...because you thought Sweden was Switzerland!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Food journal number 38: Eating weed

Forgive the ambiguous (and you must admit, somehow witty!) title; I couldn't help myself! This entry however, deals with a common garden weed and not the "weed" you were probably thinking about. :-)

Marcus' godfather Mats and the weeds

The weed in question is called kirskål (or sometimes kärs) in Swedish. In English, it's called ground-elder, and it's a pesky weed of the carrot family whose long roots reputedly make ornamental gardening very difficult. Eating them naturally serves a double purpose of getting rid of the weeds and getting a hearty lunch at the same time. However, kirskål soup (kirskålsoppa), in its simplicity and unpretentiousness, is one of those "dying recipes", an old forgotten dish that hardly anyone remembers how to prepare. But Mats does, and he showed us how to recognize the weed and prepare it into "a perplexingly delicious soup", which is how it has been described as we were eating it. To think that a bunch of weeds could turn out so well!

According to wikipedia, kirskål or elder-weed (sometimes even called bishop's weed or goutweed) were introduced to England and Northern Europe by Roman monks, who used it as a cure for gout and arthritis. Since then, the plant – pesky weed that it is – has spread out, and now like to grow in shadowy areas of gardens.

Kirskål leaves are serrated, and grow in sets of three leaflets. Both the young and "mature" leaves can be turned into soup. Since kirskål grows along with a lot of other weeds though, some of which may be toxic look-alikes, it is best to inspect them while plucking. A triangular stem profile (which you'll see in one of the pictures in the wiki article) is the sure sign that what you have is the right thing.

Kirskålsoppa (at least the version we prepared) also requires fennel, which according to my book Gnomes, is excellent against flatulence and painful gas. Together with the weed then, the soup is not only surprisingly delicious but is also medicinal! Roux (Swedish: redning), a mixture of flour and fat used for thickening sauces, soups and stews, was also another ingredient we used. Roux fulfills the same purpose as cornstarch basically; the only difference as far as I know is that roux doesn't clump up.

When I looked in the internet, only a handful of Swedish sites had anything on kirskålsoppa. It really seems to have become an old-style poor-man's recipe that lost popularity throughout the years and has been forgotten by most people except some nature-loving people in the countryside like Mats. Which is why I named the recipe below after him:

Mats' weed soup (Mats kirskålsoppa, eller kärssoppa)

Ground-elder weed (kirskål), rinsed
1 liter water
half a fennel bulb, cut into small pieces
2 yellow onions, minced
1 t fennel seeds – small t for teaspoon
1 or 2 chicken bouillon cubes
roux (redning), or alternatively cornstarch to thicken the soup
pepper to taste

Heat some oil in a big pot and sauté the minced onions, fennel and fennel seeds until they are transparent and soft, but not until they turn brown (ca. 8 minutes, figure 1). In the meantime, boil a liter of water in a separate pot. When the water starts to boil, place the rinsed ground-elder weeds in it and let boil for about a minute (figure 2).

Strain the boiled leaves using a colander (figure 3), but save the water in a separate bowl (it will have turned a bright shade of green). The water goes in the pot together with the sautéed vegetables, some bouillon, ground black pepper and roux. Boil gently for an additional 10 minutes.

When the 10 minutes are up, take the pot from the flame and put the leaves back in the liquid (figure 4). Using an immersion blender, blend away until it becomes a lovely and thick green soup (figure 5). The soup tastes better the next day, where you can serve it with soft-boiled eggs (figure 6).


Blogger aka Cheryl said...

erm, parang ayaw ko tikman! hehehehe

5:53 PM

Blogger Ahoy! said...

Coming from someone who ate snake!!!

11:48 AM

Anonymous Esther Garvi said...

Sometimes I wonder what is the difference between weeds and exclusive luxury food?

11:59 PM

Blogger Ahoy! said...

Hi Ishtar! Yeah sometimes I wonder that too. The weed soup was delicious though. Had a Nigerian classmate over last weekend and I showed her how to cook it (I'm being an ambassador for long-lost humble meals here!). In return, we've been promised a Nigerian dinner after her short vacation to her home city. Sounds exciting!

5:53 PM


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