Sunday, June 10, 2007

Weed Eater

One of the joys of visiting the farmers' market every week is in finding new things to try. Though last year I stuck with fairly familiar items -- mushrooms and fennel, to name only two -- this year, I'm already discovering some very unusual foods.

May I introduce you to that fashionable new green vegetable (formerly known as a weed), lamb's quarters?

According to my copy of Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places, lamb's quarters are an excellent substitute for spinach, being milder in flavor and packing more of a nutritional punch: "The leaves are a super source of beta carotene, calcium, potassium, and iron... It also provides trace minerals, B-complex vitamins, vitamin C, and fiber" (p. 47).

So why call it a weed? Well, even some of the farmers at the market goggled their eyes at the thought of customers buying bags of what they so often try to rip out of their fields. If you're focusing on standard crops, after all, anything else that gets in the way (like, oh, say, dandelions) is a weed and therefore unwanted. But as more and more people realize that wild edibles have as much if not more nutritional value than some other vegetables, the demand for them is increasing.

Having never really found lamb's quarters in my backyard (when I owned a backyard), I thought I'd give them a try. And for $2 a bag full of them, why not?

So as I made my way into the kitchen this weekend, I pondered the ways I might be able to use this new leafy green (aside from the occasional raw nibble). First, I strained some cream-top yogurt to make a lovely cooling borani with fresh radishes, dill, walnuts, and lamb's quarters:

With a few toasted slices of homemade ciabatta on the side, this made a refreshing and easy lunch both days this weekend.

Then I decided that I would throw together a simple couscous dish with French lentils, dill, lamb's quarters, and a delicate garlic vinaigrette:

That, I think I can safely say, will be tucked away for lunches at work this coming week!

And this evening, after working hard with the Innkeeper in the morning and having a bit of a rest in the afternoon, I gave into my cravings for Indian food and made a simple dish of potatoes and lamb's quarters:

I started by browning mustard seeds until they popped, then sauteed local spring onions, garlic, and spices until fragrant. I added the local potatoes and simmered them in water and whey until they turned creamy and tender, and then I laid the lamb's quarters leaves on top and let them steam until finished. Add a little fresh cilantro, and there you have it.

All in all, I'd say I rather like the taste of this "weed" and am going to find other ways to use it this week. But I have to admit that my bag of spinach, also purchased at Saturday's market, is getting a little miffed that another green is getting more attention, so perhaps I'll have to freeze some spinach and dry some lamb's quarters to use later.

And I'm definitely wondering what new treasures I'll find at the market next week!


At 6/15/2007 6:24 PM, Anonymous Loren said...

Great ideas for a new ingredient! I will have to watch for Lamb's Quarters at our own local markets as there is none growing in my back yard either. Probably a good thing though, because although I love to forage for food, I usually chicken out when it comes to eating my finds.

At 6/16/2007 7:23 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Hello, Loren! I confess I haven't done much more with it this week, though it still seems to be holding up well. I did enjoy trying the occasional foraged green from the backyard (dandelion greens, of course, but also sorrel, violets, and some burdock leaves and raspberry leaves for drying), but like you, I often chickened out, even with a guide book! But hey, we keep trying, right?

At 8/25/2007 12:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You might want to give pursalen a try. I haven't seen it oten in farmers markets, but it does grow wild in empty lots, along cracks in sidewalks and on the sides.

Here's an image

At 8/25/2007 12:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I meant to say "purselane"

At 8/25/2007 3:03 PM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

I actually did find purslane at the market later in the season... turns out I used to have it in my garden. Another reason to miss my garden!


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