Monday, May 24, 2010

Bright Lights Chard Gratin + Wild Edibles + Giveaway

My first memory of someone foraging for food was when I was four or five. I was at the neighborhood park with  friends and noticed a family gathering dandelions. Now, at that age I had gathered many dandelions for my ever-appreciative mother; but this family had far more than a fist full. It was if they had grand sum of every thing I had ever picked. And they didn't just have the sunny yellow flowers, they had the greens too. I was shocked- who wanted those? I asked. They did. They were taking them home to cook. Apparently, someone liked those greens.

My first foraging was sweet. I was eight, running around the common water drainage area behind my street during the summer. The honeyed floral smell of the wild honeysuckles became more than tempting. Someone mentioned  they had heard you could drink the nectar. I declared it safe enough for me and eagerly pulled off a trumpet shaped blossom, torn of the end and sucked the heavenly nectar out of the little straw. Divine.

The flowers sufficed for awhile. I would often snatch one as I walked by and enjoy the sweetness and redolent aroma of my childhood. But then I found something with more substance. Fruit. Fifteen years later in the center of San Francisco city I found blackberry bushes and then what has become my personal foraging paramount: sour cherries. I knew then that God loved me. Trees full of free sour cherries. The jam. The pies. The surprising lack of competition. I reluctantly told a few people about the treasure I had discovered, but no one else seemed to care or pick them.

Foraged food is as local as it gets. Forget the 150 mile rule, how about the 150 yards rule? It is amazing how much free, wild food is within a few blocks of my house. Face it, to most people foraged food sounds like foreign food. People shy away. Many folks are scared by something new. The funny thing is though, you have seen most all of these plants before, but you haven't seen them as food, but as weeds. Now, here comes the irony. They are better for you than most of the food in your fridge. Some of they things we pull of our gardens and laws are really great food we just don't recognize. At least I know I did. 

This year, all of that changed. I have done some research and reading and then I (carefully and judiciously) did some sampling. I have found fewer things to weed out of the garden. In fact I have given one of these volunteers their own garden plot. Here is what I have been eating:

wood sorrel  so very tasty. Use it like an herb, it has a zippy lemony flavor. Look for heart shaped leaves. Toss a few sprigs in with a salad or on top of a dish that pairs well with lemon.
    Lamb's Quarters are really a wild spinach. The leaves are more delicate and mild in flavor. I really like it
Chickweed mild, earthy great in soups and salads      
Honeysuckle break off the end of the flower and suck out the nectar. Nothing to not like.       
Mulberries How lucky am I to have these growing within a block of my house? Eat like any other berry. I love to bake with these.
Wild Garlic make certain you have garlic and not another bulb- just take a sniff. The green and the bulb are pungent.

I have also cooked with ramps (wild leeks) but we ate them so fast I forgot a photograph. I only wish their season was longer. I look forward to cooking with purslane as soon as mine gets big enough- I'll give you an update. I hear its delicious. Other finds from late summer include elderberries and paw paws.

But for now here is the most recent wild thing I've cooked: bright lights chard gratin. I got the  recipe from Deborah Madison's latest cookbook, Local Flavors. She is one of my favorite cookbook authors. If you have been reading you know that I adore her mega volume, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.  And that is why I am giving away a copy!  (Also made possible by the crazy fools who sold it at their yard sale for well below cost this weekend. Their loss. Your gain.) I am so excited for one of you to have it. 

Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
Here is what you do to enter: leave a comment and tell me what your favorite post on this blog has been and what you would like to see more of. 

And if you are the winner (I will post this in one week) get back to me within 3 days with your contact info.

And now back to the recipe.

This recipe is flexible and a great place to add some wild greens in with the chard. Which is exactly what I did. I put in about 1/2 lb. of lamb's quarters with 1 1/2 lbs. of chard. And then the lovely goat cheese and the the dilled bread crumbs. Oh, heaven. It hasn't been 24 hours and every bit of it is gone already. Dang. I will be making this one again.

Bright Lights Chard Gratin
Deborah Madison, Local Flavors
Bright Light or Rainbow chard is the variety with multicolored stems that are often
smaller and more tender than the big silver leaf or red-leafed chard. It works
beautifully here because of those narrow stems, but any variety can be used, of
course. Other greens can go in with the chard as well, such as quelites (another name for lamb's quarters, nettles, sorrel and spinach. Serve this gratin as a vegetarian main course or as a side
2 pounds chard, including half of the stems
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 onion, finely chopped
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 garlic clove, minced
3 tablespoons chopped dill or parsley
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup milk or cream or a mixture of cream and stock
1 cup crumbled fresh goat cheese
  1. Separate the leaves and chard stems. Wash the leaves in plenty of water,
    then coarsely chop them. Trim the ragged edges off the stems, wash them well,
    then dice them into small pieces.
  2. Melt half the butter in a wide skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and chard stems and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion has begun to brown a bit, about 20 minutes. Add the chard leaves, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt, and cook until they’re wilted and tender, another 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 F and lightly oil a 2-quart gratin dish. Melt half the remaining butter in a small skillet and add the bread crumbs, garlic, and dill. Cook, stirring for about a minute, then scrape the crumbs into a bowl and return the pan to the heat.
  4. Melt the last tablespoon of butter, stir in the flour, then whisk in the milk.
    Simmer for 5 minutes, season with ½ teaspoon salt, and add to the chard
    mixture. Add the cheese, then taste the mixture, correct for salt, and season with
  5. Pour the mixture into the prepared dish and cover with the bread crumbs.
    Bake until heated through and golden on the surface, about 25 minutes. Let
    settle a few minutes before serving.

Now you know it's safe Martha Stewart has it

20 items to forage from Eco Salon

A true expert, Steve Brill

Videos and more information at Eat the Weeds

Do you forage? And don't forget to enter the giveaway!


  1. I loved the Homemade Granola post! I'd love more posts about foods that I can easily incorporate into our family diet that will meet with less resistance from the picky eaters known as my children and husband.

  2. Glad to be introduced to Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution! I worry about what the kids get at school. My mom and I loved the Kale chips. I, too, have picky hubs and kiddos, and would love things that don't sound scary to them.

  3. I liked the posts where I helped contribute. Just kidding... but really, I like when you spell out your "simple recipes" like oatmeal and beets. It's nice to discover the right, easy way to cook things. I'm so cooking naive; I appreciate the basics.

  4. Sorry to those who saw this earlier today- I had some funky layout issues...

  5. Sandra,
    I like many of your posts, and am excited to try your friend's cookie recipe with all the coconut and chocolate that I think was dairy and egg free. I printed it out, but have not made it yet. I even shared it with some others!

    Have you ever eaten miner's lettuce? It grows all over SF and the west, and is very tasty for a spring salad. Look for it in online images. It is amazing! I too have found the blackberries, but wonder where the free SF sour cherries are lurking? I also have discovered wild strawberries all over the Presidio, and they have planted even more in a new wetlands area, and are free to pick!

    I am going to post, but it will come up under my husband's google, but this is Karen Durrant. Keep up the nice blog. I need to get time to do one someday.

  6. I loved the Thoughts and Lemon Gnocchi and Spinach post. Gnocchi is yum yum delicious and I loved how heartfelt your post was. It was what got me thinking about what I feed Ethan everyday and what he will be eating at school. After that I watched Food Inc and really loved all of Food Revolution. Thanks for your love of food and your inspiring blog. I am excited to try more of your recipes espically now that Reid is "watching what he eats" =).

  7. I loved the post about Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. I had never watched the show and now I have seen all the episodes. (Hooray for Hulu!)I am fairly new to your blog and also fairly new to vegetarianism and so I also really love all the links you have to more information/articles...they are really great! What do I want more of? Recipes! :)

  8. Sounds like a great book! I think the title of the book is great too, because vegetarian can be delicious for everyone and it doesn't have to be weird.

    I would have a hard time picking a favorite post of yours. I just love all that you write. I can hear passion and energy in your posts and I love it! You are inspiring! I actually REALLY enjoyed that jaime oliver speech as well. I made Dave watch some of it as well. We had a good long discussion about it. I think I like thought provoking and action provoking posts.

    I would like some summer-y salads and some non-baking recipes. Not that I don't love baking, I just have been craving the light and summer-y lately.

  9. I also loved that video you linked a long time ago on hulu....I forget the name of it. But I remember listening and watching while I cleaned my kitchen.

  10. Oh! Pick me for the book! I am learning how to cook veggie style and would love such a pretty garage sell book.

    I have foraged asparagus, huckleberries, service berries (must use lots of sugar with service berries), mint, apples (wormy but good), but never greens. I have plenty of those "weeds" growing. Now I know what to do with them!

  11. Me!

    I enjoy every word you write. It's like you're bearing your testimony of good food. I aspire to have such a love and talent for creating healthy food. My favorite post is the Kale chips because you admit to being the crunchy friend. :) I have big plans to make the chips. We love vegetable adventures around here . . . well, at least I do. Some of my kids, not as much.

  12. Love your red potato and green bean salad, oh and your tortillas!

  13. Love the post. My chard and red leaf lettuce are going to seed, but I can now look forward to the rest of summer's bounty. We had a work bbq over here, and tons of left over chips and soda. I never buy chips, but it was amazing to see them work their way into our diets just because they were there. Real food is so much better that junk food, or even junk health food.

  14. Your butternut squash lasagna (that doesn't require chopping of raw butternut) has become a guest staple for at least three households with whom I have shared it. We'd like to see more leopard print. :) OR, more gluten-free-friendly recipes. (Boo!)

  15. loved the granola bar recipe. As for the future, any quick summer vegetarian recipe would be fabulous.

  16. I love your beet recipe - Who wouldn't love eating something that is pink

  17. I just found your blog and would love that book if it's not too late and I win, that is!! I'm going to try the kale chips and the butternut lasagne for sure. I forage quite a bit in my yard-- dandelions, chicory, marshmallow, and clover are the main ones. I let them live so I can forage. I mostly throw them into our morning smoothies, sometimes I'll even throw in some grass!! I'm very excited to find people who eat like I do!! The good news of health is spreading!! Yay!! Keep posting recipes, it gives me ideas of what to make for dinner for my family of 9!!! Thanks!


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