Sunday, June 9, 2013

Black Bean Pork with Foraged Milkweed Shoots Recipe

Milkweed shoots are not an easy ID, and they have
toxic look-a-likes. Make sure you know this plant
100% before you try to harvest it.
Milkweed is an extremely useful plant, producing different edible parts throughout the season, all of which are versatile vegetables. To me, the flavor of the shoots, flower buds, and the young pods is like a mix of green beans and broccoli. The shoots can be prepared in ways similar to asparagus, since they have a similar texture, but they should always be blanched first, to remove the pasty taste of the milkweed sap.

Aside from the blanching, milkweed's taste and texture are so similar to that of cultivated vegetables that it can be used in almost any recipe in your regular repertoire.

So this dish is directly stolen from an homage to Andrew Zimmern's Pork and Asparagus with Chile-Garlic Sauce from  Food & Wine magazine. You can find the original here.

I like this dish because it's fast, healthy, delicious, and doesn't require an enormous amount of cleanup. I have made some substitutions of the more exotic ingredients to fit what was in my own pantry. Toban djan is a spicy paste made from fava beans and chilies, but I didn't have any, so I used a mixture of black bean paste and sriracha. The end result is very different from Zimmern's dish, but equally tasty!

Even though milkweed is a "weed", it's non-invasive and susceptible to over-harvesting, especially in the shoot stage. Though the plant will re-grow, it uses up energy in the root to do so. Try to work your patch of milkweed in "zones" and never take from the same "zone" twice in a season, to ensure you don't pick the same plant twice. Only harvest where milkweed is abundant, and don't take more than 20-25% of the total number of shoots.

Black Bean Pork with Milkweed

Serves 4, serve with rice

6 cups of young milkweed shoots,
large leaves removed, 
chopped into approximately 1"-2" lengths.
1 lb pork loin, shoulder or boneless rib meat,
cut into bite-sized pieces
3 dried hot chilies
2 tbs black bean paste
1 tbs sriracha (or more to taste)
2 scallions, or 6 ramp leaves
1 tsp sugar
1 tbs zested fresh ginger
2 tsp minced garlic
1 tbs white wine (or sake, or rice wine)
1 tbs cornstarch
vegetable oil
sesame oil

  1. Bring a pot of water to boil, (enough to cover the shoots). Once boiling, add the milkweed shoots and cook for 5-6 minutes, until softened, stirring occasionally. After draining, run cold water over them, to stop the cooking process.
  2. Make a slurry with the cornstarch and white wine, set aside
  3. In a wok or large skillet, heat a drizzle of vegetable oil. Add the pork, cut into bite-sized pieces, and cook until almost done, about 3-4 minutes, on high. Work in batches, if needed, so the pieces can move, stir as needed to cook all sides.
  4. Remove pork from the pan. Add the garlic, ginger, chilies, scallions, and sugar to the pan with the pork fat. Stir fry until fragrant, about 30-60 seconds.
  5. Return pork to the pan. Add the blanched milkweed to the pan. Stir-fry for 3 minutes, or until pork is fully done. 
  6. Add the black bean paste, siriracha, and cornstarch/wine slurry. Drizzle with sesame oil. Mix thoroughly with the pork and milkweed, stirring for about a minute until the sauce thickens. 
  7. Serve immediately with rice. 

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