Spring is delicious for so many reasons...literally too. Green leafy vegetables plumped with winter rain, bright happy strawberries and the first sexy asparagus at the Farmers Market last weekend- I am happy. The mint in the garden is abundant, perfect for the spring lamb. The ancient chickens have been stirred by a little sunshine and the longer days and are laying at least one egg a day between the three of them. I love the change of diet that comes with the change of season.
The swiftly changing weather is hard to predict and there are a lot of colds and flu around and our bodies need a boost. I reach for one of the spring gardens unsung heroes, watercress. At its best now in ponds, paddocks and fast flowing streams, nasturtium officinale is actually a member of the brassica family and rivals kale as a super food . Rich in vitamins A, C, K, iron, calcium, manganese and other nutrients, leaves flowers and seeds are all edible. It is a useful forage plant but a word of caution: when harvesting in the wild, do not gather from areas that are either down stream from or part of grazing paddocks or have any sort of water contamination. Watercress is a favourite food for a freshwater snail that acts as a host for liver fluke which can effect humans.
Dulse (palmaria palmata) is another super food. Add some dried dulse seaweed (available at your health food shop) and you will gain the benefits of Vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B6, B12, C and E potassium, calcium, phosphorus, chromium, iodine, zinc and trace elements.
This soup is the best spring tonic, warm and nourishing, one of my all time favourite recipes of forager Fiona Bird and is from her book "The Foragers Kitchen" given to me by a dear friend who spends a lot of time on South Uist, the island where Fiona lives. See more about the legend that is Fiona on her Facebook page. Her books are available to order on line in Australia.
This recipe calls for smoked haddock, (I use smoked cod) and pin head oats. I have used a tablespoon of quick oats with no ill effect. I suspect they are there to prevent the milk curdling as it simmers.
Smoked Haddock, Dulse and Watercress Soup
1Tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, peeled and chopped
250g potatoes, peeled and diced small
1Tbsp dried dulse flakes
2 Cups milk
1Tbsp quick oats
200g fillet smoked cod
2 Tbsp roughly chopped watercress (or more!)
Melt butter and oil in a saucepan, add onion, cook briefly before adding potatoes, dulse and oats.Stir well, cover and simmer over low heat for 5 minutes, stirring to check the potatoes are not sticking to the pan. Add a little of the milk if necessary.
Add the milk and the fish, skin side up. Cover and continue to cook slowly.
After 4-5 minutes, lift the fish out of the liquid and peel off the skin. Flake the fish and return to the pan. Add water and watercress and cook 2-3 minutes. Test that the potatoes are cooked before serving.
Taste for seasoning...smoked fish is nowhere near as salty as it used to be. Add a generous amount of black pepper if you like it and top each bowl with a little extra watercress.
Serves four as a starter but I serve as two hearty main meals to enjoy while waiting for the next sunny day!