They think I have (finally) lost my marbles. To the surprise of my neighbouring allotmenteers, my plot looks rather overgrown and unruly. Bolted mustard leaf, towering coriander soon to set flower, chives in full bloom, and leek scapes galore. For all this, Lia Leendertz is to blame. Her new book Petal, Leaf, Seed1 has revealed a rather interesting new dimension of hidden culinary garden gems which I fully intend to explore.
In my book (pardon the pun), any book that manages to incite even the smallest change, be it in gardening or cooking, is a winner. Lia’s new oeuvre is definitely of that genre.
Petal, Leaf, Seed is rather ingenious in that it’s all about optimising what you’re probably already growing in the garden, but not harvesting. Hidden flavour treasures locked in forgotten leaves, petals and (green) seeds.
Supported by Mark Diacono’s2, beautiful photography Lia’s writing is honest and encouraging, revealing her love for gardening and enthusiasm for cooking from it. Her book walks you through the garden revealing a wealth wondrous unexpected flavours, which with just a pinch, a scattering and dollop could elevate habitual culinary efforts to a new dimension
Green coriander seed, garlic scapes, mustard flowers, blackcurrant leaves, sage flowers, pea flowers, nasturtium seeds. All fairly commonplace in the garden, a by-product even of the main crop and yet, as Lia so descriptively explains, delicious ingredients in their own right. I can’t wait to taste the mustard flowers growing on the allotment, making chive tagliatelle and grilling the leek scapes. Granted, Lia’s are garlic scapes, but hey she’s encouraged me to experiment.
Thinking about it, after so many years of gardening and cooking, it’s a tad disconcerted that I have looked past such potentially delicious ingredients. Having said that, I presume where Lia has uncovered winning flavours in her garden so too must there have been many many regretful duffers…
Make it punchy
The techniques that personally ring most true in her book, are those where a simple infusion of an added flavour can change a dish completely. Where one would normally add a little olive oil or butter, why not spike it with a herb, leaf, flower or seed? The book boast a myriad of such ideas and techniques, many of which have already appeared on the dining table.
Sugar is fast becoming as popular as cigarettes, but for the rare occasions that you do need a sprinkle, why not make it even more of a party? I love her ideas of elevating simple sugar sprinkles to floral and herb sugars. Not only do the petals and herbs provide great flavour but also vivid colours transforming any pudding, cake or pastry. On a similar but savoury note, salts, rubs and condiments combined simply with herbs, seeds and even petals can add intense savoury flavours, especially good for anything headed for the BBQ.
Included too are a great selection of sauces, pestos and condiments, which are fast proving invaluable. We love a BBQ’d spatchcock chicken chez nous, which even after judicious overnight marinading only really comes to life with the addition of a salsa verde, or a crunchy gremolata. All of which, Lia carefully explains how to make in her lovely book.
Petals are so today
Lia is at a disadvantage. Admittedly, I have never really been a follower of the edible flower fashion. You can’t watch an episode of Masterchef without some scattering of petals, along side those fiddly confit eggs.
Petals are very pretty I grant you, but flavour wise I have generally found them rather unconvincing. To her credit, Lia’s working hard to alter my florally lacking cuisine. Starting with a recipe for a scrummy cocktail is always a good start, but there are also several new recipes and techniques to get the best out of one’s petals. Crystallising flowers, fridge-pickled cucumbers & borage, nasturtium labneh, and one of my favourites chive-printed linguine.
So who knows, in future this kitchen may be a touch more floral. Having said that it’ll take some convincing to encourage this cooking gardener to start plucking her prized roses to spruce up the salad….
- Lia Leendertz, Petal, Leaf, Seed: Cooking with the hidden treasures of the garden, Kyle Books, April 2016
- Mark Diacono; author, photographer and Otterfarm-er