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Free veg: the many uses of nettles and dandelion leaves | Waste Not | Food

My garden lawn is no longer a lawn in the traditional sense. Nature has reclaimed it: a carpet of dandelions spans its width, goose grass and nettles line its borders and brambles grow up the fences. I tried to tackle this battalion of weeds, but was defeated until I remembered the old adage “A weed is a plant out of place.”. Now I take a different approach, and harvest the edibles.

Foraged foods are an untapped, hyper-nutritious local food source that adds diversity to our diet for no cost other than a stroll out in the garden or walk to the park. Nettles and dandelions are two wild ingredients that are easy to identify and usually thought of as weeds. They’re abundant, unbelievably delicious and rich in iron and vitamins. Nettle soup was one of my favourite recipes to make when I worked at River Cottage, where we picked nettle tops and new leaves in late winter and early spring. If you have an excess of any leafy greens, these chips are a thrifty, savoury way to preserve them.

Nettle and dandelion chips

These prolific green “weeds” are the bane of many gardeners’ lives, but they are more tasty than you would think, especially when baked to make umami-rich, green chips not dissimilar to kale chips. Wear gloves to avoid any stings and wash all foraged ingredients thoroughly in salted water. To save energy, fill the oven with other ingredients while you cook them. Roasted vegetables and meat last in the fridge for up to five days, and are handy for making quick meals throughout the week. This recipe is adapted from one in my new book.

Nettles, dandelions or any leafy greens
A drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt

Heat the oven to 150C (130C fan)/300F/gas 2. Drizzle your collected leafy greens with a little olive oil, sprinkle with a pinch of salt and toss to coat. Spread out the leaves on on oven tray and bake for 15-25 minutes, until they dry out and turn crisp – the length of time will depend on the leaves’ thickness. The leaves around the outer edges of the tray will dry out first, so transfer them to kitchen paper while the rest finish cooking. Leave to cool, then store in an airtight container – they’re best eaten within a day or so, because they lose their crunch over time.

Tom Hunt’s new book, Eating for Pleasure, People & Planet, was published this week by Kyle Books at £26. To order a copy for £21.84, go to guardianbookshop.com

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