Thursday, April 30, 2009

Dandy Tempura

In case you haven't noticed, dandelions have bigger brains than people. Seriously. And they get smarter each time you whack them. Mow a lawn of dandelions repeatedly and what happens? The dandelions learn to flower ever closer to the ground until those yellow Cheshire cat faces are grinning at you from beneath the grass. They know exactly how far down the cutting blade can reach, and that's where they proliferate once again.

The other day, after harvesting a few batches of dandelion petals for Dandy Bread, I actually mowed my lawn, surprising myself even more than my neighbors. It's been a week and the yard is already replenished with dandelions. No biggie. I picked a bunch of blooms for tempura.

Got a problem with tempura? I didn't think so. Here at FOTL we may periodically throw a tizzy about health and nutrition and generally staving off rot, but you won't hear a lot of griping about FAT. It's the stuff for which our ancestors put their lives on the line. Need some fat to survive the winter? Roger that, let's tool up and take down one of them #$*%&@ woolly mammoths again. Tucking into a bag of pork rinds doesn't carry quite the same cachet.

Yeah but making you own tempura and making it well is almost as cool as hurling a prehistoric projectile at an oversized elephant having a bad hair day. And while I've tried a bunch of tempura recipes over the years with wildly varying results, this time I think I figured out the secret. Whatever you do, make it more watery than you deem appropriate. I used a recipe found here, then tweaked it.

3/4 cup flour
1/4 cup corn starch
1/2 cup ice-cold water, plus extra
1 tbsp rice wine
1 egg

In a bowl mix the flour and corn starch. In a second larger bowl, beat an egg until frothy, then add the ice water and beat some more. Stir in the rice wine. Now add the dry ingredients and mix quickly, not worrying about the lumps. Don't over-mix! If the batter oozes off a spoon, it's too thick. Add more ice water until the batter is watery. It'll seem way too watery if you're used to making, say, Beer-Batter Fish and Chips, but trust me.

Now proceed over to the stove with your bowl o' batter and a plate of dandy flowerheads. Your vegetable oil should be good and hot by now. Flick in a drop of water to see if it pops and sizzles. Using your hands, dip a dandy in the seemingly too thin gruel. The batter will run off the dandy in sheets but the flower will still be thinly coated and looking rather sad and soggy. Gently drop the dandy into the oil, petals facing down, and PRESTO! The flower opens up as if the sun has just come out. (This miracle of kitchen chemistry won't happen if the batter is too thick and heavy.) It's really quite amazing to see the dandy regain its form, albeit with a beautifully thin veneer of crispy tempura as its new skin.

Dandy Tempura has an unusual mouth feel. If the batter is right, the outer crust should be crispy, yet being a flower, the overall texture is squishy. I mix the dandies in with other more traditional fare: sweet potato, bell pepper, onion, and zucchini, to name a few.

Now go pick a mess of ridiculously nutritious dandelions and start frying. That'll teach those PhD weeds!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Chickweed, Round 2

My first round with wild chickweed was the eye-opening Chickweed Chimichurri over Tuna Poke. For that I used a handful common chickweed (Stellaria media) foraged from a neglected rock garden down the block. Round 2 was a different species, mouse-ear chickweed (Cerastium fontanum), which I found growing adjacent to a neglected plot in a local p-patch.

The operative word here is neglected. Urban foragers should seek out these forgotten places: abandoned lots, pocket parks, de-facto green spaces. They're abundant with weeds, p-patches in particular, since the soil is usually of good quality. This p-patch in particular was bursting with red deadnettle (pictured above), dandelions, cat's ears, mint, and chickweed.

Mouse-ear chickweed, unlike common chickweed, is covered in tiny hairs. It's recommended to cook it first before eating, so I boiled mine for a few minutes, drained it, and then added it to the food processor with raw garlic, red pepper, a few heaping tablespoons of yogurt, olive oil, lemon juice, and a little bit of hot pepper, then whirred it into a creamy sauce—basically a chimichurri blended with yogurt.

Next I slathered a fillet of Alaskan rockfish with it and fired up the grill. The color isn't as striking as the chimichurri—alas, it's more of a puke green—but the taste was distinctive, green, garlicky, somewhat reminiscent of stinging nettle pesto but lighter because of the lemon and yogurt. I'll definitely be making this sauce again, perhaps with a little less garlic.

Lunch the following day? Leftover Rockfish Sammy with Chickweed Sauce.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

To Eat or Not To Eat?

I pulled the same stunt last year. Got all worked up by my online pals down in P-Town who were finding big, beautiful specimens of Morchella esculenta, the yellow morel, along the brushy banks of the Columbia and Willamette rivers.

Unfortunately, yellows are hardly present up here in the Puget trough, possibly because of the carnage inflicted by the Vashon Glacier 15,000 years ago, when its recession (oops, bad word) left soil deposits here that don't agree with this particular species of morel. (That's my theory, at least.) Instead, most of us Seattlites suffering from morel madness jump over the mountains to scour river channels and ridges east of the Cascades, where we find black morels.

But it's still cold over there! As I discovered Wednesday. Lotsa snow left on Snoqualmie Pass, and the cottonwoods are just starting to bud out, looking redder than green at 70 mph on the Mass They say it's time to hunt morels when the cottonwood leaves are the size of a mouse's ear. Booshoo! (as we say in underage company). This is a mouse's ear ^^. We've still got two weeks before this area produces.

Another indicator is our lovely wake-robin, the western trillium. These were just starting to bloom, only a few up that I saw. Spring is barely sproinging in these parts. The ground looks matted, like it just woke up after a rough night. Cold winds whistled up the river, sending yellow-rumped warblers into cartwheeling feats of treehopping.


All I found were a bunch of these here false morels, Verpa bohemica, a good warmup drill but hardly worth the drive. I picked 'em anyway. Maybe this would be the year I finally screw up the courage to eat the verpas. Some folks do. Some folks love 'em. Me? I don't like the idea of ingesting anything spiked with rocket fuel. That's right, false morels, snowbank morels, and other relatives of the true morels are known to contain a compound called monomethylhydrazine, a component of rocket fuel.

Apparently this compound has been implicated in a few deaths. There's a story of a French chef keeling over dead in his kitchen simply because he was overtaken by the fumes of false morels sautéing in a pan. Some have suggested the harmful toxins are more prevalent in certain regions, that our western North American varieties don't have the same levels as elsewhere. Others have said phooey altogether, that there will always be a few people who are allergic to wild foods and there's nothing to be done for it so eat up. If you're worried, they say, cook your false morels outside where ventilation isn't a problem. My question: rocket fuel notwithstanding, can they be worse than a box of Fruity Pebbles?

By the way, you can tell a verpa from a true morel in two main ways: the cap margin of the verpa doesn't connect to the stem, instead hanging unattached like a skirt; and if you slice it open lengthwise, you'll see a bunch of cottony stuff inside, while true morels are completely hollow.

Meanwhile, my stash of verpas continues to taunt me. They've been sitting in a bowl on the kitchen counter for two days laughing at me. It's like a bowlful of frightening clowns.

So here's what I want to know: Do you eat false morels? Do you know someone who does—or won't? Answer the poll at the top right of the page and pass it along to your friends.

Predators and Prey

During my scouting mission I saw two small herds of elk. They were feeding in hidden meadows along the flood plain and quickly retreated to heavier timber as I got closer. On my way out of the woods I came upon a probable cougar kill: just a couple of gnawed hooves left over and thatches of hair. I looked around, over my shoulder. A scene like this never fails to register with me. Creepy-crawlies down the spine, lodging in the pit of my stomach. The modern mind can rationalize its continued existence with statistics and probabilities all it wants; the reptilian brainstem still knows there are eyes beyond the ring of firelight, eyes and sharp teeth and claws.

Reminds me of Doug Peacock's great aphorism of the wild: "It ain't wilderness unless there's a critter out there that can kill you and eat you."

That's cold comfort in your sleeping bag at night—but I wouldn't have it any other way.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Chickweed Chimichurri...or Bust!

Chickweed Chimichurri. Sounds like an Arizona ghost town. In fact, it's a zesty sauce, and last week it seemed like everywhere I turned I was hearing oohs and aahs about this magnificent harbinger of summer. Chalk that up to the viral times we live in. My tweet pal Patricia Eddy of Cook Local blogged about Chickweed Chimichurri and then set the recipe loose on Twitter. Next thing you know half of Seattle is discovering the little-known delights of wild chickweed, yet another nutritious weed thriving on the margins of polite society. A farm called Nash's Organic Produce in Dungeness, WA, even sells it.

Well I had to have some. I'd seen chickweed plenty of times in more rural locales. It's a member of the pink family, and though the tiny white flowers are hardly noticeable, they have elegantly cleft petals that are characteristic of the group. Several weeds in different genera go by the name chickweed (there's common chickweed, mouse-ear chickweed, star chickweed, and so on), and they all share similar traits: opposite leaves, tiny flowers, et-cetera. What I hadn't realized was they're edible, even choice, if you use them right. And a chimichurri sause is using them right.

According to Wikipedia (so it must be true), chimichurri hails from Argentina, where it was invented by an Irishman named Jimmy McCurry who was fighting for Argentinean independence in the 19th century; the sauce's name is reputedly a bastardization of his name. Go figure. Anyway, the traditional way to prepare it is with parsley, vinegar, garlic, oil, and hot pepper.

This past week I kept an eye out for chickweed all over the neighborhood—walking to the coffee shop or the bus stop, taking the kids to the park, wherever. If it was invading local farmers' fields (and being harvested and sold by the more industrious), then it probably had a foothold in the city, I reasoned, and sure enough, right across the street from my friend Kristin's house I found a lush patch of it growing from an untended rock garden next to the sidewalk. This was common chickweed (Stellaria media). I picked several handfuls and was off to the chimichurri races.

My recipe is based on Patricia's, which is based on Nash's, which is based on...oh never mind. You get the idea. Chickweed replaces the parsley and lemon juice replaces the vinegar. My tweak was to add sweet red pepper and shallot.

Tuna Poke with Chickweed Chimichurri


1 packed cup chickweed, chopped
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp shallot, fine dice
3 tbsp sweet red pepper, fine dice
1 tbsp hot pepper, de-seeded, fine dice
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp salt

Tuna Poke and Sushi Rice

1 lb sushi-grade tuna, cut into small (1/2 inch) cubes
2 cups sushi rice
rice vinegar to taste

Makes 4 servings.

Mix chimichurri ingredients together in a bowl and refrigerate for an hour or so. Meanwhile make seasoned (i.e. add rice vinegar) sushi rice and cut up a bunch of sushi-grade tuna. Serve a dollop of the raw tuna over a bowl of rice; garnish with the chimichurri. The acidity of the chimichurri immediately begins to act on the tuna, changing the flavor in subtle ways as you eat.

Now, about the taste. A dish like this would seem to cry out for cilantro, but please resist. We all know what that tastes like. The greens in this case are far removed from parsley, cilantro, and other standard ceviche offerings. In a word, they're wild. The bright green flavor, somewhat tempered by the other ingredients, gives this Tuna Poke a new twist. Enjoy it on its own merits or as a change of pace, preferably outside on a sunny day with a bottle of rosé wine.

Monday, April 20, 2009

A Dandy Time in the Neighborhood

Picking dandelions early Saturday morning in your front yard is the sort of civic activity that gets you noticed. Joggers huff and puff down the sidewalk and momentarily crane sweaty necks to see what you're up to. Neighbors walking dogs stop to talk in a disguised attempt to figure out what the hell you're doing now, all the while wondering, Is he finally getting ready to mow his freakin' junkshow of a lawn? Baby-strollers hurry past—that's where those crazy people live...

Actually, in all honesty my neighbor Mike, a scientist getting ready to head off to the Arctic for three weeks to continue studying our doom, wandered over with Daisy (the poodle) to see what my daughter was shrieking about. (She'd found a slug.) Mike even plucked a dandy for me and gave it an expert twist to release the golden petals. He's fairly forgiving of our lack of lawnmowing. Looking at our neighbor's lawn and then ours, he said, "I always figured that was the fairway and this was the rough." Rough is right. When I suggested there was something disturbing about the mania for weeding one of the most nutritious plants on the planet, he warily agreed (he's a climate scientist after all!). People are crazy.

Then I paused for a while to watch a spotted towhee singing in the top of our hawthhorn tree. He's a randy towhee for sure, and I hope he sticks around to raise a brood.

Anyway, the correct way to harvest dandelion petals is to pick them in the morning while they're still closed and twist the petals away from the rest of the green flower head. A robust crop of flowers can give you a couple cups' worth of petals in no time. Just watch out for any unwanted hitchhikers.

It's peak dandelion petal time in Seattle. This is the time of year I make Dandy Bread, a favorite of the kids. After reading Molly (Orangette) Wizenberg's wonderful new book, A Homemade Life, I took her advice and bought a simple oven thermometer that hangs from the rack. Loe and behold: Our oven was off by a cool 25 degrees! But I don't think this is why my recipe posted last year (based on a Peter Gail recipe) seems to be a little too moist, so I've edited the original to a "scant 1 1/2 cups milk." In other words, not quite a cup and a half. Otherwise it's still easy and delicious, and a great way to make use of those nutrient-packed dandelion heads blooming all over town like an army of self-satisfied Cheshire cats.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Damn Yankees!, or Fiddlehead Strikes Out

Yeah, I don't like the Yankees, not one bit. But this post isn't about baseball, it's about Yankee Fiddlehead Casserole and failure. We don't see enough failure in the blogosphere. Just shiny success stories. (Actually, not entirely true. See if you can get through this.)

Let's face it: anyone who cooks experiences failure—or they're not trying hard enough. Right now I have a casserole dish more than half-filled with food that no one wants to eat. I suppose the tip-off should have been the mindless replication of this one fiddlehead recipe online. Dozens of sources for it, all with the exact same ingredients. I figured I was being clever to tweak it a bit and add a twist or two. No matter. What came out of the oven was, in a word, gross.

A big part of the problem was the fiddleheads themselves. Here in the Pac NW we're limited to the lady fern for our fiddlehead fix. While much of the rest of the country basks in the cool shade of the stately ostrich fern, we get the coy lady, who dispenses her favors with a penurious fickleness. Now don't get me wrong, the lady is a lovely fern, and can wow in the right conditions, but she's no ostrich. (I've heard rumors of a few ostrich patches in the North Cascades and the far northeastern corner of Washington State...unverified as of yet.) Lady fern fiddleheads are not as firm as ostrich, and they can be bitter if not picked immediately after emergence. There are tricks to dealing with bitter fiddleheads, prolonged boils and such, or balanced ingredient matching. But I was in denial.

The marriage of tender, sweet ham and slightly bitter fiddleheads was headed for divorce court before the first rose petal hit the ground. My lunch of Fusilli with Fiddleheads the other day was delicious—in part because the lemon juice and zest brightened the fiddlheads, and the parm tied it all together with the pasta. There was no such tying together at dinner. So chalk this one up as a loser. Next time I'll pay more attention to that little voice saying "Beware, beware..."

Thimbleberry Crisis

In other news, I'm halfway through my last jar of thimbleberry jam and already suffering from withdrawal. This is quite simply the best jam I've ever made, and it wasn't even a fancy blend of ingredients—just thimbleberries, sugar, and a little lemon juice. You see, most of us haven't eaten thimbleberry jam because the berries very rarely make it to a receptacle other than the palm of our hand before being greedily devoured.

For you jam enthusiasts out there: I advise restraint. Save enough thimbleberries during your berry reconnaissance—just a couple pints, if you can manage it—and you'll be very happy come winter. And then very sad when that too is gone. August can't come quick enough.


Been reviewing the first typeset pages of Fat of the Land the book! Excitement here at FOTL headquarters building. Stay tuned for cover art, which should be up soon...

Bon weekend everyone!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Eat Your Yard

Urban foragers need not worry about pesticides, herbicides, and other nasty contaminants if they simply harvest the bounty of their own yards—provided, of course, they themselves don't apply such nasty contaminants. Today's salad consists of bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta), cat's-ear (Hypochaeris radicata), and dandelions (Taraxacum officinale), all picked in a matter of minutes just a few feet from the back door. Oh, and a few salmonberry blossoms to make it purty.

Sure, I could have gone to the hippie mart and picked up some expensive organic greens with French-sounding names. But why burn oil and greenbacks when I can get an equally delicious salad with far greater nutritional value for free right in my own backyard?

Cat's-ear should be familiar to those of you who don't insist on a grassy lawn (and probably those who do, much to their chagrin)—it's the indestructible weed with a seemingly mile-deep taproot that looks a lot like a dandelion but shoots up a thin stalk with a less robust yellow flowerhead. The leaves are dandelion-like except for a profusion of tiny hairs. And it's quite the succubus, sucking the surrounding lawn dry of water and nutrients. Cat's-ear is just as nutritious as dandelions, less bitter, and has a longer season. You can harvest leaves in winter in our climate.

Bittercress is another common weed, with many different varieties at the species level. I'm pretty sure ours is Cardamine hirsuta, a European invader. The common name is a misnomer, however, that dates back to Linnaeus. Bittercress is hardly bitter—it's crunchy and sweet, making it an excellent addition to salads.

Dandelions I've already covered in previous posts.

Now one thing: I don't want to oversell this here salad. Wild greens, like meat, are gamier than what you're probably used to. The flavor is delicious to some, a little peculiar to others. Try mixing in a few wild plants with a regular domestic green salad you're first time out of the chute, then work up to an all-wild salad. This isn't meant to be some sort of exercise in penance.

To my readers in the Puget Sound region, I highly recommend the 2nd edition of Arthur Lee Jacobson's Wild Plants of Greater Seattle (although it's most useful if you have some basic plant knowledge). For the rest of you, a little surfing around the web should help you locate similar guides with a regional emphasis. For the last several years I've been trying to improve my botanical skills. The best approach is to learn the families and genera; identifying plants to a species level can be quite difficult, and nearly impossible with field guides that cover the entire continent. You're much better off studying the basics and then working with a local guide.

If you really want to go crazy in the PNW plant kingdom, pick up the bible: Hitchcock & Cronquist, a cool $60 ($48 at the 'zon); this is the key to pretty much everything that grows around here, but you need to know your taxonomy.

Happy botanizing!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Fiddlehead Fandango

They look great on the plate and their taste, though distinctly wild, is still approachable—a cross between asparagus and artichoke, some say. Me: I say their taste is totally unique, although I get that butteriness as well as the high green note common in so many wild edible plants.

Fiddleheads are the new growth of ferns, named for their violin scroll shape. High-end restaurants charge handsomely for these greens, yet you can find them coast to coast without too much difficulty, sometimes even in urban parks.

Here in the Puget Sound lowlands we get our first fiddleheads in early spring around the same time the salmonberry blossoms. The season continues into late spring in the mountains, and, as I discovered last year, you can get a second crop in summer where trail crews have wielded their machetes.

The most popular fiddlehead in the Pacific Northwest is the lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina). Elsewhere in North America, particularly in New England, the ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) is considered tops and makes up the bulk of the commercial trade. There are whisperings of ostrich ferns in northeast Washington but I have yet to verify the rumors.

Look for fiddleheads in damp woodlands, swamps, and meadow margins. You want to get them while still young and tightly coiled; the unfurled fern fronds (say that 10 times, quick) are actually toxic. Also, you should know what you're looking for. While there are no fiddleheads known to be deadly poisonous, some are considered mildly toxic or at least unpalatable. A good way to scout a fiddlehead patch is to find the leafed-out ferns in summer when they're easier to identify and then return to the same spot in the spring. Last year I realized one of my admiral bolete patches was loaded with lady ferns, a feature I'd missed in the past probably because I was so focused on the mushrooms, so this year I plan to harvest mucho fiddleheads to freeze and pickle.

Fiddleheads don't require any fancy moves in the kitchen to taste delicious. A quick parboil (1-2 minutes) and then saute in butter is all that's needed.

They emerge dressed for the unpredictable weather sporting a variety of fur cloaks or papery sheaths. Rub off the coat as best you can before cooking. With some species, such as the lady fern, it's nearly impossible to completely remove the chaff. Cut the stem close to the coil, which is also called a crosier.

Fiddlehead Pasta with Lemon Butter Sauce

1 lb pasta
3 cups fiddleheads, cleaned
4 tbsp butter
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
2-3 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest
1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Blanche the fiddleheads for a minute or two in pot of boiling water. Remove with slotted spoon and add pasta to same water.

2. Saute garlic in butter until not quite golden. Add lemon juice and cook another minute. Add fiddleheads and coat thoroughly. Toss with pasta, lemon zest, and cheese. Season at table. Serves 3-4.

Caveat Emptor: Remember, fiddleheads are wild. Don't expect them to behave like docile domesticated greens. My lunch of Fusilli with Fiddleheads was delicious, but one or two of the 'heads was noticeably bitter, probably because I picked it too late. Always try to find the tightest coils closest to the ground, within a couple inches if possible.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Wilted Dandy Salad

Over the weekend Marty and I took a stroll down to Lake Washington through our neighborhood park. Dandelions were everywhere, big clumps of them, most without buds—in other words, salad greens prime for the picking. If your palate is sensitive to bitter tastes, it's essential to find dandelions that haven't budded. We brought home a tote bag's worth.

I'm not a big fan of warm salads. The other night we had dinner at a new restaurant in Seattle, and though my main was good, I thought the salad of warm spring greens (foisted on me by my dinner companions) was sacrilege. I want my tender young lettuces upright and crisp, not soggy and slumped over.

But there is one warm salad I'll walk miles for. We've been making a version of it with spinach for many years now, thanks to a recipe shanghaied from our friend Kathy. Our stash of dandelions seemed like an obvious fit on this occasion.

Kathy's Wilted Salad

6 cups dandelion greens (or spinach)
2 cups basil leaves
3-4 oz prosciutto, diced
1/2 cup pine nuts
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

Mix the greens in a large salad bowl. Heat olive oil in skillet over medium heat. Add pinenuts and garlic, stirring occasionally. When pinenuts start to brown, add prosciutto and cook one more minute. Pour contents of skillet over salad greens and toss with parm. Season if necessary.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Nettle and Porcini Lasagna

For a potluck dinner tonight I fell back on the old standby—lasagna—but gussied it up with stinging nettles and porcini (both dried and frozen). Making lasagna always feels like a trip in the Wayback Machine to me. As a graduate student it was one of three dishes that I made for the various potlucks and dinner parties we had with our professors and fellow students, the other two being sitr-fry and a Mexican casserole that sported crushed tortilla chips on top. Those three dishes were pretty much the extent of my culinary knowledge at the time. Making them now is like finding a favorite, long-lost t-shirt in the bottom of the closet and trying it on. The t-shirt probably won't end up in the regular rotation ever again, but it's nice to have it around.

9-12 lasagna noodles
32 oz ricotta
4 cups boiled stinging nettles
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
1 medium onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pound fresh porcini (or button) mushrooms, sliced
1-2 oz dried porcini mushrooms, rehydrated in a cup of warm water
1 16 oz mozzarella
1/8 tsp nutmeg
olive oil

1. Saute onion and garlic in a few tablespoons of olive oil until tender, then push to one side of pan and add sliced mushrooms. When mushrooms have started to brown slightly, add tomatoes and stir. Simmer for 30 minutes, adding water as necessary. After 30 minutes, stir in rehydrated mushrooms and their liquid. Simmer another 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile blanche nettles in boiling water for 2 minutes, remove, and wring out. Save water in pot. Chop nettles and mix with ricotta. Season with grated nutmeg.

3. Boil lasagna noodles in same pot (making use of those nettle nutrients) until al dente.

4. To make the lasagna: Smear a little sauce in a 9 X 13-inch oven-proof dish. Lay down 3-4 noodles and cover with half the nettle-ricotta mixture. Top with sauce and a third of the mozzarella. Repeat: noodles, nettle-ricotta, sauce, mozzarella. Cover with one more layer of noodles and the rest of the sauce and mozzarella.

5. Cover with foil and bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Discard foil and bake another 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven and let stand 15 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

No Joke Halibut with Braised Dandy Greens & Cannellini

Halibut with Braised Greens
In like a lion and out like a lamb? Not likely. Look, I know Mother Nature is pissed about all the insults we've heaped on her, but snow in Seattle on April 1 is not my idea of a funny ha-ha April Fool's joke. Mostly it's been icy rain today, but for a few minutes everything slowed down like a phonograph on half-speed and the flakes started accumulating on my shoulders—while I was gathering dandelion leaves no less!

I guess this means we'll have a long season for early spring greens. Phil the groundhog must be in exile.

Dandelion GreensIn any event, I got enough of the green stuff to offset the audacity of the white stuff. The dandelions poking through the pavers of my back terrace are just right for the plucking: big rosettes of leaves without buds (yet).

I braised a handful of the dandelion greens in white wine (1/4 cup) and chicken stock (1/2 cup) with some chopped garlic for 15 minutes or so. Meanwhile in a pot I combined a cup of cooked cannellini beans with half a diced tomato and its juice plus a half cup of chicken stock, then seasoned with a healthy sprig each of fresh thyme and oregano, along with salt and pepper; this I simmered for 15 minutes as well. The beans got ladled onto a warm plate and then topped with the greens; a pan-fried piece of halibut (not caught by me, alas) lorded it over the veggies, drizzled with a quick beurre blanc of butter, lemon, and wine made with the pan drippings.

Halibut with Braised GreensNot a bad lunch on a miserable day. The tang of the lemon married perfectly with the slightly bitter greens (think braised kale if you haven't eaten dandelions before), while the flaky fish and creamy cannellini beans worked together with their textural counterpoints. This is an easy meal I'll be eating again. By the way, the amounts above make enough for two; figure 1/3 lb of halibut fillet per person.

On a related note, while buying my fish at Mutual, I noticed they had monkfish for sale. I asked the manager about the provenance of the fish (since Seafood Watch says it's one to avoid because of harmful bottom-trawling techniques), and he was able to confirm that it was hook-and-line caught. This is good news for lovers of the "poorman's lobster," such as myself and We Are Never Full. I think it's important that all of us who love food (and the planet, by extension) should continue to ask these questions of our fishmongers and restaurateurs. We're all in this together. Good on Mutual for doing the right thing.

Halibut with Braised Greens