If you’re not a fan of traditional salads, there’s a new cookbook out that will transform your perception of the humble leaf. Plates of limp lettuce, wilting on a plate next to the main attraction – be it pizza, jacket potato or pan-fried sea bass – will truly be a thing of the past once you open the pages of Leaf: Lettuce, Greens, Herbs, Weeds, by Catherine Phipps (Quadrille, £25).
Fascinated by greens since childhood – when she discovered the fairy tale in which Rapunzel’s life was traded for them – Phipps is now a connoisseur of leaves in all their varieties. As she rightly points out, the choice we have is immense. ‘Consider the bitterness of endives and wild dandelion; the pungency of wild garlic, mustard and curry leaf; icy, spicy menthol from mint and shiso,’ says Phipps, ‘the citrus of verbena and French sorrel, the resinous astringency of pine and rosemary, the mellow nuttiness of butterhead lettuces and sprout tops, or the deeply savoury, saltiness of seaweeds.’ And that’s even before you think about layering flavours by combining, cooking or fermenting.
There are a myriad of ways to use leaves, too – not just consigned to side dishes or in salads and soups, they can be bring a flourish of green to stews, potages and curries, or place them centre stage by roasting or grilling heads of leaves and you’ll find they can be as satisfying as a steak thanks to their ‘meaty’ core.
Leaf offers plenty of inspiration to increase your culinary repertoire. In the introduction, Phipps shows you how to make flavoured salts and herb oils, jellies and butters; she teaches you the best way to preserve with salt, cure vine leaves or make sauerkrauts, and has recipes for versatile sauces such as green harissa, chimichurri and coriander and mint chutney.
With everything from brunches to starters and light meals; meat, fish and veggie mains to deserts, baking, preserving and drinks – there’s sure to be something to suit your every mood. Fancy Wild garlic potato cakes, Fragrant pork and prawn balls wrapped in pandan leaf, Herb tempura or Samphire with courgettes, basil and brown shrimps? We do!
QUICK TIP: ‘Using farmers’ markets – and exploring markets wherever you go – is a really good way to understand the local seasons and what ingredients might be cooked together.’
SEAWEED AND MUSHROOM BROTH – Serves: 4
Per serving: 190 calories, 5g fat (0.5g saturated fat), 9g protein, 5g fibre, 25g carbs (1.5g sugar), 0.6g salt.
- 20 x 15cm kelp or kombu, cut into strips
- A handful of dried mushrooms, eg shiitake
- 5cm piece ginger, sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, sliced For the soup
- A handful of wakame or other sea vegetable, soaked in water for 10 minutes
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 400g mushrooms, a selection
- 1 large bunch of greens – anything you like as long as it is a wilting sort
- 400g cooked noodles, ideally udon
- Furikake, for sprinkling
- A few mint leaves, to serve
- A few mitsuba leaves (Japanese parsley), to serve (optional)
- A few ramps (wild leeks) or Chinese garlic chives, chopped
1 First, make the broth. Give the kelp or kombu a wipe with damp cloth, then put it in a saucepan with the dried mushrooms. Cover with 1 litre water and bring to the boil. Simmer on the lowest possible setting for 20 minutes.
2 Add the ginger and garlic and simmer for a further 20 minutes. Strain, but do not throw away the seaweed and mushrooms – you can chop them finely and add them back into the soup, or you can save them for another meal.
3 Return the stock to the saucepan. Add the wakame and simmer until soft, around 10 minutes.
4 In a separate frying pan over a medium heat, while the seaweed is simmering, heat the sesame oil and cook the mushrooms until glossy and tender. Add the greens and garlic/chives to the broth and simmer until they have wilted down.
5 Arrange the noodles and mushrooms in bowls, divide up the greens too (easiest done with chopsticks), then pour over the broth. Garnish with the furikake and the mint, mitsuba leaves and ramps or garlic chives.
HERB OMELETTE – Serves: 1
Per serving: 300 calories, 21g fat (7g saturated fat), 26g protein, 1g fibre, 0g carbs (0g sugar), 1.27g salt.
- 3 eggs
- 2 sprigs each of tarragon, parsley, lemon thyme, chives, chervil, dill or fennel, finely chopped
- A large knob of butter
- 4 handfuls of baby salad leaves, eg baby leaf lettuces, spinach, rocket, pea shoots, sorrel, borage, beetroot, mitsuba, amaranth or new-growth chamomile fronds
- A few small borage leaves and flowers to serve
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Break the eggs into a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Stir in half of the finely chopped herbs.
2 Melt the butter in a small frying pan. When it starts to foam, add half the baby salad leaves. Stir until wilted, then pour in the egg mixture.
3 Stir the omelette in from the sides to the centre, allowing the runny eggs to fill the exposed pan until it is almost set, then add the remaining salad leaves. Leave until just set.
4 Sprinkle on the reserved herbs along with the borage leaves and flowers just before serving, then carefully slide onto a plate.
GRILLED CHICORY WITH PANGRATTATO – Serves: 4
Per serving: 104 calories, 8g fat (1g saturated fat), 3g protein, 2g fibre, 4g carbs (0.7g sugar), 0.1g salt.
- 2 large heads of endive, cabbage or lettuce, such as Chioggia
- Lemon wedges For the pangrattato
- 30g sourdough chunks
- 30g walnuts
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 3 sprigs rosemary, leaves stripped and finely chopped
- Zest of 1 lemon
1 To make the pangrattato, crumble the sourdough into fine breadcrumbs and chop or process the walnuts to the same texture. Do not over-process the walnuts as they will start leaching oil.
2 Heat the oil in a pan and fry the garlic for a minute over a medium heat. Add the breadcrumbs and rosemary and cook until the breadcrumbs are golden brown. Stir in the lemon zest.
3 To cut 2 cross-sections from each endive, cut around 2.5cm to the side of the core, then cut the centre piece you end up with down the middle.
4 Lightly coat a pan with olive oil. When the pan is hot, add the endive and cook for 2-4 minutes on each side, until the flesh is lightly charred and the leaves are wilting.
5 Scatter over the pangrattato and serve with the lemon wedges.