No matter where you are there is opportunity to forage your food and ways to eat for free.
Yes, even in the city there’s loads of free food growing!
Here are my top ten recipes using ingredients you can find for free:
- Linden Leaves Quiche
- Dandelion Salad
- Nettle Soup
- Nettle Pesto
- Lemon Balm Ice Cream
- Lemon Balm Fairy Cakes
- Blackberry Apple Crumble
- Blackberry Jam
- Linden Leaves Salad
- Nettle Cream Sauce
The Linden (Lime) Tree is a “very common street tree” in the UK and foragers call the leaves “the iceberg lettuce of the foraging world”.
When using them in a salad – just use the youngest leaves. In fact this is a good rule of thumb for any foraging.
Ingredients (serves 6)
- 220g plain flour (or gluten-free flour plus 1/2tsp xanthan gum)
- 110g butter or Benecol buttery
- 1 tbsp oatmeal or flour (for dusting and rolling)
- 200g young Linden leaves (or spinach, nettles etc)
- 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
- 200g feta
- 4-5 eggs
- splash Worcestershire sauce
- Few dried chilli flakes (optional)
- salt and pepper
- 1 tsp mixed dried herbs
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Blitz the butter and flour in a food processor to make pastry (or use ready made) until it balls up into one wodge. Tip out onto a cool work surface (I do it direct onto my granite worktop) dusted with the oatmeal or flour. Form into a ball, then roll out (or press it out, as I find is easier with gluten free pastry, which is crumblier) into a METAL loose-bottomed cake tin or baking tin (round or rectangle is fine, but metal makes the pastry crisper).
Press the edges up the sides for about 5cm. Wash the linden leaves and cut them from their stems, which you discard. Chop roughly and zap in the microwave on full power for 3 minutes (this is to wilt them down and reduce their volume). Tip into the pastry case. Scatter over the chopped onion (I find it’s not necessary to fry it first, but you can do this or blitz in the microwave for 2 minutes with a little oil if you like) and sprinkle over the garlic, plus finally the crumbled feta. Whisk the eggs with the seasoning, chilli (if using) and Worcestershire sauce, and a splash of milk if you like.
Pour carefully over the feta and bake 25 minutes. Check the top is golden and the pastry done, and the wobble has gone from the egg mix. You may need a few more minutes. Serve with a tomato salad and your favourite dressing, although it doesn’t need potatoes, because you have the pastry for carbs.
This is quite a strong-flavoured salad, with the raw onion, so have it with some creamy mash or rich potato gratin, as well as grilled chicken/fish or (my favourite) grilled halloumi cheese.
This picture also shows the addition of the edible dandelion petals, and other edible wild flowers.
Ingredients: (serves 4)
- 225 g torn young dandelion leaves
- ½ red onion, chopped
- 2 tomatoes, chopped
- 1 tbsp fresh (or dried) basil
- Olive oil
- Balsamic or other vinegar
- salt and pepper
- In a medium bowl, toss together dandelions, red onion, and tomatoes.
- Add basil, salt, and pepper, and a slosh of oil, and a smaller slosh of vinegar.
- If you can’t face all dandelions then go half-and-half with ordinary salad leaves.
My mum used to send us out to gather nettles from the woods when we were kids, to make nettle soup. Remember to pick only the young tops, not the gnarled old stems or the older stringy plants. Wear gloves! It’s actually quite a spinachy soup, full of iron, and a favourite in Sweden with a boiled egg in. Cooking kills the sting.
- 55g butter
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 potato, peeled and diced
- 500ml veg/chicken stock
- 1 bunch nettles, thick stalks removed
- handful flat-leaf parsley
- 2 tbsp chives, choppedSalt and pepper
- 2 tbsp Greek yoghurt or cream
1. Fry the onion gently in the butter, then add the potato and nettles. Stir for a few minutes.
2. Add the stock and simmer 5 minutes. Add the herbs. Blitz until smooth in a blender. Return to the pan, heat through and season to taste.
3. Serve with a spoonful of yoghurt/cream.
This photo shows DEAD NETTLES which are actually NOT nettles! They have a stem which is square in cross-section. Put the flowers in a salad and cook the rest like spinach. The flowers grow off the stem, not just the top, so you must pick about the top 15cm of the plant, but leave the woody part.
Ingredients: (serves 4)
- 125g nettles, blanched in boiling water, drained and roughly chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 50g pine nuts
- 60g grated parmesan
- 80ml extra virgin olive oil
- salt and black pepper
- Put the nettles, pine nuts, parmesan, garlic and a grinding of salt and pepper into a food processor.
- Blend until smooth, then pour in the oil with the motor running.
- Use immediately with hot pasta or put in a clean jar in the fridge with a little more olive oil over the top.
- Pesto will keep for up to a month in the fridge.
There’s a huge patch of lemon balm growing wild in my street in London. It probably migrated there from someone’s herb patch. But for now, it’s free to anyone who can grab it. This is not an ice cream really. It has no eggs. But it is frozen and contains cream and I use it to make fresh fruit extra special, or for dolloping next to a chocolate cake or other fancy dessert that would benefit from a bit of zinging up.
Ingredients: (serves 6 – you don’t need much)
- 50g g sugar
- 50ml boiling water
- 600ml double cream (or 2x 284ml tubs)
- 100ml milk
- 4-6 big stems lemon balm (or try mint, lemon mint, ginger mint etc)
- Pour the boiling water over the sugar in a measuring jug and stir till dissolved.
- Cut/strip the leaves off the lemon balm stems and chop any larger leaves roughly.
- Put everything, including all other ingredients, in a blender/liquidiser and blend until the lemon balm is chopped finely.
- Pour into a plastic freezer box and freeze. Or into individual ramekins.
- It helps to defrost it a bit before you use it, because it sets solid!
You can also use this mixture to make one big cake, and drizzle over a lemon sugar syrup, or add a simple lemon icing afterwards if you like. They are moist enough without this though.
Ingredients (makes 12)
- 3-4 sprigs fresh lemon balm (or lemon mint)
- 1 lemon, grated zest and juice
- 130g butter , 130g sugar, 2 eggs
- 200g plain flour (I use gluten free)
- 1 tsp baking powder
Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Roughly chop lemon balm and put in a liquidiser or food processor with the juice of the lemon. Blitz. In a food processor, cream together butter, sugar, eggs (just add these ingredients to the lemon mix if you used a food processor for that). Add in all the other ingredients and mix some more. Set out 12 cake cases in a bun tray. Divide the mix between the cake cases and bake 15 minutes till they’re light golden on top. Cool on a wire tray and ice if you wish (use icing sugar and lemon juice mixed, or beat together butter, icing sugar and lemon zest for a butter icing).
You can use all blackberries but it might take you a while to gather 1.3kg! The tart apple works well with the sweeter blackberry taste. I’d use soft brown sugar for preference.
- 400g blackberries
- 900g Bramley apples
- 175g sugar + 55g for topping
- 2 lemons
- 225g plain flour
- 175g butter
- 125g muesli or a mixture of oats, seeds and chopped nuts
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6. Peel, core and chop the apples. Squeeze lemon juice over and mix well. Put the apples, blackberries, and sugar in a large pie dish. Rub the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs. Mix in the muesli or oat/seed/nut mixture and sugar. Sprinkle the crumble topping over the fruit. Bake 45 minutes or until the fruit is cooked. Serve with cream/yoghurt, or just cold milk – mmm.
Equal quantities of berries and jam sugar ( I used 2kg blackberries and 2kg sugar)
Put six saucers in the freezer (more of this later). Pick over the fruit to get rid of any green stems and leaves etc, and wash. Put fruit in a LARGE stainless steel (no aluminium, if anyone has aluminium saucepans any more?) saucepan with the sugar. Heat gently, then stir, but try not to break up the fruit too much. Then boil for 15 minutes, scraping down the sides occasionally. While this happens get all your jars out and match the lids with them, then fill the sink with boiling water from the kettle, plus a little washing up liquid and sterlise the jars and lids (or run them through the dishwasher on the normal cycle). Put a little spoonful of the jam onto one of the chilled saucers and leave to set for two minutes, or until it’s cold. Run your finger through it and if the skin wrinkles, it’s ready. If not, boil for a few more minutes and test again.
Take the jam off the heat and use a heatproof jug to scoop it out, and fill the jars. I put the lids on while it’s still hot (I like to think I’m sealing the bacteria OUT, as it’s so hot). But you do have to wait until it’s cold to label the jars (the glue melts). If you have kids of an artistic nature, they love designing the labels, which makes them feel involved if you weren’t happy having them handling boiling sugar (which is WAY hotter than just boiling water).
Back to Linden leaves. It’s a great FREE FOOD just sitting there for the taking. You are allowed to prune what you need from public trees, so long as you don’t uproot or destroy the whole plant (which I doubt you will, as they are, like, proper trees).
This batch made a chicken salad. I fried up some strips of chicken thigh, dusted in Chinese Five Spice (although duck breast strips would work well too), with a little toasted sesame seed oil, plus salt and pepper, until nicely browned, then added a squidge of agave syrup. This was then scattered over the leaves, grated carrot, sliced raw mushrooms, finely chopped onion and a few herbs from the garden (I have “salad herb” growing abundantly at the moment, which tastes of cucumber). Fresh coriander leaves are great with this combination too, plus a squeeze of lemon/lime juice. The sweetness of the agave syrup makes a delicious dressing combines with the meaty, savoury cooking juices. Yum. The kids loved it. For a carb you could serve crusty bread, new potatoes or noodles (rice or egg/wheat) either mixed into the salad, or on the side.
Back to nettles. My elder daughter pronounced this recipe “creamy and lovely”, not at all nettley.
Ingredients: (for 4-6)
- small bagful of nettle tops, say, 1/2 a standard supermarket bag
- 1 onion
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1-2 tbsp olive/sunflower oil
- 1 chicken/beef/veg stock cube (I use Oxo)
- big slosh double cream (or single)
Wash the nettles and snip off the woody stalks, especially if the ends have dried out since you picked them. Peel and chop the onion and garlic, and fry gently in the oil, in a lidded saucepan. add the nettles with the water still clinging to the leaves – you need some moisture. Stir gently till the leaves have reduced in volume, like spinach. Add the crumbled stock cube and cream, and maybe a splash or two more water, if it needs it. Blend in a food processor/liquidise in a blender, and serve with a salmon fillet (cooked in the microwave is quickest) or a chicken breast/fried halloumi, and a carb such as brown rice, as I did here. Really mild, rich and creamy.