Along the Grapevine


14 Comments

Milking the Weeds: Cooking with Milkweed Pods

DSC00988

There are few plants that offer the variety and flavour you find in milkweed – the shoots, leaves, flowers and seed pods. The problem is that all these parts have to be harvested at just the right moment, so if you dally you have to wait for the next season to be able to try out the recipes you thought up during the winter.

The pods are just beginning to appear now, and although they won’t last long you will still have time to pick them if you live at this latitude or further north.

I have already covered the identification of these beautiful plants in recent posts on leaves and flowers, so I will go straight to the topic of this post – the seed pods. These appear just after the flowers wilt, and grow out of each little floret which is why you find them in tight bunches. They don’t all mature at the same time, so you will find several pods of different sizes all snuggled up together. If you just select the pod that is the right size – not too big, not too small, you will still leave enough for the plant to reproduce and keep your garden/field with a healthy crop next year.

DSC00989

Now, a little more about the size. I tried cooking them last year and found that some of the pods were a little post mature so I wasn’t able to write about it. This time, I actually measured the pods, because my impression of ‘under two inches’ was a little off. The recommended size is between 1 inch and 1 3/4 – above that you risk having a tough, wooly pod which is not pleasant at all. In fact, after last year’s attempt I know it is inedible. But the younger pods have a sweet flavour and can be used in all sorts of recipes. If I had to compare it to any vegetable, I would say it is most like okra, but without the slimy texture. They have enough substance to hold their own mixed with other vegetables, and like okra go very well with spicy sauces.

DSC01000

The most common method is to boil them in water and then cook them again as you like, stewed, fried, baked etc. Many recipes call for a change of water and two or three boilings, but with the young pods this is not really necessary as long as they get cooked. In this recipe, they are simply baked in the oven with a crispy batter and then baked a little longer with the sauce on it.

I also used what is referred to as the silk, which is the white fluff inside. If you pick only these small pods (you might want to measure them) the silk will be moist and pure white. There are fine white seeds on one side, but they too are very fine and sweet tasting. It was near impossible to separate the seeds from the threads, so I assumed I should use the whole clump. I saw many references to using this silk instead of cheese, but only by trying it myself did I understand how this works. I hope my experiments save you some time in knowing how to select them and what to expect from them.

DSC01004DSC01001

The first recipe which you can use directly is from Edible Wild Food. I have written my version of it out with a few of my own changes. I made my version vegan, but if you don’t mind some animal product in it you can use an egg instead of the chia seeds and regular milk instead of the almond milk.

Buffalo Style Milk Weed Pods

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

Ingredients

A bowl of milkweed pods measuring between 1 and 1 3/4 inches

1 cup bread crumbs

1/2 flour

1 tsp chili powder

1/4 tsp dry mustard

1 Tbsp sumac powder

1/4 tsp salt

1 cup almond milk

2 Tbsp chia seeds

1/4 – 1/2 cup of water to thin the batter out to the desired consistency

hot wing sauce.

Method

Mix the dry ingredients together. Soak the chia seeds in the milk for ten minutes. Mix everything together and add enough water to make a thick batter for coating.

Coat each pod in the batter and place in an oven proof dish or on a lined cookie tin. I used corn husks to line mine. Bake in a 350 oven for about half an hour until the pods are crisp and dry. Remove from the oven and pour the hot sauce over them. Return to the oven for another 20 minutes.

DSC01003

DSC01012

As I had picked some a little larger than the prescribed size, but still very young, I used these to make the ‘cheese’ Since I had to open each pod, I was able to inspect it and make sure it was not dry or turning brown. To open the pods, there is a barely visible seam on the flat side which opens easily enough just by using your thumb. Slit it open this way and pull out the silk insides. I wasn’t sure what to do with it, but I loosened it up a bit and put it in a bowl. This is supposed to work as a mozzarella type cheese, but I wasn’t sure if it needed pre-cooking. So I made two pizzas – one with ‘cheese’ just dotted on top, and one with ‘cheese’ which I cooked in a smidge of water for a few minutes. There was no difference, but I think the cooked silk could probably be frozen and saved for later use.

DSC01006

The result of this vegan cheese was very pleasant, a bit stringy like mozzarella and sweet. It goes well with any spicy or salty toppings. I won’t give a pizza recipe, just to say that you can use this instead of or along with cheese in your favourite pizza recipe. For my pizza, I made a plain crust with about 1 Tbsp of bullrush flour (the sum total of my harvest for this year). I then covered it with a cheeseless, dandelion and walnut pesto, roasted tomatoes and capers, which were actually fermented milkweed flowers which went very nicely. Drizzle it with a little olive oil before serving.

DSC01007

I still have a few pods left which I will try and preserve for further recipes, as now that I have started I am getting more ideas of what can be done with them. And I really don’t want to have to wait a whole year in order to try them out.


50 Comments

Lily Buds

DSC00964

Earlier in the year, I started experimenting with the prolific wild day lily (hemerocallis fulva), using at that time the tubers and the shoots which I described in this post. Now they are in full flower, but before I use the-full blown flowers, I decided to prepare something with the unopened blossoms. Coincidentally I received a post today on this very plant from Edible Wild Food – a site I often use to help me identify unfamiliar weeds and such – which gives a good description of what is called around here the ‘ditch lily’. If you’re not sure what this plant is or want to learn more about it, I recommend this post. If you have any gardening questions of the wild kind, this is a great source.

My recipe is not really a recipe – just an illustration that these pods can be eaten and are very tasty. The last few days I have been cooking, but not so much my own recipes as several of the super dishes presented at last week’s Fiesta Friday #24, so all I have to bring this week to Fiesta Friday #25 is this simple but delicious dish of vegetables with lily buds. I will be co-hosting again this week, this time with my fellow-Canadian Chef Julianna from Foodie on Board.

It should be noted that some people (some sources say 2%, others 5%) suffer digestive upsets from this plant, so go easy at first if you haven’t tried them before just to be on the safe side as with any new food.

DSC00967

To prepare them as a side dish, I lightly fried some green beans in a mixture of olive oil and butter, added chopped garlic, herbs (in this case fresh tarragon) and seasoning. Then I added the lily buds and fried just a minute or two longer until they looked slightly toasted.

The flavour is sweet, a little fruity and not at all bitter or sour. If you haven’t tried cooking with wild flowers before, hemerocallis fulva is a great one to start with.

DSC00968

And to all the guests at this week’s fiesta, a big welcome. I look forward to seeing what treats are in store for us this time. If you would like to join in the fun, check out how and where here.

 


69 Comments

Dolmas with Rice and Meat

DSC00949

This week I have the privilege of co-hosting Angie’s Fiesta Friday along with Indu of Indu’s International Kitchen and Selma of Selma’s Table. This is the 24th such event, and if you haven’t attended or participated yet, you should check it out. I have come to rely on these gatherings for inspiration and great recipe ideas, and I am sure this week will be no exception.

With all the fresh, organic and free for the picking grape leaves just right for harvesting at this time, I decided to bring some along to the party. Last year at this time I made a vegetarian version of dolmas, or stuffed grape leaves, with chick peas and rice cooked in a slow cooker. For the sake of variation, I made for the first time a meat version for my omnivore house guests, and instead of a slow cooker used my ‘old’ method which requires no special equipment.

First, I picked a bag of leaves – about 4 dozen – choosing good sized ones but still young and unblemished. I blanched them for a few seconds in boiling water, drained and stacked them. At this point, you can freeze them to be used later.

DSC00941

To form the dolmas, place one leaf at a time vein-side up and remove any stem.

DSC00942

Take a spoonful of filling and place it at the base and in the centre of the leaf.

DSC00945

Lift the sides and bottom of the leaf around the filling and fold the edges over the centre.

DSC00944

Roll upwards making a nice neat package. Repeat this with the rest of the leaves.

Line the bottom of a large saucepan with clean, sliced raw potatoes. This will prevent the dolmas from burning or sticking to the pan. It will also leave you with some delicious potatoes to serve with or as a side dish for another meal. Place the dolmas on top of the potatoes, close together and in layers. Pour cold water over them until it just barely covers the dolmas.

DSC00947

Place a heat proof lid or plate smaller than the circumference of the pan but large enough to weigh down all the dolmas so they are submerged. I used a stone cutting board.

DSC00948

Bring to a boil, turn down the heat to a medium and allow to simmer until all the water has been absorbed. You can tell when the water is almost used up by the sound, but to be sure I just tilted the pan a little to see how much there was. The total cooking time was about 3 1/2 hours.

They can be served immediately, kept in the fridge for a few days or frozen.

Dolmas with Meat and Rice

  • Servings: 48 pieces
  • Time: 4 hours
  • Print

1 lb lean ground beef or lamb

1 onion, chopped

1 Tbsp sumac (optional)

2 tsp cumin

1 cup long grain rice

1/2 cup olive oil

juice of 1/2 lemon

1 cup loosely packed mint leaves, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

2 or three potatoes, sliced

48 blanched grape leaves

Mix all the ingredients except the potatoes. Stuff the leaves as illustrated above. Place them in a pan previously lined with potato slices. Add water to barely cover. Place a weight, such as a heat-proof plate or lid on top. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and allow to cook until all the liquid has been absorbed. Arrange in a serving dish and garnish with slices of lemon or pickled onions.

DSC00950

 

 


25 Comments

Milkweed Bud Fetuccine

3DSC00938

I usually try to make original recipes, but occasionally I come across something I haven’t thought of and want to try. Once I tried this recipe for fetuccine made with the leaves and buds of milkweed I decided to bring it to  Angie’s Fiesta Friday #23 and  share it with any of my readers who have milkweed. And if you don’t have milkweed, broccoli leaves and flowers could be used in their stead.

The Forager Chef creates some of the best and most innovative recipes using foraged ingredients I have found. The recipe in its original is here – and you might like to look through his blog to see some of his creations, especially those using a great selection of wild mushrooms.

Two things made me want to try this recipe. First, I have such an abundance of milkweed now as we have tried to encourage its growth for the sake of the monarchs, none of which has shown up yet.

DSC00932

The other incentive was that I really like home-made pasta, especially when it is a recipe which is unusual enough that it is only available if you make it yourself.

I made only minor changes in the recipe. I used lime instead of lemon, and cheddar cheese instead of parmesan. The milkweed has a delicate floral flavour, and the lime zest is a perfect pairing for it. The pasta was easy to work with, but having added just a tad too much water I dusted it liberally with semolina when rolling it and once it was cut.

DSC00935

I blanched the leaves and flowers together along with a few plantain flowers I was using for something else, and used the stock from cooking these  in the pasta and for the pasta sauce.

DSC00930