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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Tindora

Here’s my haul of tindora from Patel Brothers in Jackson Heights! Also called Tendli, Dondakaya, Kovakkai, Ivy Gourd, Baby Watermelon, or Gentleman’s Toes. Those are some creepy toes, sir. But as a vegetable, they’re pretty cute (mine were about 2 inches long). Don’t be fooled, though, it’s a fiercely invasive species in Hawaii.

The woman next to me in Patel Brothers was also picking out tindora, and when I asked her what to do with them she said she stir-fries them in mustard oil in a wok with cumin seeds, mustard seeds, turmeric, and garlic. She also helpfully advised that the smallest ones are the best. And sometimes when you cut tindora open they’re red inside, but they’re still ok to eat. I used her advice as the base for my recipe, and poked around until I found this recipe from Sailu’s Kitchen, which explained how long to cook them and also included the addition of amchur and asafetida.

I was really pleased with the spicing, but one advantage of this vegetable is that it’s so mild in taste that you could pretty much spice it however you want. If you don’t have asafetida, you can leave it out. It’s extremely pungent when raw, and basically tastes like onion and garlic. Amchur (green mango powder) is a souring agent, so if you don’t have that, you can add a bit of lemon or lime juice (maybe 1 teaspoon or 1/2 Tablespoon? just guessing).

And what were they like? Pretty great: they tasted cucumber-like but with a texture (when cooked) closer to zucchini, except crunchier. If you like cucumbers as much as I do, this is a cucumber that you can cook without its texture getting all soggy and weird. I’d definitely get these again. A new vegetable success!

Tindora

Serve with rice as a side

1 pound tindora
1 clove garlic
1 fresh serrano pepper
2 tablespoons mustard oil (or a neutral oil like peanut or canola)
1/2 teaspoon whole cumin
1/2 teaspoon whole black mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon amchur powder
pinch asafetida (optional)
salt to taste

1. Wash the tindora and slice them lengthwise in quarters. Mince the garlic and the serrano pepper.

2. In a wok or frying pan, heat the mustard oil over high heat. When hot, add the whole cumin and black mustard seeds.

3. As soon as the seeds begin to pop, add the garlic, serrano pepper, and all the rest of the spices. Stir once, then add the tindora. Cover and cook until tindora are tender. This will take at least 10 minutes.

Patel Brothers

Patel Brothers supermarket in Jackson Heights, Queens is one of the things I miss most about NYC. I jump up and down a little bit when I go in. Or sometimes a lot.

It’s a massive Indian supermarket, and it has basically everything. Any kind of spice you could want. Whole dried coconuts that look like brown monkey heads. Five-pound bags of whole garam masala or ground cumin. Giant bags of all kinds of lentils, beans, and rice. Canned pulp of Alphonso mangoes, the best kind of mangoes whose season is the occasion for a mango craze in India, which you can rarely if ever find fresh in the US,

a giant section of many chopped and frozen exotic vegetables including frozen cut lotus root,

and most exciting, an awesome fresh produce section full of all kinds of things that are totally unfamiliar to me:

Patra leaves are leaves of the genus Colocasia (one species, Colocasia esculenta, is called Elephant Ear, and the root is also eaten as the vegetable taro). The leaves are rolled up with chickpea flour (gram flour) to make a really really delicious Gujarati dish that is sold at Rajbhog Sweets around the corner from Patel Brothers.

So when we stopped by Patel Brothers recently, we stocked up on some fresh curry leaves and fresh turmeric (my picture of turmeric was blurry, so check out this one). Fresh turmeric! I always thought turmeric was just a powder, or I guess I might’ve thought it came from a seed, like powdered cumin does, but no! It looks like mini fresh ginger, but bright orange inside.

And finally, I was standing there admiring these tiny striped cucumbers, and a woman began filling a bag with them, so I asked her what to do with them. So I got some, and I cooked them, roughly according to her instructions, and I’ll tell you about it in the next post.