April - May 2014
Some of my fun projects this month:
I've been extremely busy in the last two months, mostly concentrating on various drinks featuring flavors from our local environment. I don't always have the recipes and frankly most of them don't need them. For example when I infused my vinegars with plants from the local mountains, it changes every month so it is a very fluid process. So look at it more as "ideas" and if it inspires you...fantastic!
Insects Ingredients in Beer? Why not?
It seems a bit out there but not really.
Over 60 percent of the population eat insects, the exception is mostly the USA and Europe although it is becoming slowly more popular. Insects are a great source of protein, fat and...FLAVORS!
It was actually part of the regular diet of native Americans but I'm afraid that a lot of the food history has been forgotten, mostly in Southern California. The best living example is probably Oaxaca in Mexico where grasshoppers, ants and other goodies are still part of the native culinary heritage.
If you do some extensive research on local wild flavors, at one point you are going to take a look at insects and other critters. Recently I've done a lot of experimentations with ants, collecting them in various areas ranging from the local forest to the desert and mountains and it is quite amazing. While some ants have little flavors, some are bursting with lemon or even have floral qualities. Crushed, they add a nice accent to drinks.
So why not using them in actual fermented drinks?
This month I've done a primitive beer using very lemony ants I found in the forest and sugar from lerpes (found on gum trees). I started by making a cordial with lemons, elderflowers and brown sugar/molasse. After a few days, I added more water and wild plants (mugwort, yarrow). I set aside 1 gallon of the brew and added crushed lemony ants and around one cup of lerpes sugar. It actually made an obvious difference in the fermentation. I let it ferment for 10 days and yesterday I bottled it (to age for 2-3 weeks). I could not resist to have a taste of the unfinished brew, it was already very strong but reminded me a lot of a sour Belgium beer, a bit similar to a gueuze. I'm very happy with it so far.
Native Food - Cactus flower buds
Native food - dehydrated cactus and cholla flower buds. That's the way they were preserved. Boiling for around an hour, they come back to their old size. Pretty cool to watch. Dealing with the buds was not a labor of love, though I did fall in love with my tweezers. I'm getting better but damn, them needles! THIS VIDEO explains the process to harvest flower buds.
Drink the local mountains! Mountain shrub (Fizzy vinegar/Honey drink).
A shrub is a drink made with sweetened vinegar-based syrup. The vinegar is usually infused with herbs, spices or fruit juice.
This vinegar was infused for 4 weeks with pine, white fir, CA juniper, Toyon and Manzanita berries. Added local raw honey then pour some Perrier and voila! A delicious fizzy drink that taste like the local wilderness. I LOVE IT!!!!!!!!!!
Taste like lemon/pine and some floral accents.
If you want to learn more about making shrubs, check the following links:
Native Black Walnuts Foraging
As I do every year, I collect unripe green walnuts to brine and pickle.
This year, I collected around 40 pounds. Our native black walnuts are really tiny and you only have a short window of time to forage them - maybe a couple of weeks. After that the shell starts to form inside and you can't use them for pickling or make Nocino.
On the good side, you can wait and around August/September start foraging the walnuts when they're ready.
The problem, of course, is the shell. It's probably twice as thick as the regular Persian walnuts you can purchase at the store so you have to go "primitive" on them and use stones to break the shell. There is also very little edible parts inside but on the positive side, they have more flavors :)
Southern California Nocino
Well, every year I made Nocino - a liqueur made with black walnuts and we use it a lot in dessert, as a drink, etc...
But somehow, I'm getting tired of redoing the same thing. Nothing wrong with a traditional Nocino but we're not in Italy - we're in Los Angeles, Southern California.
So this year I decided to make a Southern California Nocino and stop following the conventional recipe. I've made enough drinks and infusions that I know it will come out quite good.
What is the change? Well the traditional recipe ask for the following ingredients:
30 Green walnuts (Double that if you're using native black walnuts)
2 cinnamon sticks
5 whole cloves
1-inch piece of vanilla bean
Zest of one lemon, cut into strips using a vegetable peeler
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 liter vodka
I skipped the vanilla bean and added new ingredients foraged locally: White fir and California Juniper berries.
Why? White fir needles have this incredible lemon/tangerine/pine accent and so are the local Juniper berries. I think it will make a delicious drink with my native walnuts. Can't wait to try it!
Fermented Black Walnuts
Well, it's not exactly a fermentation, more like a preservation using salt then vinegar but the chefs I work with call them "Fermented Walnuts" so why not...
They've been very popular and made their mark in the culinary world of Los Angeles via several upscale restaurants such as Melisse (Josiah Citrin), Trois Mec (Ludo Lefebvre) and Girasol (Chris Jacobson). L.A. Critic Jonathan Gold called them little A1 bombs and awefully delicious.
I forage them while unripe and the shell if not formed yet. For 7 days (or more) I place them in a brine composed of 1/2 cup salt to 2 cups water. I change the brine twice then pickle them.
The pickling solution is quite elaborate - Red wine vinegar, basalmic vinegar, brown sugar, white wine and foraged local spices such as California bay leaves, etc...
But there are other recipes online for pickled green walnuts. simply google the subject and you'll find quite a few.
On my side the result is a flavor between a Worcestershire and an A1 sauce, I'm actually getting convinced that somehow I came across the secret ingredient for Worcestershire sauce.
You can also blend them and make an awesome sauce.
Foraged Chia Drink
Refreshing "Native" Drink - Foraged Chia Seeds, crushed California Juniper Berries and Cactus Pears juice. Add a bit of limes and raw honey to taste. Yum! Perfect for the insanely hot weather.
Seasonal Wild Food Salad
True flavors of Southern California - Wild food salad with ingredients foraged yesterday and this morning.
Dandelion, currants, watercress, sweet white clover, willow herb, pineapple weed, chickweed, nasturtium, yucca flowers, chervil, black mustard and regular mustard flowers, wild radish flowers and pods, elderflowers, purslane, clover, miner's lettuce, London Rocket leaves, cactus flower buds, yerba santa flowers, mountain vinegars (white fir, pine, manzanita berries, CA juniper) with cactus pear juice. Preserved local olives, Duck prosciutto infused with wild sages and crumbled wild seed crackers.
Seriously! This is how Southern California taste like!
Native Food - Yucca Petals
Yucca whipplei is a plant of many uses, roots and leaves to make soap, leaves to make cordage. The edible part is the young shoot (before the flowers appear), the flowers and young buds. Despite what the books says, I believe the mature seeds are somewhat toxic and even roasting didn't make them palatable.
I ususally cook the flowers with butter and basalmic vinegar. They taste a bit like Belgium endived. Raw they have a nice flowery accent albeit somewhat bitter. Natives used to cook them and change the water more than once to remove the bitterness and eat them. I'm not too fond of it and I'm sure there are other methods.
This year, I'm dehydrating some of the petals for further uses. Not sure what yet but I'll find something good to do with them.
Private Wild Food Event - Birthday in the Wilderness
We had a private event and wild food chef Mia Wasilovich (www.transitionalgastronomy.com) did her usual culinary magic. I just did the wild food walk and the drinks - the easy part :) We are starting to build a powerful team of people around what we do, extremely creative people including my own daughter. The future looks interesting. The menu was amazing, cactus sorbet, wild food salad, elderberry cakes, etc...
Taste of the local mountains
I'm still playing around with perfecting cold infusions with local foraged plants from different environments.
Yesterday I went on a day trip to the local mountains and a bit further in the desert while collecting various plants on the way. Once back I got busy and made this infusion composed of the following ingredients:
White fir (cut needles to infuse faster)
Pine needles (cut too)
Crushed California Juniper berries
Raw honey, limes and lemons.
I like to infuse it overnight in the fridge, mostly for food safety (warm temperature increase the chance of bacteria growth) and frankly, I actually prefer a short time for infusion. I think the flavors are more subtle.
The trick is doing such infusion is determining how much of each ingredients you want to use. With dealing with so many plants/flavors you can easily miss the mark and the result is just "Meh". I usually choose my main flavor which also becomes the main ingredient. IE. Wild mint in this case. The next major ingredient is the supporting flavor. Lemons goes well with mint, white fir taste like pine/lemons so I added white fir/lemons. Elderflower give a little floral boost so it's maybe 15 percent of my solution. California Juniper berries can be strong but offer a nice extension to the flavors of lemons and white fir. It has this pine quality. 10 to 15 berries per gallon are enough. Yarrow is super strong but extend that pine quality plus several layers of tasty undertone - it's quite bitter too. 3 leaves are usually enough. Manzanita berries taste like sour apples, goes well with lemon too so I add maybe 20 of them. Add raw honey to taste. The result was awesome on this one.
Made a bunch of wild brews recently and some specifically to make interesting new vinegars.
The one that is the most interesting is an old medieval recipe of oak bark beer.
It was actually fascinating to brew, oak bark is very tannic and bitter, in the old days it was actually used to make a specific beer. The best oak to use is white oak as it has less tannin than the other oaks.
I mixed it with white fir and the beer tasted very strongly of pine. It was a bit out there for a brew (not bad though) but thought it would make a very interesting vinegar. I have to wait a bit more but it smells wonderful.
Canned Goat Cooked in Forest Floor
Chèvre dans la forêt. Canned goat cooked in mugwort beer and forest floor (Fall leaves, aromatic herbs, mushrooms, grass, etc...)
Followed USDA protocols for canning meat in broth - should last a year. As an extra precaution, boiling of more than 10 minutes before serving (would get rid of botulism if any). YUM!
Natives used mugwort to protect their stock (acorns) from insects. A little salute to old preservation techniques by wrapping the top in mugwort leaves and tied with yucca fibers.
I like when an idea works.
If you take a look on the first photo, on the right is a roast agave candy form Mexico, on the left is my version using foraged yucca whipplei shoot. Same textures, the flavor is a bit different on the yucca just because I used cane sugar (see photo on the right).
I tried 3 methods. What worked was to candy the shoot then somewhat long roasting. it was experimental but it's good to know what it works.
PICKLED YUCCA SHOOT
End of April and May is Yucca season. Every year I visit my friend's property and pick up 2-3 yucca shoots for pickling.
The texture is amazing, between a cucumber and a potato. Not too much flavor so the pickling solution is important.
Originally my pickling solution was quite elaborate and each year I make it more and more simple. This year I used the following recipe:
3 parts apple cider vinegar
2 parts white wine
Each jar contains a bit of ginger and one chili. 1/2 tablespoon of sugar for 1/2 pint jar.
Canning: Water bath 1/2 pint jar for 15 minutes, pint jars for 20 minutes.
DEHYDRATED WILD SOUP
I did a workshop last week on making my now famous "soup cubes".
Basically deconstructing a nettle soup in its basic ingredients, mix them with water, form them into cubes and dehydrate them.
It is a fun process and quite handy to make yummy soups in the wilderness. These days, I don't bother making the cubes but simply keep the dehydrated soup in powder form which honestly works wonder and is faster to make and cook.
That said, making soup cubes is fun. Check the method in the wild food lab: Making Soup Cubes
Some of the edible plants I saw recently during a desert trip
Yucca Shoot - Prickly Pear Cactus Flowers - Nopales cactus pads - Cholla cactus flower
Black Sage - California Buckweat - Prickly pear cactus flower buds - Cholla buds
Cholla buds - Yucca shoots - Cactus (name unknown) - Dudleya -(edible but protected)
Red flowers (forgot the name) - Red flower (Prickly pear cactus) - old yucca whipplei (2 photos)
California Sagebrush - Yerba Santa Flowers - Yucca Flowers - Top of a yucca shoot.
The best wayt to learn is to spend time with experts in the field.
I was lucky to have a wonderful visit from insect expert Dace Gracer and edible insects author/chef David George Gordon.
We had some wild beers, tasted some wild preserves, visited the local forest for wild plants and edible bugs and chatted a lot - fun time with fellow foragers - even if we forage different ingredients.
I also learned much more about my "lemon ants" and other critters.
Buy the cookbook btw, recipes are awesome.