Along the Grapevine


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A Mushroom Dish from Russia

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A local forager had collected an impressive amount of maitake mushrooms (grifola frondosa), and I jumped at the chance to take some off her hands. In this part of the world, apart from in Asian supermarkets, they are more commonly known as hen-of-the-woods, probably because of their clusters of spoon shaped caps resembling fluffed-up chicken feathers.

Native to Japan and North America they are found in wooded areas growing at the base of trees, oaks, elms and sometimes maples. They feed off the rotting roots of the trees, and when found are often abundant. They have long been recognized in Asia for their medicinal properties, and here they are increasingly popular as a rich source of minerals, vitamins, fibres and amino acid. I had never cooked with them before, but the wonderful woodsy aroma that filled my car on the way home indicated I was in for a treat.

I cooked a few immediately in a pasta dish just to try them out. Robust in flavour and firm in texture, they were unlike any other mushrooms I knew of.

I decided to dehydrate the bulk of them, as mushrooms always seem to benefit from the drying process in concentrating their flavour. These required about 8 hours, depending on how thick you cut them, at 135 F or until they are brittle.

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I set aside a few to make a recipe I have been wanting to make for a long time – a dish I used to have in Russia called julienne. I know that usually refers to a method of cutting vegetables, but the Russians adopted many French terms in the old days, making their own original dishes, and this is one of them. It consists of mushrooms cooked in a rich creamy sauce, and served piping hot in little clay pots or sometimes in a pastry shell.

I have no recipe for this, but worked with my memory of how it tasted. I made it a little less rich by using yogurt instead of sour cream, and to prevent it from being too runny, I first strained the yogurt through a couple of layers of cheesecloth for a couple of hours to remove the excess whey. The result was a little more tart than the julienne I remember in Moscow, and not quite as smooth and creamy, but I actually liked it just as well, especially considering I made more than just a little ‘pot’ of it and didn’t want to over-indulge. The cheddar cheese is also a Canadian touch which, in my opinion, works brilliantly.

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Julienne Mushrooms

Ingredients

oil for frying

5 Tbsp finely chopped onion

2 cups julienned mushrooms

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/2 cup white wine

1 Tbsp cornstarch

1/2 cup cream (35% fat)

2 cups yogurt, strained

3 Tbsp finely grated hard cheese, such as cheddar
Method

Fry the onion and mushrooms until the onions are soft and transluscent. Add the seasonings and white wine and heat through to let the alcohol evaporate. Stir in the cornstarch, then the cream and the strained yogurt. Place in oven proof ramekins or a single dish, sprinkle with the grated cheese, and broil until lightly browned and bubbly.


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It is delicious served hot as an appetizer or a side dish. I also tried it cold as a spread with cucumbers.

You can use any kind of good quality, fresh mushroom for this dish, but if you come across these meaty maitakes, I hope you’ll give them a try.


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Stuffed Milkweed Pods

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Milkweed pods late in the season

It is a little late in the season to be collecting milkweed pods. There are still a few small ones on the plants, and by small I mean under two inches, but for the most part they are going to seed now. When I collected pods for my first recipe, I had extra which I blanched and froze for future use. If you don’t have young plants with immature pods or some pods stowed away in your freezer, you could make this recipe just as easily with okra (which has a very similar taste), peppers or zucchinis. In any case, blanche the vegetables first. If you are collecting milkweed pods, please refer to my post on “Milking the Weeds”.

I chose to make a vegan and gluten free recipe. Using polenta, mixed with dried mushrooms and chili peppers, I found there was enough flavour as is – but if you want a richer and non-vegan recipe, add 1/2 cup of shredded hard cheese and/or sprinkle some cheese on top before baking. Use whichever herbs you prefer, fresh if possible. I used thyme, but parsley, basil, tarragon etc. would all be good. I also used powdered sumac as a garnish, but paprika would work just as well. Choose your peppers according to how hot you want it – the serrano peppers I used with seeds made it noticeably hot, but not overwhelming.

Milkweed Pods Stuffed with Polenta

  • Difficulty: Easy
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Ingredients

36 cleaned (seeds removed) and parboiled milkweed pods, between 1 and 2 inches

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 onion, chopped finely

3 cups boiling water

3 Tbsp dried mushrooms, chopped

2 dried chili peppers, chopped

1/2 cup cornmeal

1/2 tsp salt

1 Tbsp chopped fresh or 1/2 Tbsp dried fresh herbs

a light sprinkling of oil and sumac or paprika

Method

Pour boiling water over the mushrooms and chilis and set aside until the water cools.

Fry the onion in olive oil until translucent, but not browned.  Add the water, mushrooms, salt, chili, herbs and cornmeal, and cook over a medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture comes away from the sides of the pan – about five minutes.

Fill the pods while the mixture is still hot. Place them in a shallow casserole dish, and spray or drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle some sumac or paprika on top. Bake in a preheated 400 F degree for about 15 minutes, until they are heated through and beginning to brown on top.

Serve warm. Makes approximately 36 pods.

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Stuffed pods before baking

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Stuffed pods after baking

These make a delicious side dish, or can be served as an appetizer.


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Lily Buds

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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.

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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.

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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.

 


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Beets with wild grape glaze

This is a quick and easy recipe using the wild grape ketchup from my last post. You could do it equally well with other berry preserves or chutneys, but I find the flavour and colour of the grape goes particularly well with the beets, which are now ready to be picked from the garden.

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You can vary the ingredients and quantities as you like, but for those who like clearly written recipes, this is what I did.

6 medium beets

4  onions

1/4 cup oil

2 Tbsp honey

2 Tbsp wild grape ketchup

salt and pepper to taste

Cut the beets and onions into wedges or rings. Fry them together on a medium heat in the oil until the onions are soft, but not brown, about 10 minutes.

Add just enough water (about 1 cup, depending on the surface are of the pan you are using) so that they will not dry out completely. Cover and simmer until the vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally and checking that there is enough liquid. Add the ketchup, honey and seasoning and simmer another couple of minutes.

This recipe can be made ahead and reheated in the oven. The extra cooking improves the glaze.

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Lambsquarters

Lambsquarters
Chenopodium album, meaning white goose foot, related to spinach, rhubarb, beets and chard, known as lambsquarters, pigweed and a number of other names, grows in all gardens in this area – anywhere that soil has been turned. Of all the weeds I pull in my vegetable and flower gardens, fully half of them must be this weed. So if cleaning your garden means you have some healthful and tasty vittels for dinner, you kill two birds with one stone.
Like so many overlooked wild plants, this one is full of good stuff: niacin, folate, iron, magnesium and phosphorus and, even more, dietary fibre, protein, vitamins A, B6 and C, thiamin, riboflavin, calcium, potassium, copper and manganese. If you are still not convinced that this is worth eating, it is a great substitute for spinach, at no cost, and if you pick it in an unpoluted garden free of chemicals and contaminants, probably better than spinach.
If you know how to cook spinach, there is no real need for recipes. Young shoots can be used in salads, and as the plant ages, just pick the leaves off the sturdy stem (discard any blemished ones), rinse well and use as you would spinach.
This recipe I am sharing is one that requires a little more effort than sauteing or steaming, but I think highlights the rich green colour and delicate flavour of the plant. It could also be made with rice, as you would a risotto.
If my pictures are not enough to help you identify it, there are plenty of pictures and descriptions available on the internet, and if you are still not sure if you have it in your garden, check with someone familiar with local weeds – there must be one somewhere near you.
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Barley with Lemon and Lambsquarters

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1/2 red onion, finely chopped

1 cup barley

1 1/2 cup water or vegetable stock

grated rind of one lemon

2 cloves minced garlic

1 Tbsp. mint

1 Tbsp. parsley

1 tsp. salt

4 cups lambsquarters, leaves only.

Heat the oil in a saucepan and fry the onion until soft, but not browned. Add the barley and fry for a couple of minutes, being sure to coat all the barley with oil. Add the garlic and fry for another minute. Stir in the herbs, salt and grated lemon peel. Pour 1/2 cup of the water or stock and stir the mixture occasionally until most of the water has been absorbed. Continue to add water, 1/2 cup at a time. When the last addition of water is made, add the lambsquarters and mix  well until there is no more liquid visible.