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Sea Beet / Wild Spinach

Beta vulgaris maritima

sea beet - foraging recipesSea beet is the wild ancestor of the familiar vegetables beetroot and chard, and a plant you’ve likely noticed but passed by for favour of dipping a toe in the surf instead.

It's very close in flavour and in nutrition to spinach, perhaps a little on the stronger side and as with other coastal vegetables comes already seasoned with a salty flavour from it's environment. It can be eaten raw but in our opinion is much better cooked.

 Sea Beet growing at the beach, Kirk Michael Isle of Man

 

How to identify:

As its name suggests you’ll find this species in view of the sea, it grows almost everywhere around the UK coast though absent from the far North of Scotland. It can grow up to an impressive 1.2m in height and is found usually amongst shingle or sandy soil, though in windier locations it will adopt a more sprawling nature. The plant looks quite similar to Dock (a plant most people can safely recognise) due to its distinctive flower spikes, curled leaf edges and is sometimes similarly tinged with red. Adaptation to its environment means the leaves are thick and fleshy compared to any similar inland lookalikes. The leaves are a dark green, somewhat triangular, and have a shiny, almost waxy feel - varying in size depending on the location and age of the plant from between a couple of inches to nearly a foot in length. The clustered flowers form on spikes (June to September) technically lack petals and so are also green with almost the same waxy texture as the leaves.

Sea Beet is generally recognised as being good for eating from early Spring to around November, but it’s still worth checking out during the winter months when you might have the whole beach to yourself, as often you’ll be lucky enough to find a plant that’s not too tough or even putting up new growth for the picking.

 

How to eat it:

Cooking Sea Beet - foraging recipesLike chard we use the leaves, though the flowers are also edible and so is the root. Be aware that it is illegal to uproot a plant without the landowners permission and many dune areas are protected so is best to stick to the leaves anyway. Plus if you dig it up then there’ll be one less plant to harvest on next seasons’ ramblings...

Wash any sand away in clean water and chop large leaves roughly into ribbons. Pile high in a dry frying pan allowing any excess water from washing to help lubricate, and wilt over a medium heat for a couple of minutes at the most, tossing to mix. Finish with a knob of butter or drizzle with cream - serve immediately.

I like pairing foraged vegetables with something that would be found nearby, so naturally would opt for fish but it doesn’t have to be so if you have something else in mind! Its similarity to spinach means can be used in a wide range of dishes in much the same way.

Sea Beet goes especially well with roasted meats, smoky bacon, or the richness of cream so makes a perfect ingredient for a winter gratin! Perfect eating after a day spent in a brisk coastal wind.

 

Recipe:

For the sake of giving you something interesting to do with it, I took to the internet for inspiration and found just that courtesy of the foraging foodies at River Cottage. See their original recipe here https://www.rivercottage.net/recipes/smoked-pollack-with-sea-beet

I changed things ever so slightly as we had standard Hake instead of smoked Pollack, but it was enjoyable all the same!

 

Instructions: (serves 2)

1. Place the fish fillets into a saucepan and cover with 150ml milk and 150ml double cream (I also added some of the Lemon Thyme we have growing in our recycled bean tin planters on the 'base camp' shed). Cover and simmer until the fish is just about cooked, leaving it a further minute to finish cooking in the liquid.

2. Remove the fish and keep warm whilst you allow the liquid to continue simmering until reduced by half.

creamed sea beet - foraging recipes3. Fill a medium sized frying pan with roughly chopped sea beet and fry gently with a knob of butter until wilted but still a vibrant green.

4. Pour the cream mixture over the sea beet and stir for a further minute until well coated, season with pepper (the sea beet should be naturally salty enough) and a squeeze of lemon.

5. Serve alongside the fish, and for an extra filling main meal beside boiled and lightly buttered new potatoes or other vegetables. Enjoy!

 

creamed sea beet with poached fish & potatoes 

So in summary, if ever there could be a valid excuse to head over to the coast this weekend then this might just be it – bah, who am I kidding, you never need an excuse!

 

Have You tried Sea Beet? Let us know what you think in the comments below!

 

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Sarah is an artist and writer with a lifetime interest in camping and survival techniques.

Living the #vanlife since before it was a hashtag and touring on two wheels with her husband Ryan, they have a wealth of camping and motorcycling knowledge to share, and know a thing or two about packing light! read more


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