Monday, April 29, 2013

Foraging Recipe: Knotweed Pico de Gallo

A great mix of flavors and textures:
sweet & hot, sour & tangy, juicy & crisp!

Is everyone sick of the knotweed posts? The season is winding down, but I have been really crushing on the flavor, and I keep thinking of new things to do with it. I just can't eat enough Japanese knotweed.

This recipe has been on my mind for a while, but it has gotten lost in the jumble of other culinary experiments.

Tacos are one of those meals I love to throw together for a weeknight. Few other meals are so complete, come together so quickly, and all in one pan! Cut up some veggies, juice a couple of limes (maybe an extra for a margarita) and toss in a protein with some spices and call it done.

Pico de Gallo, also known as fresh salsa, is a melody of tomato, onion, cilantro and lime. The tartness of Japanese knotweed plays along well, as does the crunchy texture. It isn't a main focus of the flavor, but it's a great way to add another veggie, you could even sneak it in past picky kids!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Foraged Japanese Knotweed Fridge Pickles Recipe

When first added to the jar they are very pretty, but unfortunately they loose
their bright green color, and become a dull olive

So I happen to be a pickle-a-holic. My parents tell a variety of stories about my early experiences with pickles; but my favorite is how, at 18 months old, I was such a terror--crying and fussing--that they couldn't go out anywhere. Their favorite restaurant, The Hungry Lion, discovered that if they fed me baby gherkins non-stop, I would shut up, and actually be a pleasant dinner companion. After that, my parent's went there every Friday, and the staff would have a bowl ready-to-go on our table before we were seated.

Knotweed stand, ripe for the picking!
There are knotweed pickle recipes out there, but they tend to be pretty basic--vinegar, knotweed, maybe a spice or two. I tried to get a lot more flavor into my pickles, and I really think it paid off. I made 3 flavors of pickles that I want to share with you: tart & sour, hot & sour, and sweetly exotic. The sweet & exotic were far and away my favorite, and the preferred flavor overall. The knotweed holds up well textually, staying crunchy; and it keeps its slightly tart flavor, albeit somewhat mellowed.

Fridge pickles are pickles that haven't been canned (either by water-bath canning or pressure canning). I don't know if I would try canning the knotweed, since canning involves boiling, and knotweed can get pretty mushy when boiled. These pickles can be stored in the fridge much like any open jar of pickles, for about two weeks--but I seriously doubt you will be able to keep yourself from eating them all in less than half that time!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Foraged Japanese Knotweed & Ramp Sushi with Garlic Mustard "Wasabi" Recipe

Beautiful, isn't it?

This dish came about a bit by accident. My husband loves to make sushi, and he does a fantastic job. We had some ramps, and decided to use them in place of scallions.

Then I thought of modern fusion sushi dishes, that use cucumber, rice wraps, etc. in place of nori. I really wanted to try it with ramps, since I love new ways to use them raw--besides the ubiquitous "slice and toss into salads". Raw ramps have an intense oniony sweetness, sweeter than the newest, youngest pearl onions, so sweet as to be almost berry-like.

The only thing better than one wild ingredient is two wild ingredients, and my thoughts immediately turned to knotweed. After all, it's Japanese, right? Get it? See what I did there? I crack me up.

Finally, most of the wasabi we get in the States is just colored horseradish anyway, and what foraged item tastes like horseradish? Yup, garlic mustard root.

So all the ideas flew together pretty quick, and I ran out to the park on my lunch break to gather the knotweed and garlic mustard (we did a ramps trip earlier this week).

One word of caution: you really have to enjoy the taste of raw knotweed to like this recipe, but if you do, then the crunchy tartness of the knotweed, mixed with the sweet oniony-ness of the ramps and the stickiness of the rice is really, really good. Alternatively, you could use pickled or blanched knotweed, for a milder flavor and softer texture.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Foraging: Identifying & Eating Japanese Knotweed

So spring is officially sprung up all around us, and I am back on the blog. I really didn't do much last year, but I am determined to make at least one post a week this year, and see where it goes.

If you are looking to start foraging, April is a great time to get into it. There are tons of really tasty edibles flourishing right now, and they are easy to find and identify. Bonus, its just a great time to be outside enjoying nature!

Identification difficulty: Beginner

Stand of knotweed at the perfect stage for harvesting.
Note the dried stalk's from last year's plants in the back and on the ground. 

Where to find Japanese Knotweed

The husks of last season's plants can be spotted at a distance 

As another invasive species, knotweed can be found anywhere -- it can even come up through concrete! But  it prefers to grow in disturbed ground near the water, so you can mostly find it on the banks of creeks and rivers, where the spring floods wash competition away, and the knotweed--with roots up to 10 feet deep--can grow and spread uncontrolled. You can best find it by looking for the husks of last year's plants. If still standing, they can be up to 6 feet high, and if they have fallen, they have likely covered the ground with long, reed-like tubes. These tubes are hollow, and feature bamboo-like joints. Because they grow so densely, allowing no competition, you can frequently see unbroken beds of knotweed from quite a distance.