Foraging expert Russ Cohen offers a bowl-full of ideas for a scrumptious wild salad
Those of you that make salads know that there is sort of a "yin-yang" quality to a good salad. A good-tasting salad has the right balance of bland ("yin") and spicy ("yang") ingredients. Too much of one or the other can make a salad not very (or too!) interesting to the palate. Fortunately there is a large assortment of edible weeds and other wild plants that fit into both categories.
Note that there are no precise measurements to this recipe all you need to do is balance out the blander and spicier ingredients to suit your own personal preferences. Russ tends to use chickweed as a base for an autumn salad, then use other items to add different flavors, colors and textures. Also note that there is no need for this salad to be 100 or even 50 percent wild; it's fun to add just a few wild ingredients to a conventional salad as well. Nevertheless, it does prove that you can make a wonderfully delicious and visually appealing salad using only wild and foraged ingredients.
Bland, or "yin"
- Chickweed, tender top leaves and stems (Stellaria media)
The stems taste like raw corn. Use instead of lettuce.
- Purslane, tender top leaves and stems (Portulaca oleracea)
Use instead of lettuce.
- Amaranth, tender young stems, chopped (Amaranthus retroflexus)
Also called Wild Beet. Use instead of beet greens.
- Asiatic Dayflower flowers and flower buds (Commelina communis)
- Lamb's Quarters leaves (Chenopodium album)
Use instead of spinach.
- Common Mallow flower buds and seedpods (Malva neglecta)
Also called "cheeses" because of their resemblance to little cheese wheels.
- Partridgeberries (Michella repens)
This plant is not a garden weed but is a common woodland ground cover, especially in conifer forests. The berries do not have much flavor but with their bright red color they certainly have high visual appeal part of what makes food appetizing.
- Chicory flower petals (Cichorium intybus)
These do not have much flavor but are a nice blue color, unusual for food.
Spicy, or "yang"
- Jewelweed seeds (Impatiens capensis)
Also called Touch-me-not. These taste like walnuts. If you have the time and patience, you can slip off the seeds' outer jackets to reveal the beautiful bright robin's egg blue on the inside, though this is not necessary to eat them.
- Dried Spicebush berries (Lindera benzoin)
We ground these up and added them to the salad as well as the gumbo. Like Partridgeberry, Spicebush is a common woodland plant in southern New England. Spicebush is in the same botanical family (Lauraceae) as Sassafras, and many, mostly tropical, members of the Lauraceae family have aromatic qualities that are used as food, food flavoring, or medicine. Other Lauraceae examples are Cinnamon, Camphor, Avocados and Bay leaves are all in the Lauraceae.
- Wild Mustard flowers, flower buds and young seedpods (Brassica nigra)
A good substitute for broccoli.
- Peppergrass seedpods (Lepidium virginicum)
- Wild Horseradish root, shaved (Armoracia rusticana)
Like "wild" asparagus, "wild" horseradish is the same species as the garden variety; it just escapes from cultivation sometimes and becomes foraging fodder.
- Sheep Sorrel leaves (Rumex acetosella)
A tangy substitute for lemon.
- Ground Cherries (Husk Tomatoes) (Physalis heterophylla)
Also called Husk Tomatoes. De-husked these are a sweet and colorful tomato substitute.
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Balsamic vinegar
- Freshly pressed garlic cloves
- Dijon or grainy mustard
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Though you can make or use any dressing you like, a dressing made to taste from the following ingredients is delicious with this salad.
Russ Cohen notes: Keep in mind that varieties and availability of wild salad ingredients will vary across regions and according to the time of year. The ingredients I chose for the 100% wild salad we made for the show largely reflect what weeds and other wild edibles are suitable for salad-making (i.e., tender and tasty in the raw state) in the Boston area at the time around the second week of October.
And finally, a word of caution: When foraging for wild ingredients, you should always find an expert, or someone with foraging experience, to accompany you. Some wild plants and mushrooms are poisonous and can be harmful or fatal if eaten.
For more information on edible wild plants, visit the Wild Food Adventures newsletter.
This segment appears in show #2726.
Recipe courtesy of Russ Cohen