great in a jar and taste delicious with cheese.

Irish Seed Savers Association –LINK

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