November 10, 2009


For me, life's not a beach. It's a farm.

This one belongs to my friend Eric. He grows lots and lots of different vegetables, using permaculture, biodynamic and organic principles.

But that's deserving of a whole different post. This post is all about a food that Eric doesn't grow to eat: sunflowers. And I'm not talking seeds here - flowers.

I saw this post a couple weeks ago, and so when I visited Eric last week, and saw he had a couple sunflowers bobbing in the breeze, I told him about it. He was slightly skeptical, but as always, indulgent of my flights of fancy. So he waded into a field of flowering lettuce and picked one for me, most gallantly (I promised not to tell his wife he was picking flowers for another woman). So I took it home. And stared at it a bit.

Big Spoon stared at it rather doubtfully, too, and carried on making supper (it's his snazzy brown fleece you can see in the background). So I set to work, as best as I could considering I'd never trimmed, cooked or ate a sunflower before.

I'd read that sunflowers taste a lot like artichokes, and like artichokes, there wasn't much left after all the petals and calyx and seeds were trimmed off, but I braised it nonetheless in a pan of water with a good shot of cider vinegar, a bay leaf, a pinch of salt, pepper and sugar and some coriander seeds. A sort of sunflower giardiniera, or a la greque, if you will. It looked like this:

So I sliced it finely and tossed it with green beans and pasta, for supper. It did indeed taste quite a lot like artichokes, in their tangy, mushroomy glory, only slightly sweeter. In hindsight, I think you need to be even more ruthless, and cut off all of the seed layer (roughly half of the height of the braised sunflower 'heart' you see above), which is edible, but a bit... fluffy and strawlike. So next time, it makes sense to start off with the largest sunflower you can find. Or stuff it as they do here, so it's bit more substantial.


I'm Baaack 2.0

I'm baaack. Again.

There's no good excuse - it was pure blog abandonment. I was focusing all my energies and creative juices on my work as a journalist, with nothing extra left over for this blog.

But now I'm writing a lot less, and CSAing and Slow Fooding and doing nonprofit work a lot more. So I'm feeling a bit of a hole in my life. And to be honest, my weekly blog traffic reports are making me feel guilty. One hundred people visiting a week - and the most recent post is from LAST September. Unacceptable. So. I'm back.

September 23, 2008

Waterblommetjie Soup

Following my delicious, local spring meal two weeks ago, a nice punnet of waterblommetjies at the supermarket inspired me to reinvent the first course of that lovely meal: waterblommetjie soup.

Waterblommetjies are the flowers of the Cape Hawthorn (Aponogeton distachyos), which grows wild in vleis (marshes) and on riverbanks.

It is the only indigenous Cape food which is widely available for sale (I’m not counting rooibos, which in my mind is not a ‘food’). During the winter and early spring, it’s usually not too difficult to find waterblommetjies for sale at greengrocers and supermarkets. The name, which translates from the Afrikaans as ‘little water flower’ is a bit misleading, since it is best to buy the closed flower buds, as the white flowers themselves are very fragile, and bruised beyond use by the time you get them home. The green buds are much more robust, and beautifully tipped with white or pink, which turn to a less appetising khaki green once cooked. They are traditionally prepared in a bredie, a local meat stew, but I prefer the simpler and cleaner flavours of a vegetable soup.

I wish I could tell you that waterblommetjies are the most delicious vegetable ever. However, they taste to me like any green, firm vegetable (think: green beans). Nonetheless, it’s a nutritious addition to any meal, and a lovely, local way to celebrate the coming spring.

Feeds 4 as a starter, or 3 as a main course

500g waterblommetjies
2 leeks, finely sliced
2 carrots, finely sliced
1 potato, peeled and diced
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 stick celery, finely sliced
Celery leaves, chopped
3 cups chicken stock
1 smoked ham bone (optional)

Before you begin, rinse the waterblommetjies, and soak in a bowl or sinkful of cold water for ten minutes or so, with a generous pinch of salt. Stir them with your hand occasionally. This is to dislodge any hiding bugs or soil, although sometimes they have neither. Then drain the waterblommetjies, and chop them roughly into quarters or halves, through the denser base of each bud.

In a pot, sauté the leek, celery and carrot in a little olive oil, until soft. Add the garlic and potato. Deglaze with a little white wine if you’re feeling fancy, otherwise just add the chicken stock with a good pinch of salt and sugar. Bring to the boil, add the waterblommetjies. Partially cover, and lower to simmer. Cook until the waterblommetjies are soft but not mushy. Remove the smoked ham bone if using, shred any meat clinging to the bone, and put to one side. I like to put my braun emersion blender stick into the soup pot, and pulse two or three times, just to make the soup a little creamier in texture.

Adjust the seasoning, add the celery leaves and smoked ham meat, and serve.