Posts Tagged ‘shoots’

An Assortment of Shoots

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Last night I decided to try a grand assortment of the shoots found on or near my property right now. All would be oven-roasted in olive oil and salt at 500 degrees except for the garlic shoots, which are getting a bit tough this time of year as they elongate toward making scapes and need gentle stewing in olive oil over low heat for a long time, 25-30 minutes. They were cooked sparately on the stovetop.

The materials that I had to work with included a good-sized bundle of hops shoots, which I have shown many times before, and all of the following:

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Tender cattail shoots are shown in the upper picture. The one below shows, from left to right:

  1. Annual arugula shoot with buds only just beginning to show.
  2. Dock shoots harvested before any flower buds show.
  3. Carrot shoots from some roots that I didn’t get around to harvesting.
  4. Stalk of a sunflower picked at about 18″ tall and the very fibrous outer layer carefully peeled off.

They were tossed separately in olive oil and a little salt and kept in separate piles on the baking parchment so that we could discern the flavors accurately. All but the arugula were cut in sections an inch long or less to mitigate possible stringiness. I added a couple of chard stems cut in 1/4″ cross sections, after I used the leaves for something else.

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Roast away in a preheated 500 degree oven, checking frequently and removing each at its preferred stage of doneness, i.e. when it looks roasted but not burned.

Consensus:

I have been writing about green garlic all season, so no need to say anything more except that, as always, they were delicious.

I love cattail shoots but my husband finds them only passable. Probably for solitary dinners in the future.

Love hops shoots with their feral, mildly bitter, “unimproved” flavor. Love them.

Sunflower stalks have a pleasant enough, rather innocuous flavor and nice texture when carefully peeled. There are those on the Internet who claim that they just pluck them and eat them. These people have probably never been near a sunflower. More on this later.

I have not yet found any way that I like chard stems except roasted and  ground into a fairly good baba ghanoush. Eaten alone, there is a touch of dirt in the flavor that doesn’t do it for me.

Dock shoots were amazingly good, with a soft center tasting of lemon with a strain of bitterness. Be sure to cut into sections before cooking to eliminate the stringy factor, and pull large leaves off. Smaller ones can be left in place and are tasty.

The arugula shoot was very slender but a bit stringy anyway. They, too, need to be cut into sections. Delicious though, although they are small and it would be tedious to pick enough for a meal.

Carrot shoots were the real surprise. When roasted in sections they were tender, sweet, and full-flavored with a touch of the terpene scent that makes carrot foliage smell aromatic and carroty. The remaining leaves got brown and crisp during roasting and added textural interest. I liked them so much that I am going to leave the rest of the row of woody second-year carrots in place until they produce shoots. Even when the roots are at this advanced stage my goat loves them, so the roots will not be wasted.

Initially I wanted to taste each type of shoot individually, but I will make a grand mixture in the near future by sorting sections roughly according to size, i.e. thin, medium, or thick. Then I’ll pan-fry them in olive oil in my biggest skillet, putting thick ones in first, then two minutes later mediums, followed by thin bits in another two minutes, then cook until done. Yum.

Look around you and see what’s producing shoots right now. If (and only if) you’re certain that the foliage of that plant is edible, try them out in hot olive oil. I enjoyed goji berry shoots a little earlier in the season, and will be trying wild lettuce and sow thistle within a week or two. Some grapevines produce delicious shoots, although some ( most notably my Concord vine) have so much papery fiber in the leaves and shoots that I consider them inedible; read more here.

 

 

 

The Shoots of Spring

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This is the great season for hops shoots. I gather a large handful every day or two, taking care to snap them off where the stem is tender and brittle. I wash them, cut the bundle crosswise in pieces about an inch long, toss in a hot skillet with a generous amount of good olive oil, and sauté over medium-high heat, turning frequently, until the stems are tender and  some of the leaves are brown and crisp. Add salt and serve. They have a “wild” and slightly bitter flavor which I love alongside very flavorful meaty main dishes.

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This spring I started to experiment with other shoots. I have been eyeing the invasive tendencies of my goji bushes, which routinely send suckers out 10 feet to send a shoot up right where I don’t want another goji plant. They are turning up everywhere as the weather warms.

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I knew that their foliage was edible but had never been much impressed with the taste, and there aren’t many leaves per bush. The shoots, on the other hand, are bulkier than the leaves, green, tender, and a nuisance unless removed. Yesterday I gathered young shoots of  silene (bladder campion,) goji berry bush, perennial arugula, and alfalfa to experiment with ( shown L to R below.) I wouldn’t try cooking with any shoot that didn’t break off with a clean, brittle snap. You don’t want them woody.

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I didn’t cut them up, just washed them and let them drain. Then they were put in a skillet with some olive oil and fried over medium-high heat until the leaves were crisp and browned. I would guess that it was about two minutes a side. Watch carefully; the line between browned and burned is crossed in milliseconds.

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They were drained on paper towels, salted, and eaten.

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They were actually a rich brown in spots, not black as they appear in my photo. The alfalfa and silene shoots were crisp and pleasant enough to eat, but all I could taste was olive oil and salt. I had used a wonderful olive oil so I didn’t mind that, but I do like a vegetable to taste of itself.  The stars were the goji and perennial arugula shoots. The hot and mustardy flavor of perennial arugula was tamed and made interesting but not excessive, and the goji shoots had an herbal flavor and a delightful texture. I will definitely cook them again. I can easily cook them for my husband and myself, but they need lots of room in the skillet to crisp, so I don’t think it’s practical to make them for more than two people. They are too fragile to withstand being dipped into anything, and are best eaten on their own. They are a passing fancy and to be enjoyed as such.

I only wish that all my invasives could be dealt with by eating them.

There are many other shoots to consider, and this is a time of year for perennial veggies to shine. Meaty young milkweed shoots should be wonderful. It has taken me three years to get a milkweed patch to germinate so mine are still spindly infants, but if you live in an area where it occurs naturally, do give it a try. Asparagus, the classic shoot, is wonderful when pan-fried like this. Young slender green onions can be treated this way with good effect, and green garlic could be great, although in this one use I would use only the white part, since the leaves can seem stringy if not chopped in cross-section. I will soon be experimenting with shoots of young wild lettuce as it starts to bolt. I think these would need to be blanched first to reduce bitterness, but I’m not sure yet.  I’m very fond of using the fresh tender shoot-tips of coppiced mulberries as a green, and I think they would be very good given this treatment, but they don’t come along until about June, so it will be a while before I find out. See here for a discussion of the ins and outs of selecting and eating mulberry leaves.  The young second-year stems of chard leaves that emerge when an overwintered plant sprouts in the spring, before it starts bolting to seed,  might be good for this, trimmed of their green leafy bits and maybe cut in inch-long chunks if they seem a bit on the stringy side. And I have written before about using the young flowering shoots of scorzonera this way, and they are definitely the highest culinary incarnation of that tough perennial.

I often mention Cook’s Treats, the series of improvisational tapas for one that I enjoy in the kitchen when nobody’s looking and I’m doing other things. Four or five tasty shoots, thrown in your smallest skillet with olive oil while you’re working on other things, make a great cook’s nibble. You will need to give them your undivided attention for a few minutes and that’s all, which fits well into the rhythm if many kitchen tasks.

Scorzonera Finds Its Purpose

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Five years ago, when we first moved to our current property, I planted some scorzonera with the idea that it would be a good root vegetable for fall. When fall came, I dug up a root and prepared it, and found it stringy, hard to prepare, and not all that interesting to eat. I had two good-sized plants, and I never got around to digging up the second one. The next spring it sent up attractive green leaves, and although it was in a spot that I never remember to water, it flourished all summer on the 11″ of rain that we get in an average year. Impressed with its stamina, I left it in place. By the time it came up the third year I had read that the leaves were edible, so I tried them but found them undistinguished and didn’t bother with them again. The plant continued to earn its place by being bright green and trouble-free. This year, its fifth year,  the plant began to send up bloomstalks at a time when I had a free afternoon and a propensity to experiment, and I discovered scorzonera asparagus, the plant’s culinary reason for existing. Gather the top 4-5 inches of each scape while the buds are still tightly closed and held close to the stalk, wash well, and toss into a hot skillet with a generous glug of good olive oil and salt to taste. Turn the heat down to medium now. Turn them often so that they brown in spots but don’t blacken. Don’t walk away from the stove! They are done when the leaf tips are fried brown and crispy, and the stalks are just cooked through. Eat promptly, as the semi-wild treasure that they are. I made a little plate of them to be a “cook’s treat” in the kitchen while I was cooking something else, and unwisely offered my husband a taste, which resulted in him eating most of them. They’re good.

This tough-as-nails perennial grows in the desert with little care besides the initial planting and weeding when it’s small, and I plan to plant more. I do offer it some water to make it grow big and bountiful.  I may have called the leaves “undistinguished,” but if other spring greens ever fail me, I guess I’ll be glad to have them. It took me a while to learn to use it well, but this plant earns its place in the food garden.

 

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Books Worth Reading: John Kallas on Edible Wild Plants


The holiday weekend was a great time to read in a warm spot, which reminded me that I should be sharing more of the books that I think are really helpful. I should add that I don’t accept free review copies; whenever I review a book, I paid the same price for it that you will. I think that this is essential to an accurate judgment of the value-for-money aspect of the books that I recommend.
With that in mind, John Kallas’s Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate is a very good value if you want to get started in foraging. I get a lot of inquiries about wild foods, and this is a book that I can recommend without reservation to any beginner; if you read and pay attention, you will learn to collect a number of common plants safely and prepare them well. Kallas concentrates on leafy greens which are found in most parts of the country, and he organizes them by flavor category in addition to giving accurate botanical and ID information. This is a lot more useful and practical than you might realize if you aren’t accustomed to foraging for greens. A well-balanced dish of greens needs a range of flavor notes, as well as a base of mild greens to build upon, and as you learn the plants from Kallas you will learn the notable aspects of their flavors. In my opinion, nearly any experienced forager could pick up a tip or two here, about preparation if not about identification.
Only greens and shoots are found in this book. If this seems too limited, keep in mind that most of us aren’t going to spend the time needed to forage and prepare wild staples, at least not most of the time. It’s romantic to read about gathering wild rice or arrowroot, or to imagine spending a clear autumn day gathering and storing fruit or nuts, but the wild foods that are widely available throughout much of the country for much of the year and that you can forage in a few minutes on your way home from work are mostly greens and shoots. Besides, if most of us were to make one change in our diets and maintain it, the addition of more green veggies would be a good one to pick. If foraging gets you to eat more leafy greens, this is a good thing.
If, like me, you’re a Kindle addict, this book is available on Kindle. I use the Kindle app on my Ipad so that I can see the photos in color. I daydream about eventually having a large collection of good foraging books on one e-device that I can carry around in my backpack, but unfortunately most of the wild-foods books available for Kindle are not of high quality. This one is.
DR. Kallas’s website can be found here if you’d like to order the book directly from him. You can also read his reviews of foraging books, and his thoughtful comments are invaluable when deciding what books you want to add to your collection.