Edible Plants

Edible Plants

Outtakes from this weeks forageSF Wild Food Walk

We started this past weekend's wild food walk by tasting one of my favorite local plants, the 3 cornered leek (or wild onion lily.) Right now they are in flower, and the white clusters of flowers are not only beautiful, but they pack a nice oniony spice. The greens are also edible and are very mild in flavor. 

IMG_3541.jpg

We quickly moved onto to other seasonal delicacies. The nasturtiums we saw, which were looking super robust and healthy, had just revealed a couple of early flowers. Both the leaves and the flowers are edible, and have a nice cress-like spice.

From there we quickly saw oxalis (sour grass) also with a beautiful and tart edible flower. Miner's lettuce, although soon to be gone for season, was still looking succulent and delicious. Chickweed, growing right next to it, was still in its full green glory as well. We only moved about 10 feet before finding stinging nettle, mallow, yellow dock, black sage, and wild radish. We finally made it a little further before discussing the virtues of the only edible fruit we found, the black nightshade. None were quite ripe though. 

Many other plants were discussed, mostly edible. We barely traveled 200 feet before we realized there was enough there for an amazing salad, full of succulent mild greens, radish and nasturtium spice, onion flavor, flowers for visual appeal, and a tart component in the oxalis. This is why Spring is my favorite time of year!

Kevin Feinstein

Recipes, Edible Plants

A seaside feast: Recipes and foraging tips for Sea Beans

Nutritious, Delicious Sea Beans

Admittedly, sea beans (Salicornia) look very little like actual beans, but these hardy, salt-loving succulent plants should be included in every coastal forager’s diet. Sea beans are also called sea asparagus, samphire greens, glasswort, and pickle weed. Estuaries and bays are a favorite habitat of sea beans and they are an easily recognizable wild plant: they grow about 1 foot high, have no real leaves, just fleshy, segmented stalks, and are a bright green color. They can be foraged in late summer though early fall.

 

Adding Sea Beans to Your Table

Sea beans have become somewhat common at farmer’s markets in coastal areas, but it’s not hard to forage for them yourself. Identification is quite easy and harvesting a basketful of sea beans can help to perk up your meals for a week. Tasting somewhat like salty asparagus, sea beans can be used raw or cooked to add a distinctive flavor to your dishes. While sea beans have been used in Europe and the Far East for centuries, Americans are now catching on to this ‘new’ vegetable.

Raw sea beans can simply be added to your favorite salad while you’re preparing it, along with the other ingredients. However, there are some delicious ways to cook sea beans as well.

The simplest way to cook sea beans is to simply sauté or steam them. Glasswort can also be cooked just like you would cook spinach, but be sure that you don’t overcook this vegetable as it will lose most of its flavor.

If you want to add some real distinction to your table, there are several recipes that use sea beans that will definitely perk up your palate:

Roast Halibut, Sea Beans, and Clams: This makes 4 servings. Always remember to use sea beans gathered during the summer; by autumn, they are developing interior strings.

·      4 pieces skinless halibut, 1¾ inches thick

·      2 cups sea beans

·      14 to 18 canned clams (keep the liquor)

·      ¼ tsp salt, 1/8 tsp black pepper

·      1 tbsp. olive oil

·      ¼ cup shallot, chopped finely

·      ¼ cup unsalted butter

·      4 tsp lemon juice

Preheat your oven to 450 F.

Add sea beans to 2 quarts of boiling water and cook for 1 minute. Drain, cool in ice water, and then pat dry on paper towels.

Drain the clams, but keep the clam juice.

Dry the fish fillets with paper towels then sprinkle them with the salt and pepper.

Using an ovenproof skillet, brown both sides of the fillets in olive oil in the heated pan. Once both sides are browned, slide the skillet into the oven and let the fish roast for about 10 minutes.

While the fish is in the oven, sauté the shallots in the butter until they are just soft. Put in the clam juice and lemon juice and bring to a gentle, simmering boil. Now add the clams, cover the skillet, and cook for another 2 minutes over a low/moderate heat. Remove from heat.

Arrange the halibut fillets on plates and surround them with sea beans, clams, and sautéed shallots.

Enjoy.

 

Sea Bean Side Dish: Sea beans gathered or purchased during summer and early fall, will be much more palatable than those from later in the year – as the year wears on, sea beans will become fiberous as they begin to flower. When the tips become red you’ll know sea beans are beginning to flower and go out of season. Although still edible, they wont be as good.

·      2 to 3 cups of fresh sea beans, cut or broken into pieces

·      1 to 2 cloves of garlic, chopped

·      3 to 4 tbsp. of butter

Melt the butter in your skillet over a medium-high heat, taking care not to burn the butter.

Add the sea beans, stirring constantly, and then the chopped garlic.

Sauté the sea beans and garlic until they become tender then remove the skillet from the heat.

Serve as a side dish with your favorite ocean fish.  

 

Sea Beans Are Good for You

In addition to tasting good, sea beans also provide quite a few nutritional benefits and supply the following:

·      Vitamin A

·      B Vitamins

·      Vitamin C

·      Iron

·      Calcium

·      Iodine

·      Bioflavonoids

Using sea beans in your cooking will not only add a new dimension to the flavor of your meals, but will also provide you with a number of healthy benefits.

 

 

Recipes, Edible Plants

The Wonderful Wonderful Ramp

pickled ramps

pickled ramps

Ramps are special. We have wild onions in California, but they don’t come close to the taste, texture, and versatility of ramps (don't get me wrong, we have wild mushrooms that East Coasters would kill for). Since all the wild ingredients I use for The Wild Kitchen are local, the closest I ever get to using ramps is the wild onion.  Our wild onion is essentially a scallion, which is how I treat it.  Good chopped up and sautéed, with nice white flowers that I use for garnish. A ramp is a whole other animal.

The roots have a biting onion flavor, and bulblike crunch that begs to be pickled. The greens, which can be grilled, broiled, sautéed or seared, have just the right amount of the bulbs onion aroma, but a great texture that really rounds out a plate. They are a perennial (grow back each year), and the plant that gave Chicago its name. Chicagou was the word for ramp in the local dialect, and an abundant plant in the area when the city was being settled.

I’m back for a week visiting my mom in Plainfield, and wanted to take advantage of the best foraging season on the East Coast.  The prime focus for me was ramps. The woods are amazing in Vermont. The smell of the trees, moss, gurgle of creeks, shade of the maples.  All with the bonus of an abundance of plant and animal life on the forest floor.  I love California, but you just don’t get the same experience in our woods.

toothwort leaves

toothwort leaves

I grew up in Vermont, but my foraging career really started with wild mushrooms on the west coast, so I enlisted the help of a local expert to help me find my prize.  Annie is a local gardner/naturalist/friend of the family, who was nice enough to show me one of her prime spots. Not that they’re hard to find in VT. Ramps (or wild leeks as they’re called here) are everywhere. It would have taken me days to pick even half of what I saw.  Along the way she introduced me to some edibles I’d never heard of.

One was toothwort. It's a 3-leaves low growing plant. It has thin dull green leaves with serrated edges. The roots (and leaves to some extent) have an uncanny horseradish flavor. It’s pretty amazing actually. If I do a dinner in Vermont, this is definitely going to be included on the menu. Maybe a toothwort wasabi with local freshwater trout sashimi….Another thing that Annie introduced me to was the edibility of violet flowers. They don’t grow in abundance, so I would feel uncomfortable collecting them for a Wild Kitchen dinner, but they were great to try. They taste like wintergreen. Pretty cool. Another plant that grows here in abundance is wild ginger. We have this in CA, but I don’t see it much where I forage. There was a bunch on our walk, so I grabbed some of that too.

There's been some recent press on the over harvesting of ramps on the east coast, given their sudden spike in popularity.  As far as I can tell it’s more theoretical than realistic. People see them in stores, so immediately assume they are being decimated. From people I’ve talked to up here, it hasn’t become a problem. I always live by the motto of never taking more than a third of whatever plant I’m harvesting, that way I can be sure it will be there when I return next year.

field of ramps

field of ramps

I dug ramps for about 15 minutes and had almost more than I could carry, so I headed home. I washed them and cut off the bulbs, and for the next 3 days I ate the greens at every meal. Tossed in garlic and olive oil and wrapped in tin foil on the grill, sautéed with salt and garlic with my eggs in the morning, and cut small and used raw to spice up potato salad.   Even then I had a ton left.  Since there was no way I could eat them all before I left (and because I wanted to bring some back west), I decided to pickle the bulbs. Most of the pickles I do are what are known as quick pickles. Basically hot brine that is poured a vegetable, and used within a week or so. I wanted to try something different with these, so I decided to do a proper can.

If you’re reading this blog, I imagine you have some experience canning, or at least understand the fundamental ideas behind it. If not, also cool, we’ve all got to start somewhere.  The basic idea of canning is to submerge a veggie (or meat) into a hygienic environment (often vinegar), then boil the jar to create a vacuum that will push out any excess air. This creates an anaerobic environment where bacteria cannot grow, so preserves food longer. These pickles will last at least a month, or until you’ve eaten them all (which will probably be sooner):

You’ll need:

Food:

2C white vinegar

4C water

1C white sugar

2T mustard seed (“T” =Tablespoon and “t”=teaspoon)

1T fennel seed

2T black peppercorns

4 piece wild ginger root

2T kosher salt

4 piece toothwort root (both optional of course, but if you don’t use them add a small piece of fresh horseradish)

2 lb fresh ramps

Equipment:

4 - 12 OZ canning jars

Water bath canner (if you have it. If not a pot large enough to fit the jars will suffice)

Tongs

1 medium pot

Baking pan or Pyrex casserole

clean ramps

clean ramps

  1. First you want to get your liquids boiling, while they heat up you’ll have time to clean your ramps. Fill your pot with all your picking ingredients (minus the ramps). Bring them to a boil, then turn off heat. Fill your water bath canner up 3/4 with water, and boil. If you are using a pot, fill with water (leaving room for the area the jars will displace). Preheat your oven to 350F

  2. Sterilize your jars: An easy way to sterilize jars is wash them with soap and water, then bake them on sheet pan in the oven at 200F until you’re ready to use them. Got that tip from Slow Jams. http://www.chow.com/food-news/59073/the-easiest-way-to-sterilize-jars/

  3. While those are heating up, clean your ramps. First give the ramps a good wash, peeling off any discolored skin on the root, and snapping the root (not the bulb) off. Then cut off the bulb just above where the green of the leaf begins. Save the leaves. I personally think they’re just as delicious as the bulbs. You can sauté them up for a side dish, or put them on sandwiches. Really delicious.

  4. Now you want to fill your jars. I try to stand the ramps up, with the bulbs all facing down, but that’s really just an aesthetic choice. Just make sure there’s an inch clear below the rim of the jar. Pour over your nearly boiling pickling liquid, adding a root of ginger and toothwort, as well as a spoon of spices, to each jar. Screw on the lid.

  5. Now for the can. If you’re using a regular pot, you’ll want to make sure the jars stand up straight, but that they don’t touch the metal bottom. There are fancy grills they sell for this, or you can do what I do, and put a dishtowel in the water to line the bottom of the pot. Just make sure it’s as flat as you can make it. Place the jars in the water, turn down to a simmer, and “cook” for 15 minutes. Make sure the water covers the jar (this is how you force out the air), add hot water from the tap if it needs it.

  6. Take jars out with tongs, allow to cool, and you’re done! A lot of words for what is actually a pretty simple process. Clean veggies, put in jars, cover with vinegar, and force out air. As they cool you should hear a popping sound of the lid suctioning down. You might not hear the sound, but check to see that the lid is pressed in, that’s how you know the can worked.

If you make this recipe, give me a comment and let me know how it went. I haven’t tried it with the toothwort yet, and I’m definitely excited to see if the wasabi/horseradish flavor comes through. Also, if you've ever pickled the greens, let me know how that went. That's what I'll try next. Ramps!

Iso

dirty ramps

dirty ramps