Just to make a change, I am going to blog about something other than fungi, right in the middle of the autumn. Suffice to say it is a very strange year for fungi, extremely unpredictable so far due firstly to the very hot summer and secondly to different places receiving different amounts of rainfall since the heatwave broke. However, last Sunday’s deluge should be enough to get things back on course for everywhere apart from the far south and east (which didn’t get any rain at all in some places). It usually takes ten days to a fortnight for the larger fungi to respond to that sort of soaking.
Today I have been playing with a wild food I’ve long neglected, perhaps because it just doesn’t seem that appealing. Turns out I should have been paying it more attention, because it’s a good one. We tend to think of duckweed as a pest of ornamental ponds, but some types (notably the Wolffia species, which are the smallest flowering plants on Earth) are actually cultivated for food in south-east Asia (where they are known as “Water Meal”). They are incredibly nutritious, right up there with things like soy and lentils. They also reproduce at a vast rate in the right conditions, and contrary to some reports I have heard, they are also pretty good to eat.
Yesterday I discovered a pond hidden away close to our new base in Brede – it appears to be a natural, very shallow spring-fed pond, surrounded and overhung with trees and overflowing gently down a slope into a field. The water was crystal clear, not stagnant at all (helps being spring fed, so the water is continually replaced) and covered with a carpet of the smallest of the European Lemna species – Lemna minor, or Least Duckweed. This is almost as small as the Wolffia species, the main difference being that it has a root and the wolffias don’t, and the small size is quite important in terms of what you can use it for.
Collecting it is simple – you just use a sieve to carefully scoop the duckweed off the surface, making sure you avoid disturbing anything large or disintegrating down below. I can imagine this might be quite difficult in some circumstances, but at this location it was very easy, the only non-duckweed getting into the sieve being large oak leaves, which were easily removed. I then took it home and washed it (which resulted in duckweed getting all over the place), then dried allowed it to drain.
I tried various dishes – just frying it first, then making an omelette with it, cooking it with soy sauce and fish sauce, but the experiment that worked out best by far was a variation on South Indian style fried eggs. This usually involves boiling some eggs and then frying them in a mixture of spices, and this version involves the addition of garlic, ginger, fennel seeds and cooking in ghee instead of oil. After a couple of modifications, I am rather pleased with this. I can imagine it would also work well with paneer instead of eggs. The taste of the duckweed is mild, but very pleasant and complements the other components in this recipe very well. Apologies for the terrible food photography, and no those aren’t hairs – those are the duckweed roots.
2 tbsp ghee
1/2 tsp cumin seeds freshly ground
1/2 tsp fennel seeds freshly ground (wild if you’ve got them!)
1/4 tsp chilli powder
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 large clove of garlic, chopped
120g Least Duckweed (or about 1.5 times the amount of eggs, by volume)
1cm of ginger, peeled and chopped
pinch of sea salt
Hard boil and peel the eggs, and 4 cut grooves in each, 2mm deep.
Heat the ghee in a frying pan
When hot, let the spices sizzle for 30 secs
Add the eggs and fry for a minute or two, turning continually
Add the garlic and ginger, and fry for another minute, turning
Add the duckweed and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, keeping everything moving
Add salt to taste, and serve immediately