The borage pops up in the vegetable patch every year without fail. It would almost be considered a weed if the dark green leaves and starry flowers weren’t so welcome in our garden. We grew a few borage plants in a module tray in our first year here and planted them out in the corners of a raised bed of tomatoes and squash, where they acted as a pest-deterring companion plant and nectar source for the bees. They self-seeded prolifically, so the following year (and every year since) we have simply had to prick out and relocate the seedlings that appeared in the less suitable spots, leaving the others to grow on to full size.
At the start of the spring growing season, we eat some of very smallest and youngest borage leaves raw alongside wild rocket and lettuce. They have a pleasing, gentle cucumber flavour. On the downside they can be a little tough and, frankly, a lot hairier than is preferable in a salad leaf. As the plants get bigger, we harvest some of the larger leaves and introduce them to a little heat in the kitchen. The sturdy foliage responds well to a quick sauté in melted butter and some seasoning, and it works particularly well in soup.
This borage leaf soup is a one we enjoyed on an early summer evening, after a day of eating the odd ice lolly and little else. Once the sultry warmth of the day had diminished, we gathered the ingredients we needed from the just-watered veg patch. A collection of fresh summer flavours for the pot: sweetness from peas (taken from the overgrown pods of a mange tout plant), freshness from a generous fistful of garden mint and spring onions, and a complimentary whisper of cucumber from the colander of borage leaves.
We put a small pile of fried potato and pickled wild garlic flowers in the centre of the bowls and topped each one with a soft-poached hen egg. The soup was then gently poured around the potato island, and a handful of pea shoots, borage flowers, and raw peas were scattered over the top. A few flakes of sea salt, some black pepper, and a trickle of olive oil were added to finish.
We sat down to eat on the grass around an improvised pallet wood table in the dusky light, along with a loaf of crusty bread and a crisp bottle of white. The birds were running through their bedtime chorus of songs, the cows in the nearby field could be heard softly munching our hedgerow, and the summer flowers were gently blowing in the evening breeze. It was all rather idyllic, until one of the geese blew their nose in an unsupervised wine glass.
Borage Leaf, Pea and Garden Mint Soup
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter
- 125 g spring onions, roughly chopped
- 200 g borage leaves, shredded into 1cm strips
- 125 g fresh peas (reserve a few of the smallest for serving – see below)
- 1 l chicken or vegetable stock
- 4 large sprigs of fresh garden mint, leaves picked
- Sea salt and black pepper
- 6 tbsp fried potatoes with pickled wild garlic flower buds (to serve, optional)
- 4 soft-poached chicken eggs (to serve, optional)
- A small handful of borage flowers (to serve, optional)
- A small handful of pea shoots (to serve, optional)
- A few peas, raw and freshly podded (to serve, optional)
- Extra virgin olive oil (to serve, optional)
Melt the butter in a large pot over a low heat and gently fry the spring onions for around five minutes until soft.
Stir in the peas and cook for a further minute, then stir in the shredded borage leaves.
Pour over the stock and turn up the heat to bring the pot to a gentle simmer (stirring occasionally to encourage the borage leaves to wilt and cook). Once the stock is bubbling, add the mint leaves and then continue to cook for around five minutes until everything is tender, but the flavours are still fresh. Season with sea salt and black pepper, then blitz the soup in a blender until smooth.
Serve warm with crusty bread on the side. If you are serving the soup with the optional extra garnishes, start by putting a couple of large spoonfuls of the wild garlic flower potatoes in the bottom centre of each bowl; divide the soup between the bowls, gently pouring it around the potato 'islands'; put the poached eggs on top of the potatoes; and scatter over the raw peas, borage flowers, and pea shoots; then add a little more sea salt, black pepper and a trickle of olive oil to finish.