Foraged Japanese knotweed quiche

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I found some free greens this week! In my own backyard!

Japanese knotweed is a tough invasive here in the US. Before this spring, I’d read in many places that knotweed shoots are edible, and even that they taste like rhubarb. Now, I love picking my own food and I pick crazy things like Cornelian cherries and laboriously put them through a food mill to make jam two Christmases in a row. But I have noticed that sometimes foragers claim a food is edible, and they’re pretty much speaking only literally. Technically, it’s edible, but I don’t see much reason to eat it. I mean, if it’s not at least as tasty as kale, I can just go to the store/farmer’s market and buy some kale.

That is to say, I’m not committed to eating wild food for its own sake, though it is fun. It has to taste good too.

I really love rhubarb though, so I thought, if it tastes like rhubarb, maybe it’s worth trying. Being dubious, I just picked a few shoots at first and steamed them to see if they were any good.

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Nope, not rhubarb, but to me they had exactly the lemony taste of marinated artichoke hearts. Tasty: check. Striking a blow against invasive species via eating: check. I picked a bunch more and made a quiche.

Of course, an important disclaimer about picking wild food: never eat anything that you pick unless you know for sure what it is. Ask an expert.

Japanese knotweed has heart-shaped leaves and green stems with red stippling, like this:

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The only time they’re edible is when the shoots are young–they’re best to harvest when they’re 6-8 inches long, but up to 12 inches is OK. At this size, you can eat the whole thing: stem, young leaves, and all. It develops a bitter taste if it gets much larger than that, and the stems toughen. So harvest them soon! In upstate New York they probably won’t be small enough to eat for much longer.

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One important note: because Japanese knotweed is very very invasive and can sprout from cut pieces, be very careful not to spread it! As the Richmond Land Trust says, “Don’t even think about composting it.” Don’t throw pieces of it in your backyard or anyone else’s; if you have bits left over from the recipe and you need to get rid of them, you can drop them where you harvested them so at least you’re not spreading them to a new area. The simplest thing is just to eat all that you harvest.

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I guess I’m a convert. While the quiche was baking I went back and harvested more shoots for some future recipe. Do you have any ideas for what to do with them? I’m all ears. Have you eaten any invasives lately?

Japanese knotweed quiche

Crust:
1 1/4 c flour
7 Tbs cold salted butter
3 or more Tbs ice water

Filling:
8 oz young Japanese knotweed shoots, 6-8 inches long (about 2 cups when cooked)
3 cloves garlic

2 Tbs olive oil
2 oz cheddar cheese, grated or cut into little pieces
3 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1/2 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper
1-2 oz grated parmesan

1. To make crust: Add flour, salt, and sugar to a large bowl. Cut the butter into thick slices and add it to the bowl. Cut the butter into the flour using a pastry cutter or two knives, or use your fingers. Continue until the butter lumps are small but visible, about the size of a pea.

2. Add 3 tablespoons ice water. Mix and squeeze the dough together with your hands; see if the dough clumps together into one big ball when you squeeze it. If it’s too dry to gather together, continue to add ice water a tablespoon at a time until it comes together. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 15 minutes or more (or if you’re impatient like me, don’t bother).

3. Roll out your pie crust between two pieces of waxed paper. Remove the top piece of waxed paper, then flip the crust over onto the pie plate.

4. To make filling: Chop the knotweed, leaves and all, into 1/2-inch pieces. Steam for 5 minutes or until tender. Mince the garlic and saute in the olive oil.

5. In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Mix in the cheddar, milk, salt, pepper, half of the parmesan, and the knotweed and garlic.

6. Pour into crust. Top with the other half of the parmesan. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes, or until the center is set and the top is browned (in my oven, after 30 minutes it looked like this and was not set; it took about 20 minutes extra to cook fully).

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Colombian fruit, of the dragon and passion varieties

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What is this scaly-looking yellow thing? It’s a fruit of the dragon variety!

Today: dragon fruit and passion fruit, or Part II of Eating My Way Through the Tropical Fruits of Colombia. During lunch on Wednesday, I looked up to find snow/freezing slush pelting against the window, so it seems a good time to remind myself that I was recently someplace very warm, and it will soon be very warm again. Although even then, Ithaca will not be growing any of these:

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This wrinkled little beauty is a maracuya, the second kind of passion fruit I tried in Colombia. While the granadilla I mentioned in my recent post is sweet, the maracuya is sour and makes a REALLY excellent juice. The seeds were also excellent stirred into  lightly sweetened plain yogurt for breakfast (the yogurt came in small plastic milk-jug-shaped bottles, white with blue writing, although I don’t remember anything so useful as a brand name). My friend, our host, said she finds them too sour for eating out of hand, although if you like sour things it would probably be right up your alley. The goo around the seeds (mmm, appetizing, no?) is orange:

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When selecting a passion fruit, you don’t need to hold out for a nice smooth, unwrinkled one. Actually, wrinkles are good: they mean it’s ripe. Which brings me to the third kind of passion fruit I tried:

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So, I was warned. My friend said these weren’t ripe, and I went ahead and bought one anyway, because I wanted to try as many kinds of fruit as I could! And it was fuzzy! And about the size, shape, and color of a pickling cucumber! So appealing.

Anyway, this is a curuba, or banana passion fruit. They are supposed to be yellow when ripe (and yes, slightly fuzzy, that’s normal). If you try to eat them when they’re green, like I did, they’ll be inedibly sour. But pretty! Presumably they are tasty when actually ripe.

And finally, getting back to the odd yellow football at the top of the post:

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This one is not a kind of passion fruit, it’s a pitahaya, or dragon fruit. They grow on cacti in the genus Hylocereus and I really just did not understand their appeal until I ate one in Colombia. US grocery stores sometimes sell a hot pink variety, and Trader Joe’s even sells dried dragon fruit slices; the fresh ones I’ve had were watery and tasteless, and the dried ones were crunchy and tasteless. Someone brought the dried ones on a hike, and we all agreed that it was like chewing on cardboard.

But! This one in Colombia was good. I cut it in half and we scooped out the flesh with a spoon (don’t eat the yellow skin). The seeds were crunchy and a little bit nutty, and the fruit tasted almost exactly like a peeled red seedless grape: sweet, juicy, and crisp. Not the most remarkable taste, but good, and its unusual appearance made it pretty fun to eat.

How about you? Have you ever tried dragon fruit? Anyone want to contradict my harsh judgement of US dragon fruits as completely tasteless?

Railway potatoes: easy Indian food

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Indian food doesn’t have to be hard.

It doesn’t have to involve a ton of spices. Like these Railway Potatoes (via Straight from the Farm), which I found because I needed something to take to a potluck later today. The author’s mother used to make them for train journeys, so I thought they’d stand up well to being transported to a potluck and served at non-piping-hot temperatures. Three spices is enough to make them delicious.

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OK, so that was four. But the ground coriander isn’t even in the recipe, so it’s completely optional. I…I just couldn’t resist. I am in love with ground coriander, I want to put it in everything, and I think it goes especially well with potatoes.

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But hey, what if you don’t have even these four spices yet? Well, you can get cayenne and turmeric in most grocery stores. Coriander and black mustard seeds are less widely available, but the Ithaca Wegmans carries both of them (in the International section) and I’ve found them at other local grocery stores too. If you can’t find coriander, that’s fine, it was optional anyway! For black mustard seeds, you can substitute regular yellow mustard seeds. Yellow mustard seeds will be milder, but they have the same basic mustard-y flavor.

This recipe will also introduce you to a technique I use a lot for Indian food: measuring out the spices into small bowls (as described in the recipe) before you even turn the stove on. I hate fiddly steps in recipes (and washing extra dishes) and hardly ever use mise en place in most of my cooking, but I find it’s really important for Indian food, or anything where you’re cooking spices for very short times at very high heat. You add them so quickly that it’s easier if you can just pick them up and dump them in instead of having to fiddle with the measuring spoon.

Consider this your gateway recipe to cooking Indian food!

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Railway Potatoes

Adapted from 5 Spices, 50 Dishes (by Ruta Kahate) via Straight From the Farm

Serves 4 as a side

1.5 lbs small non-russet potatoes (anywhere from one to three inches in diameter)
1 onion
3 Tbs. peanut oil
1/2 tsp. black mustard seeds (or substitute yellow mustard seeds)
1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
(optional: 1/2 tsp. ground coriander)
1/2 tsp. cayenne (adjust depending on your spiciness tolerance and the strength of your cayenne; I put in only a dash because it’s for a potluck)
1.5 tsp. salt

Scrub the potatoes and cut off any blemishes. Cut the larger potatoes in half, and then cut all of them into slices 1/8 inch thick.  Halve the onion and thinly slice. Measure the mustard seeds into a small bowl. Measure the turmeric (and coriander, if using) into another small bowl.

In a wok or a large heavy skillet, heat the oil at maximum heat.

When the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds, being careful to avoid getting spattered by oil.  After 30 seconds (by now the seeds should have started popping), add the turmeric (and coriander, if using) and give one quick stir. Immediately add the onions, stir, and cook for 1 minute. Add the potatoes, stir, and then add the cayenne. Turn the heat down to medium. Add a small splash of water (it will hiss), cover, and cook for about 15 minutes or until the potatoes are done, stirring about every 2 minutes. Add the salt and taste to make sure the potatoes are done. Serve hot or warm or cold.

What to eat for breakfast in Colombia

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You don’t really need to read this post, just, if you find yourself in Colombia for breakfast, eat these. Eat as many of them as you can.

OK, let’s back up. I just spent 10 days in and around Medellín, Colombia. I ate as many varieties of tropical fruit as I could get my hands on, naturally, as a public service to you so I could tell you all about them.

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This is a granadilla. It’s a sweet variety of passionfruit with a hard, orange-spotted shell. They look like… space maracas? Dinosaur eggs? Very cool, is what I’m saying. And they taste amazing too.

Most passionfruits (more on them later) are a little sweet and a lot sour. Granadillas are not sour at all. Apparently in Colombia they’re a popular fruit for kids’ lunch boxes, because they’re sweet, easy to like, and easy to crack open with your fingers (no utensils needed) and eat with minimal mess.

The edible part of the granadilla includes the black seeds, which are crunchy, and the clear juicy pulp surrounding the seeds. A granadilla tastes like a passionfruit with most of the sourness removed. The outer orange shell and the foamy white layer lining the shell are not edible (that I know of).

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It has cool little white tubules connecting each individual seed to the inside wall of the fruit!

And the breakfast part was a bit misleading. They are also good for lunch, dinner, elevensies, tea, the meal indicating recovery from paragliding-induced motion sickness, and any time at all, really.

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Fresh pea and mint soup

Earlier this week, it was a typically grey day in upstate New York.

In the land of the grey, the one red fruit is king.

(The French name for those rose hips above, I recently learned, is scratchy-butt.)

But wait! All is not grey, not even on the cusp of December. See it, in the middle of that picture above?

Mint! An enormous patch of it, actually, completely undamaged by frost.

So I picked some, and I made fresh pea and mint soup. My friend Ari introduced me to this soup a few years ago, and it’s become one of my favorite things. At first I was skeptical, thinking of fresh peas mainly as a plain side dish that would be pretty boring as a soup. But this soup is amazing. It’s rich and smooth and sprightly at the same time. The flavors of fresh peas and mint blend together so well that you can’t tell where one ends and the other begins.

I tend to make it when we’re having people over for dinner, because of the aforementioned amazingness, but also because it’s beautiful, fast, and easy. It requires minimal chopping of vegetables and only a few ingredients. I have made it with leeks or shallots, and this time I thought we had some shallots but then discovered we’d run out, so I just used an extra onion. And it was still great!

Somehow making a soup with the flavors of spring was the perfect thing to do with a late fall harvest, and made the day less grey.

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Fresh Pea and Mint Soup (adapted from Barefoot Contessa)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Two 10-oz packages frozen peas
1 onion, chopped
White part of 2 leeks, chopped (or you can substitute a few minced shallots, or just more onion)
1/3-1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
4 cups vegetable stock or water (you can make vegetable stock with the green parts of the leeks)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/3 cup sour cream
1. If you’re making vegetable stock: clean the leeks very well (here’s a good tutorial). Cut off the green parts, and simmer them in 4 cups water.

2. In a medium pot, cook the white parts of the leeks (or shallots) and onion in butter over medium-low heat for 5-10 minutes, until soft.

3. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Add frozen peas and cook 3 minutes.

4. Turn the heat off and add mint and salt.

5. Puree soup in a blender or with an immersion blender, then add sour cream, stir well, and serve.

How to cut a mango

In case my last post inspired you to go out and buy a mango, here’s how to cut one.

For some reason I always used to cut mangoes in four pieces and then try to slice/pry each piece off of the pit. This was squishy and difficult. Maybe I am the only one who cut mangoes the hard way for most of my life, and you already know how to do this, but in that case you can just enjoy the pictures of tasty, tasty mango.

You’ll need a thin, sharp knife and a mango.

First, stick the knife into the mango like this to see how deeply you can cut into the mango before you’ll hit the seed. Often it’s farther than I think.

Then, slice off the first side to the depth that you’ve already determined.

It’ll come out looking something like this, with maybe a bit of the seed showing. (This is good; it means you cut as close as possible and got as much delicious mango off the seed as you could.)

Cut the second side the same way.

Now it’s a bit hard and you’ll get juice on your hands, but you can gently but firmly hold the mango seed between your thumb and forefinger (it will squish a little probably) while you cut off the flesh around the rim of the seed.

You can score the big mango pieces into fancy-looking little squares like this. Ian is totally responsible for this picture; I don’t normally bother cutting them into such small and pretty pieces.

Then there’s always some mango pulp that you can’t cut off the seed. Not pictured, but the most fun: Messily eating this off the seed, with mango juice all over my fingers and face.