stalking the backyard daylily

IMG_7707A proud clump of orange daylilies or tiger lillies (H. fulva) graces one corner of my garden, blocking out a poppy and a lavender bush and encroaching on my daffodils.  Disdainful, I stopped in my murderous tracks a few years ago when I read one can eat most parts of the plant in a blog post by wildcrafter Hank Shaw.

I’ve since read more about them, including the history with some dubious tasting notes, and a chapter in Euell Gibbons’ classic, Stalking the Wild Asparagus, which seems to be a book that lights up the eyes of people who wish they were wholly foraging for food (while shopping at Whole Foods).

Being one of those people, mostly, I knew I had to take my dreams of a feral future and make them a reality, so I stalked the daylilies in my backyard.

What, you say you don’t know what a daylily is?  This is a daylily:

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Not a daylily (with an added bonus of an artichoke to symbolize the choking you will do when you eat a poisonous cultivar of true lily, below):

IMG_7714You can immediately tell them apart because the daylily grows in a big clump and has long, skinny leaves growing from the clump, but the true lily has many short opposing leaves growing up each stalk that culminates in a flower. Another things that differentiates them is that daylilies frequently repatriate to the wild, and they often resist the elements in parks, old lots, and meadows.  More on identification here.

The buds, flowers, stalks, and root bulbs of the daylily are all edible, but being a lazy hunter-gatherer, I went for the easy stuff: the buds.  Pick them when they are just about open, and don’t delay, since the ‘day’ part of daylily is not false advertising.  They ripen, bloom, and are gone in 24 hours.  You can see one bud just ready to be plucked to the left of the daylily in the image above the poison-choke-lilies.

IMG_7680Ever have Chinese hot and sour soup?  The “golden needles” or lily buds are none other than the dried buds of the daylily.  I dried a bunch and plan to use them in soups.  Apparently, they let off a slightly gelatinous ooze when you cook them, so they thicken up nicely.

The rest of the buds I plucked to eat in the manner I love vegetables the most: quickly dry-fried and salted.  You may have enjoyed padron or shishito peppers prepared this way, or perhaps Sichuan green beans.  Daylily buds rank right up there with the pleasure, and their unusual origin and utterly free cost to you will make you the star of all the foragers in your neighborhood.  OK, maybe not my neighborhood, since there are real foragers who live here, but if you live in a neighborhood without any, let me know and I’ll move there, since I could use a little stardom.

Anyway, the recipe in the first photo for dryfried daylily buds couldn’t be easier.  You’ll love the taste (but be careful, as apparently some folks are allergic or react poorly to the very mild and delicious greenbeany taste, likening it to armpit sweat).  Try just a couple at first to see if you are one of those unfortunate souls.

Heat up a heavy pan, cast iron if you have it, on high until it smokes.  Toss your daylily buds in a tiny bit of oil just before you toss them into the hot pan.  Smoke will ensue, so take the pan outside, flipping the buds with a spoon for just a few minutes until they are charred in spots and softened.  Salt with a coarse-grained finishing salt and serve immediately.

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eats weeds and leaves: edible spring pruning

IMG_3152Hello!  Long time no see.  It’s planning season in academia, and I’ve been scrambling to pull together grants and reports and abstracts and introductions and applications.  Like so many young(ish) scholars working in adjunct positions, I’ve also been struggling with job instability and will be moving to a joint position teaching in English and Comparative Literature at the university in the fall.  Although I’m excited to work with colleagues I know and respect already (don’t forget Eugene is a small town, so this is like moving down the street), it will shift priorities for me as the new classes and structure will take up more time.  Some additional family financial pressures mean I will need to start prioritizing stability and writing much more, both for academic journals and professional food publications to make ends meet.  Having to move is a very real possibility.

Unfortunately, this will mean fewer events and volunteer projects for the community starting next year, and I’m deeply sorry about this.  It’s important to give back, and the pleasures of the volunteer work I do, including the radio show, this blog, the preservation classes, the events I host at the UO through my research group, the promotion of others’ work, and volunteering at festivals and reporting on my travels and such make life worth living in Eugene.  Don’t worry, I still have a few things planned for next year that are pretty fabulous.  But I need to “lean out,” as they say.

So the prospect of eating from the garden is suddenly even more appealing.  And it’s culling time, so here are some ideas.

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  • Fresh oregano salad, substituting oregano for fresh parsley in any tabbouli recipe, supposedly helps young people study in the Middle East.  And who doesn’t need to sharpen up the memory?  With the tender spring leaves tempered by spring onions and a lemon and olive oil dressing, you won’t be overwhelmed by the dark, musky flavor and woody stems.
  • Common snails. Yes, escargot.  I felt my gorge rise when I realized in France our garden pests — yes, the exact same variety — were one of the species used for escargot.  But Molly Watson has published a piece in Edible San Francisco that lays out how to prepare and cook them in a rather appetizing way.  And what with the foraging all around town making its way into local bistros…new business, anyone?
  • Any basket-weavers who are pruning?  Consider a traditional grilled fish basket made of Mediterranean bay branches (above image).  We lunched on delicious salmon prepared this way on our tour of Sunset magazine a few weeks back as part of the International Association of Culinary Professionals conference.  You might be able to do something similar with rosemary branches, if that’s your unruly hedge issue.
  • Dandelion greens can be wilted and used as a deeply flavorful green in a stirfry or potato curry, or try my fellow Oregon blogger Dr. Fugawe’s adaptation of Duguid’s Spiced Burmese New Potatoes with dandelion greens and shallot oil.

But where it’s really at is RAAB.  These are the tops of cruciferous vegetables that sweetly greenly provided iron-rich leaves all winter long, now bolting in the lovely sun.  The market gives us a bunch of them, all tasting basically the same once cooked, but some sharper, some darker when raw.  Try brussels sprouts raab or collards raab, my favorite (pictured first against tree — a very timely delivery by my beloved neighbor), or the lovely purple cabbage raab.

Easiest recipe?  Chop up a bunch of raab with its pretty yellow flowers and throw atop fried meat, like the utterly succulent chunks of bo ssam Biancalana pork shoulder I made the other day, before wrapping morsels in butter lettuce leaves.  But then there’s also

Pasta.  Try it chopped and sauteed in olive oil that has been warmed up with a little chopped garlic or culled green garlic from the garden, lemon zest, and red pepper flakes (add a little anchovy if you’re adventurous and/or wise).  Throw the cooked raab into a bowl of fresh pasta, something chunky like rotini, and grate fresh parmesano all over it.

You might also sample it steamed or fried with a little oyster sauce, just like the gai lan you see in dim sum houses.

Or little green potstickers, anyone?  Finely minced raab works especially well with ground pork as a filling.

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But best of all is this recipe for stir-fried chopped raab with pork and fermented red chili (above, photographed by the paparazzi).  It’s an adaptation of Fuchsia Dunlop’s Bo Bo Cai Xin, or Stir-fried Chopped Choy Sum, from her cookbook, Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking, that just came out in an American edition.  It’s a wonderful cookbook, with a big chapter on leafy greens that I’ve already explored extensively.

My palate is a bit duller than Dunlop’s so I usually use more spice and salt than she does.  You might decide on your own.  But either way, definitely use the pork if you’re a meat eater.  Although we sliced it thickly because of gluttony for Laughing Stock Farm pork and its delicious fat, I’d recommend mincing finely next time.  Another difference is that with raab, you don’t need to blanch ahead of time.  It’s much thinner and more tender than choy sum.  I also substituted my own fermented red ‘Facing Heaven’ chilis for plain red jalapenos, so the recipe reflects that.

Stir-fried Chopped Raab with Pork and Fermented Red Chili

Serves 2 with rice and Chinese pickles, but make several dishes and turn it into a party.

  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil, divided
  • 3 cups of chopped raab
  • 1 tablespoon chopped Sichuan fermented red chiles, or substitute finely chopped fresh red jalapeno or even red bell peppers
  • 1/2 pound ground pork or finely chopped pork shoulder meat, best quality
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 2 tablespoons spring onions (good use for culled onions from garden)
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons chili oil (optional)

Do all your chopping and measuring ahead of time, and set aside each ingredient in little bowls.  Heat wok to sizzling, then add a tablespoon of the peanut oil to heat, then quickly add the chopped raab and cook until bright green and still crunchy, just two minutes or so, then stir in red chiles.  Set aside in a serving dish.

Add rest of peanut oil, then add chopped or ground pork and a little salt.  As the pork loses its pink but is not yet completely cooked, add ginger and garlic.  When everything is nicely browned, add back the raab, stir to blend flavors and cook for a couple minutes more, then remove from heat, stir in sesame and chili oil, then serve with rice.

parsley pips

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Beachscape still life, unknown Dutch contemporary artist

The garden lies in waste, ravaged by the recent cold weather and the slugs that reign supreme over Western Oregon for most of the year.  No, I shouldn’t say ‘waste’ — even without serious intent, mustard greens and various alliums and artichokes are up and running, and wonderfully peppery wild arugula that reseeds each year, and a few lettuce and escarole heads here and there, and enough flowering borage to make a winter bouquet.

And ‘waste’ is wrong for the promise of spring, too.  It’s hard to feel hopeful right now.  But I know that under the hay and reddened leaves the strawberries will blossom, and the currants and gooseberries, now sticks, will emerge and fruit again. I know this patch by the shed will become a rhubarb, and that bare spot of ground is an 8-foot-tall lovage plant, and that over there is a much healthier asparagus patch than it was last winter, and this bucket of dirt is horseradish about to break free.  It’s the luxury of being rooted.

But just as there’s a place for patience, life also entitles us to say enough is enough, and we’re tired of waiting around for the wind to change.  On those days, we scavenge. I am reminded of M. F. K. Fisher’s recluse artist friend Sue, who hosts dinners on the windy coast of California on no budget at all, augmenting stolen flora and fauna with weird plants she finds in the hostile, rocky cliffs. (Although how hostile could it be if other people manage gardens and chickens. Eh. Details.) Sure, we call this ‘wildcrafting’ now and have made it a thoroughly acceptable bourgeois diversion, but ‘scavenging’ is better.  It means making something of refuse, castaways, leftovers, junk.  It’s creating value where none exists, if you’re the capitalist type, and it’s making art of one’s surroundings, if you’re the creative type, and it’s experiencing the world with your nose, the tip of your tongue, and your throat, if you are fundamentally, irrevocably, unflinchingly a cook.

Today it is the pale green tops of the overgrown parsley in the herb bed.  I usually let these go all winter, for unlike dill and quite horrifically like fennel vulgare, the fronds burst into seed and then drop them everywhere, making little parsleys that are great when thinned to enliven spring salads and greens and new potatoes. But we’re about a month from that moment and I need a burst of spring, so off with their heads!  I crush the tender new growth and the green seeds (pips, the British call seeds, a much better word because it captures the jaunty spirit of those little newborn chaps)…the parsley pips I smash down with my fingers and throw them in the pot of purple barley, which I’ll use tonight to stuff more cabbage.  For stuffed cabbage is the best reminder that life is infinitely variable, and there’s comfort in quarters unknown this morning to you.  Comfort in quarters you’ll know, I promise, by supper.

No, one can’t get tired of scavenging; it’s a mandate, really.  Carpe diem isn’t for lovers and it isn’t wasted on the young; it’s the last hope left.

 

spring herb potstickers

For me?  How lovely, thank you.

For you.

Don’t overlook spring herbs in your potstickers.  You can fill them with a tofu-egg mixture or ground pork as a base, either way works. But be sure to add a range of green things growing in the garden.  I used fennel fronds, parsley, chives, and overwintered garlic and shallot for these.  My friend’s cook and nanny, an older woman from northern China, uses the little buds of wild fennel heads that spring up in overgrown lots all over the Bay Area.  I think that’s a fine idea.

I don’t bother making my own potsticker skins, since I’m usually just making these for myself, but you might want to try them, especially since the skins tend to have preservatives and such.

Spring Herb Potsticker Filling

  • 1/2 lb. ground pork (substitute 1/2 cake regular (firm) tofu, drained well of water, and one beaten egg)
  • handful of chives, chopped
  • handful of parsley, chopped
  • handful of spring fennel fronds or fennel buds
  • 1 medium shallot, chopped finely
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped finely
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • sprinkle of fennel seed
  • 1 t. corn starch

Mix together all ingredients for potsticker filling.  Proceed according to my recipe for kale potstickers with videos to show how to fold and steam the little guys.

Serves — let’s be realistic — 2.  But I suppose you could stretch it out to 4.

 

one of the best appetizers i’ve ever had: rabbit bistro

And there may even be a couple left, not sure.  Every Friday, Chef Gabriel Gil posts an appetizer and entree special on the Rabbit Bistro Facebook page.  They’re always fascinating, often mysterious, and sometimes challenging.  Separate the boys from the men, that’s what I say.  If you want to try it, relax your inhibitions a bit (might I suggest a cocktail special first?) and trust him.  I know this is contrary to the Eugene Way and the increasingly loathsome American practice of dietary eliminations and inspecting menus for their clinical traits.  So don’t go if you’re worried your needs won’t be met or you use “protein” to describe what you’re ordering for dinner.

But if you want to delight your tastebuds and widen your horizons…

How about a toothsome, cured and smoked venison carpaccio with the texture and flavor of pastrami sashimi?  It was brilliant, BRILLIANT, served with miner’s lettuce, slices of roasted rutabaga and perfect pickled tart apple, malt mayo (just a skosh too much), and iced milk that kept it cold and melted its milkiness down the mountain of cured protein, er, deer.

The picture, of course, doesn’t do it justice.  I rarely take pictures at Rabbit because the lighting doesn’t encourage it (and I’m the first to acknowledge it’s an awful habit, not to be encouraged at all), but I just had to share this one.  I wanted to lick the plate, pick it up and lick it.

We’re going to have Gabriel on Food for Thought on KLCC next Sunday, April 1, at noon, when I next co-host, so we can talk more about the culinary Renaissance in Eugene and what the Rabbit brings to the scene.  We’ll talk about ketchup, the Rabbit’s move downtown, and all manner of and creative possibilities for the future.  Tune in!  This Sunday (tomorrow), I hear that the delightful folks from Indie Pop will be there.

 

niblets: wearing o’ the green edition

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  Plant at least one potato for good luck, tradition tells us.  Then again, tradition tells us it doesn’t snow in March.  Forecast for Monday: low 42 degrees, snow showers.  That doesn’t even make SENSE.  Sheesh.

So I will ignore it, just as I ignored hail hailing on my head on my way to class at least eight days a week this term.

For there are springy things a-springing, and great news for us.

Springfield, for example, has a building — with the help of the Neighborhood Economic Development Corporation (NEDCO) nonprofit organization — for a new indoor, year-round farmers market. Housed in a former church at 4th and A Street, the future market recently hosted an open house to show plans for Sprout!.  The celebration was fun, with music and raffle drawings.  The gentleman above in the hat presided, and there was a visit from Samba Ja and free nibbles from a range of eateries.  The place was packed.

Sprout! will have two anchor café spaces and seventeen indoor stalls to expand and augment the existing outdoor farmers market.  The indoor stalls will be about 10×6′, and will be placed along the windows and down the nave and transcepts, as pictured here:

“It seems small,” groused one attendee while looking at the plans.

“That’s because it is small,” replied the patient man from the architecture team.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.  The place is big enough for a commercial kitchen and event space, plus the outdoor area for food carts and market vendors.  And we need to keep in mind that the winter markets usually don’t host as many vendors as the summer ones do.

All in all, I’m thrilled this space is being made possible as a reuse and recycle for Springfield.  NEDCO is really doing fantastic work.  I do hope the ‘!’ falls off the Sprout!, though.  People are going to find that exhausting and gimmicky.  You can follow the progress of Sprout! and the Springfield farmers market on their Facebook page.

And it’s wild greens season.  If you are tired of the little western bittercress popping its seeds in your eye, eat it!  Perfectly edible. Or you can pick some stinging nettles or buy them already de-stung at one of our local markets.

For more ideas about how to prepare more green things, like stinging nettles, wild onions, and dandelions, listen to Food for Thought on KLCC tomorrow, Sunday, March 18, at noon. Join me and Ryan at noon, with special guests Heather Arndt Anderson of the fantastic food blog Voodoo & Sauce, Ben Jacobsen of Portland’s first local salt company, Jacobsen Salt Co., and our very own Izakaya Meiji‘s Quinn Brown.

marché wild foods dinner honoring author hank shaw, november 12

Last week, I mentioned the upcoming reading by visiting speaker Hank Shaw.  We’re very much looking forward to hearing him speak at:

Hunter, Gatherer, Conservationist: Finding the Forgotten Feast
Book Reading and Discussion
Author Hank Shaw
Monday, November 14, 7:00 – 8:30 p.m.
282 Lillis Hall, University of Oregon, Eugene ~ free and open to all

We now have details about Marché’s prix fixe menu for the dinner honoring Shaw on Sat., 11/2, at 6:30!

Can’t read the fine print? Click here to download a .pdf version of the flyer.

I’m so impressed.  The sous chef at Marché, Crystal Platt, has pulled together a menu influenced by wild foods and her interest in molecular gastronomy.   I suspect you’ve never seen anything like this at Marché.  If you like Castagna and The Rabbit, or have been meaning to try MG, this is the dinner for you.

Only twenty spots at $65 apiece (and an exceedingly fair price for such labor-intensive and creative dishes), so contact Marché right away if you’d like to reserve: info@marcherestaurant.com or 541-683-2260 ext. 106.

Hank has traveled around the country during his book tour sharing his knowledge on foraging hikes and wild food dinners.  We’re so happy to have him here in Eugene!  I attended the dinner in his honor at Portland’s Castagna restaurant in July, and had a blast.  I expect similarly great things from Chef Platt and the team at Marché!