Sunday, October 2, 2022

Sydney’s wet weather creates perfect conditions for a weed-to-plate dinner

It’s raining, it’s raining, and foresters are relishing the abundance of edible wild food that grows in NSW’s forests, fields, and even footpaths.

“There are wild greens, like dandelion and flat weeds and purslane, sprouting up everywhere,” says Gabriel Gutnick, founder of Sydney-based forest food purveyor Ziggy’s Wild Foods.

“You may see at least some of these ingredients growing around you every day, but people don’t understand how valuable they are.

Bonetto's Three-Weed Salsa Verde with Nasturtium Flowers, Dandelion, Scurvy Weed and Gamble Dock.

Bonetto’s Three-Weed Salsa Verde with Nasturtium Flowers, Dandelion, Scurvy Weed and Gamble Dock. Photo: Edwina Pickles



“It’s really important that we start getting people to interact with the world around them and overcome their fear that if it’s not on the supermarket shelf it’s not usable.”

Professional pasture and weed enthusiast Diego Bonetto looks forward to his upcoming book Eat Weeds: A Field Guide to Forging “Bringing Back Botanical Literacy” when published by Thames & Hudson on 31 May.

“I hope this becomes a guide to empowering people to recognize useful plants in their neighborhoods,” he says. “There is food absolutely everywhere.”

The high rainfall levels have led to abundant forage opportunities, says Diego Boneto.

The high rainfall levels have led to abundant forage opportunities, says Diego Boneto. Photo: Edwina Pickles



Bonetto runs a foraging workshop, where he takes groups of Sydneysiders on “food adventures” through Oberon, Lithgow and the Southern Highlands forests. At the base of radiata pine trees, villagers can spot saffron milkcap mushrooms, which are fleshy and slightly spiky.

Slippery jack mushrooms, which are soft and silky and lend themselves well to Asian cuisine, are more elusive, found in highly mineralized soils near iron deposits.

“We’re seeing the best mushroom season in a long time,” Bonetto says. “We’re very lucky this year. There are edible mushrooms in the thousands… It’s amazing. If not for the rain, we wouldn’t have that.”

The mushroom harvesting season typically begins in April and lasts until May, although villagers can find the fungus as early as February this year. Foraging with experts such as Bonetto is considered essential to ensure safe mushroom consumption.

Bonetto’s tours have been exceptionally popular this year, having sold out more than a month ago. At Blackheath Boutique Hotel Kyah, tickets to its foraging events were gone within a week.

After some people stopped at a place to safely collect baskets of mushrooms, they were taken to the Blue Mountains. These were later converted to a three-course meal at Blaq, Kyah’s in-house restaurant.

Pine mushrooms can be found in abundance after rain.

Pine mushrooms can be found in abundance after rain. Photo: Justin McManus



“Fresh is always best,” says Bloc’s executive chef, Mate Herceg.

“I don’t know if it’s the feeling of nostalgia, or being surrounded by beautiful woods, but when we break for lunch and have some mushrooms to cook on the camping stove, they have a different flavor. .

“When people take their first mouthful they’re like ‘Wow.’ They’ve never tasted anything like this before.”

Fodder for Diego Bonetto pink peppercorns.

Fodder for Diego Bonetto pink peppercorns. Photo: Archie Rose



Gutnick explains that foraging tours can yield “highly prized, gourmet mushrooms that every restaurant in the country is dying to get their hands on”.

In the Nambuca Valley, the wet weather has helped revive native plants that once flourished on Caitlin Hawkeye’s family estate, allowing them to feed for her catering business, Bush Grazing.

“Everything on the property was largely wiped out in the bushfire [of summer 2019] And since then we’ve been on a huge journey to bring the land back to life,” says Hockey.

“Now we have lily beans and Davidson plum trees coming back. There’s also lemon myrtle, fennel myrtle and lots of tasty, edible weeds.”

At Redfern Restaurant Bush, co-owner and chef Grant Lawn Forest uses a light touch to integrate food into nostalgic favorites.

“We make a lasagne with wild boar ragout and vetleseed béchamel, which I think is a cracking dish,” says Lawn.

“We are not trying to create an entirely new cuisine, we are just trying to see how we can adopt some native ingredients in related dishes.

“We just want to add a thing or two, then let them shine.”

Meanwhile, Lilypad Café in Glebe is on a mission to normalize the use of native ingredients in everyday Australian cooking.

Husband and wife team Nyoka and Lazio Harbinski worked with Gerry Turpin, the first formally trained indigenous ethnobotanist in Australia, to develop a menu that pays homage to the tastes of First Nations.

Their menu is supplied by East Coast villagers, and consists of wetsuit coffee, a succulent salad with country greens and a kangaroo burger with salt bush and black peppercorns.

“There are wonderful foods and wonderful flavors out there, but people aren’t using them,” Lazio says.

Three weeds to forage safely in parks and backyards

The Australian Lily Pili fruit can be pickled or used to make jam.

The pili fruit of the Australian lily can be pickled or used to make jam. Photo: iStock

lily pili

SyzygiumPili, or Australian lily, is an evergreen tree that produces a dark, magenta berry in winter. It is readily available in the suburbs, where it is commonly grown as a hedge along fence lines. The fruit is sour and crunchy, and lends itself well to pickles, jams and fermented hot sauces.

Purslane - Feed for edible weeds in Coburg for the story on Natalie Abbood and her mother-in-law, Malki Abbood.  20 February 2012.  The Age Epicure.  Photo: Eddie Jim.

The leaves, stems and flower buds of the common weed purslane are edible. Eddie Jim

shellfish

Purslane is a succulent herb commonly found in backyards. It has fleshy, rounded leaves rich in omega-3s and is best eaten raw, when the flavor is both sour and sweet. They are traditionally used in Greek salads, where they are served with feta cheese, garlic, tomatoes, and olive oil.

wild fennel

Wild fennel is an invasive species that occurs in abundance this autumn, and can be found growing along roadsides and in parks. The plant has soft green leaves and distinctive “yellow umbrella flowers,” which are highly coveted for their delicate, anise flavor. The seeds can be dried and used as a substitute for store-bought fennel.

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