Some of my fun projects this month:
Salted Wild Herbs
Spring is loaded with a lot of wonderful greens such as nettles, chickweed, miner's lettuce, nasturtium and very aromatic plants like chervil.
one of my goals is to try to save the harvest so I can use it later on. With herbs I have several options such as drying, fermenting and freezing.
Another option is also salting.
In the old days, before the invention of the fridge, people used to take herbs from the garden and salt them. It would then be used to flavor soups, etc... This week I used onions, wild chervil, chickweed, chervil, miner's lettuce, nasturtium and a tad of dandelion.
March has been a busy month. We finally had some rain in Los Angeles and I was able to get busy foraging and creating ingredients. Here are some of the fun projects I made this month:
Elderflowers Cordial. You can find a recipe HERE and my friend Hank Shaw has another one HERE. Note that if you live in Los Angeles, our local Mexican elders have smaller flower heads, so I use twice the amount asked for in the recipes.
Taste the Forest and the Desert - Cold Infused Vinegars.
Foraging is so much fun once you know a lot of plants, you can go into various environments and create condiments that represent them. For example, this week I visited my friend's place in the local forest and found turkey tail mushrooms, chervil, grass, sweet white clover, old cottonwood, willow and oak leaves, dry mugwort leaves and so much more. Having played with the various flavors for many years, I'm able to create a blend by carefully choosing the ratio of ingredients and make some interesting infusions that reflect the local terroir.
Sprouting Wild Seeds
With the drought still going in the beginning of the months, I had to be creative so I played with wild seeds I foraged last year and started experimenting with sprouting them. I experimented with black mustard, wild fennel, local chia and broadleaf plantain seeds.
It was a fun project and I'm very happy with the results for the black mustard and local chia seeds. The broadleaf plantain seeds never sprouted so I'll have to investigate a bit. The fennel was "ok" but very stringy. I think for the wild fennel you need to sprout them longer using a different method.
I'm having so much fun with this! and there is no limit to the creations you can make with nature. I've been working with a local chef (Ludo Lefebre - Trois Mec Restaurant) and researching/creating flavorful infusions. I have tons of preserves at home and with what nature provides presently, I can really make some interesting stuff. For example, in the first container I used raw honey, lemons, elderflowers, local wild mints, bush berries, manzanita berries, tad of white fir needles and a hint of mugwort. I let it infuse in the fridge overnight and voila - ready to enjoy!
I was running out of infused salts and created a bunch of new ones this months.
The technique for creating infused salts is pretty simple, I dehydrate the herbs, create a powder, mix it with coarse salt (a ratio of around one part powder to one part salt) though it varies and you need to experiment with it. For example, if you use chili powder to make a "hot" salt, the amount of powder and kind of chili will determine the heat.
Add a bit of water to create a paste, let the salt infuse overnight in the fridge then dehydrate. I use my dehydrator at a temperature of around 130 degrees.
So far I've made salts with California Bay, Chili, sweet white clover and wild fennel. I'll try wild chervil this month as well.
Goat Stewed in Forest Floor
We're having a private dinner coming up and this is one of the dish I've come up with. Goat stew in mugwort beer and forest floor (leaves, herbs, oyster and turkey tails mushrooms, bark), crushed roasted potatoes with our 3 wild sages spice blend, burned bread (believe me, you want to soak all that good sauce/juice). It's tender, meat falls apart and taste like a mild lamb. Served on forest floor.
Seasonal Wild Food Salad
In the last couple of days, I foraged a bunch of ingredients here and there to make a seasonal wild food salad. This is what I ended up with:
- Miner's Lettuce
- Wild Radish Flowers
- Wild Radish Pods
- Mustard Flowers
- Burr Chervil
- Willow Herb
- Lerps sugar, raw goat feta, sweet white clover salt and red beet vinegar with raw honey. Yum!
Isn't it amazing what delicious food is available to us, outside of the regular food channels. You can't buy these flavors at the store, you just can't!
Some people think that foraging is just about picking up edible and aromatic plants, it isn't...
Foraging for me is a state of mind, the more you harmonize with nature and learn it's "secrets", the more you will look at stems, barks, rocks, water in a complete different way.
A plant that is not edible per se may still have gifts for you. For example, Arundo Donax (Giant Reed) is not palatable (too bitter) but the large leaves can be used to make tamales or wrapped around food when doing primitive cooking. Although smaller then bamboo, the cane makes wonderful containers (and the bitterness does not leech).
Rocks make wonderful primitive mortars which are perfect to create spice blends using rough raw materials.
The bounty is infinite if you have the right state of mind.
Wild Bartending for the Stars
I was asked to create some wild brews for a private event in Malibu and ended up bartending for who's who in Hollywood. I would say most of the guests were celebrities.
The environment was quite different from my local forest/desert and regular life but it was a lot of fun and many of the guests were fascinated that the brews were made from foraged ingredients that were available in the local hills.
Speaking of the environment, this was a huge ranch in Malibu with an incredible view of the sea, breathtaking for sure.
I made some mugwort beer, white sage cider and wild berries sodas (Manzanita, Toyon, Wild Currant, etc...)
I had a great time, Leonardo Dicaprio tasted every single brews I made including the soda.
As I explained in the "On Foraging" section above, as a forager one should not be limited to just foraging for edible and aromatic plants.
Insects are also a food and flavors source that is worth investigating. Very often, insects are also loaded with protein and fat. Cultural repulsion aside, entomophagy (eating insects) should be part of the culinary repertoire of Southern California and was part of the original cuisine if you study ethnobotany
I'm still doing a lot of research in that area but some of the edible insects in Southern California include: some ants, ant eggs, scorpions, bees and wasps larvae, crickets, grasshoppers, water bugs, agave worm, Jumiles, June bugs, tarentulas, pill-bugs and much more.
This week I foraged pill-bugs (aka sowbugs, roly-polies, woodlice). They're actually related to shrimps, lobsters and crabs. I boiled them in crab boil spice mix for 10 minutes and voila!
How did they taste?
To no surprise, they taste like a crustacean related to lobster would, they actually had the same flavors as shrimps. So now I can add wood shrimps to my foraging repertoire :)
Some of the plants encountered this month:
Black berries, Incense Cedar, Cactus flower and Phacelicia
Soap Plant, TurkeyTail Mushrooms, Joshua Tree flowers, Indian Paintbrush, Grass
Manzanita Berries and Miner's Lettuce
Private Dinner at Mariposa Creamery
This month we had our private dinner at this wonderful place called Mariposa Creamery in Altadena. They make artisinal cheese with their own goats. We had twenty guests and ten courses featuring local wild food. Wild food chef Mia Wasilovich (www.transitionalgastronomy.com) was in charge of the kitchen and most of the dishes. Check the menu below:
Wild spiced duck prosciutto, wild seed crackers and toyon berry membrillo
Wild sage and mugwort Beer sampling and wild sodas (rosehip, elderberry, muggleberry)
Giant nettle soup cooked and served in giant reed, quail eggs, fried nettles and garlic strings
Chickweed, miner's lettuce with toasted radish, radish pods, speedwell stems, shaved black and hedge mustard, Mariposa feta served with wild preserves; ash keys, unripe figs, yucca flowers
Acorn timbales with wild sorrel (curly dock) and watercress
Clay cooked trout with white fir and wild chervil beurre blanc and
unripe elderberry "capers"
White sage cider
Quail confit with foraged oyster mushrooms and nocino glaze,
wild seed dumplings (lambsquarter)
Young goat cooked in forest floor
wild mustard dijon
Native preserved green walnuts and Harbison soft cheese
Buckwheat flower cookies (long thin cigars) with goat cajeta,
dessert elderberry wine
Mountain cream (ice cream with fir, pine, barks) & Sugar Lerps
White Sage Cider / Mugwort Beer/Elderberries Cordial
Local Black Walnut Nocino Aged in Our Own Oak Barrels (2011)