Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Vietnamese-Style Summer Rolls with Black Locust

Black locust blossoms are a tasty treat that are only available for about a week out of every year, right now! Check out my page on how to safely ID black locust. So if you live in the northeast, don't miss out, they are ready for harvest right now!

The beautiful flowers have an indescribable ambrosia scent, and a flavor that's like the sweetest of sweet peas mixed with flowers and a hint of vanilla. They are one of the freshest tastes I can think of, spring-like and bright-tasting.

Vietnamese summer rolls seemed like the natural recipe to try with these blossoms. Unlike the spring rolls or egg rolls of take-out Chinese fame, summer rolls aren't fried. They are filled with fresh herbs (usually mint, basil and sometimes cilantro), and raw veggies sliced thin. Summer rolls are gluten-free, using rice wrappers and cellophane noodles (made from mung bean starch). They are light but filling, and with very minimal cooking they are perfect for a hot night.

Though traditionally made as an appetizer, a few of these is a very filling meal, and without a lot of calories. As attractive finger foods, they are also great as party and picnic fare, and since they are served cool, you they travel well -- take them with you and avoid fast-food or the junk they serve on a plane.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Foraged Wild Mushroom & Ramp Strata

And just like that, ramp season is over! 4 weeks, give or take a day or two, and the leaves of all the plants are yellowing, wilting, and dying. We went crazy, harvesting the last of the greenery last weekend. We picked enough for another batch of Spicy Black Bean Fish with Ramps, enough to fill a couple of large freezer bags, and enough for this bread pudding dish.

A strata is like a bread pudding, very rich and dense. This is not a light meal, this is not a healthy meal; with heavy cream, prosciutto, eggs, bread, butter, and cheese, it's just plain decadent. . . But ramp season comes just once a year, and it just seemed fitting to have it go out with a bang!

I reconstituted wine-cap (Stropharia rugosoannulata) mushrooms from that epic haul of a couple weeks ago to make this dish, but you could use fresh cremini or white button mushrooms instead. Tossing a few morels in would probably be pretty great as well, given how well they pair with cream.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Dryad's Saddle Mushroom Teriyaki

I served roasted milkweed shoots as a side--instructions below
Dryad's saddle mushrooms (Polyporus squamosus, also called Pheasant's Back mushrooms) are generally not very highly thought of. They are often considered tough and lacking in flavor, especially when not very, very young (under 3-4 inches across). I have been struggling with this mushroom for some time, and I refuse to give up on it. I found a nice haul last year, and experimented with a recipe on Steve Brill's website, but I have to admit--I really didn't care for it.

Gorgeous fruiting from last year.
This is how they look when they haven't been rained on.
Then I found this website's recipe for a jambalaya, and I regained hope in the humble dryad's saddle. The jambalaya helped me figure out what dryad's saddle mushrooms are all about: though they are lacking in flavor, they have a nice, meaty richness to them--one of the meatiest mouth feels I have ever had from a mushroom. I wanted to play that up more, find away to enhance the meatiness and add flavor which the fungus lacked. This teriyaki was my first successful attempt!

The real struggle with this dish is the cutting. You want everything to be more or less even in thickness, otherwise some will burn when you roast them, while others will be undone. The ideal pieces are just this side of too tough--they have that nice meatiness, but will also be toothsome, even chewy. If you don't like that texture, you probably won't enjoy these mushrooms prepared this way.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Peasant-Style Foraged Nettle & Ham Bone Stew

Some weeks ago I stumbled upon this post for a recipe called "Green-as-Spring Veal Stew". The blog post was based on a recipe from a book called "Around My French Table" by Dorie Greenspan. After reading it over I knew I had to do a wild version of my own.

Vibrant & tasty wood nettles
There are many things I like about the original, and many more things I don't. The dish is clearly based on French peasant fare (which I love): it's rustic, simple, cooked long and slow, and very hearty. But then it veiered away from its roots, I think the author took it "upscale".

What I like about European peasant fare, or Southern Soul Food, or Western frontier food, or any number of others, is that you make do with what you have, use what is cheap, what is in season, and you make a lot out of a little. You don't waste, and you don't take anything for granted.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

White Bean & Sun-Dried Tomato Stuffed Wine-Cap Mushroom Recipe

I am not kidding. Go out and make this recipe. Right. Now. If you aren't lucky enough to find wild mushrooms, portobellos will be fine, but you need to try this. 

While out foraging last Saturday, my husband spotted some huge mushrooms growing in woodchips outside a park, as we raced to the morel spot. After hunting around for morels (and finding a nice haul), we stopped at the park to see what he spotted.

Sorry, no pictures in the "wild"
I don't know where the park got it's wood chips, but they were literally bursting with fungi. You could barely walk from one clump to another without trampling dozens. Most were non-edible, very possibly poisonous, but on one edge of the park we found the motherload of wine-caps (Stropharia rugosoannulata).

Within minutes we had over 10lbs of mushrooms. I failed to take pictures as we were in full sight of the road, and in a park full of people (who were giving me the stink eye), and my husband was hurrying me on--fearful of the police. The mushroom ranged from the smallest, firmest young buttons to older mushrooms, with caps the size of salad plates! Some of the older mushrooms had tops which dried out, and had cracked, but when I sliced through them, the interior flesh was still firm, white and moist. The entire collection was surprisingly bug-free, only one had to be thrown away.

Stropharia rugosoannulata aren't the most difficult to ID, but they aren't a beginners mushroom either; still I was confident in what I had, having been with several experienced mushroom hunters who had ID'd them for me before. I would not recommend you try to hunt these until you have several other species under your belt, and preferably get introduced to them by a local expert.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Garlic Mustard Ohitashi

Even though I am a little hung up on Japanese knotweed this time of year, it doesn't mean I forget about my other spring time favorites. Garlic mustard is getting to the stage where I like it best--the flowering stage, where the leaves are large, less-bitter, and very easy to harvest without a whole lot of bending over. Bonus--you are more or less guaranteed to encounter some while hunting for morels, fiddleheads, or ramps.

Ohitashi is a Japanese side dish which apparently means "soaked". It features blanched leafy greens, usually spinach, which are then soaked in Dashi and soy, garnished and served. The treatment enhances the greens with umami. Dashi is traditionally made with kelp and bonito (a fish), but vegan versions with just kelp (kombu dashi) or with shiitake mushrooms (shiitake dashi) can be purchased or homemade. Traditional garnishes include toasted sesame seeds and bonito flakes, I opted to be a bit non-traditional here and use garlic mustard flowers along with the sesame seeds.

For a dramatic presentation, Ohitashi is frequently rolled with a sushi mat into logs or towers, but the "lazy person's" way of just presenting as an attractive stack (the way I did) is just as delish and authentic. However you present it, Japanese side dishes are traditionally served on a separate plate than the main dish.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Foraged Knotweed, Cucumber & Avocado Gazpacho Recipe

Ever since I discovered the similarities in flavor between Japanese knotweed and tomatillos, I have been experimenting with using the invasive in Latin-American style cuisine, notably a salsa verde and a  pico de gallo. These recipes were successful, unlike other experiments where I tried to use knotweed like rhubarb. I never posted about these, but they were not good; the worst being my attempt at a knotweed mostarda, based on a rhubarb recipe.

For me, I don't like knotweed cooked more than just the slightest blanching. I think it takes on an unpleasant character, not really noticeable at first, but after eating more than a few bites of it, it gets worse and worse.

So I have been looking for ideas that would let me use the knotweed raw, or lightly cooked. This tomatillo gazpacho recipe popped up in pinterest, unfortunately after knotweed season had passed, but it has been on my mind ever since. I had trepidations since the reviews were so mixed, but overall it sounded good to me, so I decided to give it a go. I am glad I did! This soup is great--somewhat hot, somewhat creamy, and very, very refreshing.

I did make a cucumber/shrimp salad for the topping, and I drank some sangria while eating. Happy Cinco de Mayo! (even if I don't actually get to post this till tomorrow)

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Foraged Japanese Knotweed & Pork Banh Mi Recipe

So one of the best things about foraging is that it integrates so beautifully into the lifestyle you live now. You don't have to suddenly start eating only wild foods, or spending your whole weekend searching for just the right ingredients. The way I forage is to add or substitute one or two wild foods to the foods I am cooking already. When you look at it that way, you can walk the dog and come home with some herbs, or take the kids (I don't actually have kids) to the park and "pick up" a salad, or go for a hike and return with a side dish.

This is that kind of meal. The kind of thing I would be making anyway, and I just happen to take out an ingredient and replace it with one I got at the park. In this case, Japanese Knotweed.

You may remember from last year, that I really, really,
really like Japanese knotweed