Monday, April 3, 2017

Easy 30 minute greenbriar ratatouille. Vegan, paleo, low carb, gluten-free, and low fat.

So clearly I've been on a Mediterranean kick lately, with a cleavers pesto last week (I've been enjoying the left-overs since), and a thistle Greek salad the other day. So when I was looking at an ENORMOUS haul of greenbriar shoots, it's really no surprise that my mind turned to ratatouille.

Ratatouille is a French dish, usually served in the summer because it's loaded with summer veggies: summer squash (zucchini/yellow squash), eggplant, and tomatoes. But it comes from the Provonce region, on the Mediterranean, where the cities of Marseille and Nice are located. It's a hearty, rustic stew, that just happens to be vegan, low carb, low calorie, low fat, dairy free, gluten-free and paleo; though it's often served with bread, you could also eat it as a side dish for meat, or over polenta or pasta.

The spirit of ratatouille is to make a healthy meal out of what's seasonally available, and while tomatoes aren't exactly in season, I did have a ton of spring greenbriar, so I decided to go for it. This dish involves caramelizing the onions, and since I enjoyed the greenbriar caramelized as a pizza topping last year, I thought this would be a slam dunk! It was fantastic, even my husband liked it, and he doesn't like REGULAR ratatouille! Best of all, the greenbriar cooks a lot faster than the traditional eggplant, turning an hour-long prep into a meal on your table in 30 minutes!

Thick and juicy, but still tender and bendable,
these greenbriars are at the perfect stage for eating.

Greenbriars, aka Similax species, are only edible in the early to mid-spring, because it's the young, new growth you eat. The shoots and young leaves are quite tasty, and because of some sugars in them, they also caramelize beautifully. They are fairly easy to ID, I wouldn't quite say beginner level, but definitely for a slightly experienced novice. Please check out my post on how to ID greenbriars.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

You CAN eat thistles! Plus a vegan, paleo Greek salad recipe

Thistles. Covered in spikes, bane of young children playing outside, hated by homeowners who want a perfect yard, and loathed by ranchers who fear the weed will take over the grasslands needed by their cattle. Thistles are also edible, at least in parts.

The problem, of course, is the nasty spines. They completely cover the thick, juicy stalks, and the ruffled edges of each leaf. But if you can get beyond them, the inner core of the stem, and the "mid rib" of the leaf (the light green/whitish part), are both edible, and have a texture very similar to celery. There is one downside: thistles, especially the leaf mid rib, tend to be on the bitter side.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Vegetarian garlicky cleavers walnut pesto. Keto foraging recipe, paleo and vegan optional.

This pesto is not only the best pesto I've ever made, it's the best pesto I've ever tasted, period. If you have cleavers, please try this pesto now. If you trust no other recipe on this site, trust this one. This garlicky cleavers pesto is something you need in your life.

This pesto is fast, simple and can go on absolutely ANYTHING, but of course, I enjoy it best simply tossed with some pasta. This wild herb pesto is a great condiment, it's super healthy because of the nutritious cleavers, and low-carb keto, as well as being vegetarian. If you omit the cheese, it's also Paleo and Vegan!

This recipe has some weird steps, that I came upon entirely by accident, but they worked out so well!

Cleavers are a very common backyard "weed" that's super easy to identify. If it's early to mid-spring, I guarantee that you can find some near you, perhaps in a local park. They have a great herbal flavor, vaguely like oregano, but mostly uniquely their own. Cleavers should be boiled before eating, and I prefer them pureed as well, to avoid textural issues.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Spicy Sichuan black bean pork and tofu with dandelion greens and stem "lo mein". Keto-friendly, low-carb.

So last week I won an Instagram contest for a hand-carved dandelion stamp from EnchangingStamps on Etsy by sharing my favorite dandelion recipe.  I shared how, not being a huge fan of bitter flavors, I liked mixing dandelion greens (which are superfoods), into spicy dishes, where the heat mitigates some of the bitterness. My all-time favorite is a pork and tofu dish, inspired by Sichuan Mapo. It's rich with chili oil, Sichuan peppercorns, black bean paste, and, of course, pork fat!

But I've never shared the recipe on my blog :( . . . In fact, I never shared ANY dandelion recipes on my blog! I think it's because there are so many great dandelion recipes out there, I haven't created any original ones myself.

But mixing spicy Asian flavors with bitter dandelions is something that I haven't seen anywhere else, so I'm making today the day I share it with you.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Foraging dandelion stem, gluten-free, keto, paleo "noodles" -- for free!

Hello! Do you ever pin something on Pinterest, 100% intending to try it, when the time is right/you have the materials/the plant you need is in season, but by the time you actually can try it, you've completely forgotten about it? I'm ashamed to say that dandelion stem "noodles" are one of those for me. 

I first saw the idea over over at Wild Food Girl, and it seemed totally interesting, but my dandelions were always short-stemmed, and growing sparsely. It didn't seem worth bending over and picking for hours for piddly little 4" noodles. 

But on Sunday, I encountered a field full of densely growing dandelion patches, where I could find 6-10 stalks in every square foot, and those stalks were long! Some were over 12". Fortunately, my mind remembered the post and I decided to experiment.

It's hard to tell in this picture, but many of the stems were a foot or so long!

And oh. my. goodness. What an experiment it was! These might be my new favorite way to eat dandelions. They become perfectly soft, almost exactly the texture of top-quality ramen noodles from your favorite restaurant. The flavor is mild and fresh, very slightly bitter, and tastes incredibly wholesome.  

And why pay for trendy, low calorie noodles, when you can get these for free? They've got nearly 0 calories, low carb, no sugar, no fat, and are gluten-free, keto and paleo!

Best of all, they extend the dandelion harvest even farther! I picked these from dandelion heads that had already gone to seed, long after the greens are good, and even after the flowers. Harvesting these stems extends dandelion season by a week or two; totally awesome, when you consider how nutritious dandelions are for you!

Dandelion stem "noodle" recipe:

Bring dandelion stems to boil in a pot of lightly salted water. Boil for about 7 minutes, or until tender. Drain, and serve as you would any other kind of noodle. Enjoy!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Identifying and foraging common wood sorrel. A common edible weed, often mistaken for clover or shamrock. Perfect for beginners.

Identification difficulty: Beginner

Happy St. Patrick's Day! I'm going to try and get this post up early so I can go out drinking :). I'm not Irish, but who does't love a good beer? (Note: I said a GOOD beer. Not that swill they dye green and pour out by the barrel-full!)

In honor of the occasion, I'd like to talk about how to identify common yellow wood sorrel, sometimes called the American Shamrock.

Wood sorrel isn't a shamrock, as a shamrock is a type of clover (Latin genus: Trifolium), and wood sorrel is part of the genus Oxalis. Then again, there is some confusion about what a shamrock actually is! You see,  we associate the classic "3 heart" shape with shamrocks, yet no clover actually has this shape. Clovers are all 3 ovals! Instead, sorrels (Oxalis species) have the 3 hearts.

So who knows, maybe wood sorrel really is a shamrock after all?

As I've mentioned before, wood sorrel holds a special place in my heart. It's the first wild food I ever ate, that I didn't harvest with my mother or one of my grandmothers. No member of my family ever pronounced it as safe, I never picked it with them. I watched other children enjoy it, and picked and ate it for myself. They called it lemon clover. I ate it without hesitation, rather a dangerous precedent when your "expert" is an 8-year old, but it all turned out all right in the end.

Anyway, wood sorrel is easy to identify, and grows throughout North America. It also tastes great, and is a very versatile ingredient in the kitchen, all-in-all, a perfect plant for beginners to forage.

One small note of caution: Oxalis species contain oxalic acid, and shouldn't be eaten by those with kidney or liver diseases, or by those with certain autoimmune diseases, like Rheumatoid arthritis. 

On to identification . . .

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Burdock and pokeweed fritters, foraging recipe. Potato substitute with lower calories and higher nutrition.

Looking for a great substitute for potatoes? I really love burdock! 

Burdock, (sometimes called Gobo), is a root, like potatoes. It's an Eurasian plant, related to sunflowers and artichokes, and is an important part of traditional Asian and Mediterranean diets. Burdock has a nice, potato-like texture with a subtle artichoke flavor, but clocks in at only half the calories and a little over half the carbs. Bonus: it's been linked to clearer skin, kidney and liver heath, lymphatic and circulatory (blood health) support, and blood sugar management. 

Those large leaves are burdock. At the center, underground is the large root.

Burdock has been introduced to North America, where it now grows as an invasive species, a common "weed". If you've ever walked through the woods in early fall and gotten the sticky, spikey "burr" seed balls on your clothing, then you already know burdock. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

How I find and safely eat pokeweed shoots in early spring

Hi all, I'd like to start by saying, this post is my personal story about how I safely eat pokeweed, a plant which can be deadly if not properly harvested and prepared.

I prepare poke the way my Southern grandma did; many people say now that the old ways are too conservative, that the plant is safe to harvest older, and to spend less time processing. I believe that those people do what's right for them, but I don't think that there is a "right for everyone" way to eat this plant. 

Though I will share some tips for identification, this is not primarily an identification post, rather a personal experience post. Maybe I'll do an ID post down the line. 

Pokeweed should not be eaten by young children, or women who are pregnant, looking to become pregnant, or breastfeeding.

Pokeweed quick history

Pokeweed was extensively eaten throughout the Eastern and Southern United States until quite recently, sometime in the 1960s. It was an especially important food for the early colonists, some Native American tribes, African Americans, and the people of Appalachia. It's free, very abundant, easy to identify and one of the earliest greens that can be harvested in the spring. Pokeweed also has an important role as a dye for fabrics, and in the traditional medicines of the Native Americans and the people of Appalachia.

Pokeweed was most commonly prepared as "Poke Sallet", sometimes corrupted as "Poke Salad" but it's important NEVER to eat these plants raw, doing so can make you sick or worse. Poke sallet are boiled greens that are then fried up with bacon and butter to make a hearty meal perfect for the season: using the end of last years preserved meats with the fresh taste of new greens.

The Declaration of Independence is written in pokeweed ink, as were many of the letters Civil War soldiers wrote home. (It was free and readily available).  Supporters of 1844 Presidential candidate James Polk wore pokeweed on their lapels. (He went on to win, against the odds, and become the 11th President of the United States). Poke Salad Annie was a 1969 Billboard hit, about a poor Southern girl who has to eat poke, as it's free.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Pickled greenbriar tips foraging recipe. Fat free, gluten-free, vegan, paleo.

It's that time of the year again! Greenbriar   Is a really unique wild edible that you generally can only get in the early to mid spring, March through April around here in Texas, and April through June back where I used to live up north.

Greenbriar, genus name: Smilax, is an easy-to-identify vine, and only the young growing tips are edible, which is why you can harvest in the spring. 

I was only able to get a few handfuls this early, but I'm sure I'll be pulling bags of greenbriar from the woods soon! Because I only had a small amount, I decided to make more of a snack, rather than a full meal. I thought pickling would work out well, and it did! They held their crispness well, and the flavor pairs perfectly with salty, sour, and dill.

Here's what I did, but feel free to try your own pickling recipe:

  1. Blanch 2 cups of greenbriar tips in boiling water for 1 minute. Add them to a glass or glazed ceramic container (not metal or plastic)
  2. Smack 1 tsp coriander seeds and 1/2 tsp. black peppercorns with the side of a knife a couple of times. Mince 2 cloves of garlic.
  3. Bring 2 cups of white vinegar to a boil, add in peppercorns, coriander, garlic, 1 tsp. dried dill, 1/2 tsp kosher salt, 1 tsp powdered cumin, and 1/4 tsp sugar.
  4. Boil for 5 minutes then pour in with the greenbriar. Seal and allow to come to room temperature, then refrigerate for at least 24 hours. Store in the fridge and enjoy them within 2 weeks.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Foraging for wild violets: identification, edibility and sustainable harvesting

Identification difficulty: Beginner 

Wild violets are a beautiful, fleeting part of early spring. They grow low to the ground, dainty and unassuming, but bring a smile to every woodland walk. They are found in Europe and North America, and apparently in Australia as well.

Violets are also a tasty edible wildflower, with a unique flavor and aroma which has been valued for centuries. Violets were a vogue flavor in Victorian era, and after, up until the First World War. They were used in candy and baked goods; but trench warfare, and subsequent post-war expansion of roadways and urban areas across Europe, tore up many of the fields they were harvested from.

Perhaps its most famous use is in Creme de Violette, a liqueur made by infusing violets into a brandy or neutral spirit. Creme de Violette is beautiful and delicious, with deep purple color, delicate aroma, and impossible to replicate floral taste. For years it was nearly impossible to get a hold of (due to the scarcity of wild violets), but new crops are being harvested from the alps.

You too can experience the unique and elegant taste of violets, and without the expensive price tag, simply by taking a walk in the woods!

It's important to know that violets are native to our forests, not an introduced species. They are also essential for the heath of pollinators, like bees, so sustainable harvesting is a must! 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Vegetarian hot & sour soup from scratch, made with 3 wild mushrooms and burdock. Gluten free, high protein, low sugar, low carb

Today's recipe is amazing. It's super healthy, tastes great, and is jam-packed with vitamin, iron and mineral-rich wild mushrooms. It's a better-for-you, scratch-made, vegetarian version of classic take-out Chinese: hot and sour soup. It's low in fat, low in carbs, high in protein, and gluten-free.

It's also much more time consuming than anything I usually make, clocking in at about an hour and 45 minutes (but it makes a TON and it's totally worth it), and you're probably going to need to hit up an Asian market for all the ingredients.

But if I haven't scared you off yet, let me just say again: totally worth it.

With three kinds of wild mushrooms it's got a ton of umami flavor, you won't miss the meat! It's spicy and sour and thick and richly textured. While we usually think of hot and sour as an appetizer, this is totally a complete and filling meal.

Wood ear mushrooms are a superfood, cholesterol-lowering, hypoglycemic, and tumor-reducing!
I've used 3 kinds of foraged mushrooms here, but you can also use store-bought. Just make sure to pick a good texture mix. So you need 1 kind of meaty mushroom (oysters, shiitake, or hen of the wood), and 1 kind of soft mushroom (I used honey mushrooms*, but you could use beech or enoki as well), and wood ear mushrooms. You absolutely have to have wood ears, they are the traditional black fungus that gives hot and sour soup it's unique texture. They can be purchased, dried, in Asian markets.

Friday, March 3, 2017

The edible and medicinal wood ear mushroom: Auricularia auricula. Foraging, identifying and preparing this wild mushroom.

  Identification difficulty level: Beginner

Auricularia auricula is better known as the wood ear, jelly ear, or tree ear, it also has an outdated name of jew's ear. In China it's called the black fungus, cloud fungus, black mushroom, or black jelly mushroom. It's widely used as both food and natural medicine, having anti-tumor (anti-cancer), anticoagulant, cholesterol-lowering, and hypoglycemic effects.

As a bonus, it's a fairly easy mushroom to identify, though there are similar looking fungi, they aren't poisonous, and many are actually edible. But, as always, it's your responsibility to make sure you are 100% positive you have a correct identification, by corroborating with several reliable sources and/or local experts.

One note of caution: because of the anticoagulant effects, it's important not to consumer wood ear if you are on blood thinning medications.

Now, on to identification and cooking tips!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Redbud (or any other edible flower) smoothie - vegan, dairy free, gluten-free and paleo and raw diet optional

Omg! How much do you love that color?!?!

That pretty pink alone would energize you throughout the day, never mind that this gluten-free, low sugar, low fat, dairy-free, vegan smoothie recipe is packed with vitamin C, plant-based protein, and antioxidants. Bonus: redbuds are naturally loaded with anthocyanins (one of the most important flavonoids)!

I made my smoothie with soy milk, but if you swap it out for almond milk, it becomes both paleo and raw-diet friendly.

You could swap the redbud blossoms for any other edible flowers if you like, but these fruits do compliment the sweet sour tang of redbud perfectly.

Flower-power redbud and fresh fruit smoothie

makes about 12 oz.

1 large banana
1 cup fresh pineapple, chopped
1 1/2 cups packed redbud blossoms
1 cup ice cubes
1/2 cup unsweetened soy or almond milk
Raw honey or agave, optional
  1. Blend all the ingredients together at high speed. Add more ice or milk, if needed, to get the right consistency. Taste and add honey or agave, if needed. 
  2. Serve it up in a pretty glass, sprinkle some more flowers on top, because it's worth it!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Henbit and dead nettle shakshuka: eggs, greens and feta in a spicy tomato sauce

Shakshuka is spicy, rich, decadent, yet healthy at the same time. The heat level is why it's commonly known as "eggs in hell". It's a vegetarian North African/Middle Eastern/Israeli meal that's eaten overseas for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And it's become a hip brunch meal in some of the hottest West Coast cities. It's vegetarian, gluten-free, low in carbohydrates, low in fat and high in protein. You can omit the feta and it becomes Paleo and dairy-free.

There are a lot of Shakshuka recipes out there, but I've been told that they all leave something out, that when you eat it in the Middle East they add a lot of fresh local herbs and spices, many of which would be foraged. With that in mind, I thought adding henbit to the dish was appropriate, as henbit originates in North Africa.  Dead nettle and curly dock aren't from North Africa, but they have become local here in the US, so I felt they would fit the spirit of adding local greens.

Make sure you only use the top of the henbit plants, as the bottom stems are woody and don't really soften in the dish. I inadvertently left a couple in, and they were the only thing I didn't like.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Identifying spring curly dock: an edible, weedy wild plant

This is one of the most healthy, beautiful curly dock plants I've ever seen

Identification difficulty level: novice

Curly dock, Latin name: Rumex crispus, is an excellent wild plant to know. It provides food for at least 6-9 months, and year-round in some climates. It's fairly easy to identify, and grows abundantly throughout all of non-Arctic North America. Curly dock has a mild flavor, a subtly sour note, and a pleasant texture, making it a very versatile ingredient in the kitchen. Curly dock comes from Eurasia, so it's an invasive species here in the Americas. Invasivore eating is one of the most locally-sourced, extremely sustainable ways to look at food. 

Easy to ID, delicious, abundant, nutritious, and sustainable? I wonder why everyone isn't jumping on the curly dock bandwagon!

Small warning: curly dock has oxalic acid, and should be avoided by people with rheumatoid arthritis and kidney or liver problems, more on that below. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Low carb, keto, gluten-free lasagna made from edible curly dock weeds

Before I started formally foraging, I hit a mental wall. I was afraid to pick wild plants, not because I wasn't sure of my identification, my grandmothers had been teaching me since I was able to walk, but because I was afraid they would go to waste. I thought I didn't know how to cook wild greens. I saw some of the pros make amazing, gourmet meals entirely out of foraged ingredients, and I knew I could never do that.

But eventually I realized I didn't have to. Using foraged wild edible plants is easy. It doesn't need require a million crazy ingredients, expert techniques, or a lot of time. All you need to start foraging and eating is to make simple replacements in your day-to-day meals.

Pasta free lasagna is a favorite dish if you are trying to eat keto, low carb or gluten-free. It usually substitutes strips of zucchini or eggplant for the pasta, but on a whim I made an easy foraged substitution: curly dock leaves!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Vegetarian henbit, macadamia, and asiago pesto recipe. Keto, gluten-free, foraging recipe made with edible "weeds" of early spring

Pesto is one of the easiest and most common ways to prepare wild greens. But just because it's been done with some plants, doesn't mean it's the right way to prepare them.

I've seen, and tried, pesto for greens like chickweed, and I've been a bit disappointed. To me, chickweed tastes like a refreshing Boston or bibb lettuce. It's delicious, but would you make a lettuce pesto? Probably not. The taste of chickweed gets totally lost with spices and cheese and nuts.

Henbit, however, is perfect for pesto. It's like it wants to be pesto. It's rich, intense, herbal. . . the strong flavors really hold their own when blended with others. I feel like this pesto really hits the balance right. I opted for macadamia nuts, with their buttery creaminess to balance the punch of the henbit, and a small amount of sweet white onion -- instead of garlic -- to offset the slight bitterness of the greens.

I hope you try it and agree!