The other day something so utterly bizarre happened that I literally stopped in my tracks and stared, mouth agape. There, among a box of seeds sitting on a neighbors porch, was a packet of purslane seeds! Any gardener worth his or her salt knows that purslane is a nasty invasive weed that can take over a garden plot in a week if left to its own devices. Who the heck would sell its seeds? And why the heck would anyone buy them? Sadly, I know the answer to both those questions. Purslane has recently become a highly favored gourmet addition to salads and such in upscale restaurants. I’m guessing some marketing guru got the notion to sell its seeds, not knowing enough about its cultivation to realize it was a weed! I could only shake my head in disbelief.
Eating weeds is not a new concept though. In fact, I think it’s one that should be highly encouraged, with a little weed identification education of course. Don’t go out and eat just any weed. Only some are edible. But once you know what is edible – and some are quite delicious – go get ‘em!
It certainly is a unique way to clean out the invasive species from your garden or local park. One caveat though when foraging for edible weeds: be sure you know if they’ve been sprayed. It’s best to get them out of your own garden or overgrown backyard if you can. And let’s face it, we all have a weed or two somewhere.
I’ve been doing a lot of weed pulling in my new line of work/study and one that repeatedly rears its unusually pretty head is garlic mustard. It’s a member of the Brassicaceae family (the one with broccoli and cabbage in it), and it gets the same small white flowers when it bolts into seed. It spends its first year low to the ground though as a mounded rosette of deep green kidney-shaped leaves. It’s a little harder to identify if you don’t know what you’re looking for, but I think these younger clumps make for better eating.
While pulling a few hundred garlic mustard plants, I meditated on the name and decided it surely must be edible with a name that included two delicious flavor agents. After a little research, I learned it was once a very regular part of the colonial diet as an herb and salad green, particularly in winter when not much other green leafy stuff was available (garlic mustard pops its head up before anything else in the Northeast which is one of the reasons why it’s such a “successful” weed). Since it’s a prolific seeder, at some point it no doubt got out in the woods where it grew like crazy in the shade and has ever since been the scourge of all those horticulturalist intent upon preserving native undergrowth in our woodlands.
I’m always intrigued by older food traditions and the idea of putting a weed to good use, much like my beloved sorrel (weed-turned-delicacy), set my cook senses tingling. Since I was thinking of sorrel as a good cultural comparison and maybe even somewhat similar in flavor, I decided to revisit the recipe I created for sorrel almond pesto to see if I could make a spring version of that more summery dish. I still have some frozen basil on hand and instead of fresh tomatoes accompanying the pesto, I put the last of my oven-dried tomatoes to use. Presto, some fresh *spring* pesto! And a few less weeds in my yard to boot!
This pesto really is quite tasty with an emphasis on garlic and a hint of mustard heat. I think it’d be great toss with some hot pasta and sautéed asparagus too. Both the leaves and the roots of garlic mustard are edible so I threw in both for good measure, but I’m not sure if one is better than the other. I think I might try the leaves as an addition to my next salad too. If we all pitch in and do the same, this “weed” might actually get back to its rightful place – the table – and get out of our woods.
Garlic Mustard Pesto
A Straight from the Farm Original
1 C. tightly packed garlic mustard leaves, stems removed
1 T. chopped garlic mustard root
1 large clove of garlic, roughly chopped
2 T. frozen basil (thawed) OR ½ C. fresh, chopped
¼ C. slivered almonds
Pinch of salt
¼ C. extra virgin olive oil
Carefully wash the garlic mustard leaves and roots. Roughly chop the leaves and roots and place in a food processor or blender. Add the garlic, basil, almonds and salt. Give these ingredients a whirl, pulsing and scrapping down the sides, until it becomes a gritty paste. Add the olive oil and process until it forms a creamy spread.
Pesto can be stored up to a week in an air-tight container in the fridge or stored frozen for several months.
(makes ½ cup)
Garlic Mustard Pesto and Oven Dried Tomato Bites
Adapted from this recipe
¼ c. garlic mustard pesto
¼ c. oven dried tomatoes*
1 c. shredded mozzarella
Loaf of sourdough French bread, sliced 1 inch thick
*If using the oven dried tomatoes, reconstitute them by placing in hot water for five minutes. Drain and dab with a towel before tossing in two tablespoons of olive oil and letting sit until pliable and soft. Roughly chop prior to using. If you don’t have the oven dried tomatoes, just use sun dried tomatoes packed in oil, draining off the oil and chopping.
Spread slices of bread with a generous layer of pesto. Top with chopped tomatoes and mozzarella. Place under a hot broiler for 2 to 3 minutes until cheese is melted and golden brown. Serve immediately.
(serves 8-10 as appetizers)