Thursday, May 16, 2013

Foraged Knotweed Salsa Verde Recipe

Ok, ok. I absolutely promise that this is my last knotweed post for the year. They are definitely past their prime size, and I had to be very picky and choosy about which stalks I took. And this year the season is a week or two late, usually knotweed is done by early May.

Knotweed at this height is at the end of its season.
It can be eaten before it starts to branch, but must be peeled.
The idea for this recipe came while I was craving salsa verde. At the restaurant  I couldn't shake the feeling that it was familiar, and not just because I had had salsa verde many times in the past. Tomatillos have a zesty freshness, a flavor that combines vegetable flavors with a citrusy kick--a taste I thought was very similar to the lemony flavor of knotweed!

Once done, honestly the flavor is nearly identical to tomatillo-based salsa verde. Even my husband, who doesn't care for knotweed, really enjoyed this recipe. And for you localvores out there, knotweed is a great way to get the flavor here in the Northeast, in the spring, when tomatillos would need to be imported.

At this time of year, the knotweed is about my
Knotweed stalk showing both the stringy
reddish skin and the juicy green core.
height, 5 feet or so. The stalks are about the thickness of my thumb, or a little larger--between 1-1.5" in diameter. Instead of breaking the stalk off at the base, you need to feel for a very specific area, about 2/3 of the way up, where the stalk will break off easily when bent, and make a "pop" as they snap off.

You then want to feel upwards, usually 2 joints above your break, and break it off again--the top is very "sticky", even more so than okra, and won't cook up well. It may take a stalk or two to get the hang of it, but with the invasiveness of knotweed, wasting some has never been a problem for me. Also, break off all the spade-shaped leaves. I like to do all this trimming in the field, where I can toss the pieces back into the patch of knotweed, then I am sure I am not accidentally spreading it to new areas by tossing it in the trash. Once you do get it home, you will want to peel off the red skin, because it is tough and stringy at this time of year.

This much peeling is fine for this dish.
Speaking of peeling the knotweed--its a bit of a pain. The hollow shoots collapse with too much pressure. I have found that the most effective method is to use a light touch and try not to squeeze the stalk. Also peel "against" the grain, that is, peel towards the base of the plant. Fortunately for this dish, it's all going in the food processor and doesn't really matter if you get them perfectly peeled. 

Japanese Knotweed Salsa Verde

6  cups of roughly chopped Japanese knotweed shoots
2 jalapeno peppers, sliced in half, seeds and ribs removed
1 medium white onion, quartered
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 limes, juice of both, zest of one
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
1/2 cup water
2 tsp. cumin
salt & pepper to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 450 (I used a toaster oven to save energy). Spread out the jalapenos (fleshy side down), garlic cloves and the onion quarters on a greesed tray, and put into the oven for 15 minutes. 
  2. Bring enough water to cover your knotweed to a roiling boil
  3. Reserve 2-4 stalks of knotweed that won't be boiled. 
  4. Working quickly, drop the majority of your knotweed into the pot. Count to 30 and immediately remove the knotweed from the pot and strain. The water may not even have a chance to return to a boil, and that's fine--you don't want to overcook the knotweed. It should just have started to loose the bright green color, but not become too olive. 
  5. Run cold water over the knotweed to prevent any further cooking. You really just want the subtlest blanching, because boiled knotweed develops an unattractive taste, color and smell. It also loses the zesty flavor that mimics tomatillos. 
  6. Working in batches if needed, puree the blanched knotweed, onion, garlic, lime zest and juice, cilantro, cumin and salt & pepper in the food processor. Add water as needed to keep things moving and achieve the desired consistency. (I used about half a cup)
  7. Taste. If the flavor is too subtle, add more of the uncooked knotweed in small amounts till you get the right amount of "kick".
  8. Serve immediately with tortilla chips or reheat for topping on burritos, enchiladas, etc.
Tastes great on burritos as well!

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