Foraging for food

Urban foraging is all about finding food in unexpected places. We take a walk through the streets of Kenilworth in Cape Town with passionate cook and keen forager of local and indigenous ingredients, Loubie Rusch, to find out more.

Foraging in the urban context is all about hunting and gathering ingredients in unexpected places, such as a sidewalk, a hedge or in open spaces.

Casually picking dandelions on the street for pesto, Loubie explains that num-num fruits could be picked from a hedge next to a railway line or veldkool (Trachyandra ciliata) might be found on an island in a busy intersection in Athlone.

She believes in sustainability and her food philosophy emphasises eating local. With a background in landscaping, she says that the ingredients she forages for are often well known to most of us and can even be found in our gardens — we just don’t know how to cook and eat them anymore!

South Africa has a rich heritage of velykos and foraging — think of waterblommejies, mussels picked off the rocks, dune spinach and sour figs, to name but a few.

The art of recognising foraging opportunities is a skill that can be learned,’ Loubie says. ‘Seeing weeds such as dandelions and stinging nettles not as noxious pests, but as delicious salad greens, simply involves a changed mindset.’

How do you forage responsibly?

• The easy answer is: be responsible, be informed.

• Know what to pick, how to pick it (for example, when to leave the root intact or leave seeds to ensure a return crop) and don’t pick more than you need.

• Do research; there’s no excuse. Check the plants on the internet to make sure you’re not picking the wrong types.

Being sustainable means eating what wants to grow, and wants to grow where you are. — Loubie Rusch

Dandelion pesto

Cooking is all about balancing flavours, says Loubie. Balance the bitter taste of the dandelion leaves in the pesto with the lovely sour notes of the oxalis (suurings); temper it with the sweetness of parsley and so on. Always taste your food and adjust the recipe accordingly.

TIP There are many types of dandelions -some have tougher, hairier leaves but the one you want has toothed edges and is thin and smooth.

Makes: 160ml

Preparation time: 15 minutes

• 5ml wild garlic, chopped

• 125ml dandelion, chopped

• 15ml oxalis (use more leaves than stalks), chopped

• 125ml parsley (optional — be brave and try more dandelion!)

• 25ml sesame seeds, dry roasted

• 20ml flaked almonds, dry roasted

• cold pressed virgin sunflower oil

Now combine the herbs, a spoonful at a time, in the pestle and mortar and grind together until all the leaves are incorporated in a coarse paste. Add the sesame seeds and almond mixture and salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Drizzle oil over and mix until the pesto reaches the desired consistency. (For a dressing or dip you will need more oil than for a soup garnish). Serve immediately or spoon into a sterilised jar, cover with a thin layer of oil. The pesto will keep in the fridge for up to a week. Loubie also freezes the pesto in ice trays; perfect for popping into a simmering bolognaise or minestrone just before serving. The pesto is delicious mixed with feta cheese as a topping for baked potatoes, stirred through rice noodles for a wheat-free meal or mixed with balsamic vinegar and oil for a delicious tomato salad dressing.

TIP Don’t use olive oil in this recipe as its strong flavour could overpower the delicate herbs. Instead try grapeseed or avocado oil.

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