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Ten Foods you Can Forage for, Right Now, for Dinner Tonight

April 16, 2009

Learn What’s Good For You, In Your Garden, and In The Wild

While Spring seems to be arriving late, things are already growing in the garden and in the forest and ravines near your home.  In fact, some of the tastiest things are available now, or very soon, and will be gone  until the next short window of opportunity arrives next Spring.

So make your next walk a foraging expedition, and collect wonderful flavor accents and tasty additions for your springtime dinner.  It’s just a bonus that they’re free.

1. Chives – This fresh and pungent herb should be up and healthy in your garden by now.  The leaves will be bright chives1green and full of flavour.  Cut them right at the base – new leaves will grow in to replace them.  Use them in everything – soups, stews,  sprinkled over a salad, or as a topping for some smoked salmon and cream cheese on a toasted bagel.  The Swedes use them in a cream sauce with herring.

2. Ramps – You’ll have to venture into the forest for these little darlings but the work will be well worth it. The ramp, or 180px-wild_leeks1wild leek, is a member of the lily family. Its long leaves rise from an onion-like bulb and  the entire plant has a mild onion taste.  They grow in rich moist woods through most of south and eastern Canada and the northern United States. The appearance of ramps in the spring are often used as an indicator to morel mushroom hunters to determine when and where the mushrooms will begin to appear.  Best way to eat them is grilled in butter, with a little salt and pepper.  The April 2009 issue of Bon Appetit has several ramp recipes, including Ramp and Buttermilk Biscuits with Cracked Coriander, Ramp and Sausage Risotto, Scrambled eggs with ramps,Morels and Asparagus and Seared Salmon with linguine and ramp pesto. (Click here for more about ramps)

3. Mint – The early leaves of fresh mint will be growing in your garden now, and these are the sweetest leaves of all.  mintsprig2You might have to dig under the old foliage to find them.  These make the most wonderful malt vinegar mint sauceto serve with Roast Spring Lamb ( check here for a recipe )  Or throw a few leaves in with your new potatoes or peas, or use the leaves in tabouli or raita.  (They’re also a great natural breath-freshener!)  If you look carefully, you’ll probably find some new thyme growing underneath last years leaves, too.

4. Dandelion Greens:   ‘Dandelion’ means lion’s tooth, ( dent de lion -fr.) so called because of the shape of the leaves. dandelion1Collect dandelion leaves in the early spring when they are the tastiest, and before the flowers appear.  The leaves can become quite bitter on the older plants, though some people like them that way. Dandelions grow almost anywhere and are full of flavour and nutrients.  Use the young leaves, well washed, as a salad, or wilt them in a pan with some butter, a bit of chopped garlic ( or wild onions) salt and pepper  and a squeeze of fresh lemon.

5. Garlic Mustard -Garlic mustard greens are very nutritional,  having good amounts of Vitamins A, C, E and some of garlic-mustard_0411133the B vitamins, potassium, calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and magnesium. Check it out here. It’s very pungent and a bit sharp in flavour.  The leaves are delicious steamed, added to soups or omelets, or used fresh in a salad. The ravine next to my house is full of them right now, and they’ll end up in the soup I’m making, and maybe in the pesto for the pasta dish.

6. Fiddleheads -Fiddleheads are the uncurled, deep green fronds of the ostrich fern and they are plentiful in Ontario ostrichfern0423woodlands. The best places to hunt fiddleheads are along river and stream banks, in open woodlands and at the edges of swamps and marshes. They are at their prime for eating while young, firm and tightly curled.  You can boil or steam fiddleheads and serve dotted with butter and sprinkled with fresh herbs and a splash of lemon juice or Tabasco sauce. You can also add them to vegetable medleys, soups, stews and casseroles.  For more recipes and instructions of how to harvest fiddleheads, look here.  They taste a bit like asparagus, but remember to make sure to cook them thoroughly.

7. Wintercress –  This is a member of the mustard family and it is an early spring green. In the southern United States wintercress-leafit’s known as “creasy greens.”  The leaves are a dark, glossy green and have a bitter taste, but are milder when they are young. It is perfect as part of a mixed salad, and also delicious done ‘southern’style, shredded, flavored with chopped green onion, vinegar, salt, sugar and topped with minced bacon. Read more here.

8. Morels – These little treasures are chefs’ gold, pungent, aromatic and delicious. The are a species of mushroom morelsharvested between April and June and are best right after a heavy rain. It’s important to be sure you have correctly identified the morels – it might be a good idea to bring along an expert on your first time out. Morels must be used immediately or else dried or frozen.  They are wonderful in an omelet, in a cream sauce or a risotto, or served with chicken. Learn more about harvesting, cooking and storing morels here.

9. Wood Sorrel – This plant has three heart-shaped leaflets with a single flower at the end of a slender stalk.  It is wood-sorreloften called a ‘shamrock’ because of its resemblance to the Irish icon, and is also very similar to clover.  Its leaves have a lovely lemony flavour and can be used raw in salads or tossed with pasta to add a lemony aromatic note.

10. Chickweed – This prodigious green is often referred to as “poor man’s spinach” and some say it tastes somewhat chcommonlike spinach when cooked. Paired leaves are a bright pale green, tear-shaped, and attached to the stems on opposite sides by a slender stalk.  It’s delicious both raw and cooked and keeps its bright green colour. It freezes well and is high in nutrients. It grows best in cool Spring weather, and can be used raw in salads, as a pizza topping, in soups, stews or even as a replacement for parsley. Learn more here.

So don’t waste those afternoon walks. Keep your eyes open for something good and healthy for dinner. You’ll be healthier, wealthier, and quite possibly wiser.

Some Things To Keep in Mind When Foraging:

Don’t eat anything that you haven’t positively identified.

Don’t devastate the plants.  Harvest carefully so that plants will return next season.

Don’t harvest from areas that may have been sprayed with pesticides.

Gather only what you will use.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. April 30, 2009 7:23 pm

    Hi, good post. I have been pondering this issue,so thanks for sharing. I will certainly be coming back to your site.

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