Friday 26 April 2013

Alexanders Flowers and Pork Stir-fry

I'm staying at a friend's place at the moment, which is by the sea. I was walking through the park the other day and noticed some alexanders plants just coming into flower.

I have not had much chance to cook with alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) though I have worked on a few recipes. I know that the flower heads are edible, so I thought that here was a chance to adapt a stir-fry recipe I have for common hogweed flower buds to use alexanders. There were also dandelion flower buds next to the  alexanders, so I brought a few of those as well.

Alexanders plant (Smyrnium olusatrum) with a close-up of alexanders flowers.
These are exactly the plants I gathered this morning to cook the dish below.
Alexanders were introduced into northern Europe by the Romans who would cook and use them much as we would celery today (indeed, if you see a translation of an ancient Roman recipe and they call for 'celery', the original recipe would invariably have called for alexanders. The plant likes sandy soil and is quite salt tolerant and today it's most commonly found at or near the British coastline.

For the wild forager, alexanders are a very versatile plant, in that the stems can be cooked like asparagus, the roots can be treated like any other root vegetables and the leaves can be used as a stock vegetable and are particularly useful in soups. The flower buds can also be steamed and eaten in place of broccoli. The stems, roots, flowers and flower buds are also great in stir-fries.

The recipe presented here is quite simple and very easy to make, but it's delicious. It's a traditional Chinese pork belly stir-fry adapted for use with alexanders flowers. In this recipe I have only used young and small alexanders flowers that have just emerged from the bud (ie the flowers have not yet opened).

Alexanders Flowers and Pork Stir-fry

Serves: 4
Stir fry of pork and baby sweetcorn with wild alexanders flowers and wild dandelion flower buds


4 slices of pork belly, cut into 1cm (1/2 in) slices
1 onion, sliced into strips
6 baby sweetcorn, halved
1 bak choi, quartered
12 small alexanders flowers
8 dandelion flower buds
1 tsp sesame seeds
1 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp fish sauce (nam pla)
groundnut oil for frying
salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste


Heat the oil in a wok. When almost smoking add the pork and fry for a few minutes, or until nicely browned all over. Add the sesame seeds and the onion and fry for about 4 minutes or until the onion is soft.

Alexanders flowers and dandelion flower buds ready to be cooked in the stir-fry
Alexanders flowers and dandelion flower buds picked and ready
to be cooked in the stir-fry.
Slice the leaves of the bok choi into strips. Quarter the stems. Add the bok choi stems and baby sweetcorn to the pan. Stir fry for a few minutes then add the soy sauce, chilli flakes and red wine vinegar. Sir fry for a few minutes more then add the fish sauce and the bok choy greens.

Continue stir-frying until the grens have just wilted then add the alexanders flowers and the dandelion flower buds. Continue stir-frying for 2 minutes more then serve immediately on a bed of rice.

Having made this recipe today I had a thought. I do not know this area very well, but on my walk this morning I saw a few wild plants. Tomorrow I am going to make a 20 minute walk and during that time I am going to survey all the wild edible plants that I see. I would hope to find at least 10 and tomorrow I will present pictures of all the plants I've seen along with a little information about them, the parts that are edible and links to a few recipes showing how they can be prepared and cooked.

So, tomorrow one of this blogs will be a little different from usual. But I will still present a number of my usual recipes.

This recipe is brought to you in association with the Celtnet Guide to Wild Foods.

Update! I have been on the promised walk and the plants, images and links to recipes are now live on this blog. I saw 15 edible plants in all. Please see the edible plants I saw on my walk page for more information.

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