Where the wild weeds grow: warrigal greens

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It was almost by accident that Glen op den Brouw has become the proprietor of an exclusive warrigal greens business.

His wife is a member of a plant society and they were experimenting with various native Australian plants in their backyard in Liverpool when a single warrigal green plant self-seeded and took over the yard.

‘I thought, what can we do with these,’ Glen said. ‘They have a very unusual seed,’ he says, ‘and the plants self-seed regularly.’

By approaching chefs and providores, Glen has developed a small business providing warrigal greens to restaurants, caterers and the odd home cook ever since.

Since then Glen has worked out how to grow the plants—also known as New Zealand spinach and Botany Bay greens—from seed.

‘A lot of chefs forage for warrigal greens, but we can guarantee a regular supply. The leaves are triangular in shape and fleshy with a taste similar to spinach once cooked.

They’re a niche food that gives them a point of difference, which chefs like. The real challenge is encouraging green grocers to stock it,’ he says. ‘It’s not a staple vegetable for people, although I can’t understand why it’s not more popular.

‘Chefs like it because it’s different,’ Glen says who sells it direct to restaurants as well as through providores.

Glen is one of two suppliers in Sydney as well as a South Australian supplier of native foods called Outback Pride who supplies celebrity chefs who have discovered it including Kylie Kwong, Neil Perry and Mark Best from Marque.

You prepare and eat it like regular spinach but it’s perfectly suited to the Australian climate. They’re hardy plants are rarely plagued by disease or significant insect pests. It grows well along the coast or along creeks and waterways and grows naturally in sandy soils. It survives salt-spray in coastal gardens. It tolerates light frost and can withstand hot, dry summer weather when real spinach tends to die off. It can grow in arid areas, where it should be grown in the shade.

‘It’s a bitter plant and people make a fuss about the oxylate levels (it’s recommended they be blanched before eating) I think it’s a bit of a scare campaign and you’d have to eat a hell of a lot to be effected,’ Glen says.

‘And the shelf life is long—it will last up to two weeks in the fridge.’

How to grow warrigal greens

Warrigal greens is a perennial creeping plant with thick stems that grow to one or two metres long and form a good ground-cover once established.

If you have access to cuttings, it will grow easily from these. If you use a cutting from a wild plant, make sure you are certain that it is warrigal greens and don’t disturb the natural environment too much. And remember, it is illegal to take plants from national parks, state forests or nature reserves.

Glen says. Treat it like a normal vegetable plant, with a sunny position. They don’t needs feeding but keep moist and well drained.

Although they grow naturally in sandy coastal soils, they do prefer good soil and respond well to being fertilised with manure.

Warrigal greens doesn’t grow well in small pots, Glen says, because they need room for their runner, but some plants like larger pots.

When growing from seed, plant 45–60 centimetres apart. It will take 7–8 weeks from sowing until the first decent harvest can be collected.

Pick and use the leaves while young and tender.

Where to buy warrigal greens

I Love Warrigal Greens

Glen op den Brouw

www.ilovewarrigalgreens.com.au

Green Harvest Organic Gardening Supplies

http://greenharvest.com.au

 

Eden Seeds

www.edenseeds.com.au

 

Rangeview Seeds

www.rangeviewseeds.com.au

Outback chef

www.outbackchef.com.au

 

How to cook with warrigal greens

Use warrigal greens like you would English spinach or other greens. They’re good in quiches and stuffings, in stir-frys in place of Asian greens, or mix into omelettes, casseroles, or cream sauces.

You can also simply blanch and toss with butter or olive oil. Glen likes to cook his warrigal greens in the juice of the lamb, pork, beef or mussels with a little bit of water and some salt and pepper.

Warrigal greens quiche

2 tablespoons water

1 medium onion, chopped

1½ cups warrigal greens

wholemeal pastry

2 eggs

¾ cup skim milk

½ cup grated cheese

¼ teaspoon ground pepper

 

Preheat oven to 220°c and oil a quiche dish.

Heat water in a frypan and add onion and warrigal greens. Cook until soft and onion is clear.

Roll out pastry and line dish.

Beat together eggs and milk, add the cheese and the warrigal greens and onions.

Add pepper and mix well.

Pour mixture into quiche dish

Bake in oven for 5 minutes, then reduce temperature to 160°c and bake for a further 25–30 minutes or until set.

Serve hot or cold with a salad.

 

To blanch warrigal greens

Fill a saucepan with water and bring to a rapid boil.

While the water is heating up, fill a bowl half full with ice and add enough cold water to cover to the top of the ice.

Place the leaves in the boiling water and leave for 3 minutes. Tip out the boiling water and discard.

Plunge the blanched leaves into the ice water for a few seconds.

Remove the leaves and continue cooking with them as per your recipe.

 

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