Making Elderberry Syrup

This week, my boys and I foraged for wild elderberries (in French, sureau or baie de sureau). We tracked down a few of the deep purple clusters by our neighborhood castle and many more alongside the lake. In the spring, you may remember us picking elderflowers, and now is the season to harvest the berries.

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During one of our berry-picking expeditions, the three of us climbed over a small stone wall and headed into an area where people don’t usually walk. Just my luck, while we’re all picking at the elderberry bush, some parents from my son’s school strolled by and gave us very puzzled looks—especially when I tried to tell them my plans for the late summer fruit. My explanation in French probably had something to do with it, but I swear I heard one of them say “terrible”—different pronunciation in French, but the same meaning. I really should spend less time cooking, and more time studying the local language…

Please note: Elderberries should not be eaten raw. Apparently the uncooked berries contain a cyanide-like chemical. Like its flowers, elderberries are also used for medicinal purposes, such as treating cold and flu symptoms.

While I saw elderberry cake and muffin recipes online, I decided to play it safe and make syrup—in part to make sure the berries would cook long enough to no longer be toxic! I found a quick and easy recipe from David Lebovitz and modified it because I only had about 2 cups of berries. Unfortunately, I may have overcooked it because the consistency is a little more like molasses than syrup, but it still tastes good.

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The sweet-tart elderberry syrup reminds me of blackberries, but with its own unique flavor. I’m planning to use it on pancakes and crêpes or mixed in with some soy yogurt for my son. And, my husband and I want to try the syrup in post-children’s bedtime gin and tonics. In the meantime, I decided to throw 3 tablespoons into a Bundt cake. Why not?

With a mild elderberry flavor, the egg/dairy/nut-free Bundt cake looks more like a chocolate cake instead of the purple cake I had hoped for. The boys love it though. I gave them small pieces to try at lunch yesterday, and they both wanted seconds and thirds. Next time, I’ll likely incorporate some chocolate—either cocoa powder in the cake or a chocolate glaze.

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We’re crossing the Röstigraben this evening to attend a Swiss beer festival on Sunday. For those in the US, enjoy the long weekend. Bon week-end, everyone!

Asperges Sauvages and Saffron Risotto

Over the weekend, I discovered the delicate flavors of light green asperges sauvages or wild asparagus. I thought I had tried wild asparagus before, but was pleasantly surprised to find something new. (As you may recall, I recently tried cooking white asparagus for the first time too.)

When I initially heard about wild asparagus appearing at our marché, I figured it resembled the thin stalks of asparagus growing on the family farm in Minnesota. However, this petite asparagus looks more like tender, green wheat. While at Migros on Saturday sans mes enfants, I stumbled upon several bunches of wild asparagus while I was bagging up my sweet potatoes. I was already planning on saffron risotto for dinner, and this seemed like an appropriate accompaniment.

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Cooking Wild Asparagus

The wild asparagus I bought was grown in France. Unlike the more typical green asparagus I’m familiar with, asperges sauvages is a wildflower grown from bulbs that’s native to the Pyrenees (scientific name: Ornithogalum pyrenaicum).

To prepare the asparagus, I boiled it in shallow water with a little olive oil, lemon juice and salt. It only took about 5 minutes. You want to keep them a little crisp. My sons weren’t huge fans, but I thought it was great. A wonderful springtime treat.


Swiss Saffron Risotto

Saffron grows in the Swiss canton of Valais, and it’s harvested in the fall. I looked for Swiss saffron in the grocery stores and our local markets, but the powdered stuff I’ve been using comes from Iran. (For more info on harvesting saffron in Switzerland, check out this 2008 video from swissinfo.ch.)

And so, my saffron cooking experiments continue… Just last week, I made saffron bread or “Cuchaule.” Then this Saturday I tried saffron risotto—a traditional Ticino dish often served with Luganighe sausage. My husband found Luganighe at a local Italian market here in Suisse-Romande, but the sausage contained lactose, so we had to skip it. Also, while the market didn’t carry Swiss risotto, the clerk sold my husband an Italian risotto he said was even better than the Swiss stuff (but he may have been a little biased…).

For the saffron risotto, I used an easy recipe from my Swiss cookbook and just skipped/replaced the dairy. I served it with my wild asparagus and honey mustard chicken. The streamlined risotto recipe appears below, but if you have a favorite way to prepare risotto, just make it as usual and throw in a pinch of saffron before serving.

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Dairy-Free Saffron Risotto

Serves 4-6
(dairy/egg/nut-free)

1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1-2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 cups risotto
3/4 cup white wine
4-6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
a pinch of saffron (powdered)
salt and pepper

1. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan. Add onion and garlic and cook until tender.

2. Stir in risotto and cook for a few minutes until it’s translucent. Then, add wine and cook until completely absorbed.

3. Gradually mix in broth, stirring almost constantly, about 1 cup at a time until completely absorbed.

4. Once the risotto is tender, remove from heat and stir in the saffron, along with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

 

I’m working on another bread recipe for Friday, this time from Suisse-Romande. As always, thanks for your helpful feedback and support. Hope you’re having a good week so far!

Discovering Plantes Sauvages

Another holiday weekend in Switzerland leads to another new discovery… This time, we foraged for edible plantes sauvages, or “wild plants,” during a recent walk in the hills above our small Swiss city.

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Thankfully, we had a very thoughtful Swiss friend who served as our guide—especially because we didn’t want to make any toxic mistakes by picking the wrong stuff! We really enjoyed hunting for fresh, local food at an affordable price (free!). In all, we tried four plants and some new recipes, all of which we plan to make again.

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Nettle
(Ortie, Urtica Dioica)

I’ve grown up with stinging nettle and always thought of it as a plant to avoid. My youngest just got a rash the other day after running into a patch of nettle. Who knew you could eat it? And, why would you want to try? For generations, people have used nettle for medicinal purposes (e.g., treating eczema, urinary problems and muscle pain).

My friend suggested making soup with the tender nettle leaves, mixing them with some broth and potatoes. When she makes nettle soup, she also stirs in some cream. With this in mind, my husband found a quick recipe online that I used as a base for my own version.

First, I sautéed some onion, garlic and potatoes in butter and olive oil until they became tender. To protect my hands, I covered them with plastic bags while I washed and prepared the nettles. Then, I added the nettles, water and some vegetable bouillon powder. After letting it simmer for about 10-15 minutes, I pureed the soup with an immersion blender. Right before serving, instead of cream, I stirred in some room temperature coconut milk.

I had no idea what to expect, but we all loved the soup—except for my youngest, who used his spoon to splatter it on our floor. The flavor was actually quite mild and similar to spinach. I really wasn’t expecting to like it so much!

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Ail des Ours
(Bear’s Garlic, Allium Ursinum)

Ail des ours is a springtime plant that’s related to chives (a.k.a. ramsoms). Also used for medicinal purposes (e.g. indigestion and high blood pressure), ail des ours tastes like a mix between garlic, chives and onions.

After seeing a few recipes online, I decided to try it in pesto. I based my version on a recipe I made months ago using pumpkin seeds. Instead of the basil, I used ail des ours—although a mix of the two would have been even better. We ate this for lunch tossed with leftover spaghetti.

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Aillère
(Garlic Mustard, Alliaria petiolata)

Back in the Massachusetts, where we used to live, aillère appears on a list of prohibited plants—it’s illegal to import, sell or trade it. Aillère is not native to the United States, and it’s considered a noxious weed. It was likely brought over by European settlers, as it was first recorded in 1868 in Long Island.

On my friend’s recommendation, I tried making a salad with aillère. I took the leaves and mixed them with doucette (a.k.a. mâche), beets, bacon and toasted pumpkin seeds. Then, I topped it off with Basel-style salmon and balsamic dressing. So delicious!

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Gaillet
(Sweet Woodruff, Galium)

The fourth plant we discovered was gaillet, and our friend recommended using it to make mai wine. We found myriad recipes for the stuff, many of which call for champagne, strawberries, lemons, etc. In the end, we just soaked the leaves in a local white wine for about four hours and had it with dinner. The gaillet added a light and woody scent, maybe even with a hint of vanilla. I would like to try this again with some fruity ingredients to sweeten it up a bit.

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More foraging adventures are likely in our future… If you have tips or recipes to share, please let us know. In the meantime, I will hopefully share a new bread recipe later this week. Thanks for your continued interest and support!