Friday, May 22, 2009

Thrifty Kitchen: Pull your weeds (and eat them, too)

Greetings, lamb's quarters, and welcome to my fork. I hope you like it here, because you are tasty. Also, you grow like a weed. In fact, you are a weed. All summerlong, I plan on pulling you out of the cracks in my driveway and eating you in salads. I really hope you don't mind.

This month's Thrifty Kitchen post is about foraging. I'm not talking about hardcore nuts-and-berries roots-and-grubs foraging. No one's sitting here rubbing two sticks together. The foraging I do mostly involves the five minutes before dinnertime, and the aforementioned cracks in my driveway.

Because I'm an oddball with lots of plant knowledge, (that was my obsession at approximately age ten, thank you very much Jean Craighead George) I noticed that quite a few of our unwelcome sidewalk sprouts were weeds of the tasty variety. One night, I took a pinch of this and a touch of that, and threw it into our dinner.

And what happened? Well, we thrilled in our weed salad. Our charmless bagged romaine became instantly hip and exciting. There were interesting new textures and flavors to behold, plus the thrilling bonus of eating weeds for dinner, and liking it. Bear with me, this isn't as crazy as it sounds.

Really. To my way of thinking, this is the perfect salvation for boring grocery-store lettuce. Those fancy bagged mixes with their sprigs of radicchio and endive, who needs 'em? The "mesclun" I can pull from my flower garden is way more fresh and delicious than anything from the store. And, oh yeah, it's free.

Let's meet our dinner guests:

L-R: Dandelion, Lamb's Quarters, Violet, Yellow Wood Sorrel.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis)
Flavor: sharp and nutty, not unlike arugala.
When to pick: The smaller the leaves, the milder the flavor. You want to catch the plant before it's flowered, ideally, and take the smallest of the leaves for your salad. When the plant gets bigger, the greens can be sauteed or added to soups.

Lamb's Quarters (Chenopodium album)
Flavor: very mild and spinachy.
When to pick: Again, the smaller the leaves, the more tender they will be. The leaves get less tender throughout the summer, though the flavor is always gentle and agreeable. We use this one a lot.

Violet (Viola spp.)
Flavor: Mild and earthy.
When to pick: All season. The flavor is always good.

Yellow Wood Sorrel (Oxalis stricta)
Flavor: Pleasantly tart and lemony.
When to pick: All season.

In my experience, these weeds are all pretty common on the quarter-acre I call home. Violets grow in the shadier parts of our lawn, dandelions grow in the sunnier spots. The other two I'm pretty sure could grow on the moon-- they spring up everywhere the soil's been turned over recently. For help identifying the edible weeds native to your backyard, pick up a book on the subject. Euell Gibbons' famed Stalking the Wild Asparagus is one of the best, in my opinion.

Read about your weeds, identify them and pull them. And then settle back with a "wildcrafted" mesclun salad, a glass of good wine, and a smug little smile. Eating weeds. Who would've thought?


rachellake said...

yes! my side of the mountain reference.
hands down my favorite book from childhood. I actually brought it back from my dad's house a few weeks ago thinking it needed a re-read.
bravo on the foraging, not sure if I'd have the nerve to eat anything growing around my apartment complex.

Zoe said...

Thats so cool!

Kristina Strain said...

Rachel-- My Side of the Mountain was my favorite, too. If you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I'd tell you, without blinking, "Sam Gribley."

You do have to be choosy about where you forage-- dandelions watered by doggies are a poor choice. :)

Unknown said...

Your salad looks amazing.... I love the kind with pecans & cranberries & goat cheese :o) Mmmm!

Linnea said...

Mmmmm, I wonder if parents and teachers consider just how much certain books can influence at a young age. Excellent post to encourage the art of foraging!

Liz said...

I must try this hahaha! We have so many dandelions around here - now i know exactly what to do with them!

boatbaby said...

Fabulous! I need to book mark this to refer to later. I am worried about my not too keen eye for plant identification. Beyond dandelions I am a little fuzzy, but hoping to learn.

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