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Feasting on the Wild Side: Appetizers to dessert with foraged foods!

Before I learned about the wild plants that volunteered themselves in my garden I felt like I just couldn't keep up on 'weeding' these plants out.  I have come around to appreciate the healing and nutritional qualities found in many of the common garden weeds and also delicious ways to enjoy them in my cooking.  My perception of these plants has shifted from seeing them as unidentified and unwelcome to being curious to learn more about them. I have been pondering about how I think of the 'value' of plants; those we plant from seed intentionally and those that volunteer or grow in the wild.  Anyway, it is definitely something worth thinking about.  It is interesting about how monetary value assigned to some crops or plant varies greatly which also affects our perception of them. 

Now, for those of you have seen my garden know that 'there is a lot going on out there' and learning to help all the plants that I tend to live in harmony can be a bit of a challenge.  Basically, I am a bit 'tender hearted' about volunteer plants aka:weeds in my garden, but yes, I do pull them out, but rather than chucking them into my compost, I wash, trim and process them so I can have them easily available for some of my favorite recipes.  I wanted to share some recipes with you to help you celebrate this abundance and hopefully inspire you to see the value of some things you may have pulled from your garden and tossed out.  Plus, they are FREE FOOD!  I couldn't settle on just one plant to focus on this month, so here are some recipes to use some wild edible greens, appetizers to dessert.  These recipes will be featured in a Zoom class I am hosting with friends  Jill Mott and Emily Reese  creators of the 'Scores and Pours' podcast on Saturday August 8 from 5-7:00pm.  Prepare the recipes and then join in the Zoom for chat about foraging wild foods with Betsy, wild naturally fermented wines with Jill Mott and something a little wild in the way of music with Jazz 88 DJ Emily Reese.  Jill has selected some wines that pair well with this wild feast and they will be available for purchase at Henry & Son's wine shop in Minneapolis.  Book the class here!

So, what gifts of nature are popping up in your garden or out in wild spaces?  Some great greens to look for right now are lambsquarter, dandelion greens, wild mustard greens, garlic mustard, woodland nettles, stinging nettles, yellow dock leaves, violet leavesplantainwild grape leaves, purslane, and wood sorrel.  Click on links for images of each plant at the Minnesota Wildflowers site. I find it a valuable resource, so if you value it also, you might consider making a donation to help keep it going.

Some of these greens are beginning to go to seed, but you may also find at the base of the plant some young plants that are 'rebooting'.  Garlic mustard, for example, has gone to seed, but you can definitely find some young plants with tasty greens perfect for eating.  Some of these greens are bitter, such as dandelion and yellow dock, but the flavor mellows a little when cooking.  I like to make a blend of greens so I have a nice range of flavor and also texture.  Yellow dock, violet, plantain and purslane are high in mucilage so it's nice to help balance out the dryness and astringency of nettles and wild mustards.  My strategy to make it easy for me to cook wild is to have a day where I weed my garden, wash and sort those I want to eat and have a pot of salted boiling water on the stove to blanch the greens and then freeze them.  I find that when I deal with the greens right away they don't get shoved to the back of my refrigerator with that good intention of getting to them later.  I have containers of different frozen greens in my freezer to make some of the recipes below, and you will get to know what sort of blends and varieties you enjoy cooking with.  I also like to freeze them in portions that work for a favorite recipe so all I do is thaw it out and use it.  It's like having a package of frozen spinach or kale on hand to cook with, only these greens are free!

Wild greens are also super foods and often contain more nutrients than the greens we are intentionally cultivating in our gardens.  Lambsquarter, for example, is easy to use in cooking just like spinach and loves growing in hot weather, where garden spinach bolts when the weather gets warm, and is also more nutrient dense.  Google the nutrients in wild greens that you have access will inspire you to include them into more of your cooking.

Let the dinner party preparations begin!  

Fermented Grape Leaves

In the woods near our home I have noticed so many wild grape vines and lovely clusters of little wild grapes too!  They grown continually through the summer and when you gather the leaves for eating gather the ones that are newest but also about the size of your palm so they are a good size for wrapping around your favorite filling, or wrapping marinated goat cheese or feta cheese.   These will keep well through the winter. Grape leaves are loaded with vitamins and minerals and fermenting them is great for your gut health.  

1 quart-sized canning jar and lid

40-50 wild grape leaves (if you are growing grapes, you can use cultivated grape leaves also)

2-3 cups filtered water

1 1/2 tablespoons Himalayan sea salt

3 Tablespoons liquid from another ferment, such as sauerkraut or kimchi

Wash and dry the grape leaves and snip off the stems with a scissors.  Make 5 stacks of 8-10 leaves and roll each stack large end to small end like rolling a cigar and pack the bundles into the canning jar.  Reserve one large leaf to fold into quarters over the top of the bundles.   Whisk the water, salt and ferment liquid together until salt is dissolved and pour over the grape leaves.  Loosely cover with the canning lid and allow to ferment for 5-7 days, depending on the temperature of your home.  When you notice a few bubbles in the liquid and the leaves are less deep green, tighten the lid on the jar and refrigerate.  They are now ready to use as an accoutrement for a cheese plate, of fill with a mixture of cooked ground lamb, rice, pine nuts, dried currants and fresh herbs or wrapping around herbed goat cheese or another favorite filling.  These will keep at least 2-3 months refrigerated. 

*I actually had some fermented grape leaves leftover from last year in the back of my refrigerator and they still tasted great!

Chorizo, Potato and Manchego Stuffed Grape Leaves

Now that you have your gorgeous jar of grape leaves, how can you use them?  I've been enjoying this recipe with a filling that is sturdy enough to be warmed up on the grill.  I make the filling ahead of time and freeze in smaller batches to have available for those pop-up social but distant opportunities present themselves.

Fills 15 grape leaves

2 medium yukon gold potatoes

1/2 pound raw ground chorizo sausage (vegetarian chorizo can be subbed for this)

1/4 cup chopped pitted green olives

1 cup lambsquarter leaves or other wild greens (sub spinach, Swiss chard or kale for non-wild options)

1/2 cup grated manchego cheese

Put the potatoes in a medium saucepan and cover with water.  Simmer them in their peels until they are tender, about 25-30 minutes.  Remove from the water and remove the peel, and gently mash.  Heat a medium skillet and crumble in the chorizo meat and cook through.  Stir in the potatoes and cook over medium low heat, stirring to coat the potatoes with the chorizo fat. Stir in the olive and the wild greens.  Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.  Stir in the manchego cheese.  Taste and add salt and pepper according to your taste.  Lay a grape leaf, back side up, on a cutting board and scoop 2-3 tablespoons of the potato chorizo filling  in the center of the leaf and roll like you would a burrito, tucking in the left and right edges over the filling, and then roll from the stem end to the tip around the filling to enclose the filling.  Larger leaves can accomodate more filling, smaller ones need less filling.  To warm either grill over lower heat, turning to warm each side for 1-2 minutes or heat in a saute pan, turning to heat through evenly. These can be rolled and kept in the refrigerator a day ahead if you like.  Extra filling can be frozen and also makes an excellent omelette filling!

Wild Greens-i-kopita

This is my favorite way of preparing wild greens, especially for those who are new to eating wild foods.  It is a wild version of the classic Greek dish Spanikopita. Fat and salt can go a long way to make bitter greens more palatable to those not as inclined to enjoy the bitter flavor.  

Makes 9 triangles

1 cup blanched mixed wild greens such as lambsquarter, yellow dock, dandelion, wild mustard, ground ivy, nettles and plantain (you will discover your favorite ratio and blend)

Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped

1 egg, beaten

1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

1/3 package of Phyllo pastry (from a 16 ounce package--you will find this in the frozen dough section of most grocery stores or at a Middle Eastern market)

1/2 cup melted butter, ghee or clarified butter (can make half of this mixture olive oil if you like)

Chop the mixed wild greens coarsely.  Mix together in a bowl with salt, pepper, mint, egg and feta.  Divide the phyllo  into thirds by thawing and cutting it still in the plastic wrapper crosswise into 3 equal sections.  Refreeze two of the portions and unroll the remaining section and lay on a cutting board.  Taking one sheet at a time, brush the sheet with melted ghee or clarified butter and top with another sheet.  Brush this sheet with ghee and then arrange a scant 1/4 cup of the spinach filling in a triangle shape on one of the lower narrow edges of the phyllo.  Fold into triangles as though you are folding a flag, folding until the filling is enclosed in the phyllo.  Brush outside of each triangle with butter.  Here is a video that may help you if you need a visual.  You can make these a day ahead and keep refrigerated or freeze if you like.  I often make a bunch and freeze them for later.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Arrange the triangles about 1" apart on the baking sheet and bake until golden brown on the top and edges, about 25-30 minutes.  Enjoy hot or cool to room temperature.

Betsy's Green of the Day Tots

My guilty pleasure to feed my inner child is tater tots. I guess I grew up in the age of 'Tater Tot Hot Dish'  and just can't deny that occasional craving.  Here is a recipe I created to add a little bit of wild into them.  I change this up depending on what I have, but it's great with nettles, dandelion greens or creeping charlie.  Not feeling wild but have lots of herbs in your garden?  Add plenty of chopped fresh herbs to suit your palate.  I have fried these in duck fat (another 'guilty pleasure') but olive oil or even coconut oil work great also.

Makes 16-20 tots

4 small or 2 large russet potatoes

1/3 cup sweet white rice flour

1 teaspoon salt

Fresh ground black pepper to taste

1/4-1/2 cup blanched chopped wild greens, excess water squeezed out

2-3 Tablespoons fresh herbs

Oil for frying (duck fat, peanut oil, olive oil or other oil suitable for frying)

Place the potatoes,  unpeeled, in a saucepan and cover with water.  Bring to a simmer and simmer until just tender.  When they can be pierced with a knife, remove from the water and cool enough to remove the skin.  When they are cool enough to handle, grate the potatoes with a coarse grater into a bowl.  Add the rice flour, salt, pepper, greens and herbs to the potatoes and mix together using your hands until uniformly mixed.  Press the mixture together and form 4 small 'ropes' about 1" in diameter and cut into little tots with a sharp knife.  Heat oil in a deep fryer to deep fry.  Alternatively you can heat 1/4" of oil in a skillet and pan fry the tots, turning to brown each side.  Fry the tots over medium high heat and serve hot.  The tots can be made in advance before frying and stored in the refrigerator or freezer.   They work best fried and not baked in the oven, unless they are first fried to brown and then could be frozen and reheated in the oven.

Grilled Flank Steak and Vegetables with .....

Chimi-Charlie (Chimichurri) Sauce

Take a wild twist on a classic Argentinian sauce. Chimichurri makes a zesty sauce to drizzle over grilled vegetables or meats, roasted potatoes, rice dishes or even a fried egg.  If you want to add more wild edibles to this recipe, sub 1/4 cup chopped garlic mustard greens or ramp leaves for the garlic.   

1/2 cup finely chopped Italian Parsley

1/4 cup Creeping Charlie leaves and stems, finely chopped

2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced 

1/2 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes

3 Tablespoons red wine vinegar

pinch salt

1/4-1/3 cup olive oil

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl.  If you want a smoother sauce, blend with an immersion blender.  Adjust seasonings to taste and use immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Rub the flank steak on both sides generously at least a couple hours or up to a day ahead of grilling with some of the chimi-charlie sauce. Grill the meat to your preference along with your favorite vegetables.  Serve with remaining chimi-charlie sauce.  

Wood Nettle Panna Cotta

Laportea canadensis, the woodland nettle is one of my favorite wild edibles that smells fragrant, like a jasmine green tea to me when I am gathering them.  This divine aroma led me to imagine all sorts of delightful sweet recipes with them, although they are definitely nice in savory dishes as well. There are soooo many wood nettles near me and they grow in beautiful cloud-like patches on the edges of the woods throughout Theodore Wirth Park.  They have a softer, more elegant look than the Urtica dioca, or stinging nettle, but that doesn't mean they don't have a fierce sting so use caution when you gather them.  I like to blanch and freeze these nettles in unsalted water and found that this recipe is much better using fresh or frozen blanched nettles than dried.  

Makes 4 (4 oz) servings

2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin powder

1 Tablespoon cold water

2 cups heavy cream or half and half

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (which is totally worth it, or can use 1/2 a vanilla bean, split)

1/2 cup blanched chopped wood nettles, pureed

Brush 4 4-ounce ramekins lightly with a neutral flavored oil.  Sprinkle the gelatin over the 1 tablespoon of water in a small bowl and allow to soften. Heat the cream or half and half in a saucepan with the sugar and vanilla bean and stir until sugar is dissolved.  Stir in the nettle puree and the softened gelatin and mix until smooth. Strain through a strainer if there are any larger bits of the nettle and divide mixture into  the ramekins and refrigerate until set, at least a couple of hours.  This is great if you make it a day ahead of serving. To  unmold the panna cotta, run a sharp knife around the edge of the ramekin and turn onto serving plates.  Garnish with fresh summer berries or cute wood sorrel leaves if desired.

Wild Foods, Wild Wine and Wild Women: 

Feasting on the Wild Side with Betsy Nelson, Jill Mott and Emily Reese

Saturday, August 8 from 5-7:00pm

Gather your quarantine pod friends and join us for a virtual but wild dinner party.  Prepare a few or all of hte the wild foods recipes in this newsletter and pick up the wild wines chosen by Jill Mott at Henry and Son's wine shopEmily Reese, our favorite radio DJ at Jazz 88 will choose some special dinner party music to make it more festive.  If you can't find some of these wild ingredients, reach out to Betsy and I can help you find them.

The chosen wines are: (they can be pre-ordered online at Henry and Son's)

Herve Villemade Cheverny Rose'

Poderi Cellario "La Grinozza" Sparkling Grignolino

Ticket Price $10 and part of the proceeds will go to support Appetite for Change,  an organization working for food justice in North Minneapolis.  Please consider donating more to Appetite for Change if you are able.  Also, please consider being a patron of Jill and Emily's podcast 'Scores and Pours' at Patreon.

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