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

Banh Mi is Vietnamese street food, a sandwich which reflects a variety of cultures, including French--via the baguette. There are many many many kinds of banh mi, but they all have marinated meat or tofu, a baguette, pickled veggies, fresh herbs, and seasoned mayonnaise.  The veggies are traditionally carrots, cucumber and diakon radish, but I have substituted Japanese knotweed for the diakon and carrots. If I had remembered, I would have picked some wild mint before leaving work (it's all over the office front lawn), to add to the fresh herb topping. Wood or sheep sorrel would be great too!

This meal requires some prep work done in advance. You will need to pickle the veggies anywhere from 1 to 7 days before you actually use them, and you will want to marinade your pork for 5-24 hours before cooking--the longer the better. 

Pickled Banh Mi Topping with Japanese Knotweed & Veggies 

Prepare 1-7 days before you need it, and store in fridge. Serves 4

6-12 foot long stalks of Japanese knotweed
1 English cucumber, or 2 regular cucumber, optional
Jalapenos, optional -- I didn't use
2 Carrots, optional -- I didn't use
1 Diakon radishoptional -- I didn't use
Rice vinegar, seasoned or unseasoned is ok, I had seasoned on hand
Star Anise, optional
Black and/or white peppercorns
Garlic cloves or wild garlic bulbs, smashed
Peeled and cut to size to pickle quickly

  1. Rinse all your veggies. Peel the carrots and daikon (if using), and remove the seeds from the cucumber. 
  2. If your knotweed has a stringy skin (if it's thicker than a woman's ring finger most likely it will), lightly peel the knotweed. You don't need to get all the skin off, but try for most of it.
  3. Prepare glass jars, they can be recycled (tomato sauce, peanut butter, etc). You will need one for each veggie you are going to pickle. Add one star anise, 3 smashed garlic cloves (or wild bulbs), and about 15 peppercorns to each jar. 
  4. Cut the knotweed in half, and then slice each half into matchstick size--like shown. Cut all other veggies into roughly the same size. Make sure they can fit into whatever jar you are using, and place them into the jars.
  5. Boil about 2 cups of rice vinegar per jar. Pour over the veggies and cover. Allow to come to room temperature before placing in the fridge. Keep refrigerated--these are not canned goods, and will spoil if not refrigerated. Keep at least 1 day before using. 
Marinading the pork

Spicy Banh Mi Lemongrass Pork

Marinade 5-24 hours before cooking, always marinade in the fridge. Makes 4 generous portions.

1/3 of a "Picnic Shoulder" style or other pork shoulder, about 2lbs.
3 Stalks of lemongrass
1/4 cup of fish sauce
1 tbs. soy sauce
1 tbs. lime juice
1/4 cup of honey
1 - 4 tbs. Vietnamese chili garlic sauce, I did 1.5tbs, for a mild heat
  1. Remove the skin and most of the fat from your pork. Slice it thin, about 1/4 or so thick. Note: this is easiest to do if the pork is previously frozen and not fully thawed.
  2. Prepare your lemongrass by slicing off the base and the darker green top. Peal off the outer layer or two of leaves. (There are good videos on Youtube if you are unfamiliar)
  3. Process all ingredients, except the pork, in the food processor, until well blended. Pour over the pork to marinade
  4. Marinade in the fridge for at least 5 hours, and up to 24 before cooking, the longer it marinades, the more flavors it will develop. Rotate, flip or toss periodically, for even distribution.
Pork ready to go under the broiler

The olive green bits are the knotweed

Assembling the Banh Mi

Marinated pork & pickled veggies
Additional fresh veggies, can include: cucumber, carrots, diakon radish, jalapenos, and/or lettuce, all optional
Cilantro, leaves only
Wild or cultivated mint leaves, optional
Wood or sheep sorrel, leaves only
Fresh bread/rolls, baguette is traditional, but here I used whole-wheat & oat loaves
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 - 4 tbs. sriracha, or other Asian chili sauce
  1. Start by mixing the mayo and sriracha in a bowl, tasting as you add the chili sauce. Remember to stop before it is too hot--it will get hotter as it sits and the flavors come together.  Ideally you want to let this sit as long as possible. 
  2. Slice and/or peal the veggies you are using, and cut into rough matchsticks. 
  3. Ideally, you would pre-heat the grill here, to medium-high heat. Since I don't have a grill, or an outdoor space, I set the broiler to high and set up a foil-lined baking sheet and a rack. 
  4. Cook pork until done, in the broiler about 8 minutes per side. Assemble the banh mi with a roll, a generous helping of spicy mayo, a layer of lettuce (if using) a layer of pork, a layer of pickled and fresh veggies, and a topping of fresh herbs. Serve immediately. 

I know all of this seems like a lot of work, but it really isn't! I did the pickling one evening while prepping another meal, then I set the pork to marinade the morning I intended to eat, then we went about our day. Cooking and assembling is less than 30 minutes, and all the prep together--which you can spread out at your convenience, is probably another 30 minutes. Plus, it's totally worth it. My husband referred to this pork as "a revelation".

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