N IS FOR NASTURTIUMS

There is something child like about nasturtiums.  Perhaps it is their glorious bright colours and the way they tumble around everywhere.

NASTURTIUM 2 EMPRESS OF INDIA NASTURTIUM 1

In fact, they are good first flowers for children to plant, as the seeds are easy for little fingers to pick up and push into the soil. Quick to germinate, enthusiastic to thrive on poor soil, and generous to set seed (which can be easily collected in the autumn, so you get an endless supply of nasturtiums), everything about them seems designed for children to enjoy. As a child, I even remember nibbling the pointy bit at the end and sucking out the drop of nectar.

In fact, from an adult point of view, the whole lot is edible: the flowers (sweet and soft in the mouth), the leaves (soft and peppery), the stalks (juicy, sweet and peppery) and even the seeds (very peppery).

When picking nasturtiums to eat, be aware that they are favourite food for other creatures too.  Check for cabbage white caterpillars and blackfly: if they’ve got there first, find another leaf!

One way to enjoy nasturtiums is to put them in a Pho, a light yet invigorating soup from Vietnam. Pronounced ‘fur’, Pho is basically a tasty, clear stock, into which you throw whichever thinly sliced vegetables and herbs that come to hand. Here is a recipe for Allotment Pho with nasturtiums.

ALLOTMENT PHO

Serves 2

Ingredients for the stock

  • Marigold stock powder: 3 tsps disolved in 1 pint boiling water
  • Fresh ginger: a thumb sized piece
  • Spring onion: 4 – 6 depending on size
  • Juice of half a lime
  • 2 tsps brown sugar

Ingredients for the Pho

  • Brown rice noodles: 1 handful
  • Tofu: 2 x finger’s width, cut from a block of tofu
  • Oil for frying: 1 tsp
  • Nasturtium leaves, young ones with their long stalks attached: about 20
  • Nasturtium flowers with stalk attached: about 10
  • Fresh chilli: 1
  • Pak choi: 1 head
  • Mushrooms: 2 – 3
  • Runner beans: 2 -3
  • Nasturtium leaves, young ones with their long stalks attached: about 20
  • Nasturtium flowers with stalk attached: about 10
  • Fresh coriander: a small bunch

How to make

  1. First make up the stock in a saucepan.  Finely grate the ginger, slice the spring onion and add to the stock.  Simmer gently with a lid on while you prepare the other ingredients.
  2. Put your soup bowls to warm in a very low oven.
  3. Soak the noodles, as per instructions on the pack.
  4. Cut the tofu into small squares and fry till golden.
  5. Prep the veg: finely chop the chilli, roughly chop the pak choi and the coriander, thinly slice the mushrooms and green beans.  Add all the veg to the simmering stock, while you sort the nasturtiums.
  6. Wash the nasturtium leaves and flowers in a large bowl.
  7. Turn off the stock, and stir in the brown sugar and lime juice.
  8. Now for the fun part.  To assemble your Pho: into the warm soup bowls, add first the noodles, then pour on the stock with the veg and next, toss in the fried tofu pieces.
  9. Add the nasturtium leaves.  Swirl it all around a bit, then add the nasturtium flowers at the very end.
  10. Eat immediately.
Allotment Pho
Allotment Pho with nasturtiums

Thưởng thức  as they say in Vietnam!

Note:  There are many ways to make Pho.  For more traditional, Vietnamese versions see  www.vietnamesefood.com.vn

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3 thoughts on “N IS FOR NASTURTIUMS

  1. I live in Viet Nam and I can imagine the looks you’d get from the Pho Bo sellers if they caught you throwing flowers into their soup. Northerners are very particular about what can and can’t be added to Pho. I’ve been told off more times than I’d care to remember.

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      1. Pho is a northern soup and I live in the south, so I don’t have it that often – just when I travel to Ha Noi or have a craving and go to one of the five good pho places in Sai Gon.

        There are streets in Ha Noi where most of the shops just sell pho and each is subtly different. The list of ingredients is extensive – brisket, beef bones, ginger, star anise, cinnamon, etc. And most phos will have the same ingredients, but the variety comes from how they are prepared – some shops will burn the ginger, some use less or more cinnamon.
        The best places have recipes that are passed down through a family and they are very particular about how it is eaten. There are stories about how the owners will throw tourists out if they ask for bean sprouts or soya sauce, because the idea that they wanted to change the taste of their great grandmother’s pho is so insulting.

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