Grazing on algae …

I comment on the role that grazers play in controlling algal biomass in rivers in these posts and this is the time of year when I, myself, take a more participatory role.   As it is spring, Lemanea fluviatilis is thriving in our rivers (the cleaner ones, at least) and I could not resist grabbing a couple of handfuls whilst out in the field recently for culinary purposes.

This time, I followed the routine I described in “More from the Lemanea cookbook … ” and washed, air-dried and then cut-up some Lemanea filaments into short lengths (they need to be about a centimetre long, otherwise they can form clumps).   My experience is that the fishy taste of Lemanea is a fine complement to freshwater fish, so decided to use it in a warm potato salad which I then served underneath a salmon fillet seasoned and sprinkled with dill and then wrapped in foil and baked with a couple of knobs of butter.

The warm potato salad needs a mayonnaise made from one egg yolk and about 150 ml of olive oil into which a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice are stirred, along with salt and pepper.   Add a generous handful of dried Lemanea to this and leave to soften for about 20 minutes, and also add a teaspoon of capers and a small handful of land (or water) cress.  Cook and drain enough new potatoes for two, then cut these into small chunks and stir the mayonnaise and algae mixture into these.   Divide between two warmed bowls and place half the salmon fillet on top of each.  Finally, add a few fresh pea shoots as a garnish, along with a wedge of lemon, and serve.

Definitely worth repeating.

Warm potato salad with lemon and Lemanea, served with salmon fillets.

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Eat it to beat it …

Lacul_Snagov_June16

The second lake I visited on my brief visit to Romania makes it almost impossible to avoid mentioning two of Romania’s most infamous citizens.   Lacul Snagov, about 40 km north of Bucharest, is surrounded by the weekend villas of Romania’s current and past elite, including the notorious Nicolei Ceauşescu.  That connection, however, pales beside that of a monastery on an island in the lake, reputed to contain the grave of Vlad the Impaler, better known to the rest of the world as Dracula.   This is mostly due to Bram Stoker’s novel although he never actually visited Romania.  His interpretation of the Dracula legend was based partly on hearsay, but largely on his own vivid imagination, much to the despair of modern Romanians.

Whereas Lacul Cāldāruşani had turbid phytoplankton-rich water, Lacul Snagov was much clearer, with a varied assortment of submerged plant visible below the surface as we travelled across the lake in an inflatable boat.   Large areas of the surface were covered with water lilies, a mixture of Nymphaea alba, the common white water lily, and, of more interest to me, the Indian lotus, Nelumbo nucifera.   As the name suggests, it is native to Asia: I have seen this growing in Bangladesh, and eaten it in Korea and China, but here it was growing in abundance in a European lake.  The term “invasive species” has been applied to Indian lotus but, like many visually attractive plants, the “invasion” was helped by human agents. Records of lotus in Snagov go back to 1955, and now it covers large areas of the lake surface.   There is some evidence that the spread of Nelumbo nucifera  has altered the composition of other plants in the lake, albeit without detracting seriously from the visual aesthetics (see image above).

The topic of invasive plants and animals is controversial, and is one that can make usually mild-mannered ecologists sound like rabid xenophobes.  I enjoyed Ken Thompson’s recent book “Where do Camels Belong?” which questioned the whole concept of a “native species” in an ever-changing landscape.   If you cannot define a “native” species securely, argues Thompson, then nor should we rush to attach labels such as “invasive” or “alien” to non-native species.  Judge each on its merits.

And Nelumbo nucifera does have several merits.  There is the rather beautiful flower for example and, lurking in the bottom muds, a less attractive but very tasty rhizome.   We rarely encounter it in western cuisine, or even in Chinese restaurants in the West, but you can buy it frozen from Chinese supermarkets.   Were Europeans to follow the Asiatic lead, then a solution to this particular “invasive species” problem presents itself.   This tangential line of thought started with a blog by my wife Heather on a native British species, Alliaria petiolata (garlic mustard) that happens to be regarded as an invasive weed in north America.  Her internet searches led her to an entire cookbook devoted to ridding the world of this one weed (“From Pest to Pesto: Eat it to Beat it”) and I can vouch for the gastronomic qualities of British populations as a result.

In the same vein, here is my first attempt at cooking and eating lotus roots, admittedly based on frozen, rather than foraged, lotus and inspired by my recent trip to China:  boil about half a kilogram of (thawed) lotus roots for a few minutes, until just tender, drain and dry.   Roast a tablespoon of sesame seeds until they are brown.   Heat some sesame oil until hot, then stir fry the lotus roots along with two tablespoons of finely-chopped spring onions and a finely-chopped clove of garlic for a couple of minutes.   Add one or two tablespoons of light soy sauce (enough to coat the lotus roots) and finally stir in the sesame seeds. Stir it for another minute or so, then serve.

Repeat this until the invasive species has disappeared. It’s called “biological control”.

lotus_roots_with_sesame_see

References

Anastasiu, P., Negrean, G., Başnou, C., Sîrbu, C. & Oprea, A. (2007).  A preliminary study on the neophytes of wetlands in Romania.  In: Rabitsch, W., F. Essl & F. Klingenstein (Eds.): Biological Invasions – from Ecology to Conservation. NEOBIOTA 7: 181-192.

Thompson, K. (2015).  Where do Camels Belong?  Profile Books, London.

Freshwater algae on the menu … again

The return of Masterchef to our screens at the same time that Lemanea is at its most abundant in our streams is too much of a coincidence for me.   I have already written about my culinary experiments with the red alga Lemanea (which is eaten in parts of northeast India) and have been wondering for some time how best to use it in British cooking (see “Trout with sorrel, watercress and … algae”).   This year, I followed my instincts, in the wake of my experiments with Welshman’s Caviar after the Green Man festival last summer (see “Gastronomy in the Welsh hills”) and found that it can really enhance the flavour of scrambled eggs.

This is how to do it: collect a few handfuls of young Lemanea from a stream.   It is only common in streams that are relatively unpolluted, though it is tolerant of heavy metal pollution, so it pays to avoid areas where you know there is a history of mining. Wash the filaments in cold water to remove any particles, shake it dry and then spread it out on a plate and leave it at room temperature overnight to dry.   Chop it roughly so that the fragments are about a centimetre in length. Finally, make your scrambled eggs in the usual way, but stir a generous handful of the dried Lemanea filaments into the mixture just as it starts to thicken. Cook whilst stirring for a couple of minutes, then serve on buttered toast.   The algae gives the scrambled eggs a nice, fishy flavour without overwhelming the dish.

scrambled_egg_with_Lemanea

Scrambled eggs with Lemanea.

By coincidence, I also found myself eating algae later in the day. I watched a small bowl filled with a tangle of narrow bright green strips trundled past on the conveyor belt whilst I was having a quick pre-cinema meal in YO! Sushi in Newcastle.   This was Kaiso salad, made from seaweed (Undaria, I think) marinated with sesame.   It looked too good to resist. Algae on the menu twice in one day … if I’m not careful, you’ll be thinking I’m obsessed …

kaiso_salad

Kaiso salad at YO! Sushi