New Zealand Spinach,
or Bushy Warrigal Greens
by Kate Heyhoe
Australia, being a melting pot of cultures from around the world, offers every type of cuisine imaginable. Everything from Pad Thai to ravioli could be considered "Australian." But to be truly Australian, a recipe should include at least some native ingredients, known collectively as "bush tucker." Aborigines taught the early white settlers how to survive on such gifts of the land as the quandong, a tart peach-like fruit; sweet kakadu plums, excellent for jams; and the now internationally raised macademia nut. Today, modern Aussie chefs are literally rediscovering their own backyard, plating up bush tucker specialties in posh hotels and trendy restaurants.
Warrigal greens are a leafy bushfood plant, also known as tetragonia and sometimes as New Zealand spinach, though the plant has no relationship to true spinach. Brought to Europe by Captain James Cook, the plant is rarely sold commercially, other than in seed form. But home gardeners in France, England, and the United States cultivate it privately as a hearty, spreading green that can survive late-summer heat and drought, torturous conditions for true spinach and lettuces. My late mother-in-law used to grow it in her backyard in Pensacola, Florida. In Australia and New Zealand, it thrives on rocky coastal beaches, completely independent of human cultivation.
Unlike more tender greens, warrigal greens are not at their best eaten raw, where they taste a bit like their relative, the ice plant. Blanch or boil them as you would spinach, selecting young leaves, and they do end up tasting quite a bit like true spinach, but with a texture that's pleasantly more substantial. Dry the cooked greens well, and toss them with butter or olive oil, or mix them into omelets, casseroles, or cream sauces.
If you're interested in trying the plant, you may have to grow it yourself-but rest assured, even those with black thumbs can grow New Zealand Spinach, which is the name more commonly seen on seed packets. It grows like a weed and even makes a rich, lush ground cover, which we discovered this summer, due to its rapid spreading ability. (The cats took to sleeping in the cool, shady leaves.) Soak the seeds overnight before planting. Remember that even though true spinach can be enjoyed raw, New Zealand spinach can't. Not that it's indigestible, it just doesn't taste great, in fact raw New Zealand spinach doesn't taste like much at all.
Finding information about warrigal greens can be tricky. The best cooking source I've found is Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini, by Elizabeth Schneider. I've adapted her recipe for basic cooked greens below, and added an original dish of my own. Essentially, after the greens are boiled or blanched, you can do just about anything with them, from salads to stuffings.
If you can't lay your hands on warrigal greens, I find that Swiss chard makes an appropriate substitute. True spinach works fine also, but chard leaves have a heartier body. Warrigal greens don't collapse as much as spinach or other greens do (so you'll need twice as much spinach as warrigal greens), and as they absorb cream sauces, they become pleasantly plump.
Photo from: Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini
Kate's Global Kitchen for October 2002:
10/04/02 Ukrainian Mushroom Feasts
10/11/02 Tarka, Ghee and Me: Quick Warm Ups with Indian Spices
10/18/02 New Zealand Spinach, or Bushy Warrigal Greens
10/25/02 Taking the Pumpkin Out of the Pie
Copyright © 2002, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created October 2002