Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Wild Edibles and Bright Lights Gratin

I am in the middle of a move right now and my desk in on the floor, my cookbooks are packed away and my pots get packed in tonight. So, rather than abandon the blog, I will be reprising a few of my favorite posts and recipes in the next few weeks until I am ready to go again. Thanks for sticking around. There will be good things to come from my new kitchen. I promise.

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. 

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?

1 comment:

  1. You have an informative blog. I’ve learned something from it. I do have mine too www.claire-fernandez.blogspot.com... Thanks


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