Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Elderberry honey mustard sauce: sweet, zesty, savory

With elderberry season winding down, I had been leaning towards a baked good of some kind with the last of the berries I was finding. But my husband had requested something savory, something he could put on grilled meat. Of all the foraged meals I've made him over the years, his favorite is still the Middle-Eastern inspired mulberry sauce.

I debated a lot of things, I was thinking a butter sauce of some kind--like a gastrique or something I've never really tried before, but in the end I decided to go with something more familiar--though I did end up adding butter in the end. 

It's been ages since I made a dijon sauce with fruit, not just from foraged ingredients, but in general. It's one of those things that's hard to mess up; just include some sweet (the fruit+ a little extra, since elderberries aren't super sweet), something a little spicy (the mustard) and something a little zesty (lemon) and a little acidic (vinegar) to cut through the richness. 

About a decade ago there was a recipe going around that was all the rage, called "man-pleasing chicken". Made with maple syrup, rice vinegar and dijon, it's basically the same concept you have here--and just as man-pleasing. 

With ingredients so minimal, you are going to taste each one to the fullest, so make sure to buy really good quality ingredients.

We enjoyed this sauce on grilled chicken for dinner, and also I had some on an open-faced ham and brie sandwich, which was to. die. for.

Elderberry honey dijon mustard sauce 

1 1/2 cups of elderberries

1/4 cup of stone-ground dijon mustard

1 1/2 Tbsp raw honey

1 Tbsp lemon zest

1 Tbsp lemon juice

1 Tbsp aged balsamic vinegar

1 pat grass-fed butter

Sauce right after whisking in the dijon,
reduce again by half after this, and whisk in butter

  1. Add the elderberries, lemon zest, lemon juice and 1 and 1/2 cups of water to a shallow sauté pan and bring to a low boil. Boil for two minutes, while smashing the berries. 

  2. Add in the remaining ingredients, except the butter, and whisk vigorously. Bring to a low simmer and allow to simmer until reduced by half, whisking occasionally. Remember to scrape down the sides of the pan as needed. 
  3. Add in the butter, whisk and continue to simmer until reduced by another half. Remove from heat and serve hot over meat or cheese. You can also store in the fridge and serve reheated or chilled.
In addition using as a sauce, I also mixed some with some red wine vinegar, salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil, and made a vinaigrette for a couple of salads. Not only was it tasty, it changed the chicken breast and feta cheese to a pretty shade of pink!

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Greek style greenbriar with tomatoes, potatoes and lemon (lathera)

Greenbriar. I know, I said it was an early to mid-spring forage, since you only want to eat the tender new growth. 

Here's the thing, if you cut it back, it will continue to put out new growth throughout the spring and even into the dog days of summer, where in Texas the heat gets over 105. Which is great because not a whole lot else grows in these conditions. 

Best of all, I don't even have to be the one to cut it back, the city of Plano does it for me. Since greenbriar (Smilax species) are troublesome, weedy vines that grow like wildfire and have thorns, the local cities and towns cut them back from parks and trails all season long, creating new growth every couple of weeks. 

Now, in the spring when this stuff is growing in its natural season, I can usually pull 2 backpacks full out of local nature preserves every week. This growth is a lot less abundant, since it only comes from where the plants have been cut. Still its a nice meal's worth every month or so, when little else is growing. And anyway, greenbriar is one of my favorite foods to forage, I find it very versatile. 

Once blanched, I find that the flavor of greenbriar most closely resembles fresh, young green beans. I don't really like to eat it without first blanching, as it has an unpleasant, sour "swamp water" taste that I don't enjoy. For this reason I've never been able to roast it to my satisfaction. In any other way, I will prepare it as I prepare green beans, though for whatever reason my mind leans heavily towards mediterranean flavors for greenbriar. 

Today's dish is a foraged take on Lathera, a healthy vegan casserole (vegetarian if you add feta cheese) of tomatoes, green beans, potatoes, onion, lemon, fresh herbs and lots of garlic. It comes together very quickly, and all in one pot for easy clean-up. Served with rice, couscous, quinoa, pita or crusty bread it can be a main course,  and you can add meat if you like (I like it with ground turkey), though I've chosen not to here. You could also use it as a side for a meat main. 

Traditionally, this dish should be swimming in olive oil, but if you are trying to cut back on fats it tastes great with significantly less. I've chosen to substitute most of the olive oil for stock instead. 

Greek style greenbriar lathera

Serves 4 as a main course, 6 as a side dish

3 cups chopped greenbriar

3 cups potatoes chopped into bite-sized pieces

4 cups tomatoes chopped into bite-sized pieces, or mini tomatoes

1 cup of diced onion

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1 lemon, zested and juiced

1/2 cup of roughly chopped parsley

1/2 cup of vegetarian broth or stock*

1/2 cup of kalamata olives, optional

Olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Sugar, optional

Feta cheese, quinoa, couscous, rice or pita bread for serving, optional

  1. Bring 3 cups of water to a boil and add in chopped potatoes. Boil until you can just stick a fork into them. Add in the greenbriar and blanch for a 30 seconds to a minute. Drain and run over with cold water to stop the cooking process. 
  2. Add olive oil to a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add in the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent. Add in the garlic and cook until fragrant. 
  3. Add in the tomatoes, olives, stock/broth, and the lemon juice and zest and bring to a simmer. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste-test. If it's too acidic, you may want to add some sugar--I didn't think mine needed it. If needed, add salt and black pepper. 
  4. Stir in the parsley, then add in the greenbriar and potatoes. Reduce to a low simmer. Cook for another 5-10 minutes until potatoes are fully cooked. 
  5. Optional: sprinkle with feta cheese, and serve with quinoa, couscous, rice or bread. 

* I used my favorite "Better than Bouillon" for my stock. I chose the roasted garlic flavor. If you use a homemade stock, you might need to add extra salt to the dish. 

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Pears poached in elderberries with warm spices

Elderberry season seems to have come quickly this year,  even by Texas standards. I found a stand that I identified last year, past season, and already about half of the berries had fallen. This is now my second good source, as I already had an enormous tree right in my neighborhood.  

Fruit heads 8-10" across.

Better still, just days before I went and got the berries, my across the street neighbor invited my husband and myself to come grab some feral pears from the tree in her yard. Feral fruit is when you have a cultivated variety, in this case green anjou, but you don't treat it in anyway, you just let it grow as if it were wild. So no insect spraying, feeding/fertilizer, etc. 

Theoretically, this can deminish yield, and smaller sized fruit, but, well just look at it! Each branch was heavily laden with fruit and many of the pears were enormous! Honestly, I had difficulty finding "medium" sized pears for this recipe.

Pears that have not been sprayed for insects have thicker, more bitter skins than pears that have. The pear thickens its skin in response to insect activity. So naturally,  with pears that need to be peeled in one hand, and a crap ton of elderberries in the other, my mind went to poached pears. 

I like to poach pears to remain firm after cooking, for this reason I harvest them slightly underripe. Also, most recipes say to remove the elderberries from their stems by running a fork through them like a comb. I end up with a hot mess when I try this, so instead I simply use my fingers, gently. It may take a bit longer but it's not that bad. 

Nutritionally, this dish is super good for you, especially when you consider what's usually in a dessert. For each half-pear serving, with 1/6 of the sauce, you have about 135 calories, a ton of antioxidants and about half your daily vitamin C.

Pears poached in elderberries with warm spices 

Makes six servings or 3 large servings 

  • 2 cups of elderberries (about 5 large heads of berries)
  • 3 medium sized pears, peeled, tops and bottoms removed, cut in half lengthwise
  • 4 green cardamom pods, smashed to open
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1/4 cup red wine or 2 tbs. bourbon 
  • 2 tbs. brown sugar or honey 
  • 1 tbs. aged balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tps. ground cinnamon 
  • 1/2 tps. ground cloves
  • 1/4 tps. ground allspice
  • 1 star anise
  • Zest of one medium lemon 
  • 1 tbs. corn starch

Add the water, smashed cardamom, lemon zest, star anise, brown sugar/honey, cinnamon, cloves, and allspice to a medium sauté pan on high heat. Bring to a boil and stir. 

Add in the elderberries and reduce heat to medium, but keep it simmering. Simmer for 5 minutes until the berries start to break apart. You can smash them a bit with your wooden spoon.

Place your pear halves in the sauce and continue to simmer for about 40 minutes, flipping the halves every 10 mins or so, until pears are the desired level of softness and redness.

Remove just the pears from the sauce and set aside. Mix the cornstarch with 3 tablespoons of water. Then add the resulting slurry to the sauce. Bring heat to a roiling boil and boil for 5 minutes, stiring constantly. 

Remove from heat, return pears to the sauce and serve pears and sauce after letting cool for about 5 mins. Tastes great with nonfat greek yogurt (makes a great brunch), clotted cream, ice cream or all by itself!

I mixed 1/2 cup fat free plain and 1/2 fat free vanilla greek yogurt and ate as a brunch!

Notes of caution when eating elderberries 

  • Be sure of your identification.  People have mistaken deadly plants for elder.
  • Only harvest flowers or berries, all other parts of the plant are poisonous.
  • Only pick dead ripe and black (or blue, on the blue elder bush) berries. Underripe berries are partially poisonous as well.
  • Only eat elderberries if you've cooked them well, the seeds contain toxins which must be destroyed with heat.
  • Do not eat elder if you have the following medical conditions: diabetes (can interfere with medicine), cancer on chemotherapy (can interfere with treatment), autoimmune diseases (can aggravate symptoms and/or interfere with treatments) or if you are on laxatives or diuretics (can enhance the effects of both for dangerous dehydration) or Theophylline or other bronchodilators.

Friday, July 30, 2021

How to identify Golden Chanterelles, gourmet edible wild mushrooms

Identification difficulty: Intermediate

Warning: despite the frequency with which these are foraged, I feel that the risks associated have been downplayed. I personally believe there is the potential for confusion with deadly species. That said, I believe you can learn how to rule those out. 

Summer 2021 is turning out to be a nation-wide bumper year for the greater chanterelle family, which includes cinnabar red chanterelles, black trumpets, and, of course, golden chanterelles. 

Facebook foraging and mycology groups, Reddit foraging and mycology boards are all flush with pictures of, well, flushes of mushrooms. There's a lot of books, websites, etc out there that talk about how to identify golden chanterelles, so I wasn't really sure how necessary another post would be, but at the same time I'm seeing a lot of misinformation or incomplete information going around on social media. 

Overview and history

The term chanterelle can be used to describe a group of related genera (that's plural for genus): Cantharellus, Craterellus, Gomphus, and Polyozellus. Craterellus includes the black trumpets and yellow foot mushrooms, Gomphus includes the pig's ear, Polyozellus is a one-species genus that contains the blue chanterelle, and Cantharellus contains several species of golden chanterelles, red or cinnabar chanterelles, the smooth chanterelle and the white chanterelle. The lobster mushroom, Hypomyces lactifluorum, looks similar but it is unrelated and, while also being a choice edible, tastes completely different from chanterelles of any kind. 

For most people, however, when they think of chanterelles, only the golden chanterelle comes to mind. 

Golden chanterelles are a gourmet wild mushroom, one of the "big five" mushrooms that command the highest prices globally. The "big five" include truffles, matsutake, chanterelles, morels, and porcini. These are the five most expensive mushrooms for their CULINARY value; there are some fungi which sell for higher prices due to their use in Eastern medicine. 

We don't know exactly when humanity began it's love affair with the golden chanterelle. Asian, African and European cultures all have long histories of the mushroom, and we can safely assume it was eaten before it was recorded as well. In Europe, chanterelles were reserved for the nobility for many centuries.

Chanterelles are a mycorrhizal species, they grow in symbiosis with trees. This makes them very difficult and expensive to cultivate, as one would need to both own a forest and be willing to wait for decades while the trees and the fungi mature, before the fugal mycelium would grow mushrooms. 

At one point in time, all golden chanterelles were believed to be Cantharellus cibarius, and older books will still refer to them this way. With the advent of DNA testing, we now know that there are many, many kinds of golden chanterelles, some with sub-varieities, and that C. cibarius only grows in Europe. 

Golden Chanterelles as a group

Since "golden chanterelles" are a group, there are many, many color variations. There are species that are all golden or egg-yolk yellow, some that have white areas, such as a white stem, white gills or a white cap, and some that have those same variations except pink instead of white.

For the sake of this article, the term "golden chanterelle" will apply to any species that is 50% or more "egg-yolk yellow"., We won't be trying to identify individual golden chanterelle species, as all are edible, all are choice and they share many identification features. 

NOTE: Some chanterelles have a tan or deep yellow spot at the center of the cap. I would personally avoid these. And you must avoid all potential "chanterelle" species that have a cap or stem that is entirely tan or brown as it may be a potentially deadly look-alike in the genus Paxillus. Also spore print any all-yellow mushroom with decurrent gills where the stem seems thin for the cap size. 

Why I think chanterelles are an intermediate difficulty to ID

Overall, I think most foraging and mushroom hunting books leave out important potential look-a-like species for the chanterelle. They generally talk about false chanterelles, Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca, and jack o' lanterns, Omphalotus species, as the only real danger. Both these mushrooms can make you sick, Omphalotus can make you seriously sick, but neither will kill you. 

I'm more concerned about Paxillus species, which have the potential to be deadly poisonous. Paxillus are not super common and don't STRONGLY resemble chanterelles, at least not in America. However, there are yellow varieties in Australia, which could always make the cross-ocean trek on tree roots. And there are brown-yellow varieties in North America and Europe which we will go into in greater detail.

As I've said on the page where I define these terms, if I feel there is potential for confusion with a deadly species, then I consider it to be an intermediate difficulty identification. 

Friday, July 23, 2021

Scratch-made chanterelle tuna noodle casserole

Tuna noodle casserole had always been problematic for me. 

On one hand, I love the IDEA of it: affordable, reasonably healthy, nutritionally balanced comfort food. 

On the other hand, I hated the way it tastes.

Over time I've come to realize that it's not the casserole's fault. Why would it be? Tuna is tasty and healthy. Pasta, in moderation, is part of a balanced diet. Cheese is to freaking die for. 

It's all the fault of the canned cream of mushroom soup.

I HATE canned cream of mushroom soup. I always have. 

As a child I thought I hated mushrooms, but in fact, what I actually hated was canned cream of mushroom soup. The problem was, growing up as the average suburban American in the 80s, the only mushrooms I ever had were in sauces made with canned cream of mushroom soup. Even as a teenager, I ignored mushrooms while foraging because I thought I hated mushrooms.

You see, both mushrooms AND milk products (like cream) have one thing in common: they are famous for absorbing flavors. So whomever decided to put them together and CAN THEM IN METAL needs to be the first against the wall when the revolution comes.

I get it. Not everyone feels the same way. For many, meals made with cream of mushroom soup (from the iconic red and white can) are 100% wholesome, delicious, comfort food, taking one back to thier childhood. My husband insists on Americanna green bean casserole every Christmas, made with canned cream of mushroom soup and frenched onions. Just the smell of it makes me feel ill. 

But with this dish I set out to redeem tuna noodle casserole for myself. In addition to using non-canned, non-processed ingredients, I also lightened it up calories and carb-wise by substituting half of the pasta for cauliflower. In fact, even with generous servings, this all-in-one meal clocks in at under 300 calories. and has two servings of vegetables.

So while this recipe isn't specifically for those of you who adore the canned soup version, you should try it anyway, because you just might come to love it too! My husband did.