Twice now I’ve had the chance to go foraging with Born to Run‘s bestselling author Christopher McDougall. He was a novice as far as edible wild plants when we met, but he and his family have been enjoying foraged fare ever since I cooked up some of their backyard last fall. Here’s a quick video about that day.
The reason Chris became interested in foraging was that it was part of the research for his soon to be released book Natural Born Heroes.
I haven’t had a chance to read the book yet, but from what Chris told me it follows the history of a man known as The Cretan Runner. This fellow lived off the land in World War II while running the equivalent of almost daily marathons for the resistance.
Natural Born Heroes is also about modern day folks who are keeping alive some of the skills and qualities that enabled The Cretan Runner and his companions to survive. Foraging was one of those skills, and that’s why Chris contacted me to learn more about it.
I’m honored to be part of this project, and can’t wait to read the book this spring!
Speaking of the spring, I’ll be back in the States and already have some foraging tours and classes lined up. Hope to see you at one of them!
Seskoulopita is spanakoptia (Greek spinach and cheese pastry), except that it’s made with chard instead of spinach.
Seskoulopita entered my culinary repetoire when my greek grandmother Nea was forbidden to eat spinach, but still allowed chard.
Highlighting the slightly sour and salty overtones of chard, I’ve added preserved lemons to this recipe. You can substitute lemon zest if you don’t have preserved lemons.
I think yia-yia Nea would approve, even though preserved lemons weren’t among her usual ingredients.
Young wild dock leaves and stems (Rumex crispus or R. pulcher are my favorites) are a wonderful replacement for the chard in this dish.
Seskolopita (Greek Chard Pie in Flaky Phyllo Crust)
Makes 8 servings as a side dish, 4 as a main course
1 big bunch chard
1 large onion
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon minced preserved lemon peel (from about 1/4 preserved lemon) OR 1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
2/3 cup sour cream OR cottage cheese OR ricotta OR greek yogurt (do not use regular yogurt unless you strain it first or you’ll end up with a runny pastry filling)
1/4 cup grated romano or parmesan cheese
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons minced fresh dill
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
Salt to taste
1/4 cup melted butter
Phyllo (sometimes spelled filo) pastry dough
1. Put 1-inch of water into a medium sized pot and bring it to a boil. Meanwhile, wash the chard. Cut out the midribs and set aside the green parts of the leaves. Finely chop the midribs. Add the chopped midribs to the water and boil for 6-7 minutes.
Drain through a colander into a large pot (so that the cooking water is saved in the larger pot). Let the cooked midribs cool then squeeze out any excess liquid.
2. Very coarsely chop the green parts of the chard leaves and add them to the saved cooking water in the large pot. Boil, covered, for 5 minutes. Drain in a colander. Squeeze out any excess liquid (squeeze hard). Let cool.
3. Preheat the oven to 350F. Meanwhile, sautee the onion in the olive oil for 5 minutes over medium heat (you can use one of the pots you cooked the chard in). Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes more.
4. In a large bowl combine all of the ingredients except for the phyllo pastry and the butter. Add salt to taste.
5. Brush a 9×9 baking pan with some of the melted butter. Lay in a sheet of phyllo, brush that with more butter, and repeat the layers 2 or 3 more times.
6. Spread the chard mixture over the buttered phyllo layers.
7. Top with several more layers of phyllo, coating each layer with melted butter. Use the tip of a sharp knife to score the sesskoulopita in a tic-tac-toe pattern. This both allows steam to vent while it cooks and makes it easier to cut into individual portions later.
8. Bake in a 350F oven until starting to turn golden, 30-35 minutes.
You can serve seskoulopita hot, but in Greece it’s more likely to be served at room temperature. Translation: you can make it several hours before serving, even the night before.
Crisp, sweet, spicy, and sour, these pickled Jerusalem artichoke tubers are a tasty snack on their own. They are also excellent served alongside curried dishes.
Jerusalem artichokes are neither artichokes nor from Jerusalem, but rather a native North American relative of sunflowers. Their gnarly tubers are good cooked or raw, especially after they’ve been in the ground for a freezing cold night or two. In fact, I dislike the taste of them until after a couple of freezes have converted some of their musty-flavored starch into sugar. After that, I find them delicious.
Also sold under the name “sunchoke,” Jerusalem artichokes are fantastic pickled. A bonus is that the pickling process seems to help minimize the infamous fart factor associated with this vegetable (although that may have more to do with the smaller quantity you’re likely to eat of the pickled version than you would of blander preparations).
You can find this plant growing wild in North America or cultivated on at least three continents (see Northeast Foraging for more on how to identify and harvest this plant in the field). Jerusalem artichokes are extremely easy to grow if you have a spot that gets plenty of sun: just cut one of the tubers into a few pieces and plant them.
Sweet and Sour Pickled J-chokes
Makes 3 pints
In a large bowl, combine:
Juice of 1 lemon OR 2 tablespoons vinegar
2 cups water
Scrub clean (no need to peel) and chop into chunks no thicker than 1/2-inch:
1 1/2 pounds Jerusalem artichokes
Drop the chopped J-choke pieces into the acidulated water so that they do not discolor.
In a second container, combine:
3 cups water
2 tablespoons kosher other non-iodized salt
Stir to dissolve the salt. Drain the J-chokes that are in the acidulated water and transfer them to the salt brine. Cover and refrigerate for 8 hours (or as long as 24 – I did this accidentally the second time I made these, and didn’t notice any difference in the finished pickle).
Get your boiling water bath set up if you plan on canning your jars of pickled Jerusalem artichokes (see step 4 below).
Combine the following ingredients in a small saucepan over high heat and bring them to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes:
1 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon whole allspice or spicebush berries (leave out the black pepper if using spicebush)
1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 whole clove
3. Filling the jars
Drain the J-chokes and rinse them under cold water to remove excess salt. Load them into clean jars, leaving an inch of head space.
Divide the following between the jars:
1 bay leaf, broken into a few pieces
3 small hot chile peppers (optional)
Pour the hot brine over the J-chokes, leaving at least 1/2-inch of head space (the liquid should completely cover the other ingredients).
It’s fine if some of the spices from the brine end up in the jars, but if you want a clear golden brine rather than turmeric “mud” at the bottom of the jars, then first strain it through a muslin bag or several layers of cheesecloth.
Wipe the rims of the jars dry and secure the lids.
4. Canning (optional)
If you’d rather skip the canning step, store your pickled Jerusalem artichokes in the refrigerator.
If you want to seal the jars and safely store them at room temperature, first sterilize the empty jars by immersing them in rapidly boiling water for 15 minutes, then process the filled jars in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes. Here are the boiling water bath instructions from Preserving Everything.
Here’s a recipe to go with what I posted a couple of days ago about winter-hardy henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) and related edible Lamiums.
A couple of folks responded to my post by mentioning that henbit and its relatives (also called by the unfortunate common name “dead nettle”) have a mushroom-y taste. Okay, I thought, let’s work with that rather than trying to hide it. In fact, let’s boost that mushroom flavor up several notches.
Here I’ve used henbit greens instead of the usual spinach or nettles in fresh pasta. You don’t need a pasta machine to make this dish: the noodles are deliberately hefty and you can roll them out by hand. You don’t even need a rolling pin: an old wine bottle (label soaked off and removed) will work equally well.
The sauce uses wild mushrooms (fresh or dried) to play off that shroomy flavor in the henbit. Today I used hen of the woods, playing with the “hen” theme. But use whatever tasty mushrooms you’ve got (yes, even supermarket button mushrooms if there’s no alternative).
Henbit Noodles with Creamy Mushroom Sauce
Serves two as a main course, four as a side dish
1/2 pound henbit leaves
1 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, peeled
3/4 cup freshly grated parmesan or peccorino romano cheese, divided
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
3/4 cup semolina flour
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup chopped fresh mushrooms or reconstituted from dried (save soaking liquid)
1 cup mushroom stock (or soaking liquid from dried mushrooms) OR vegetable or chicken stock
2 tablespoons dry white wine
1/2 cup light cream
1/4 teaspoon dried or 3/4 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
freshly ground black pepper
salt to taste
For the Noodles:
1. Simmer the henbit leaves in very little water for 5 minutes. Drain in a colander and immediately run cold water over them. Squeeze out as much liquid as possible.
2. Pulse the cooked henbit and the peeled garlic in a food processor (or finely mince with a knife).
3. Add the egg and puree the ingredients (or mash together with a fork if not using a food processor).
4. Reserve 1/3 cup of the all-purpose flour. Whisk together the rest of the all-purpose and the semolina flours in a large bowl. Dump the contents of the bowl out onto a clean counter or cutting board. Make a well (indentation) in the center.
5. Pour the egg-henbit mixture into the well in the center of the flour. Mix the flour into the liquid mixture with a fork.
6. Knead the mixture by hand for 10 minutes (or in a stand mixer with the bread hook or food processor with the dough blade until the dough comes together into a ball). Kneading by hand is better because you have more control of how much flour ends up in the dough: stop incorporating more as soon as it is possible to knead the dough without it sticking to your fingers.
7. Cover the dough with a clean, damp kitchen towel and let it rest for 30 minutes.
8. Lightly dust your work surface with flour. Cut the rested dough into quarters. Roll one of the quarters out with a rolling pin or an old wine bottle until it is as thin as you can get it. Turn the dough over frequently while you roll it out, and dust it with additional flour as necessary to prevent it from sticking to your rolling implement.
9. Give the rolled out dough one more light sprinkling of flour then roll it up into a loose cigar shape. Cut crosswise so that it forms coils of 1/4 to 1/2 – inch wide noodles. Uncoil the coils and lightly dust them with additional flour.
For the Sauce:
1. If you’re using dried mushrooms, first soak them in boiling hot water for 15 minutes. Drain (reserving the soaking liquid) and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Whether you started with fresh mushrooms or dried, coarsely chop them.
2. Melt the butter in a skillet over medium low heat. Add the mushrooms and a little salt. Cook, stirring often, until the mushrooms give up their liquid and then most of the liquid evaporates.
3. Add 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Raise the heat to medium high.
4. Add the thyme and the white wine and cook, stirring, for another 2 minutes.
5. Add the mushroom soaking liquid (if you started with dried mushrooms) and/or the stock a small splash at a time, stirring constantly. Each addition should thicken before you add more liquid. When it is all the consistency of a thick gravy, turn off the heat and add the cream and salt and pepper to taste.
Bring It Together:
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the fresh henbit noodles and stir gently. Cook for 2 – 3 minutes. Drain. Return to the pot, add the sauce and 1/4 cup of the grated cheese. Toss gently to coat the noodles with the sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste.
2. Serve with additional grated cheese and a little minced fresh henbit sprinkled over as a garnish (or parsley).
I guess it’s human nature to seek out the exotic and the rare over the prolific and easily found. But it’s the nutritious and common plants such as henbit that are there to nourish us year-round. Although I, too, look forward to the eye-catching fruits of summer, I am on a mission to celebrate the everyday wild foods and medicines growing at our feet right now.
Even in places where snow is on the ground, hardy dead nettles including henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) are growing. In warmer climates these plants are so lush right now that they qualify as invasive weeds. These are edible greens that can be quite tasty if prepared well.
Instead of egg, this recipe for vegan bean burgers uses mallow leaves and mushrooms to bind the other ingredients.
Where am I foraging for wild ingredients in January? Well, the new year finds me happily ensconced in Jerusalem with my bf. I’m a lucky lass: I left NYC just as winter ended the foraging season there, and just in time to catch it in full swing here. This haul is from yesterday’s foraging foray:
The leaves in the foreground are mallow, one of the most abundant wild edible plants here right now. There are several edible mallow species. The one in this photo is Malva sylvestris.
Come spring, mallow will also be popping up all over North America and Europe (it is one of the 120 wild edibles I feature in Northeast Foraging).
Here in Israel, mallow is called chubeza and is sold by Arab women on the steps of the Old City in Jerusalem. If you go on one of these Culinary Adventures in the Galilee, Druze ladies will teach you how they use this wild vegetable.
But as with “weeds” everywhere, most people ignore this useful plant. Those who do try it are often put off by the mucilaginous texture of the cooked leaves. That very property, however, is useful as an egg-like binder in vegan recipes such as these burgers. I’m not vegan, but many of my friends are, and I’m always looking for ways to use the most abundant wild edibles around me.
In this recipe I combine mallow with another wild food that is in abundance here right now. Suillus granulatus is a wild edible mushroom that, like mallow, is sometimes snubbed because it is mucilaginous.I use it here as additional binding ingredient (and there’s not even a hint of sliminess in the cooked patties). If you don’t have Suillus mushrooms, try one of these other options:
1) Include any other edible mushroom for flavor, but add a beaten egg and an additional 1/4 to 1/2 cup bread crumbs as a binder, or 2) substitute 1/2 to 3/4 cup mashed potato for the mushrooms (you’ll probably need to increase the amount of spices and salt if you use potato as the binder).
Mallow Leaf and White Bean Burgers
Makes 20 mini burgers, about 4 servings
2 quarts (lightly packed) fresh mallow leaves
1 cup finely chopped Suillus granulatus or other mushroom
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and grated
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
2 to 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 cups cooked white beans (other types of beans would work, too)
1 1/2 cups bread crumbs, divided
1 teaspoon dried sage
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder (optional)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
Salt to taste
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1. Add just enough water to a large pot to cover the bottom of the pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, then add the mallow leaves. Stir the mallow leaves until all of them are wilted, then cook until very soft, about 10 minutes. Add more water if necessary to keep the leaves from sticking to the pot. Drain in a colander and immediately rinse under cold water. Squeeze out as much liquid as you can and then finely chop the mass of cooked mallow leaves (they will have shrunk significantly from the cooking and squeezing).
2. While the mallow leaves are cooking, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a frying pan. Add the onion and mushrooms and cook over medium low heat, stirring often, for 7 minutes. Add the celery and carrot and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more.
3. Mash the beans. You can pulse them in a food processor, or use a potato masher or even a fork. They don’t need to be perfectly smooth. Add the cooked vegetables and 1/2 cup of the bread crumbs, along with all of the seasonings except for the garlic powder. Stir to combine well.
4. Mix the rest of the bread crumbs with a little additional salt and pepper and the garlic powder. Spread the seasoned bread crumbs on a plate.
5. Scoop out about 2 tablespoons of the mixture at a time and lightly shape into a mini burger about 1/2-inch thick. Lightly press the mini burger into the bread crumbs to coat both sides. Set aside on another plate. Continue until all of the veggie burger mixture is used up. Do not be tempted to make the burgers larger: even with the mallow and mushrooms as binders, they will fall apart if you make them too big.
6. Place the plate of mini veggie burgers into the refrigerator, uncovered, for 30 minutes. This step goes a long way toward helping them hold together while they cook.
7. Heat the remaining oil in a frying pan over medium high heat. Add the burgers, making sure to leave a little space in between each of them. The in-between space ensures that they will brown, not steam, and also makes it easier to flip when the first side is done.
Cook until the first side is browned, about 5 minutes, then flip over and cook on the second side for an additional few minutes. Transfer to a heat proof dish and keep warm in a 225F oven while you cook any remaining mallow burgers.
Whether you’re celebrating the Solstice, Hanukkah, Christmas, or some other holiday, I hope you’re finding time during these long nights and short days to dream of what you wish to see in the longer, light-filled days ahead.
I just visited my mom and her husband Frank in Yreka, CA. That’s in the Mt. Shasta area.
While I was there I found some meadow mushrooms (Agaricus campestris)
and welcomed Nina, the newcomer in my mom’s household.
Now I’m in San Francisco visiting my dad. Yesterday I went to the farmers market and had an East Coast locavore’s citrus envy (citrus trees can’t grow outdoors in northeastern North America because the winters are too cold)…
…but then I remembered that as of next monday 29th I’ll be living in a place where citrus grows abundantly. Stay tuned!
Here’s a motley assortment of holiday recipes, inspiration, and gift ideas. There’s also a special offer for next spring’s foraging tours to give you and yours something to look forward to.
Give the gift of personal foraging instruction: Email me about how to gift either participation in one of my Spring 2015 foraging tours in the NYC, SF, and Yreka areas, or a private foraging tour (in case you wanted to know what’s growing on your property or nearby ;). 10% discount if you put SOLSTICE in the subject line.
Everyone loved them, and I sold out of all the books I’d brought (yay!). But several times people asked whether the recipe for the carrot pickle was in the book.
Yes. And no, not exactly.
The whole concept of Preserving Everything is that it focuses on each different method of food preservation and what makes it preserve food safely. Yes, there are recipes in the book, but they are meant to be examples as much as something tasty to make.
Once you understand which safety factor is involved in the recipe (Is it the acidity of the vinegar? The heat inside the pressure canner?), you can make up your own recipes.
I know, I know: I’m not supposed to say that. But let’s cut the bullshit: Yes, there are real, crucial food safety rules when it comes to food preservation…and they are totally learnable. And once you learn them, you can make up your own safe and delicious food preservation recipes.
For this recipe, I started with the Dilly Beans recipe that’s in the book. I knew (as will any reader of that chapter) that the pH of the vinegar brine was the main food safety factor, so I left that unchanged.
But I swapped multi-colored carrots for the green beans, and used coriander and ginger instead of dill. The result is an unusual and delicious pickle recipe that I made up after I wrote Preserving Everything, whilefollowing the safe vinegar pickling rules in the book exactly.
Pickled Carrots with Ginger and Coriander
Makes 1 pint, recipe can be multiplied
1 pound carrots (use multi-colored carrots if you can find them)
1–2 cloves garlic, smashed
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, cut into four chunks
4–6 whole black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon whole mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
2–3 fresh sprigs cilantro (coriander) leaves
1 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon kosher or other non-iodized salt
1. Peel the carrots, slice off the stem ends, and trim them so that they will fit into a pint-sized canning jar lengthwise with an inch of head space above them. Cut them lengthwise into quarters.
2. Put the garlic, ginger, pepper, mustard and coriander seeds into a clean, pint-sized canning jar. Tip the jar onto its side. Load in the carrot spears. When the jar is full enough for the carrots to stay vertical, set it upright.
3. Tuck in the cilantro (coriander leaf) sprigs. A chopstick is useful for pushing the herbs down in between the carrots.
4. Add more carrots until they are so tightly packed that you can’t shove in a single carrot slice more without it breaking. The carrots will shrink slightly during canning, and you want them to be so tightly packed that even with that shrinkage they hold one another down under the vinegar brine.
5. Put the vinegar, water, salt, and honey into a small pot and bring them to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve the salt and honey.
6. Pour the hot vinegar brine over the carrots and other ingredients in the jar. Be sure that the food is completely immersed in the brine, but there is still 1/2 inch of head space.
7. Wipe the rim of the jar clean. Screw on the canning lid. Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months, or for longer storage at room temperature, process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes (adjust the canning time if you live at a high altitude). Either way, wait at four days for the flavors to develop before tasting.
Yesterday I saw (and smelled) the first ripe ginkgo fruits hitting the ground. Once you get past the stinky orange pulp there’s a culinary treat in the seed. Here’s how to harvest so that you skip the smelly stuff. There are also easy, delicious recipes there for using the ginkgo “nuts.”
If you’re in Brooklyn, stop by the Park Slope CSA distribution today between 4-6:30pm. I’ll be signing copies of Preserving Everything and handing out taste samples (I’ll bring the naturally pink cauliflower pickles for sure, and we’ll see what else). You don’t have to be a member of the CSA to check out the signing and sampling. Just stop by the Garden of Union community garden on Union St. between 4th and 5th avenues.
Oscar Wilde said, “The only cynic is a failed romantic.” This post is for all of you who would have loved to love the People’s Climate March in New York City on September 21st, 2014, but didn’t.
Somewhere between 310,000 and 400,000 of us marched on Sunday, depending on which source you get your numbers from. That’s a heck of a lot of people hopeful and motivated enough about our ability to positively impact climate change to show up. Some traveled from other countries to attend.
But before I ever arrived at 71st Street and Central Park West, the meeting point for the Food Justice contingent I was marching with, snarky tweets and demoralizing FB statuses had already started coming in.
I read that the march wouldn’t make a difference. I read that no matter how many of us showed up, the folks at the UN meeting wouldn’t change anything because corporate money rules political power, and both are in bed with climate-raping practices like factory-farmed animal meat and big oil.
I read that only retro-hippie types in their seventies and twenty-something hipsters, most of them white, were marching. I read that they were leaving their fast food disposable cups and other trash in the street when they couldn’t find enough trash cans to service them, a direct contradiction to the idea of taking care of your environment.
But the march was amazing. The organizers (who need better arrangements for trash collection along the route next time) hoped for 100,000. They got over three times that many of us to show up. The energy of over 300,000 people raising their voices in support of an urgent cause they believe they can do something about is something I hope you get to experience.
Many others have already posted about how amazing the minute of silence followed by the roar of voices was. There were also fascinating, hopeful connections being made between inventors with solutions to energy issues and people who could hook them up with customers. There was also a lot of simple, wonderful, human fun like drummers and puppets and dancers who kept us focused and energized even when the march didn’t get going until over an hour after it was supposed to.
Checking in online the day after the march, though, was a bummer.
I read the word “hypocrisy” many times, including in a status update from a friend I have great respect for. She, too, referenced the huge amount of trash left behind by the march. I felt compelled to respond, and this is what I wrote in the comments:
I don’t think it’s possible to get over 300,000 humans together and not have a certain percentage be hypocritical assholes. But at 52 years old I’m hardly a hipster, and I marched yesterday. As for trash, when the woman in front of me couldn’t figure out what to do with an apple core because there weren’t any trash cans near by, I put it in an empty container I had to take to the compost collection at my local Greenmarket. You can focus on the jerks who littered at a climate march, or you can focus on those of us who went out of our way not to. Both narratives are true.
In response, one of my friend’s friends said it would be great if I could share an article “highlighting the beauty of it.” This was someone who had been interested in the march, but ultimately not motivated enough by the pr to attend it. I didn’t know of such an article, so I said I’d write it.
I think cynicism and perfectionism are two of the most dangerous mindsets on the planet right now. Both encourage people to opt out of actually doing anything. But perfectionism is the most dangerous of all. It’s so dangerous that it can become ridiculous.
The empty container I had to receive that woman’s apple core on the march was a Tupperware one that had previously held my lunch. It was made out of plastic, a petroleum product. Should I not have offered to solve her organic trash problem out of shame for the origins of my container?
Or should I have asked her, “Before you give me that core, I need to know: Was that apple organically, locally grown?” And if not, should I have refused to take it from her?
You don’t have to do everything. You don’t have to be the poster child for environmental responsibility.
But you do have to do something. Dare to hope, and don’t be a failed romantic.
And now I need to stop writing this post and email the organizers of the People’s Climate march to tell them they need to do better about trash collection on the next march.