On July the 1st I’ll be beginning my second attempt to live on entirely wild/foraged food for a year. When I tell people that the diet will be predominantly plant based this usually elicits one of two questions: ‘How will you get enough carbs?’ and, ‘What about protein?’ Carbohydrate is relatively easy to come by; obtaining sufficient protein on the other hand is more problematic. One answer to the challenge lies in the wild food adventure that is leaf curd production – the extraction of protein direct from multiple leaf varieties. Actually, in 15-20 years time I wouldn’t be surprised to see leaf curd supplementing if not replacing meat as the most common source of protein nutrition. Before then, forward thinking mechanical engineers must devise equipment that can extract the protein more efficiently than that which is currently available. Still, in the meantime, and on a small scale, let’s experiment and have fun with leaf curd!
What exactly is leaf curd?
Leaf curd or leaf concentrate isn’t just protein. It also includes vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A (as beta-carotene), iron, calcium and essential micronutrients. The resulting dry fibrous residue can be composted or, better still, made into card or paper – edible paper in fact!
Given that the curd is so nutritious, it has been produced on a small scale in countries where malnutrition is endemic. Given, also, that over half the population in this country is seriously overweight; I reckon that counts as bad or mal- nutrition. So let’s get to work!
At present I have successfully utilised Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum), Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum), Ground Elder (Aegopodium podagraria) and Stinging Nettle (Urtica procera). The flavour of the first three is intense. Consequently the finished curd from these combines well with the milder tasting nettle curd in a ratio of 1:6.
How to make leaf curd.
First, collect young and tender leaves. 12kg of stinging nettles will give about 1 kg of damp crumbly curd; for wild garlic it is slightly less at 12kg: 800g but the flavour is super intense and a little goes a long way. The aim is to break open as many of the leaf cells as possible to release the protein. This is best achieved if the leaves are washed and used as soon as possible after collecting. The three most convenient small scale methods involve either liquidizing the leaves in a blender, passing them through a meat mincer or feeding them into a blade-mounted juicer. The latter two methods will give you a little juice and much wet pulp that then needs to be squeezed in a cloth to extract the juice. I prefer to use the liquidizing method. Place about 250g of washed and roughly chopped leaves into the liquidizer and top up with water –spring water preferably.
Blend for a minute or so to produce a fine pulp. Repeat this process until all the leaves have been processed. If using wild garlic, after 2-3 times using fresh water, strain out the solids and use the same liquid to blend the next batch of leaves.
If using wild garlic leaves the strained liquid can be used as a stock base for soup. It can be bottled for subsequent use (note: with many if not most leaves the liquid is not safe to consume regularly).
How to store and use the curd.
Fresh curd should be used as soon as possible although it will keep in a sealed air-tight container in the fridge for a few days. Dividing into cubes and freezing or mixing in 200g of salt per kg and then refrigerating also works well. Drying is possible in a low oven, above – but not in contact with a radiator or in a food dehydrator. Nevertheless, it should be manually crumbled up half way through the drying process; this avoids the formation of apparently dry lumps that remain moist inside.
I tend to mix it with salt and use small pieces as stock cubes or freeze and thaw to use as fresh.
So, after all this effort how can it be used!? Well, it’s surprisingly versatile. I have used it in all of the following ways: in spicy Indian sauces, risotto, vegan burgers, salsa, savoury seaweed mousse, pesto, bread, pasta and noodles, pastry, pancake mix, soup, stews, as a salty spread, pâté, stock cubes and even to make green fried eggs!
Pasta: Place 2 medium-sized eggs, 80 g fresh leaf curd (preferably from wild garlic), 300g of plain flour and a pinch of salt in a bowl. Mix together and knead vigorously for 10 minutes. Roll out and cut to size using a pasta machine.
The pasta shown here is served simply with St George’s Mushrooms, a stirred in egg, a little cream, some goat’s cheese Gouda, slow roast cherry tomatoes salt and pepper. All this took quite a lot of effort but, in the end, it was worth it. I can honestly say that this was the most delicious tagliatelle pasta dish I have ever eaten. No… really, honestly!!
Pesto: Take 50g of fresh nettle curd, 50g fresh wild garlic curd, 50 lightly steamed tender nettle tops, 10 medium-sized common sorrel leaves, a small handful of grated parmesan, 6-8 tbsp olive oil, a little salt, pepper and lemon juice and blend to a pulp. Divide between clean jars and refrigerate. Finally, either take the residue from your leaf curd experiments and turn it into card embedded with wild garlic seeds. Use this to make envelopes. Send to your friends. They can plant the envelopes and start their own wild garlic crop. Alternatively use to make card and then boxes to present gifts of wild leaf pesto. Alas, plant card and paper is beyond my remit here. But here’s a picture anyway!
Bilberry leaf kombucha tisane
Komucha tea is associated with impressive heath claims. These may or may not be true. I just like it. This is one of my favourites.
Bilberry plants (Vaccinium myrtillus) can be found in open woodland and moors on acid soil.
1 SCOBY mat (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast): the kombucha
2 litres spring water
1 litre bilberry leaves – loosely pressed down in a measuring jug
10 tbsp sugar
Bring all the water to the boil and stir in the sugar. Turn off the heat and stir in the bilberry leaves. Leave to stand for at least 30 minutes or until just warm. Then strain into a clean bowl. Place the SCOBY on top and cover the bowl with a clean dry tea towel. Secure with string or elastic. Leave at room temperature for 2-4 weeks, depending on the level of sweetness/acidity desired. The tisane is generally ready when the SCOBY has divided in two. Give it to a friend. Bottle and refrigerate. Serve chilled. Unused SCOBY can be immersed in a little tea and stored in a covered non-metallic container in the fridge. SCOBYS can be made at home. However, the tradition is to pass them on to friends or anyone who wants one for free. Hence, there are a number of websites where they can be obtained for no more than the postage costs.
Here’s a good one. http://www.kombu.de/suche2.htm#uk Enjoy!