Chrysanthemum Greens with Sesame Dressing

One of the wonderful things about having your own garden, plot or allotment is that you can grow vegetables you love but which otherwise are hard to obtain.

One of my favourites is chrysanthemum greens or shungiku, as they’re called in Japanese.

Not only are they really pretty – they have a lovely cream and yellow flower – they also taste great.

The flowers run to seed and self sow profusely, springing up throughout the veg garden. They are easily weeded out where they aren’t wanted.

They can be stir fried with other vegetables or blanched briefly in boiling water and then cold to make a Japanese salad or appetiser called goma-ae.

They are a key ingredient in sukiyaki or shabu shabu – a one pot stew that’s cooked at the table.

They are hardy and seem to grow for most of the year except the depths of winter when snow freezes everything in its path.

If you don’t have shungiku you can use spinach instead.

Don’t be tempted to use the leaves of conventional chrysanthemums!

Make sure the stems are edible – if they snap easily when picking  and don’t need a knife or scissors to harvest then they will probably be OK and not too stringy.

Otherwise just pick off the minor branches or leaves and use them – discarding the more woody main stems.

I tend to use the tops and sides and leave the main body of the plant to regenerate yet more succulent leaves.

Although it’s the end of November I still have wide range of edible vegetables in the garden including these spring onions and chrysanthemum greens or “shungiku”

Once blanched in boiling water and refreshed in cold the leaves can be chopped and mixed with shoyu (soya sauce or tamari), sugar and roasted freshly ground sesame seeds to make goma-ae.

They retain their bright green colour and make a simple, tasty and nutritious side dish.

I served this with plain white rice and a silken tofu soup which is from the recipe book Every Grain Of Rice by Fuschia Dunlop.

Remember you can use spinach if you don’t have shungiku.

Most recipes for this have a ridiculous amount of sugar (1 Tablespoon) – so I have cut it back to a quarter of that and I think it still tastes sweet enough.

The sesame seeds are dry roasted – either in a pan in a hot oven or under a hot grill for five minutes- or in a dry frying pan.

You can use a conventional pestle and mortar or one like this which is ridged and specially designed for grinding seeds (should be available online from a specialist Japanese importer – they’re called suribachi in Japanese) or one of the plastic grinders as seen in the photo below.

Chrysanthemum Greens in a sweet sesame dressing
Prep Time
20 mins
Servings: 2
Author: Cath
  • 300 g chrysanthemum greens or shungiku
  • pinch of salt
For the dressing
  • 3 tbsp lightly roasted or toasted white sesame seeds
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp shoyu or soya sauce
  • 1 tsp mirin
  1. Put the leaves in a large pan of salted boiling water, and bring back to boil and remove them or drain after 15 seconds.

  2. Refresh in a colander with cold running water and then with your hands squeeze the excess moisture from leaves. 

  3. Lay stems together on a chopping board and slice with a sharp knife into 3 cm (1 inch) lengths.

    If necessary do this in batches.

  4. Squeeze again discarding any liquid and place in a medium to large bowl.

For the dressing
  1. Grind the freshly roasted sesame seeds in a mortar and pestle until roughly ground - you don't want it to be too homogeneous and fine.

  2. Add other ingredients and mix/massage it with the greens in the bowl - it's quite a dry dressing with not much liquid - don't be tempted to thin it down.

  3. Place in smaller individual bowls and sprinkle with a few whole seeds.





Splendid Summer Solstice – red onion and rocket pizza

I have been so lucky with the wide variety of lettuce that have sprung up – most of them from saved or swapped seed.

Some overwintered and provided the first greens of the year despite the vicious cold spell we had in early March.

The others have thrived once they escaped the confines of the modules I sowed them in.

Salad bed
The new bed of garlic chives and leeks interplanted with lettuce has been a success – beans and chard are also doing well but the cucumbers and peas don’t like it as much and growth has been slow

And now we’re reaping the benefits – picking just as many leaves as we need (the plant is allowed to stay in the ground to continue growing – a tip from no dig guru, Charles Dowding).

In the kitchen we’ve been making big bold salad bowls by adding at least three varieties of basil, garlic chives, fresh parsley and frothy fronds of fennel.

Purple star-like borage flowers and the yellow and white petals of Shungiku or chrysanthemum greens that have flowered have been the final touch – so beautiful that it seems a shame to eat it.

Elsewhere in garden

The beetroot are swelling, the peas are podding and the broad beans are almost big enough to coax out of their vivid green velvet jackets.

There are the first signs of fruit on the courgette/zucchini plants and the apple and pear trees have just had their “June drop” – that’s when they shed some early fruit giving the ones left on the tree a good chance of reaching maturity.

The early Florence fennel has produced crunchy white edible bulbs (mound up the earth around the bulb as it’s growing to encourage this).

I have served it raw in a salad with zingy, slightly sharp Valencia oranges from Spain!

I shall sow some more this weekend which should see us through to Christmas if protected from very cold conditions.

Sowing florence fennel after the longest day reduces the chances of it bolting

Mister Motivator

I’m sure Steve will hate being called that – but that’s the effect he had on a visit last weekend.

He’s a fellow gardener, cook, river swimmer and Sacred Harp singer from Bristol.

We accomplished a lot in the garden.

We planted out pumpkins and cabbage.

We weeded and heavily mulched the badly neglected raspberries with the last of my home made compost – and they seemed to perk up almost immediately.

We also built a new compost heap – combining and turning two smaller heaps to make a new mother heap in the bay we’d emptied.

Tiring but satisfying work.

Steve surveying the veg garden before a day’s hard work – we went swimming and relaxed the next day

This growing season has been wonderful so far because of the help and encouragement and advice I’ve had from friends.

I’ll leave you with a rough recipe for rocket, red onion and oregano pizza.

Another good combo is pre-wilted and chopped spinach or swiss chard with onion, tomato sauce, capers – baked then topped with fried crumbled sage leaves.

5 from 1 vote
Red onion, rocket and oregano pizza
Red onion, Rocket and Oregano pizza
Servings: 8
Author: Cath
Pizza dough enough for 2 x 26cm pizzas
  • 1 tbsp instant dried yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 400 gr plain or strong bread flour
  • 1 cup lukewarm water
  1. Mix dry ingredients together.

  2. Add water and oil mixed together first.

  3. Make a smooth dough and knead for between 8 and 10 minutes or until you can pull and stretch a section of dough so thin it makes a window you can almost look through (Steve Brett's top tip).

  4. Grease or flour a large bowl and transfer the dough and cover. Leave until it's doubled in size in a draught free place.

  5. Knock back and leave for 45 minutes.

  6. Divide in half and roll out thinly. Leave to rest for 5 minutes.

  7. Cover with thinly sliced red onion (mine were a gift from friend Dianne Chittock), rocket torn into small pieces, then a cup of tomato sauce, and 2 tbsp (yes that much!) oregano and then drizzle on 1/3 cup olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  

  8. Bake for 15 minutes in a very hot oven or until edges are crisp. 

  9. Slide onto an oven rack for a further five minutes to crisp the base.

Red onion, rocket and oregano pizza

Recipe courtesy Stephanie Alexander, The Cook’s Companion


Fragrant delight – elderflower cordial

Last year on my cycle commute to work I vowed I would pick some of the elderflowers that I saw in bloom in Whitlingham country park to make cordial.

But I never got round to it.

Fast forward to this week – I realised we had elderflowers in our garden only they were pink!

Somehow I hadn’t registered that I could use them as well.

Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’ or black elderberry

The next thing was getting my hands on some citric acid.

The local chemist took great relish in telling me they would only be able to sell it 50g at a time.

Apparently this is to stop heroin abuse as it is used to dissolve the drug!

I did point out it’s easily accessible in large quantities via the internet.

Anyway I finally found some at the local pharmacy in a nearby large supermarket – with no limits on how much I could buy!

The elderflowers are macerated in a sugar syrup with lemons, oranges and citric acid for 24 hours

From the various books and web pages I read it seems you should only pick newly opened elderflowers from an unpolluted source  – not from a busy roadside for example.

You should shake the flowers to rid them of any insects that may be lingering.

But if there are any you’ve missed – the muslin that you pass it through before bottling will catch them and sieve them out.

The colour of the cordial made with pink elderflowers is extraordinary

I followed this recipe from the BBC food website as it seemed as good as any other.

Even though I’ve sterilised the bottles – I’m still going to keep them in the fridge.

The cordial has got the thumbs up from others – my Mum, Jan, says it’s a very pleasant, unusual and refreshing.

Many people say it has a muscat flavour.

We used the last of the gooseberries stored in the freezer to make room for this year’s crop which is almost ready to be picked – just a couple more weeks I think

After passing the cordial through a muslin lined sieve we tied up the material and used the remnant fruit and flower heads to make Gooseberry and Elderflower jam with the last 2kgs of frozen fruit from last summer.

You can make elderflower wine or champagne – I might try that next year.