Posts Tagged ‘eating weeds’

Using What You Have VI: Eating the Siberian Elm


I know a wonderful forager in Flagstaff who mentioned eating Siberian elm leaves, and commented on their mild flavor. I have been meaning for years to look for more uses for the noxious invasive elm, and my goat and chickens eat huge amounts, but I had only found one source alluding to them being edible by people, so I was hesitant. But if Mike says it I believe it, so I was newly inspired to experiment. I could imagine the texture being chewy, as is often the case with tree leaves, so I decided on a context in which the leaves would be chopped very finely. A pasta akin to spinach pasta seemed like a natural experiment.
I was just playing around in the yard, so all measurements given here are inexact. This makes two servings. I gathered a double handful of tree leaves, mostly young Siberian elm tips but also a small fig leaf, a very large grape leaf, and some young mulberry leaves. Fresh pasta only cooks for a minute or two, so I precooked the leaves in the steamer for seven minutes at fairly high heat. Once they were steamed, I turned them out on a cutting board and chopped them roughly with a knife. Then I put a heaping cup of flour in the food processor, added the leaves, and ran the machine until the leaves were chopped as finely as possible. Then I added egg yolks one at a time until the dough formed. For me, this took five yolks. It might be more or less depending on your ambient humidity and your flour. At this point I had a smooth, slightly sticky lump of dough.

I set the dough aside for half an hour to rest, and then set out a cutting board generously sprinkled with flour. I used my Kitchenaid pasta roller to roll the dough, but you could use a hand-crank roller or roll it by hand. Use as much flour as you need to keep it rolling smoothly. I have a metal clothes-drying rack that I use to hang the sheets of pasta as I work with them. This is a good way to keep them organized. Also, they look pretty when sunlight from the window glows through them. These transient pleasures are part of home cooking.


I rolled up the sheets, dusting with flour again, and cut them into linguine by hand because I like the uneven edges that result from hand-cutting. They do have to be delicately untangled after cutting.

Once the pasta is cut, dinner is simple. Heat up a pot of salted water to boiling, and while it’s heating, set out 2 tablespoons  of good grassfed butter and grate a handful of top-quality Parmesan. Have a strainer ready in your sink, and set out two pasta bowls. Have your pepper grinder ready; I have a separate grinder for white peppercorns for more delicate dishes like this one. Put the noodles in the boiling water, keep the heat high, and start testing by biting a fished-out strand as soon as the pot returns to a full boil. Mine was done in about one and a half minutes of boiling. Scoop out about half a cup of water for a “pasta roux” and dump the noodles into the strainer. While they drain, add the butter to the pot, grate about ten turns of the pepper mill over the butter, and return the hot noodles to the pot. This all has to happen fairly quickly, before the noodles stick together. Add most of the grated cheese, toss with two wooden spoons, and add only enough of the pasta water to make the noodles move freely when tossed. Serve into the waiting bowls and top with a bit more cheese.

Here’s how the noodles look before the additional cheese is added. They’re good this way too, but I do like the grainy texture of unmelted Parmesan on top.

We found this absolutely delicious, but then it’s hard to go wrong when you’re using really high-quality Parmesan. It makes everything taste good, so I make no special claims for my leaf pasta. I can say that there is no strong or objectionable flavor of any kind and the texture is light and lovely. It makes use of one of the most Godawful weed trees imaginable, and makes it taste good, and I am satisfied with that. Beyond question, it adds additional fiber to the pasta. What it adds beyond that is unclear, since there is no nutritional analysis of Siberian elm leaves that I can locate. Be satisfied with the fact that you are eating your invasives and they taste good.
This would also be a delicious pasta with some really good olive oil and pinenuts, and it would be excellent for lasagna. I’m also going to try adding some fresh herbs at the processing stage so that their flavor is actually incorporated within the pasta; I think marjoram would be particularly good in this context. Some cream would be great in the sauce.

Dandelions Nose to Tail

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I seldom write about foraging and cooking with dandelions, because although I love them, they are the most written-about wild food and I think it’s all been said before. But yesterday I came across a patch of dandelions growing in a shady spot in moist streamside soil, and last night I challenged myself to make a dandelion dinner with dishes that I had never made before. So no recipes this time, just briefs about how a very impromptu meal came together. I had gathered flowers on the very long stems that form in shady conditions, unopened buds, and leaves.
I hard-boiled some eggs, and made a cup of sauce from 3/4 cup of soy sauce, 1/4 cup of rice vinegar, 2 cloves of garlic chopped, and a tablespoon of grated ginger, plus some sweetener. If you use sugar, to tablespoons might be about right, or just sweeten to taste. When the eggs were cooked and peeled, I set them in the dipping sauce to marinate, using a small plate to keep them completely submerged.
I prepared about two cups (loosely packed) of dandelion flowers pulled out of their bitter green calyxes. This is a tedious job and you might as well sit down for it, but I had my two cups in about 25 minutes. A few calyx tips will stay with the flowers and they don’t matter as long as none of the intensely bitter base is included. I incorporated the flowers into my favorite low-carb drop biscuit dough (use your own favorite recipe) and put them in to bake.
The unopened buds were blanched in boiling water for a minute, drained and squeezed, and put in to marinate in the soy sauce mixture with the eggs.
The stems were 8-10 inches long and barely bitter at all, thanks to the shade and wet soil. I put the stems and some leaf midribs in boiling water to blanch for one minute and drained them. In a skillet I heated coconut fat and fried a handful of 1″ pieces of green onion leaves briefly, then added the blanched stems and a couple of tablespoons of the egg dipping sauce, stir-fried over high heat until the sauce was nearly evaporated, and plated the stems with sliced marinated eggs on top and the marinated buds sprinkled over. I drizzled a bit more dipping sauce over the eggs, which spoils the neat appearance but improves the flavor. I put a Dandy Drop Biscuit on each side, and we ate.

If you question the inclusion of drop biscuits in this essentially Asian meal, well, fair enough. Sometimes my menu planning is based more on ideas I am eager to try then on careful coordination of dishes. Do not underestimate the local household joy produced by a cook who is enthusiastically trying stuff.
Take-home lessons: the stems are really fragile and can get mushy easily, and next time I will cut them in 3-4″ lengths and stir-fry them without the initial blanching. They need a lighter hand than I realized. Also, I was reminded anew how much I like the unopened buds. If I ever harvested enough of them at once, I would stir-fry some with chopped garlic and pickle some like capers.
The alert reader may note that the leaves and roots weren’t mentioned. The leaves are waiting in the refrigerator to be  cooked up tonight. I don’t care for dandelion roots, personally, but if you do, there is scads of information about using them in any wild food book or herbal. I think the highest use for the roots is to leave them in place to produce more leaves, stems, and blossoms.

Appearing now in your salad bowl: Chickweed


Funny how things cycle. When I first learned to forage as a child, I was distressed because I couldn’t find any chickweed near my Louisiana home. Later, when I had a farm in upstate New York, I had plenty of chickweed and came to curse its abundance. Now, in the desert southwest, nature doesn’t offer any chickweed and I had to buy seeds in order to have it again.
Stellaria media, the common chickweed, is a mild and tasty wild salad green, with more nutritional value than many domesticated salad greens. I had to look hard for seed, because it tends to be assumed that everybody has it and wishes they didn’t. I finally found it at Wild Garden Seeds. It appreciates some shelter from our blazing sun, which I provided by planting it in the same row as lettuce and spinach (right in the same tiny trench) so that it could nestle under the larger leaves and stick its head up for picking. The picture above shows this. In my opinion, only the tip of each sprig is worth eating, so I cut one or two inches off each little branch and leave the rest. Eaten alone with no dressing it has a somewhat grassy flavor, but mixed with other greens it’s delicious and adds a certain airiness and lift to the texture of a mixed salad. I use it up for anywhere up to half the bulk of a salad, depending on how much of it I have available at the moment. I have often read that it can be used as a cooked green, but I don’t care for it that way- too bland- and use it only in salads. I plan to let some go to seed, and will also make another planting in the fall, because it loves cool weather.