Tag Archives: wild fennel

South Indian Style Fried Eggs with Duckweed

Email: geoff@geoffdann.co.uk


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.


4 eggs
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

Slow-cooked pork belly with sea-purslane and wild fennel

Email: geoffdann@hotmail.com
Phone: 07964 569715


This creation is very loosely based on a dish by Lukas Pfaff. I couldn’t afford a suckling pig, so I re-invented it (today) using a much cheaper cut of meat.

Sea Kale

Sea Kale

The key foraged ingredients are sea-purslane, which can be found by the ton on just about any salt marsh or river estuary in the country, and wild fennel, which is a bit harder to track down but can be locally quite abundant, especially in coastal areas. I accompanied it with some sea kale which just happened to be in area I was foraging.



Main Ingredients (for 4 people):

Pork belly joint 1.5 to 2kg.
Several generous handfuls of fresh, tender, new-growth sea-purslane.
The top two-thirds of 6 or 7 wild fennel plants.



1) Wash the sea-purslane. Take half of it and spread it at the base of a casserole dish.

2) Separate the fluffy top leaves of the fennel and the smaller bits of stem from the thicker bits at the base. You don’t want any really tough bits of stem – nothing much wider than the diameter of a pencil. Reserve the stems for later. Put the fluffy leaves and the smaller stems in a layer on top of the sea-purslane.

3) The belly joint will usually come rolled in string, which makes the first part of the process easier: use a sharp knife to cut the joint into 4 strips. Remove the string, unroll the strips and place them on top of the fennel, skin side up.

Wild fennel

Wild fennel

4) Put the casserole dish (lid on) in an oven and cook for three hours at 165° (or fan 150°).

5) Pick the leaves off the stems of the other half of the sea-purslane. Keep for later.

6) Just before the three hours are up, start steaming the fennel stems, and put the potatoes on if you want to serve with mash. Add the sea kale a little bit later if you’re serving that too.

7) Take the belly strips out of the casserole dish, put in another dish and return to the oven to keep warm (turn the oven down low).

8) Take the layer of fennel out of the casserole dish (doesn’t matter if some bits escape). If you can get any juices out of the fennel, then add them back into the dish.

9) The dish will now contain the meat juices, including plenty of oil, and some very well-cooked sea-purslane. Use the back of a wooden spoon to mash the sea-purslane into a pulp, in the oils and juices from the meat, to make a sauce (you may want to remove some of the oil first, if there’s too much). Put the sauce in a jug and put the jug in the oven to keep warm.

Slow-cooked pork belly with sea-purslane and wild fennel, with sea kale and mashed potato and mushrooms.

Slow-cooked pork belly with sea-purslane and wild fennel, served with sea kale, mashed potato and mushrooms.

10) Heat some butter and olive oil, and plenty of freshly ground sea or rock salt, in a frying pan and then fry the belly strips, skin-side down. This is purely to make the skin go crackling-like and should take about 4 minutes.

11) Meanwhile, in another pan, sauté the second half of the sea-purslane for a couple of minutes in butter and/or olive oil. I also fried some mushrooms to go with the dish.

12) To serve, place the belly strips with their crackling side sideways, and drizzle the sea-purslane sauce over the top. Serve with the sautéed sea-purslane, mashed potato, steamed wild fennel stems (with plenty of butter) and optional sea kale (with plenty of lemon juice).

Sorry about the poor quality photo – I was in a bit of a rush to try my new creation!

Wild fennel and spring saltmarsh salad


Wild fennel, late may, Sussex

Wild fennel, late may, Sussex

Wild fennel is not a saltmarsh plant, although its preference for coastal and riverbank locations means it can often be found nearby.  Late spring is the best time to pick it, while the stems are still soft and juicy. You can use the whole plant as if it was the familiar version, although obviously the wild plants don’t have the mutated swollen stems of  domesticated “florence fennel.”

Saltmarsh itself is a rich source of foraged food right through the spring and summer months, although the selection of plants available changes as the year progresses.  This year’s extended winter has meant that the marsh samphire which would normally start to be available by now is still too small to collect, but there are plenty of other edible plants to choose from.  In fact nearly all of the saltmarsh plants are good to eat.

Here are three of the best.

Sea plantain and sea purslane, late May, Sussex

Sea plantain and sea purslane, late May, Sussex

The first is sea plantain, which is a relative of the more-familiar and also-edible ribwort, greater and hoary plantains, and by far the best for eating.  The flavour is a bit like chives. Please be responsible/sensible when collecting this species.  While I was searching for (and failing to find any) usable marsh samphire, I passed through a location where all of the sea plantain had been taken, presumably by a person who was collecting for commercial purposes, judging by the amount that had been taken.  This person clearly couldn’t be bothered to walk further than 20 metres from the nearest carpark, and had stripped stripped one location of sea plantain instead of taking just a few from each place.  I might also add that this location was also inside the boundary of an SSSI, from which nothing should be foraged at all, especially when a slightly longer walk takes one outside of that SSSI.

Sea lavender, late May, Sussex

Sea lavender, late May, Sussex

The second is sea lavender, which is a complex group that only botanists stand much chance of identifying to species.  It looks like a fleshier version of sea plantain, although it is unrelated and has completely different flowers.  The third is sea purslane – a super-abundant relative of marsh samphire (though you wouldn’t guess to look at it.)  Sea purslane is available all year round, but is also at its best in the late spring and early summer.

These four species I combined in roughly equal amounts, and then popped in the microwave on full power until the fennel stems were just cooked, but still a bit crunchy (about three minutes for the two portions shown below).   No additional salt is required, because the saltmarsh plants are naturally salty. I used the leaves of the fennel as a bed for cooking the lemon sole for which these wild vegetables formed an accompaniment.

Wild fennel and spring saltmarsh salad

Wild fennel and spring saltmarsh salad