Leaves that taste like no leaves you’ve eaten before

A leaf that tastes of cheese…

Not just any old cheese but blue stilton.
Paederia lanuginosa – or cheese leaf – is one of the latest products from the specialist Worcestershire grower Westlands, whose produce grace the plates of numerous Michelin-starred restaurants.

It’s from the same plant family as coffee but compounds give it the almost metallic pungent whack of a chunk of blue cheese.
It’s a fascinating and rather wonderful ingredient, similar in shape and texture to sage.
If you like blue cheese, you’ll adore these leaves.
Widely used in Vietnamese cookery, it’s served in soups, rice dishes, mixed with cooked vegetables or simply as a garnish raw or cooked with fish or meat.
Hot off the greenhouse shelves at Westlands this summer is another incredible new product – fish mint.

Heart-shaped houttuynia cordata – again popular in the Far East – has a citric zest with just a hint of fish sauce.
It’s used raw as a salad leaf, cooked with vegetables or with fish in a curry or dried and made into a tea.
But perhaps the most eye-catching of all the new Westlands products are sweet potato leaves – ipomoea batatas.
They come in stunning shades of deep purple, delicate green and rust and have a beautiful shape and soft texture.

The flavour is sweet, earthy and deeply verdant.
They’re widely used around the world and are astonishingly nutritious.
They’re eaten raw or cooked in a variety of ways.

How I used these leaves

It struck me that the punchy nature of fish mint lent itself to use as a palate-awakening appetiser.
I cut the leaves into thin strips and combined them with finely chopped anchovies, sliced capers, roughly crushed pine nuts, a scattering of sultanas, a splash of aged balsamic vinegar and good olive oil.
The paste looked like a rustic tapenade and I spread it on thin slices of beautiful rye and wheat sourdough to nibble with G&Ts before lunch.

It was a zingy and flavoursome way to lead into the meal, the sweetness of the sultanas and balsamic balancing out the whack of the fish mint, anchovy and capers.
The cheese and sweet potato leaves I used in a sort of retro cheese and pineapple starter.
I scorched little cubes of fresh pineapple and spring onions over open flames.
I combined thin strips of cheese leaf with cottage cheese, yoghurt and olive oil which I whipped together to lighten the mixture.
I fried several cheese leaves briefly in oil to make them crisp and deepen their flavour so that they tasted gloriously like slightly burnt cheese.

Then I plated up with the sweet potato leaves to give architectural shape, contrasting colour and add fresh green flavours. I drizzled over some peppery Andalusian olive oil.
The dish looked pretty and ate very well indeed.
I’m not going to be falsely modest – it was a triumph.
But a big thanks to Westlands for providing such great produce to allow such a successful experiment.

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