Friday, March 25, 2016

Foraging Recipe: Bastard Cabbage Chana Masala

So I hope you checked out my earlier post about trying bastard cabbage, Rapistrum rugosum, for the first time. Bastard cabbage also goes by the more polite names turnip weed and wild turnip, but for some reason I mostly see it called bastard cabbage.

Bastard cabbage likes open fields and disturbed
ground, like the edge of this trail
Bastard cabbage may very well be Texas's most infamous invasive weed, and so I was very anxious to try it. I'm glad I did! When blanched, it tastes like a mixture of spinach, sweet corn and a hint of pepper. Every mustard green I know is nutrient-dense, as are dark leafy greens in general, and I'm sure bastard cabbage is no exception.

I was nervous about the fuzzy/hairiness of the leaves. Don't be, blanching them takes care of the texture.

Chana masala, or chickpea and tomato curry, is an excellent dish to make after a day of hiking, as it's super easy and comes together quickly. It's also vegan, for anyone who wants to try a tasty meatless dish. Despite being technically a curry, it's much milder in flavor that most, and has a nice freshness as well. There are numerous was to prepare it, so if there's something you don't like, just leave it out, or substitute something else. There was a time in my life when I made Chana masala every week -- it's that good!

Eating invasive species, called invasivore eating, is incredibly satisfying to me. Not only is it one of the most sustainable ways to eat, but many of the weeds that became invasive were brought here specifically for food: so they taste good, are highly nutritious, or both. Whenever I forage, I always prioritize invasive species.

As with all mustards, there is a great variation with leaf shape. The more you forage for them, the more you will
see the similarities. The leaf on the left really reminds me a lot of cabbage or cauliflower.

The fresh spices (cardamon pods, cumin and cilantro seeds) are optional. If you don't have them, the dish will still be good. If you do opt to use the fresh spices, tradition says you should toast them in the pan, then remove them, then grind them with a mortar and pestle. But as you can see from this picture  - I am way too lazy to grind anything, and it comes out fine. Just remove the cardamon pods before serving.

"Bastard Cabbage" Chana Masala

Serves 3-4 as a main course over rice. Can be doubled or tripled.

1 can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
The  two larger stems in this image are too old to eat,
they will be tough and woody, even after cooking.
4 plum/roma tomatoes, rough chopped
1 medium onion, diced
3 cups bastard cabbage leaves and small stems, rinsed, drained and roughly cut
4 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 oz. fresh ginger, optional, grated
1 tbs. garam masala
1 tbs. sea salt or kosher salt
1 tbs. turmeric, plus more for the rice
1 tsp. ground cumin, double if you aren't using whole cumin as well
3 green cardamon pods, optional, 
4 whole coriander (cilantro) seeds, optional, 
1/8 tsp whole cumin seeds, optional, 
1/2 lemon, optional
Basmati rice, for serving
Vegetable oil (or butter or ghee)
  1. Prepare the rice according to the directions. Add a tablespoon of turmeric to the water.
  2. Blanch your bastard cabbage. Add the cut leaves and stems to a pot of rapidly boiling water and boil for 1-2 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. 
  3. If you're using the whole spices, add them to a dry frypan over medium high heat. Toast until very fragrant, stirring constantly. Don't burn! Remove and set aside.
  4. Reduce heat to medium, and add vegetable oil. Add the ginger (optional) and onion and sauté until translucent, stirring occasionally.
  5. If you want, grind the whole coriander and cumin seeds, but you really don't need to.
  6. When the onion is translucent, add the chickpeas, tomatoes, garlic, round spices, and whole spices (if you used them) into the pan. Cook until the tomatoes start to break down and their liquid is re-absorbed, about 5 minutes. Stir occasionally.
  7. When most of the tomato liquid has been reabsorbed, add in the bastard cabbage. Heat for an additional 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until heated through and covered in the spices.
  8. Enjoy immediately, over basmati rice. This dish also heats up well for left-overs.

Blanching the bastard cabbage. Unlike many wild greens,
this becomes brighter and more vibrant after blanching
Really this dish could be made with any greens, wild or cultivated. Using spicy food is a great way to balance bitterness, so consider dandelion, sow thistle, or garlic mustard. 

Branch out, and eat your wild, organic weeds!


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