Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Devil's Club is not a goth bar

Even though I have only tried it once, I must start out by saying that Devils Club is my new favorite wild food!
Devil's Club , also known as Alaskan Ginseng, is a tall shrub with a main stalk covered in long spikes, with large maple like leaves, also spiny. Not fun to run into when you don't notice it tromping through the woods. It is related to Ginseng and has been used medicinally by Native Americans for everything from respiratory ailments to diabetes and arthritis. Medicinally the wood and bark are used, but for a springtime delicacy go for the new shoots. There is only a short window to harvest the tender shoots of this formidable plant before they become to spiney to consume.

At Foraged and Found, Jeremy(the head forager) harvested some Devil's Club shoots for the Herbfarm as a special request. I snuck a handful to try, not realizing I had a small treasure. I sauteed them in butter and tried a shoot. Oh my was it delicious- soft and furry, tender and intriguingly tasting of evergreen trees. This piney flavor is what will make you come back for more.
I continued to build upon my taste test. To the shoots in the pan I added a touch of cream from Golden Glen Creamery, frozen peas( my favorite convenience food), a squeeze of lemon and a few leaves of mint. This is a picture of my tiny spring ragout. I savored every little bite!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Bam! nettles in your face

Nettles are everywhere this year.

If you are looking you probably will find them. They grow abundantly, well, are invasive in parks, farms, roadside lots. But the word is spreading in the cooking world- stinging nettles are awesome. I have read quite a few gushing articles here and there lately and seen many interesting recipes too. Fat Of The Land can't seem to stop talking about them- it's understandable- once you eat them it is easy to get hooked. FOTL has some great posts on nettle tonic and first of spring nettles. At Foraged and Found Edibles we have been selling them since late winter, slowly picking our way through the Northwest towards higher and cooler micro climates, moving on when one area begins flowering.

I thought for my first feature stinging nettles would make perfect sense for Nettletown blog....

Why are nettles so awesome?
First of all, as I mentioned they grow everywhere- prolifically in many places all over the world. Secondly, they are delicious- rich green flavor and a toothsome and delicate texture at the same time. Thirdly, they are incredibly healthy for you (off the charts!)- high in vitamins A and C, protein, iron, calcium, potassium, and magnesium. One of the most widely spread, tasty, and healthiest green wild plants you can find!

Mama always said eat your nettles
My first exposure to nettles as food was through Italian cuisine- nettle gnocchi and nettle ricotta filled ravioli are common nettle imbued versions of these favorites. After years of harvesting I have expanded my nettle repertoire. My favorite use now is in green fillings for Mediterranean style pies, such as a nettle version of spanikopita or something like my recipe in the 2009 Illustrated Wild Foods Recipe Calendar for Flaky Semolina Flatbread Stuffed With Nettles And Herbs. This tasty filling is a great way to use whatever greens and herbs you have foraged or might have in your fridge or garden. Also perfect not only as a bread or pastry filling but also eaten tossed with pasta or in frittata.

In the spring harvest a large bag once a week and just keep it in the fridge adding to dishes throughout the week. Easy to throw into soups, stewed beans, or eggs dishes for extra greens and nutrition. You can even cook a pot full and just have them ready to use. Blanch nettles in boiling water for a few minutes, strain out greens, cool in ice water or on a tray, and remember to save the cooking liquid. Drink blanching water as tea with honey, use for soup stock, or water your house plants.

Pureed nettle soup is always a welcome way to basically just drink the green gold. Nettle, green garlic, and potato soup anyone? Or a miso nettle soup/cure- just boil water add nettles and a slice of ginger or clove of garlic and cook for a few minutes, take off heat, add a spoonful of miso and puree.

Preserving for year round use:
>Freeze cooked nettles- whole, chopped or purreed.
>Nettle pesto- this would freeze well for a couple months.
>Dried nettle possibilities- Teas- a foraged tea mix for boosting your immune system of nettles, elderberries, elder flowers or a morning tea mix of nettles, mate and mint. Infusion- making an overnight infusion of dried nettles increases the health giving properties significantly. Boil water, add dry nettles, cover and let sit overnight. More information about this wonder drink from cavemanfood and Conscious Choice. Dried herb- homemade spice or salt seasoning mixes; crumbled or powdered to enrich soups or pilafs or even smoothies. Dried vegetable- try making a healthy backpacking soup mix with dried nettles, dried porcinis, lentils and rice.

Nettles are one of the first plants to pop out of the ground in early spring. Harvest until flowering in late spring or early summer. As the season progresses head for higher land to find younger plants. After plants get taller than 8 to 10 inches, harvest only the top two sets of leaves for the most tender and nutritious part. As the plant gets older the lower leaves become gritty and tough. Use gardening gloves and scissors to trim just under the top two leaf sets. If you cut close enough you won’t need to trim any tough stem off later when cooking.

And even more from the useful nettle……… There are so many known uses a whole book could be written about this wonder plant. A small list- Make rope out of dried stem fibers; a nourishing survival food if you ever get lost; tea can be used for- watering plants, hair tonic, bath water; nettle rennet is used for cheese making; whip body to increase blood flow( for arthritis or cold temperatures); green or yellow cloth dye; consume in tea or freeze dried capsules to alleviate allergies.

Pork and Dill Stuffed Nettle Rolls in Broth

This recipe was inspired by my friend Mike Klaport, a serious food explorer living in Vietnam. He always wants to stuff everything. One of his crazy ideas (stuffing little leaves?!?) inspired this soup- pork swaddled with delicate nettle leaves, flavored with fish sauce and dill, and floating in perfect chicken broth. These days I can’t seem to stay away from dill-it just seems to make almost everything taste better. For the nettles- you need large to medium sized leaves but I suggest just cooking mixed size leaves and then separating out the bigger ones.

Pork filling:
1 lb ground Pork
3 T dill, chopped
3 scallions, chopped
1 tsp fish sauce
1 tsp soy
1 Tbsp sake or sherry wine
1 Tbsp cornstarch
½ tsp sugar
½ tsp salt
1/3 tsp black pepper, coarsely ground

about 1/3 lb nettles
2 qt Super Easy Asian Chicken Broth (see below)
1 tsp each fish and soy sauce

Mix together pork filling ingredients. Set aside while you prepare nettles. Bring large pot of water to a boil and blanch nettles for 1-2 minutes, remove nettles with and cool in an ice water bath. Save nettle water for another use. Remove nettles from ice water and gently squeeze dry. Sort through leaves and separate large and medium sized whole leaves to use as meat wrappers. Lay out a leaf and place a small spoonful of meat filling on top. Roll nettle around meat into a cylinder shape with open ends. Continue and fill leaves until filling is all used.

If you run out of bigger leaves to use as a wrap just chop some nettles and add to rest of filling and form into meatballs to eat in soup, or pan fry patties to eat separately. Use remaining small nettle leaves for another use. Bring broth to a boil with fish and soy sauce. Taste and adjust salt. Carefully add nettle rolls, adjust heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 5-8 minutes or until done.

Serves four to six.

Super Easy Asian Chicken Broth plus white-cooked chicken
The tastiest most chicken-y light broth. Clear in color and clean taste- perfect for any Asian soup. This is kind of a funny broth recipe because the by-product is perfectly cooked Chinese style moist chicken(called white-cooked), but who’s complaining? Serve cold white-cooked chicken with any Asian dipping sauce. My favorite sauce is chopped scallions, ginger, vegetable and sesame oils, salt.

1 whole chicken, or bone-in chicken quarters(thighs or breasts), 3.5 to 4.5 lbs
4 scallions
4 slices ginger, 1/8 inch thick
a few cilantro sprigs, optional
2 T salt
3 1/2 quarts of water

Rinse Chicken. In a large pot with lid bring water to a boil with remaining ingredients. When water boils add chicken, cover and bring back to a boil. Turn down to low and keep at a simmer for 15 minutes. Turn off heat and let sit for one hour for whole chicken, 40 minutes for pieces. Do not remove lid. Remove chicken with tongs and strain broth. If using whole chicken remove very carefully with tongs placed in the chicken cavity, letting liquid drain. Try not to puncture or tear skin. If serving cold place chicken in ice water bath for ten minutes to firm skin and flesh. Remove and cool in fridge at least one hour. Strain broth through a fine sieve or cheesecloth, skim off fat.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Wild on.... Radio

I was lucky to join a live radio discussion with Steve Sher on Weekday, a morning radio show on KUOW in Seattle. My fellow guests are great contributors to the world of foraging in Seattle-Patrice Benson, president of the Puget Sound Mycological Society(PSMS), and Langdon Cook of the blog and soon to be out book- Fat of the Land. We were invited to talk about foraging, the whats and hows and wheres. It was wonderful sharing the table with Patrice and Langdon, so passionate and knowledgeable. Despite my nervousness, Steve made it fun and easy. I even got a few plugs in about my recipe calendar.
The plan is to come together again for a show in early fall- keep your ears peeled.
Listen to the show here.