Spring Essentials - Part Three: Bitter Herbs
On the Seder plate, you’ll find a special place for bitter herbs and horseradish. Bitter herbs include celery leaf and Romaine lettuce (both very bitter when grown in Israel, since they are not as watery as in North America so the flavour is so concentrated it’s bitter). This year was the first time when I noticed that there might be other use for the bitter herbs, aside for symbolizing the bitterness of slavery*. Bitter herbs, as my friend Dawna has taught me (along with her infectious passion for tea, herbs and plants in general), act as liver tonic and stimulant and are an excellent way to welcome Spring and kick off any getting-healthier plans towards the summer.
In the winter, our metabolism slows to save energy and overall we get into the introvert mode of hibernatnion. Spring being a time of awakening and renewal is an excellent time to stimulate and cleanse the liver. This does not necessarily mean three weeks of hot water and lemon diet; it may just mean looking around to see what grows locally and what is available and turning it into an inspiring yet nutritious meal. Nature has her strange and magical ways to give us what we need when we need it. In the Pacific West Coast, you may notice plants such as dandelions, stinging nettles and fiddleheads. In the Middle East where I grew up, aside from dandelions there is also an abundance of other bitter herbs, a little earlier in the spring (so some are already too aged to eat), i.e. chicory and wild artichoke; but some are just at the peak of their season now, such as field mallow. Most green leaves are rich in nutrients such as calcium, iron and vitamins (Vitamin C in particular).
Other bitter herbs that you may consider using are watercress, nasturtium flowers and leaves (very rich in vitamin C), and fenugreek leaves or sprouts.
Idea for a Spring Menu
The following are suggestions for a light meal that could be as festive or casual as you wish.
Dandelion & Nasturtium Salad
Bitter dandelion leaves garnished with nasturtium flowers and immersed in a light vinaigrette based on olive oil and either apple cider vinegar or balsamic vinegar.
In butter and lavender buds sauce
Nettle or Field Marrow Soup
Flavoured with rosemary and sour apple
Bitter Almond and Buckwheat Cake
*Similarly, the unleavened bread (Matzoh) might just have another purpose of cleansing the system of excess of yeast. But who knows...
** More detailed recipes will be published next week.