Posts tagged ‘vegetable’

September 22, 2012

Kitero’s arrival and the cabbage that was loved

by Ciaran Burke

Amelie walked with her dad, or rather she ran ahead and he followed. Fueled by the curiosity and enthusiasm that only a young child can possess, running along the grass path and past the stone-walls she entered the vegetable patch. Calendula flowers made her exclaim, then she saw the heads of cabbage, firm pale green globes cradled by large firm leaves. It was love at first sight, she bent down to hug the cabbage and then the lucky brassica received a kiss to its crown. Her Dad laughed, she giggled with delight, then she buzzed off to chase a white butterfly.

Calendula flowers

Snail eating some oat meal. Oats or bran is ideal for cleaning their digestive systems. The process takes about five to seven days.

Our visitors, a lively family, a lovely family, came to eat snails. Our petit gris, collected from the garden and reared in the shed, fed with bran to purge their digestive sytems. The kids preferred to eat Hanna’s delicious almond ring biscuits but us adults enjoyed l’escargot, the snails cooked in a white wine and tarragon sauce. Before they left, Amelie and her brother Gael brought us a gift, a new resident for our garden, Kitero.

Hanna’s almond rings baked according to her granny’s recipe from Finland. they proved to be a much bigger hit with the kids than my snails!

Kitero came from Knock. He arrived in a box and dressed in a fine red Kimono. His socks filled with sand and a beaming smile on his round green face. His hat and gloves on, ready for the cold, because Kitero is always on duty, in all weather, Kitero our scarecrow.

Kitero watches over our cabbage

We made him a home, he sits happily on the wooden edge of a raised bed, where he watches over our cabbages, including the kissed one. Kitero’s job is an important one, wood pidgeons love cabbages even more than Amelie. Where as she was happy to place a gentle kiss and give a firm hug, pidgeons would rather eat their leaves.

The feathered ones are not the only winged visitors to like our cabbage. Cabbage white butterflies, flutter around them looking for places to lay their eggs. When they do, usually on the underside of the leaves, caterpillars will soon emerge, hungry ones that will munch holes in the leaves. Unfortunately Kitero does not scare caterpillars, actually I am not sure if he would scare a bird, he looks too friendly. When I find groups of yellow eggs on any brassica leaves, including the relatives of cabbage such as Brussels Sprouts and Kale, I squash them. Those that I miss emerge as larvae, they get squashed. Some people do not like to squash them, instead they favour re-location of the pests, but I have no qualms about delivering a deadly squueze to a few caterpillars that I find on my cabbage leaves.

Caterpillars on brussel sprouts- Pieris brassicae, the larva stage of cabbage white butterfly

Cabbage is a widely grown vegetable and it likes the cool climate of the west of Ireland. It is hardy and reliable. Easy to grow in well prepared soil. Many people turn up their noses at cabbage, perhaps too many childhood dinners of over cooked and mushy leaves. I went through a phase of rejection but I have a renewed love of the green globes. Not that I have kissed a cabbage lately, nor given one a hug, but cooked with love to produce a tender dish kissed with the flavour of caraway and honey, cabbage is a vegetable I readily embrace again.

Sautéd Cabbage with Caraway Seed and Honey – Recipe


  • Half cup of finely chopped onion
  • 4 cups of chopped cabbage
  • One tea spoon of caraway seeds
  • Table spoon of honey
  • Oil for frying


  1. Sauté the onion in oil until soft
  2. Add the caraway seeds and stir for a couple of minutes
  3. Add the chopped cabbage and stirfry until the cabbage becomes tender but not soft (ten minutes)
  4. Stir in the honey and serve

Serves four as side dishes. One variation that an American visitor shared with us a while ago is to use dried chillis instead of caraway, both recipes are delicious! If you have tired of boiled cabbage this could make you fall in love with cabbage again!

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August 27, 2012

I fought the root and the root won…. cooking burdock roots

by Ciaran Burke

Bowl of cooked burdock roots- a tasty healthy snack

The story goes, George de Mestral took his dog for a walk and then invented Velcro. The Swiss inventor took his canine for a stroll one day sometime in the 1940s and upon arriving home he noticed that his dog has in this fur the spiky seed heads of Actium minus otherwise known as Burdock. The barbed seed heads attached themselves to the dog’s fur as they do to any fur or clothing that they come in contact with, this is the plants clever method of seed dispersal. Mr. de Mestral was fascinated by this and apparently examined the seed heads under a microscope and voilá…velcro was invented. Well, maybe not quite so easily.

The spiky seed heads attach themselves to clothes and animal fur

Burdock grows in our garden, especially under the old hawthorn tree in the woodland. Each year their impressive wide leaves wave in the wind to be followed by their thistle flowers, which then make fruits that attach themselves occassionally to one of our cats. Many a time I have cursed the burdock plant. Its roots go deep into the earth and I treated it with disdain, because I had viewed it as an unwanted plant, a weed. It was very hard to eradicate. But things have changed, or rather my attitude to plants, and what I condsider a nuisance or a weed has changed. As I grow increasingly interested in using native and wild plants for cooking and exploiting their culinary possibilities, it means that I now embrace a far greater range of plants than I did previously whenI gardened purely as a gardener interested in ornamental, exotic plants.

Burdock, Arctium minus is a handsome plant in its own way, broad dramatic foliage and emphatic thistle flowers of pink. It is a biennial, it dies after it flowers, just as carrots do. Also in common with carrots, the food stored in its long deep tap root can be exploited by us. In Japan, burdock is commonly used in cooking and is cultivated as a crop for its slender tasty roots. In Japanese the it is known as gobo. It is also used in England for making a traditional beer .

Cover the burdock root slices with water and add a good dash of soy sauce

To cook burdock the Japanese way, you cut the centre core of the root into slivers the size of match sticks and boil them in water into which a dash of soy sauce has been added. When the roots become tender, the liquid is reduced until the root pieces have absorbed all the flavour of the soy sauce.

Deep rooted burdock root

With this recipe in mind my wife Hanna and I decided to tackle a burdock root with a garden and tool of which she makes much use of called a Cobra Head. The Cobra Head tool is made in USA and is most effetive a removing weeds from the garden especially deep rooted weeds such as dock and dandelion. As she dug around the burdock root it became apparent, that even the Cobra Head was no match for the stubborn nature of a burdock root, they do not like to be dug up. After much digging and scraping, Hanna’s efforts to remove the whole root intact were in vain, the burdock root won, and a fair portion of the root remained deep in the soil as I finished the extraction process with a shovel.

Use only the central part of the root, burdock roots are best harvested before the plants have flowered

Luckily we had more than enough to work with for our tasty snack. When preparing a burdock root for cooking, wash it well. Then with a sharp knife remove the outer layer of the root and only use the central core. The outer parts remain woody even after cooking. The flavour of burdock root is mild and agreeable but the addition of the soy sauce when cooking gives it a salty zing. It is high in fibre, calcium, potassium, amino acids, and is low in calories. Also, as it is prepared in water and not frying it makes a healthy snack. I wish I had not weeded out so many burdock roots in the past…

Cooking burdock root slivers in water with a good dash of soy sauce


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May 28, 2012

Stuffed Red Mustard Leaves – Recipe

by Ciaran Burke
Stuffed Red Mustard leaves with pinhead oats

Stuffed Red Mustard leaves with pinhead oats

Last year we sowed red mustard leaves, Brassica juncea ‘Osaka Purple’, in neat rows in our salad bed in the vegetable garden. This year it is coming up all over the vegetable gardens and beyond. The large floppy red leaves are mottled green and the flowers are yellow and typical of the cabbage family.

It grows easily and rapidly, their hot flavour is delicious when mixed with salad greens, but there is always too many of them. The majority of the plants end up going to seed and hence, their random and rapacious appearances grabbing land and spreading faster than Genghis Khan. So what to do with all these lovely leaves? The answer, perhaps it is stuffed leaves with pin head oats…

– 12 large red mustard leaves
– 1 Onion, chopped finely
-1/2 Chilli chopped
– 1/2 cup of pinhead oats
– Dessert spoon of honey
– Handful of raisins
– 1/2 cup of water
– Oil for frying

1. Remove the base of the leaf stalk, and put the leaves in a steamer to wilt the leaves. This makes them easier to roll. Place them face down on a flat surface.

2. Fry the onions until they are soft. Add the chopped chilli and the oats. Fry to toast the oats, stir continuously, about ten minutes.

3. Add the water, raisins and honey, and cook until the oats are softened slightly, about 15 mins.

4. Remove from heat and put a heaped dessert spoonful of the oat mixture on each leaf.

5. Roll the leaves around the mixture and fold in the ends.

6. Place the rolls into a Pyrex dish, you can stack them if you need to, cover them with water and place on the lid.

7. Put in a heated oven 190 Celcius and cook for an hour. Check occasionally to make sure the water does not boil away completely. Add a little if needed.

8. When done, remove from oven dish and transfer to a serving dish. Drizzle over some rapeseed oil.

Serve hot or cold.


Red Mustard- Brassica juncea "Osaka Purple'

Red Mustard- Brassica juncea “Osaka Purple’

Red Mustard Leves (centre) in rows in salad bed

Red Mustard Leves (centre) in rows in salad bed

March 4, 2011

Parsnips – sowing and harvesting in spring

by Ciaran Burke
Copyright Ciaran Burke 2011

Over-wintered parsnips harvested the last week of February

Oh how I remember the fights, the complaints, there were even tears. A mushy mashed pulp, often served with potatoes, sometimes blended with carrot, always boiled. There was cajoling, efforts of convincing, extolling of their health benefits and even threats. None of it worked. I always left it on my plate, I hated parsnips. But I was young, times change and tastes change…

Many years later, in a restuarant, I don’t remeber which one or where. I had ordered some steak and it came with a garnish of parsnip crisps. I tasted them, frogetting that they were parnspis and I was amazed by the flavour. My long held opinion was about to change, by disregard of the long cream coloured tap root was to be reversed. A new view on parsnips.

Childhood memories, tastes and influences can stay with us as we grow older, even for ever. To me parsnips were always a smashed up mess, ugly and uninspiring. Sometimes it is the pressure from parents, the method of preparation and unflattering presentation that forms our opinon of certain foods. I really did not like parsnips. It was not until my experience with the thin crispy flavoursome garnish that my opinion changed.

Now Pastinacia sativa, parsnip,  is an important crop in our vegetable plot, taking an ever increasing area in our root crop beds each year. Roasted parsnip and oven cooked parsnip chips are the prefferred method of cooking, Chopped into wedges or chipped long and thin, we coat them in rapeseed oil and roast them for about 20 minutes, turning them ever 6 minutes. They come out sizzling, browned outside, tender with in. Bursting with flavour, seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, they are simply delicious.

Last year I tasted parsnip cake, similar to carrot cake but flavoured with lemon, wow! Unforntuately the Cobblestones cafe in Galway is now gone, replaced by a hairdressers, we really miss Kate’s cakes when we visit the city.

Growing parsnips

We have sown our parsnips about two weeks ago, and there is still time to sow more. At the beginning of this week I also dug up the remainder of last years crop from the soil. Parsnips are exceptionally hardy and can be left in the soil over winter. It is said that the flavour is greatly improved after the cold. My roasted parsnip which I had for dinner last night was certainly flavoursome.

Always use fresh seed, as old parsnip seed does not germinate. We sowed the variety ‘Tender and True’ last year and we are sticking with it this year again. Parsnips like stone free soil and do not dig in fresh manure prior to sowing. They are sown in-situ as they do not trasplant, the roots get broken if you try.

Sow seed 2cm deep in rows 30-45cm apart. When seedlings are 5cm tall thin them so the plants are 20cm apart. Parsnips are easy to grow, keep the beds weed free and water during very dry spells. The crop is ready to be harvested by mid-autumn.

If leaving parsnips in the ground over winter, mark the rows clearly so that you can find them. Lift roots from the ground in early spring before they start growing again.

Parsnips are a great winter crop, easy to grow, simple to store and delicious to eat.

Copyright Ciaran Burke 2011

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