Winter Pottage with Foraged Greens

The story of this particular recipe begins – perhaps surprisingly – in Luang Prabang, Laos. You might be puzzled – how can a warming winter broth full of ingredients that grow abundantly in the wild during the coldest season here in the UK have anything to do with a small city in a tropical country in Southeast Asia? The answer – or lam – a thick, peppery, pleasingly fragrant stew, hyper-local to Luang Prabang, bursting with flavour and packed full of vegetables. I’m not usually a huge fan of soups, but this broth managed to be warming yet not too heavy, thick but not cloying. I felt like every mouthful was filling my body with delicious nourishment. At one point during my time in Luang Prabang I was full of cold and a bowlful of or lam cleared my sinuses, soothed my throat, and thoroughly cheered me up.

During a Lao cooking class, I learned how to make this quintessential Luang Prabang stew, and I was excited that I’d be able to make it myself when I got home. I learned all about local ingredients and how foraging in the nearby jungle is a big part of their life and cuisine, I pounded aubergines, simmered meat and vegetables, gradually building layer upon layer of flavour in the broth, finally stirring in fresh local herbs and ground roasted rice to thicken it. In the end, after learning more about how the stew is made, and its significance to the local people, I found that the real beauty wasn’t in replicating the exact ingredients to get a match in terms of flavour (the locals don’t have a set recipe for or lam as it is), but the underlying connection to their land and natural surroundings that the dish represents. Realising that the jelly ear or wood ear mushrooms that grow in the UK are in fact the same that I had come across on my travels in Laos and Thailand, and that happened to feature in the or lam recipe I had learned, I was inspired to use the essence of this stew to create a new winter dish.

This is obviously not a recipe for authentic Lao or lam – far from it – as I feel that sourcing all of the exotic ingredients to recreate a dish that is such a celebration of the specific environment that it comes from would be to miss the point. Instead I have switched out almost every ingredient with something that is much more accessible in my own local environment. I have tried to create something with the same comforting warmth, nutritious, nourishing ingredients, and sense of place of the original. As a result, I use mashed parsnips and a smidge of corn starch to thicken the broth rather than using ground roasted rice and aubergines. The wild jungle greens are replaced by nettles, dandelions and whatever else I can get my hands on, but you could also use spinach or kale. The Lao chilli wood called sakhan that brings a characteristic pepperiness that is so warming in cooler weather, is instead achieved with black pepper and dried Sichuan pepper corns. The lemongrass which brings a vibrancy to the broth is more difficult to replace like-for-like, but lemon zest does wonders to give some freshness, and you could try using lemon balm too. Another unique ingredient often used in or lam is dried buffalo skin, which I think helps to thicken the broth, but also brings a healthy dose of umami. I decided to use fermented fava bean paste instead, a miso-alternative which I got from Hodmedods who specialise in British-grown pulses and grains and their products. I has a slightly richer, almost sharper flavour than miso, and is an intense black which gives the broth its deep colour. I also used some of their carlin peas to add a bit more texture and another nutritional element – variety is the spice of life of course – but you can leave these out or replace with chickpeas for a similar effect.

The result is a nourishing winter pottage, and the real joy of calling it a pottage is that you can be creative about what goes into it. It can be moulded and adapted depending on what you might have in your cupboards, what your personal tastes might be, what might have arrived in a veg box, or what you might have found on a local forage. You could infuse turkey tail mushrooms into your base stock, chop and change the wild greens as you like, or even pop in some pearl barley. If you eat meat you could add diced venison (deer meat was apparently often used in the or lam served at the Royal Palace in Luang Prabang) at the start and allow it to really cook down slowly until tender before carrying on with the recipe. The point is to celebrate whatever may be local to you, and whatever makes you feel thoroughly nourished and warm.

Winter Pottage with Foraged Greens Recipe

Serves 2 as a main meal

Ingredients

  • 500ml stock (vegetable stock for veggie/vegan recipe, otherwise a quality beef stock works well)
  • 1 tsp whole black peppercorns
  • 5 Sichuan peppercorns
  • 1 chilli (optional as can make it quite spicy)
  • 1 heaped tsp fava bean paste (or miso)
  • 1 parsnip, chopped into bitesize chunks
  • Handful if fresh, 1 tsp if dried dill
  • 1/2 cup fresh or rehydrated wood ear mushrooms
  • 1/2 cup green beans
  • 1/2 can cooked carlin peas (or chickpeas)
  • half lemon zest
  • Generous handful wild winter greens (nettles, dandelion leaves, three-cornered leek to name a few)
  • Salt to taste

Method

  1. Bring stock to the boil
  2. Add peppercorns, sechuan pepper, chilli (if using) and miso/fava bean paste
  3. Add the parsnip chunks and cook in the stock until soft. When cooked, lift them out of the pot, mash them into a paste and set aside.
  4. Add the dill (if using dried), mushrooms, green beans and Carlin peas to the broth.
  5. Ladle some of the broth into a small bowl and stir in 1 tbsp cornflour. Mix well until the smooth and add back into the broth.
  6. Add your wild greens, lemon zest, and the mashed parsnips. Season to taste.
  7. Cook for a few minutes before adding fresh dill just before serving, if not using dried.

I hope this might inspire you to be creative with your own pottage, and that it might even help you to feel a sense of connection with wherever you find yourself. I find it so grounding to create and eat food that has a real foundation in where I live, and to feel nourished by the earth in that way.

As always let me know what you think of this recipe, and if you give it a try feel free to share on Instagram tagging me @plotandlane – I love seeing what people are inspired to create!

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