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.

Young knotweed,
at the perfect stage for harvest

Japanese Knotweed & Ramp Sushi 
(ingredients per roll)

4 large, flat ramp leaves
3-4 thin (1/3 inch diameter or less) raw, blanched or pickled Japanese knotweed stalks, 8" long *
Black sesame seeds (optional)
1/4 cup sushi rice, cooked and seasoned with rice vinegar **

* Ideally you want your knotweed as young as possible, definitely before it becomes stringy.

** Sushi rice is a special variety of rice, which is stickier than most. It must be thoroughly rinsed, and let to dry (in a colander) for an hour. Then cook it using a 1 to 1.25 ratio of rice to water. When it has cooked, covered for 10 minutes, let it sit for an additional 10 minutes, covered. Drizzle it with seasoned rice vinegar, while constantly fanning it and fluffing with a fork.

Garlic Mustard "Wasabi" 

American "wasabi" is frequently just colored horseradish. Garlic mustard root makes an acceptable substitute, with it's own nuances, of course!

2 tablespoons of garlic mustard root zest *
1 teaspoon of white vinegar
generous sprinkling of kosher salt

* About 3 roots, harvested in the spring, for me. Before zesting, I thoroughly washed, then peeled the roots.

This is not a recipe to learn to start making sushi on. The ramp leaves are no where near as easy to work with as nouri, and they will unroll from the rice if you don't work quickly.

  1. To make the "wasabi", mix the garlic mustard root zest with the vinegar and salt. Mix with a fork and set aside.
  2. Break the stems off the ramp leaves and set aside for another purpose. You can roll them into the middle of the sushi, or just snack on them--they are the sweetest part of the plant.
  3. Gently "interlace" the ramp leaves, stem ends to the inside, as shown.
  4. Press a generous layer of sushi rice down on the leaves, and sprinkle with black sesame seeds (optional)
  5. Lay the knotweed stalks across the rice. Working quickly, roll the leaves from the bottom up, and shape with the bamboo sushi mat. 
  6. Slice the roll, into approximately 1" disks
  7. Serve with "wasabi" and soy sauce. One note: if you try to pre-mix the soy and "wasabi" as you would with regular wasabi, the garlic mustard root absorbs soy sauce, and becomes a dark paste. To avoid this, mix small amounts as you need, rather than the whole amount at once.

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