Deus Ex Machina and I are really stepping up our efforts in foraging food.
Let me just say, first, that I love the whole concept of foraged food. Like, it's cool to have some knowledge of plants so that if I get lost in the woods, I won't starve.
But to take that one step further and put it into practice as a suburbanite is a little more tricky. Eating plants gleaned from the woods or from other undeveloped areas is just ... well, discomfitting.
Worse, is to decide that, not only, will those plants be actively sought, but will also become a part of one's regular diet.
So, while on the one hand, I'm very excited to be learning this new skill, it's not without some large degree of trepidation that I've embarked on a quest to forage my dinner.
Perhaps the most difficult part, though, is not in getting over my very middle-class notions about what food is. Neither is it learning to trust that the plant I see is what I think it is, and knowing that, if I eat it, it won't hurt me. The most difficult part is making that leap from seeing the plant in the wild, and then, transforming it, first in my head and then in my kitchen, into something we can eat.
Last night's dinner was a rousing victory in leaping that final hurdle, as I traipsed out into my yard, and in a section that is not visited by the dog or the chickens, I snipped a handful of enormous dandelion leaves that grew, unassisted but unmolested, in my "forest garden." To the bundle, I added some mint leaves and garlic scapes and then came back into the house, where I made pesto to serve with pasta.
For me to be truly comfortable with any food, I need to be able to prepare it without having to consult (often complicated and nit-picky) recipes. For me, the foods that tend to most often end up on our plates are things to which I can simply add a few seasonings: a whole chicken seasoned and roasted; potatoes roasted or baked or boiled or shredded and fried; eggs; fruit served cut-up and raw; baked apples with oatmeal topping; lettuce topped with garlic-seasoned yogurt dressing.
In short, I do better with foods that allow me some (huge) margin of error ... or rather without needing to consult a recipe.
For the dandelion pesto, I followed this same sort methodology: I winged it.
Pesto is actually pretty simple. It has four, basic, ingredients*:
I used the last of my winter store of garlic the other day, but the garlic I planted last fall is huge and beautiful, and the scapes are curly. So, I used those.
My herbs were the dandelion greens (I snipped ten or so very large leaves - more than half of which had veins as big around as a #2 pencil) and mint leaves.
The nuts were actually seeds - roasted and salted pumpkin seeds. Many recipes call for pine nuts.
I put the garlic scapes in the food processer. Then, added the herbs and drizzled some olive oil, and whizzed everything until it was all chopped up.
Then, I added more olive oil and the nuts and a bit of salt.
Then, I added more dandelion greens, but it tempered the garlic a little more than I liked, and so I added another garlic scape and some more olive oil.
In the end, it was very tasty - not bitter at all. I was surprised by how delicious it actually was, and served over pasta as an accompaniment to one of our home-grown chickens, it was a delectable meal.
Getting to know some of these common plants as food is certainly going to be a challenge, but there's a great deal of comfort in knowing that if I want pesto, I don't have to struggle with growing basil. Dandelion, which grows prolifically and happily every where I look, will suffice ... just as nice :).
*For pesto, some recipes also call for a very hard cheese, like Romano or Parmesan.