Grim's Grub: Try these recipes for wild or domestic veggies
It is that time of year again when I try to get my behind into the woods as often as I can to stock up on some tasty items. Those of you who will not be going into the woods will be happy to know these recipes can be made using domestic vegetables as well.
Most of the wild foods you find in the spring are greens, shoots and roots. With temperatures climbing faster than usual, however, you will want to get out and get your greens now, before they get stringy and bitter.
First and foremost, it is running a little late into the season, but there may be some places in our northern readership area where you can still find fiddlehead ferns. This is the young sprout of the local ostrich fern, recognizable by its brown "fertile frond" that looks like an ostrich feather, its celery-shaped stem and hairless leaves and stems (though they tend to have a papery covering instead). Never harvest more than half of what is on each plant and only harvest them if they are tightly wound.
It's dangerous to say that wild foods taste like anything domestic. Usually they don't really. For example, fiddleheads can be used like brussels sprouts, but they don't taste the same. The wild ones are somewhat earthier and lacking in the flavors that make brassicas popular.
Our next food of choice will be cattail shoots. These are one of the absolutely best wild vegetables. The sad part is that I have not yet found an effective way to store them. The trick is to find the cleanest swampy area you can with cattails. Make sure they are cattails, though, and not iris. Cattail stalks will be round, not flat or diamond shaped.
When young cattail leaves are still close together and up to about 1-2 feet tall at most, you reach down between the outermost leaves going as deep down as you can. Grab that interior stalk as securely as you can and pull it out of the plant slowly. It should feel like the shoot is being pulled out of a tight cluster, you should not feel a snap.
In your hand should be some long cattail leaves with a four-inch white section at the bottom. Test the white part starting from the bottom and working your way up. Gently push your thumbnail into the shoot. It should pierce like butter. Once it is too tough for your thumbnail to pierce, snap it off just below that point. Peel off the outer leaves and repeat once or twice.
These should be cooked before eating. They have a milder flavor than asparagus that everyone should love.
These are usable like young beans or asparagus.
(Or brussels sprouts)
8 cups fiddleheads (2 pounds brussels sprouts)
2 tablespoons olive oil (or bacon grease, melted)
2 cloves garlic, minced (or 3 teaspoons finely chopped ramps)
1 teaspoon chopped thyme
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup shredded mozzarella
¼ cup freshly grated parmesan
Large ice bath
Preheat oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Blanch fiddleheads by boiling them until bright green, then dunk them into the ice bath to cool, then drain.
Toss the fiddleheads in oil, garlic and thyme, then season them with salt and pepper. Sprinkle your cheeses on top. Bake until the bottoms of the fiddleheads are crispy and the cheese is melted and golden (about 20 minutes).
Ginger-Sesame Cattail Shoots
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 ½ teaspoons rice wine
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon minced garlic (or finely minced ramps)
2-3 cups of cattail shoots, cut to 2-inch pieces (or 1 bunch blanched asparagus)
Combine hoisin, rice wine and sesame oil in a small bowl. In a large skillet, heat the peanut oil and sesame seeds over medium heat. Allow this to heat without much stirring until most seeds are browned (about 5 minutes). Add ginger and garlic and stir-fry for 30-60 seconds.
Add the hoisin mixture and stir to combine. Add cattail shoots and sprinkle with salt. Stir to coat the shoots and serve once heated throughout.