Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Foraged Pizza with Chickweed and Caramelized Greenbriar

I was having foraged pizza envy, after seeing a post by @nibblingonnature on Instagram. I realized it had been a long, long time since I last made a foraged pizza. That one had had dryad's saddle on it. It had been amazing and I completely forgot to take pictures or make a post.

Homemade pizza is a Good Friday tradition with my in-laws. As the last Friday in Lent, you can't eat meat. Everyone gets together at my husband's aunt's house, makes a ton of pizzas, with 3-4 toppings, and then stuffs themselves silly. It's a good time, and a great meal. My favorite of those pies is the white pizza with cartelized onions.

They also make another dish which I would share, but it's a family secret. It's called grass pie and it uses a ton of dandelion greens! It's really heavenly.

Of course, having moved away from New Jersey, I didn't get to participate in this year's Good Friday, but I was still craving pizza. A weekend forage netted a bunch of Greenbriar shoots (Latin name: Smilax, also known as catbriar).

The tender new growth of greenbriar is edible

Saturday, March 26, 2016

I would like to know what you think

Hey everyone, I wondered if you would be willing to take a survey about your foraging experiences, how you use my site, and what kind of content you would like to see me share.

It's just 10 questions long (multiple choice!), completely anonymous, and would really satisfy some curiosity on my part -- to be honest, it will help convince me that my content is useful and I should keep posting.

No email registration or anything required, I won't reach out and bother you in anyway.


Create your own user feedback survey

Friday, March 25, 2016

Foraging Recipe: Bastard Cabbage Chana Masala

So I hope you checked out my earlier post about trying bastard cabbage, Rapistrum rugosum, for the first time. Bastard cabbage also goes by the more polite names turnip weed and wild turnip, but for some reason I mostly see it called bastard cabbage.

Bastard cabbage likes open fields and disturbed
ground, like the edge of this trail
Bastard cabbage may very well be Texas's most infamous invasive weed, and so I was very anxious to try it. I'm glad I did! When blanched, it tastes like a mixture of spinach, sweet corn and a hint of pepper. Every mustard green I know is nutrient-dense, as are dark leafy greens in general, and I'm sure bastard cabbage is no exception.

I was nervous about the fuzzy/hairiness of the leaves. Don't be, blanching them takes care of the texture.

Chana masala, or chickpea and tomato curry, is an excellent dish to make after a day of hiking, as it's super easy and comes together quickly. It's also vegan, for anyone who wants to try a tasty meatless dish. Despite being technically a curry, it's much milder in flavor that most, and has a nice freshness as well. There are numerous was to prepare it, so if there's something you don't like, just leave it out, or substitute something else. There was a time in my life when I made Chana masala every week -- it's that good!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Eating Invasive Bastard Cabbage for the First Time

It's always exciting trying a new plant or mushroom for the first time, and for me, bastard cabbage (Latin name: Rapistrum rugosum) was one I wanted to add to my menu ever since my husband and I first started talking about moving to Texas.

Though it may be invasive, bastard cabbage does serve
a purpose: it provides spring forage for pollinators.
All the plants were covered in honeybees and butterflies.
Garlic mustard, Japanese knotweed, kudzu, and now bastard cabbage. . . one of the main focuses of my foraging has always been to eat as many invasive species as often as I can. Not only does it help mitigate the ecological damage of a plant, but it provides a sustainable food source.

Rapistrum rugosum, commonly known as bastard cabbage, turnip weed, or wild turnip, is a highly invasive member of the mustard family, known as Brassicaceae. This is the family that includes mustard greens, broccoli, brussle sprouts, turnips, and, you guessed it: cabbage.

It's a hearty plant from Eurasia, and it's hearty qualities are giving it the edge over local Texas wildflowers. Some fear that the famous Texas bluebonnets are in danger of extinction through competition with this invader.  Though mostly a problem in Texas, bastard cabbage is also spreading in small pockets of New Mexico, California, and Arizona.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Pickled Sow Thistle Bud "Capers"

As sow thistles get a bit older, and start to flower, the leaves become tougher, more bitter and a tad fibrous. The prickles can also become stiffer and less pleasant to eat. At this stage it's best to cook the leaves completely before you do anything with them. But this is the stage when the buds are also ripe for harvest.

An older sow thistle with buds

The buds don't taste all that different from the rest of the plant, a mellow sweetness within, sort of like corn, would be the only difference. Otherwise it's that same rich green, slightly bitter flavor, rather like kale. 

One of the most popular ways to eat any slightly bitter bud is to pickle it, and make sort of a mock caper--it's really crazy how much they tastes like them when done!

I've had sow thistles this way, but I've never made my own, so when I was on my evening walk and saw 5 large plants on the corner, I figured it was the perfect opportunity.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Sow Thistle Chips: Like Kale Chips made from Weeds

Final product: tasty! Like a cross between a kale chip and a crispy seaweed snack!
This is the perfect plant for harvest,
but I don't take the dark green, older leaves.

So my husband and I bought a house a few months back, and the entire backyard is weeds, including edible chickweed, purslane, henbit and prickly sow thistle.

Sow thistle generally isn't one of my favorites. But in my backyard figured the growing conditions were ideal: rich soil and partial shade. Plus, with all the rain we've been having, I suspected the plants would be juicy and not the usual tough and stringy. And they were actually really good, just a slight amount of bitterness, like baby kale. 

Sow thistle is a non-native invasive plant, a true weed, so you really don't have to worry too much about sustainable harvesting. If you follow my blog, you know I am a big fan of invasivore eating - basically like locavore eating, but with a focus on invasive species.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Foraging: How to Find, Identify, Prepare and Eat Wild Cleavers Weeds

Cleavers (Latin name: Galium aparine) are extremely easy plants to ID, in fact, you probably know them already if you spend much time in the woods or the fields.  They grow throughout most of the U.S., certainly across the lower 48, and also across much of Canada and Mexico. They originate in Europe and Asia, and have been introduced to Australia. I am not sure about South American growth, but basically you can find them almost anywhere.

In addition to being easy to find, abundant, and having medicinal qualities, they taste pretty good. . . If you can get past the texture. That's a pretty big IF.   I'll share with you tips on how to find,  harvest, identify, and prepare cleavers in a way that will help you get past their weird textural issues.

Identification difficulty: Beginner

A note of caution: many people are allergic to cleavers. Use more caution than with most wild plants: please sample only a very small amount at first, and it's worth it to take some time to do a skin test. Also, cleavers may work to stimulate uterine contractions in women, so don't eat them if you are pregnant, may become pregnant or nursing. Finally, people on high blood pressure and/or blood thinning medications should avoid cleavers. More on all this below.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Foraged Chickweed and Mushroom Omelette

A mushroom omelette is one of my favorite ways to eat chickweed, because the flavor how very well with egg and most cheeses, and a light sauté keeps the freshness and crispness of the chickweed but fixes the textural issues of the hairy stems.

I prefer this dish with wild mushrooms, especially oysters, puffballs or milky caps, but I didn't have any of those so I used your basic white buttons. Half of a package will do for one omelette. I used Swiss cheese here, but goat cheese, asiago, Parmesan, and provolone all work.

It's simple to make, healthy and comes together quickly.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Foraging: Identifying Wild Edible Chickweed

Many people describe chickweed (Stellaria media) as their favorite wild edible green of spring. Many gardeners consider it a difficult-to-remove, annoying weed. Those gardeners just haven't tried it yet!

The foodie world is starting to follow along with the former group, and chickweed is showing up on menus of restaurants that focus on seasonal and/or local organic produce. Chickweed is also starting to show up in places like farmers markets and in the form of herbal supplements and teas at Whole Foods.

There's really everything to like about chickweed: it has a mild, fresh sweetness which some people compare to young corn or iceberg or boston lettuce, it grows in super abundance, easy to harvest and quick to grow back in the early spring when little else is growing, fairly easy to identify AND it even looks pretty!

Technically, chickweed isn't native to the Americas, so it's also an invasive species. Of course, it's been here for generations, so any ecological damage has already been done, but if you're into invasivore eating (eating invasive species) that's something to consider as well.

So let's get started on how to find, identify, harvest, prepare and eat this tasty little weed!

Identification difficulty: Beginner

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Foraging: What is in Season, Early Spring

Hi all! An early spring has come to Texas, and has me out foraging a full 6 weeks earlier than I usually did in New Jersey. The weather has been comparable to early/mid April back North and the edibles I've been finding are usually out at that time too.

Given the mild weather, I imagine this is early even for Texas, so most other years expect these plants in mid-March down here. 

As always, identification remains ultimately your responsibility, and never eat anything without checking multiple reliable sources, as pictures on the internet aren't  always 100% clear or color accurate. Please read my entire disclaimer up top.

But without further ado, here are some plentiful edibles out in early spring: