Posts Tagged ‘wild food’

Mulberry Heaven II: Mulberry Leaf Dolmas

As I mentioned in my last mulberry post, I’m fond of eating very young mulberry leaves in cooked greens mixtures, and recently I was inspired by a post on TC Permaculture to think about mulberry leaf dolmas. I had located a mulberry tree with big and fairly tasty leaves, perfect for dolmas:
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I asked my friend to stick his hand in the picture so that you can see that these leaves are big, over 7 inches long in many cases.
Be aware that if you are going to cook with mulberry leaves, they have to be young and you have to taste them first. Some are quite tasty, some are okay, and some are awful. Chew up a little bit. It will taste raw and green, but if there are acrid awful flavors, don’t go further. Use grape leaves instead in that case.
I foraged a couple of dozen big mulberry leaves, rinsed and blanched them for a minute in boiling water, and set out to make a meat filling. Mine was very improvisational, so I’ll describe it casually. For more specific and concrete recipes, you can google “dolmas” and find hundreds. I wanted to use what was fresh and good in my garden.
I started with a pound of ground beef from our local grassfed beef people. Don’t use beef that’s very lean; it will be dry when cooked. I chopped up three large green onions, greens and whites chopped separately, and four cloves of garlic. I put the white onion parts and the garlic to sauté over medium-low heat in a glug of good olive oil. While they cooked, I chopped a handful of parsley, a large sprig of cutting celery, a few large sprigs of thyme, a large handful of cilantro with stems, and a sprig of sweet marjoram, and mixed them with the chopped onion greens. To the beef I added a heaping teaspoon of salt and a heaping teaspoon of Maras pepper flakes. The Maras pepper was courtesy of a friend who kindly muled it back from Turkey for me, but you can use any mild red pepper flakes, or leave them out. Work the sautéed mixture and the chopped herbs into the beef very well with your hands. Now work in a cup of toasted pine nuts, chopped toasted almonds, or chopped toasted walnuts. Let the mixture rest in the refrigerator an hour or two if possible, or up to overnight, to let the flavors develop.
Fill the dolmas; again, there are a thousand visual tutorials online if you are unfamiliar with the process. Fit them tightly into a pan lined with parchment paper. In the photo below you can see some made with grape leaves among the vibrant dark green mulberry dolmas.
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Put about a quarter cup of water in the pan, and cover loosely with foil. Bake at 350 for about 25 minutes. Boil down the pan juices in a little saucepan to make a sauce, if it tastes at all watery right out of the oven, which it probably won’t because of all the herbs. Serve them forth, with well-strained or full-fat Greek yogurt. I like to salt the yogurt to taste. Ornament the yogurt with a drift of pepper flakes or a scattering of paprika if you like. Scatter crumbled feta over the dolmas if that suits your taste.
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I don’t add rice to the filling because I’m a ketogenic eater, but if you aren’t, feel free to add rice for a more traditional filling, or you could add bread crumbs for a less dense filling.  If you want to take the trouble, you can make an avgolemono sauce or a tomato sauce to go over the dolmas. But do keep the field-and-garden improvisational nature of the thing.

My Bookshelf: Efficient Gardening and the foraging gourmet


Mini Farming is about producing as much food as possible from as little space as possible. It covers a number of ways to produce food, including vegetable and fruit growing and raising chickens for eggs and meat. It goes into great detail about soil amendment so that your plants will grow. You may not want to garden in this precise fashion, and I’m with you there, since my own gardening methods are more slapdash. But it’s good to know some rules before you start breaking them. It is a very practical book, offering an astounding amount of information per dollar. The author has clearly done these things himself; sadly, this is not always the case in homesteading books. He is careful to tell you what you need to know. A pet peeve of mine is the number of homesteading books that purport to teach you how to raise animals for meat, then when the time comes to harvest the meat they go coy and soft-focus and say “Be sure to have an expert show you how to do the killing.” What nonsense. You may not have anyone available to demonstrate, or a self-elected “expert” may do such an awful job that you think you’ll never eat meat again. A good book can describe the process and ready you for what you will encounter every step of the way. This book tells you exactly how to kill and butcher a chicken as quickly and humanely as possible. If you are going to raise meat birds, read it even if you plan to have a more experienced person help you, so that you understand beforehand what’s going to happen. This is a great value and a good book for the serious “yard farmer.”

I do not ever accept free review copies of the books that appear on my blog. I buy them at my local independent bookstore, paying the price that you are likely to pay. Books like this make me realize why I set that policy. This is a very beautiful book, and the recipes are top-notch. But if you’re buying it because you are interested in wild foods, you need to know a few things:
1. A lot of the wild foods described are mushrooms, which many foragers prefer to avoid.
2. This is not a book about how to forage. You’ll need a couple of good foraging instructional books for that.
3. If you’re one of my local Albuquerque readers, a lot of the foods described don’t grow wild around here.
In short, this is a great coffee-table book and a fine high-end cookbook, and if you love to spend time in the kitchen trying to find the greatest height to which a foraged food can be brought, you’ll love this book. If you love to gaze upon exquisite (and expensive) glossy photos of resplendent food, you’ll love this book. I love this book. But $40 is a price that makes me stop and think hard about value for money, and I can’t honestly say that it represents great value for money. If I had gotten it free, I might unconsciously gloss over that part. I’m glad I bought it, but if your goal is to learn to forage, this is not the book for you.

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.

Sudden changes of plan


In urban homesteading as in the rest of life, it’s never possible to know what the future holds. In early July as I was planning and starting my fall/winter garden, my very beloved husky was diagnosed with metastatic cancer and a short life expectancy. Thanks to the care of a wonderful canine oncologist he is free of pain and enjoying his last weeks, but it rapidly became clear to me that the fall garden was not going to be a priority after all, both because of his care needs and because I want to spend all the time that I can with him. Weeding, planting, and the constant ongoing care that a garden needs came to a sudden halt.
So, what to do about the garden? I was soon able to identify the vegetables that flourish on neglect. Corn did well, and we gorged on fresh sweet corn regularly, although the last planting was too young to take the neglect and so our corn season ended early. Sweet potatoes have been unstoppable. Swiss chard has done well, and the winter squash is out to eat the world. We have a problem with borers in our area, so this year I limited myself to squash of the C. moschata variety, which are rumored to be resistant to them. The vines are producing well and not a single one has shown that sudden disheartening wilting that heralds the squash borer. My enthusiasm for edible weeds really paid off, as we ate greens dishes full of lambs-quarters, mallow, amaranth, and purslane. I always let some of my spring crop of arugula go to seed, and a self-sown fall crop is coming up to supply our salad bowl. Self-sown chicory is showing up here and there. Dandelions have grown a foot across, and are too bitter to eat now but after a few frosts they’ll be perfect for braising. Mallow enjoys heat and neglect and even offers pretty purple flowers if you grow the Malva sylvestris type. The wild-type daylilies are spreading happily and will supply spring shoots. Peruvian purple potatoes are healthy and strong. They form tubers late, but in a couple of months we expect to be eating a lot of them. Cherry and paste tomatoes are winding their way through the general melee and producing a surprising number of tomatoes.
At the time that my dog was diagnosed there were hundreds of wild sunflower seedlings all around the property, and I decided to let them grow unmolested, thinking that they would eventually supply green matter for mulch and would keep worse weeds from taking over. We now have a sunflower forest twelve feet high on two sides of the house, and the beauty of the flowers lights up the days. They also attract thousands of bees to the open flowers, and the ripening seeds have drawn hundreds of goldfinches to my yard. Hummingbirds strafe each other over my head, and my husky spends his good days wandering in his own private jungle.
To me the spirit of urban homesteading is one of making do as best we can despite uncontrollable circumstances. It’s a spirit that sets priorities and says “First things first.” My priorities right now are clear, and there are more important things then a carefully planned winter garden. To feed the bees and birds and to find my life unexpectedly full of bright color, flashing movement, wild life,and even good homegrown food although not the food that I had planned on is a gift that I hope I won’t forget.