Fireweed salad

21 05 2009

I wanted a salad this evening so I grabbed a paper sack and wandered out to see what I could find. For some reason the Claytonia (miner’s lettuce) isn’t very prolific in its usual places. In fact, I could hardly find any! So as I was wandering back to the house pondering yet another “winter salad”, I saw the fireweed patch. Now this is mostly a couple feet tall already, but I did find a few smaller shoots in the garden and elsewhere.

Since I know it can be bitter when larger, I tasted each piece as I washed them. I used scissors and snipped them and the few Claytonia leaves into my bowl with a couple of chopped spears of asparagus. A pinch of kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper, vinegar and oil made for a wonderful first spring salad.

Now I’ll have to keep my eye out for any young shoots left. I shouldn’t have dawdled!

More on fireweed here and here.

Local Foragers on KUOW!

11 05 2009

Listen to local forager Langdon Cook who blogs at Fat of the Land on KUOW’s Weekday show!

Proof of concept

14 04 2009

It may seem like I’ve converted to Pastafarianism, but I’m just taking advantage of the nettles before they get full of flea beetles. This time I made fettucine.

I decided to test my idea of freezing the nettles in the form of pasta so I generously floured them and froze two batches in freezer containers. If they freeze well without breaking or otherwise getting destroyed, I’ll make more but pack them with the vacuum sealer. They would get frosty in these containers with longer storage.

Since it was just me tonight, I made a quick sauce of sun-dried tomatoes, peppers and peas for all the scraps.

Nettle Pasta

10 04 2009

Nettles are abundant as usual this year and I’m trying to find new ways to enjoy them besides the usual sautés. Last month a spinach lasagne meme hit the food blogs and some participants’ “mistakes” inspired me to make nettle pasta. The error in question was a misreading of the typical spinach pasta recipe which calls for steaming the fresh spinach. Those that missed that particular instruction had good results despite using raw spinach in their doughs. This was good news to me since I’m looking for new ways to use nettles without steaming them first.

Of course they’re still prickly so some special treatment is required. First I rinsed the nettles and dried them with a tea towel. Then I carefully placed them into my food processor using tongs. I splashed on about 2 tablespoons of olive oil, a half teaspoon of salt, and 4 eggs. (This would be a good time to add in other herbs and spices if desired. I was going for plain the first go round.) Process until creamy.

Raw nettles bristling in the food processor

Raw nettles bristling in the food processor

Next I added in the flour. I poured in about half a cup or so of semolina flour and the rest was bread flour. You could use whole wheat as well. Add enough flour and pulse until a soft dough forms. It was a couple of cups worth in the end.

Add flour(s) to make a soft dough

Add flour(s) to make a soft dough

Dump the dough out onto a floured surface and …

Green nettle dough

Green nettle dough

knead, adding flour if necessary, until you have a pliable dough. Rest for 5-10 minutes or more.

Form a ball and rest the dough

Form a ball and rest the dough

I rolled it out with my pasta maker, but then just made rough cut squares since that’s what was requested by my rolling assistant.

Nettle maltagliati

Nettle maltagliati

I cooked them for about 3 minutes or so and served them with a quick vegetarian cannellini sauce. The nettle pasta was wonderfully flavorful without any trace of the “earthiness” that nettles sometimes have. I was also happy to be able to cook them only once and avoid washing all the nutrients away in the steaming water.

Nettle pasta with beans

Nettle pasta with beans

I’ll do it again although I’ll make sure to have a bit of bacon or pancetta on hand for the sauce.

This post participated in the “Grow Your Own” Roundup #27 hosted by House of Annie

Nettle Season Begins

22 03 2009

I’ve posted about nettles before and have been excitedly anticipating their arrival. There’s been a lot of snow this winter and I’ve been looking forward to the first signs of spring. For me, that means going out to pick the first stinging nettles.

Yesterday I wandered out the trail that meanders in the general vicinity of our western property line and was able to pluck a small bag of spring shoots. I think this is the earliest that I’ve gone out, but I just couldn’t wait any longer. Normally that loop would net a grocery sack’s worth in mere minutes, but I was able to get enough for dinner at least.

I’m always looking for new ways to prepare them as well. Nettles work great as a stand in for chard, spinach and pretty much any other cooked leafy green. I do find the steaming, squeezing and chopping routine a mite tedious, however, so this time I tried something new.

Nettles sautéing with onions and spices

Nettles sautéing with onions and spices

After rinsing I carefully dumped the nettles onto my cutting board and, keeping my distance, sort of whacked at them with my knife. This resulted in a roughly chopped pile that I then dumped into a pan where I had onions and spices waiting. After a few stirs, the nettles had lost their ferocity and I had a pan of greens that weren’t also soggy. Yay!

I used one of the Spinach Dhal recipes from Complete Indian Cooking by Mridula Galjekar, Rafi Fernandez, Shehzad Husain and Manisha Kanani as a starting point and, with a few substitutions, ended up with a delicious vegetarian meal. I’ve listed original recipe ingredients in brackets and copied the instructions as written.

Nettle Dhal

1 cup split yellow mung beans [chana dhal or yellow split peas]

3/4 cup water

1 tbsp mustard oil [oil]

1/2 tsp brown mustard seeds [1/4 tsp black mustard seeds]

1/2 onion, thinly sliced [1 whole onion]

4 garlic cloves, crushed [2 cloves]

1″ piece fresh root ginger, grated

1 tsp chipotle in adobo [1 fresh red chilli, finely chopped]

1 small bag fresh nettles, roughly chopped [10 oz frozen spinach, thawed]

1 tsp ground cumin [1/4 tsp chilli powder]

1/2 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp garam masala [1/2 tsp]

1/2 tsp salt

1. Wash the chana dhal or split peas in several changes of cold water. Put into a bowl and cover with plenty of water. Leave to soak for 30 minutes.

2. Drain the pulses and put them in a large pan with the water. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 20-25 minutes until soft.

3. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large heavy pan and fry the mustard seeds for 2 minutes until they begin to splutter. Add the onion, garlic, ginger and chilli and fry for 5-6 minutes. Add the spinach and cook for 10 minutes or until the spinach is dry and the liquid has been absorbed. Stir in the remaining spices and salt and cook for 2-3 minutes.

4. Drain the split peas, add to the spinach and cook for about 5 minutes. Serve at once.

Nettle Dhal served with basmati rice, spicy papad and chilli pickle.

Nettle Dhal served with basmati rice, spicy papad and chilli pickle.


11 10 2008

One of the great things about fall (besides the sunny brisk days, changing leaves, and slower pace) is the abundance of free food just lying about the forest floor. The cycle begins with morels in the spring, oyster mushrooms throughout the summer, shaggy manes, myriad boletes, then chanterelles and lobster mushrooms, and finally blewits. That’s a lot of foraging! Go slowly and start with the easy ones, we add about one mushroom per year to our repertoire. Last year we picked morels and chanterelles, this year we added shaggy manes and lobster mushrooms. We’re still working on the boletes (there’s hundreds of them – not all good) and blewits. Puffballs are also a good mushroom, but Keith doesn’t seem to like them so we’ve stopped picking them. Do give them a try!

Of course you can’t just willy nilly pick whatever mushrooms you find and pop them into your mouth so a little research and hopefully help from someone who’s picked, eaten and lived to tell the tale. Remember there are old mushroom hunters and bold mushroom hunters, but no old, bold mushroom hunters. Start with a few good mushroom books, we prefer ones with pictures instead of line drawings, and a couple of handy websites. The co-op and our local bookstores have a pretty good selection. We carry (that’s the ‘royal we’, the dog carries the books, containers, extra bags, mushroom knife and brush in her pack!) The Pocket Guide to Mushrooms and Common Mushrooms of the Northwest. I like All That the Rain Promises as well. The co-op is also a good source to purchase (or inspect) wild mushrooms which can help you identify them in the wild.

Pacific Golden Chanterelle - Cantharellus formosus

Pacific Golden Chanterelle - Cantharellus formosus

Some websites with useful information are:

Fungi Perfecti (Paul Stametz, our local PNW guru, whose books are a must read on the topic)

Morel Mania (check ‘Sightings’ to help with timing and lots of articles under ‘Information’)

The Great Morel (another specialty site)

Edible Wild Mushrooms (good ID reference)

Rogers Mushrooms (good ID reference) (another good ID reference)

Northwest Mushroomers Association (Bellingham group, good ID links too)

Now that you’ve got your books and some websites, mark your calendar for October 19th and get up to Bloedel-Donovan Park in Bellingham for the 2008 Fall Mushroom Show put on by the NW Mushroomers. $5 gets you entry and lots of information about mushrooms, tastings and even identification of any mushrooms that you bring along! We’re not doing much driving these days, but this is one worthwhile event. Carpool anyone?

Once you’ve picked your mushrooms, you need to do something with them. Not all mushrooms get the same treatment so keep that in mind. I learned this when I bought a lobster mushroom so we could taste it and found that it tasted nasty. This year I picked some, did a little research, and then cooked them differently and was very pleasantly surprised! Live and learn.

Chanterelles on the chopping block

Chanterelles on the chopping block

Morels, oysters, chanterelles, shaggy manes: Chop coarsely, place them in a dry pan and sweat over medium heat without crowding. Once they’ve given off all their moisture, douse them in butter, garlic and maybe cream. Alternatively, cool them and refrigerate for later meals or pack into vacuum bags and freeze.

Shaggy mane mushroom - Coprinus comatus

Shaggy manes don’t store well so pick them and cook them right away or they’ll turn black. It doesn’t hurt anything, but does make everything muddy so it’s best to just work quickly. Also don’t use any wine in the cooking or drink any alcoholic beverages before, during or after eating shaggy manes.

You can see the ones on the left are blackening and should be discarded

You can see the ones on the left are blackening and should be discarded

Lobster mushrooms: Lobsters are actually a short-stemmed russula that’s been colonized by another fungus. I’ve noticed that they tend to be kind of dirty and bug-infested so the best strategy is to pick about 3 or 4 times as much as you need and then rinse them thoroughly. I cut off any questionable parts until I’m left with nice clean white interior with no tunnels. Slice the lobsters very thinly and quickly saute in butter and garlic. Serve over pasta, in risotto or on a salad. The flavor is delicate and very much like lobster! They give off a lovely red-gold color so you can use extra butter and drain it off to use in other dishes too.

Lobster mushrooms - Hypomyces lactifluorum & Chanterelles

Lobster mushrooms - Hypomyces lactifluorum & Chanterelles

Apparently boletes taste best if they’ve been dehydrated before using. I still haven’t positively ID’d edible boletes so I haven’t tried them, but I’ve certainly dehydrated morels and chanterelles for storage. Morels do quite well, but chanterelles get a little tough. The flavors are more pronounced for both, however, so it’s a worthwhile practice. I dry them in my food dehydrator and then store them in canning jars with vacuum sealed lids. Sealing them in jars keeps the moisture out and helps them last much longer.

sauteed, refrigerated chanterelles, dried chanterelles, commercial mix, dried morels and tree fungus

L-R: sauteed, refrigerated chanterelles, dried chanterelles, commercial mix, dried morels and tree fungus

Finally, even with all this bounty, I can’t resist buying mushrooms. Every once in a while I’ll pick up a pack of fresh button mushrooms, portabellos, or shiitakes and I always have a big jug of dried mushrooms on hand. I make sure to get Pistol River Mushrooms since they’re nearby in Oregon. I get them at Cash and Carry up in Bellingham for about $14 per jug. I try to make sure that I’m not buying mushrooms grown in China unless it makes sense. I happen to have some tree ear fungus from Hong Kong for example. Not shown in the photo above is a large jug of shiitakes also from China.

So what do I do with all these dehydrated mushrooms? Rehydrate! A little hot water and 30 minutes of time will usually yield good results. A little more time and some Sherry or Marsala wine is even better. They can be tossed into stews as is and I like to powder them up in the food processor and use the mushroom flour for flavoring gravies, soups, meatloaf and even bread dough. It’s great wherever a bit of umami is needed!

Vietnamese salad rolls with lobster mushrooms

Vietnamese salad rolls with lobster mushrooms

Besides just being delicious, mushrooms are a great source of vitamins and minerals particularly B6 and iron which are important for vegetarians. They also have Vitamin D making them a good winter food for us Northerners. Hunting mushrooms is good exercise since it gets you out into the fresh air and it also saves you money. This year I noted that morels were $23/lb., chanterelles were $8/lb., and lobsters were $11/lb. I guess they do tend to up the consumption of butter, garlic and cream, but we can’t win ’em all.

Mushroom Hunter

10 10 2008

Mushrooms have been so plentiful this fall that even our new kitten Dax found a big flush of chanterelles.

More on mushrooms tomorrow!