Best Home Chef loves a fresh perspective on cooking – so we thought we’d ask around for a few ingredients which are, totally unfairly, underrated or ignored.
We recently had a chance to talk to Rodney Dunn, who runs the Agrarian Kitchen in Tasmania, and asked him for his take on some un-sung heroes in the culinary world. He gave us a few ideas that will inject more than a little panache into your cooking.
For those that don’t know, the Agrarian Kitchen is a sustainable farm-based cooking school which embraces organic principles and upholds the importance of using naturally occuring produce. For more info, check this article out!
1. Stinging Nettles
As everyone knows, Stinging Nettles well and truly deserve their hostile reputation. Let your bare skin brush against this stuff and you will, in due course, have an experience about as pleasant as leaving your arm on a hotplate.
Fewer know that it actually goes very well in cooking. Before you quietly scream: “nice idea, you freak, but I don’t fancy the idea of burning the roof off my mouth” – let’s consider a few salient details:
- Once cooked, they lose their sting. That’s right, just pop them in some boiling water to de-sting them. Obviously, you’ll just have to wear gloves while gathering them.
- Many people consider it the “super-food” of herbs. Not only is it one of the highest plant sources of iron around: it is also source of vitamins, minerals and protein.
- They are freely and readily (as we all know) available.
- They have a rather delicious nutty, woody flavour and go well in salads. And in case you don’t believe us, we tried some – in a soup – at the Agrarian Kitchen and it isn’t a painful memory at all!
2. Wild Fennel
This frondy looking thing is readily put-down as “a weed” … but stop right there. The bulb, foliage and seeds are also a surprisingly effective ingredient in a wide variety of dishes. What’s more, you’ll find this stuff everywhere.
As Rodney explains, “You’ll find these things growing along every railway track and in just about every vacant lot in Australia.”
(Although we would suggest looking for locations not exposed to car exhaust, dogs or council pesticides … well, unless that’s your bag).
Let it settle in your garden and every summer it will flower and set seed. It has a very intense flavour, acting both as a spice and vegetable. It also has a medicinal effect, apparently soothing stomach issues … including flatulence – and, hey, that’s got to be good news.
Rodney recommends this for its ability to spice up multiple kinds of food – “Something like celery, but celery on steroids,” he says, “It is one of the herbs that has slipped through the net.”
Although it is not available commercially, you can plant and grow it yourself – and trust that it will be an excellent addition to many things.
Rodney says you can add it to just about anything for delicious results.
When we visited the Agrarian Kitchen, Best Home Chef mentor Mark Best was on hand to incorporate it into a refreshing salad along with broad beans, peas and fat-hen.
4. Goat’s Milk
Considered a turn-off for many people, but it actually has an extremely interesting flavour: subtle, smooth and minerally.
“Once you cook with goats milk,” advises Rodney, “Going back to cow’s milk can be a little bit boring.”
We sampled it (having milked it ourselves, albeit clumsily!) at the Agrarian Kitchen. Mark Best used it to create a deliciously creamy soft-cheese, which he served with rhubarb and alpine strawberries.
Elderflowers offer a surprising way to make a refreshing soft-drink commonly known as “Elderflower Champagne”.
Rodney says: “I call it Elderflower Fizz – it’s a wonderful home-made soft-drink using Elderflowers, which appear in Spring and have the most amazing flavour.”
It’s an absolute cinch to make.
• Warm up some water – then add lemon juice, sugar and some elderflowers. Let it sit for a day, then put it in bottles and cap it (without screwing them down), letting them sit in a warm place … so the wild yeasts get to work fermenting and carbonating. After a couple of weeks the bubbling will begin to slow down and eventually more or less stop. Then it’s time to screw the lids down properly and refrigerate ready for drinking.
It’s as simple as that.
But wait, there’s more …
Actually, there’s one more ingredient Rodney mentioned that will surprise you. It’s just about the most maligned ingredient of all time … and yet it’s delicious, healthy and completely organic (oh and it’s legal). But…
We’re not going to tell you what it is just yet, it deserves an article of it’s own! Stay tuned to Best Home Chef for more details.
I'm Richie and I enjoy cricket, writing, music, sending terse 'reply all' emails and tuna sandwiches. Blessed by a surplus of talents, my cooking style is best described as 'relaxed'. Ask me about the secret to the perfect hotpot (wine), and the best way to cure a hangover (hotpot). Google+