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!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Deadnettle and Henbit: two edible, medicinal herbal weeds of early spring

Left: purple deadnettle, right: henbit

Deadnettle identification difficulty: Novice
Henbit identification difficulty: Beginner

These two weedy wildflowers of early spring are very similar. They both have dark green leaves, bright pink/purple flowers with long necks, and grow low go the ground, no higher than 6" or so. Both somewhat resemble nettles, but neither have a sting. They frequently grow together, and are often confused for one another, so I thought I'd do a combo post about them.

Caution: deadnettle should not be taken while pregnant or trying to become pregnant.

This is purple deadnettle, Lamium purpureum. It's also known as red deadnettle and purple archangel, and it has a closely related variety, called spotted deadnettle, Lamium maculatum, whose leaves have white spots or patches.

This is henbit, Lamium amplexicaule, sometimes called henbit deadnettle. I've also found it in a white-flowered variety, which I'm having a hard time getting info about, so I can't tell you the Latin name, but I've tried it, and it seems to be perfectly edible as well. Nearly all mints are edible, so it's a fairly safe family to try in small amounts, before you move on to whole meals

white henbit

Both are wild herbs in the mint family, but don't taste like mints. Lots of our herbs are actually mints, including basil, sage and oregano. Like many other herbs, deadnettle and have medicinal properties, and can be used as a food and flavoring. Because deadnettle and henbit are closer to the wild, many feel that their medical qualities are stronger.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

10 Essential foraging tools you can get used at thrift stores,estatesales, and garage/yard sales

Foraging can be expensive. Quality, forager-specific books aren't cheap, but are essential, as they can save your life. You're not likely to find good foraging books used, but most of the other gear you need can be picked up for a few dollars -- if you're patient, and keep your eye out!

My $3 thrifted backpack has held up for quite a while
1. Backpack

A good quality backpack is one of the most essential foraging tools. It's the easiest way to carry your finds through the woods, over rough terrain. It should have comfortable straps, ideally padded, and be a good size for your body. Lots of pockets and pouches for organization are also a plus.

I picked this one up at a church rummage sale for $3. It's perfect because it's durable, has several compartments, so I can store tools in one, and edible finds in another, and it's not too large. As a short woman, bulky backpacks can shift around a lot, especially when overfilled.

Of course, a great haul will more than fill this bag up, which is why I keep 2 canvas grocery bags inside. On a good day, I come out with one in each hand, filled with mushrooms!

Best place to find: garage sales, thrift stores, rummage sales, church/community sales

This large basket would be $15 at a craft store,
but thrifted for only $1
2. Large basket with a handle

Baskets are considered a must-have for a mushroom enthusiast, many guided forays will require that you have one. Many mushrooms squish easily, and the safest way to store them, in-tact, for identification is laid out flat in the bottom of a large basket. For your own connivence, get one with a handle.

In addition to mushroom hunting, I like my basket for walks to through the neighborhood, or to the local park - anyplace that doesn't really require the backpack. Wild herbs and smaller plants and edible flowers (think wood sorrel, young nettles) are better kept in a basket, where they don't run the risk of crushing or bruising.

Best place to find: thrift stores, rummage sales, estate sales, church/community sales

Friday, February 3, 2017

Two chicks quesadillas: vegetarian with chickweed, chickpeas, feta and wild mushrooms

Finished chickweed, chickpea, feta and wild mushroom quesadilla

Like pretty much everyone, I'm sure, one of my goals in the new year is to eat better and hopefully loose weight. The second is hard, but the first is relatively easy, if you devote the time and effort into it, and treat it as an investment in yourself.

Of course, that's easier said than done. 

One problem I've always had was being so busy in the work week that I just get some fast lunch, usually something fried. Then I work late, so I don't feel like cooking when I get home. . . Eating out can quickly get out of control.

Enter the meal prep. I've decided to take time when I can, on the weekends, and make healthy, easy to re-heat meals that I can eat at my desk if I absolutely have to. Last week's mushroom pizza was a good one, and so is this week's chickweed, wild mushroom, chickpea and feta quesadilla, high protein, healthy fat and quality carbs, clocking in at under 400 calories. 

This vegetarian meal can easily be made vegan, if you use vegan cheese, or omit the cheese entirely. 

Chickweed, at the perfect stage for harvest

Chickweed, Stellaria media, is a super nutritious wild plant, which is finding it's way back into cultivation. Eat chickweed for a lot of vitamin C, as well as B vitamins and beta carotene. It's also got more minerals than your average plant, boasting high amounts of calcium, magnesium and potassium.

Because of the CHICKweed and CHICKpeas, I'm calling this the Two Chick Quesadilla!