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Cooking with borage

Photos: Marconia Schembri, George Aquilina

Photos: Marconia Schembri, George Aquilina

I was delighted to find borage in my organic box delivery recently and I put it to good use. Borage (fidloqqom) is also known as starflower and is easily recognisable by its edible, bright blue flowers with five pointed petals. It attracts pollinators and acts as a natural fertiliser as it detracts bad insects. This makes it a beneficial plant to have in the garden. It is easy to grow from seeds and thrives in the Mediterranean climate.

The plant is sturdy with small roots and large sprawling stalks and requires a lot of space in the garden. It needs to be pruned often and all the cuttings are edible. The large stalk of the plant is juicy and moist and the husk can be peeled off, chopped and lightly sautéed in olive oil and garlic.

Borage is cooked in the same way as spinach. The leaves are hairy and tough, although tender younger leaves can be used raw in salads. Too much salt or seasoning spoils its natural sweet flavours. The texture of the leaves becomes smooth and satiny when they are cooked. They remain whole and intact and the colour intensifies to a vibrant green.

Borage provides 25 calories per 100g and is a good source of Vitamins A and C. It is high in gamma-linoleic acid, zinc, magnesium and potassium. In Indian medicine, the leaf infusion is used to treat sore throats and skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis and hair is rinsed in borage tea to get rid of dandruff.

Borage, cucumber and split pea broth with saganaki

You will need:
2 cloves garlic
1 onion
2 tbsp olive oil
1 cup dried split green peas
1 vegetable all natural stock cube
3 cups water
4 cups chopped borage leaves
1/8 tsp dried mint
1 tbsp chopped fresh mint leaves
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/8 tsp grated lemon zest
Salt and pepper to season

After puréeing the soup finish off with 1 cup chopped borage leaves, 1 tbsp finely chopped fresh mint leaves, 1 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley and 1 peeled and chopped cucumber. Top with the saganaki and a slice of lemon.

Soak the dried split peas for a couple of hours or overnight. Peel the onion and garlic and chop finely. In a large pot, sauté the onion in olive oil on low heat and when it becomes translucent add the garlic. Stir. Dissolve the stock cube in the water.

Drain the split green peas from the soaking liquid, rinse them and add them to the pot together with the vegetable stock. Bring to boil and allow to simmer for 20-30 minutes until the peas soften up. Add the rest of the ingredients. Cook for about 10 minutes on high heat until the borage softens.

Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Puree the mixture and if necessary add more water to bring it to a broth consistency. Then reheat and add the rest of the chopped borage leaves, fresh mint and parsley. Stir and simmer for 5 minutes and serve immediately with Saganaki and a wedge of fresh lemon.

This is a diabetic-friendly, vegan, gluten-free, lactose-free, nut-free recipe.

Borage pesto

You will need:
1/4 cup blanched almonds
4 cups garlic
4 cups cooked borage leaves
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup parmesan
1/8 tsp grated lemon zest
Salt and pepper

Dry roast the almonds in a very hot pan. Toss and remove from the heat. Allow to cool.

Place all the ingredients in a food processor and use the pulse setting until the mixture becomes a consistent paste. Season and add water if necessary to adjust to a consistency of your choice.

Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the pack. Drain and keep some of the pasta water to add to the sauce if necessary.

Toss the pasta with the borage pesto and add the pasta water, a tablespoon at a time to achieve the consistency of your choice. Serve immediately with freshly ground pepper and shavings of parmesan.

You can also make vegetable noodles from courgettes, cucumbers and carrots and mix them with your pasta linguine or spaghetti. The taste of cucumber blends particularly well with that of borage.

Place the spiralised courgettes in a large bowl and immerse them in boiling water for a minute. Drain and then toss with the borage pesto. Serve immediately.

Baked Saganaki

You will need:
200g Kefalotiri cheese
50g cornflour
50g chestnut flour
A pinch of dried oregano
Fresh ground black pepper
Olive oil
An ovenproof dish

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Slice the kefalotiri cheese into rectangles with a thickness of around 1.5cm. Place the cheese pieces into a bowl of water. Sieve the chestnut flour and cornflour into another bowl. Mix well and add the oregano and fresh ground pepper.

Dip each piece of cheese in the flour mixture and make sure that all the cheese is well covered. Brush an ovenproof dish with olive oil. Place the pieces of cheese on the baking tray. Bake in a hot preheated oven for 20 minutes. Turn the cheese over and bake for a further 15 minutes.

Place a piece of saganaki in each soup bowl and pour the borage soup over it. Garnish with a lemon wedge.

This is a gluten-free recipe.

Borage, sweet potato and mushroom omelette

You will need:
4 large cooked borage leaves
2 eggs
1/2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp cooked fresh mushrooms
1 tbsp cooked onion
1 medium cooked sweet potato, peeled and chopped
salt and pepper

Chop the borage leaves and the cooked mushrooms and onion. Peel and chop the cooked sweet potato. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a frying pan. Place the cooked onions, mushrooms and sweet potato in the heated pan and mix them gently without breaking them. Add the chopped borage leaves. Season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat. Beat the eggs and season. Pour the eggs over the vegetables and potatoes. Cook until the bottom starts to brown. Invert the omelette or fold it in half. Serve immediately.

This is a gluten-free, diabetic-friendly, nut-free, lactose-free recipe.

Making spiralised vegetable noodles

To make spiralised vegetable noodles, you will need a simple kitchen gadget known as a spiraliser.

A regular vegetable peeler can also be used to make vegetable ribbons and added to the recipe instead of spiralised vegetables. Ideally, use cucumbers, zucchini, carrots and sweet potatoes.

Peel the sweet potatoes and trim the other vegetables. If the vegetables are not naturally straight, cut them in half. This will result in shorter vegetable noodles and it is best to use vegetables that are naturally straight. Place each vegetable one at a time into the spiraliser and twist clockwise applying pressure.

Long uniform spirals of fresh vegetables will come out at the other end. Spiralised noodles can be eaten raw or barely cooked.

Lea’s new book Good Food Everyday is available via Midsea Books and most bookshops in Malta and Gozo. You can watch Lea cook everyday on Smash TV and find more of her recipes on www.timesofmalta.com

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