September 5, 2006
For a long time now, probably since I read Doris Lessing’s Four Gated City (of which more later), I’ve had a sense, a small lurking anxiety, that I should know how to feed myself without benefit of grocery store. We’ve all been encouraged (by “Them”) since 9/11 to have several days’ or weeks’ worth of nonperishable food and stuff on hand in case of emergencies, from the relatively benign blizzards and hurricanes to the more alarming bird flus and chemical attacks, for which of course one also needs the inevitable plastic sheeting and duct tape. (We haven’t heard so much about that lately, have we? Another passing duck-and-cover campaign, serving for naught but nostalgia at our quaint responses to horror.)
In any case, the issue has occupied some space in my mind well before it really needed to. (I mean, the issue of foraging. Stocking the extra tuna fish and beans is uninteresting. The wine stash is another matter.) And, in the usual way that my out-of-the-way intentions take years to be acted upon, I finally picked some weeds from my back yard and cooked them tonight. The food was tolerable, even tasty, aided considerably by the other, less local ingredients, but it gives me an immense sense of satisfaction to have not just thrown the junk on the brush heap, but to have made dinner with it.
There’s probably an entire menu to be offered from my ¾ acre of New England, zone 6 yard and largely untended first and second growth woods. Acorns, dandelions, mystery mushrooms, purslane maybe, wild cherries, fiddleheads, and incidentally edible things I’ve planted like hyssop and borage. But I’m talking here about burdock. (Top photo from Virginia Tech’s site on weed identification.)
This impressive looking plant grows really well here. It’s actually quite handsome and has modestly pretty pink-lavender flowers, which around now turn into the most tenacious burrs. So I’d be chopping them down anyhow, or else finding the burrs throughout my laundry. A friend in Vermont had told me about two years ago that the roots of burdock were quite nutritious. He hadn’t tried them so couldn’t tell me whether they tasted like shite or not.
I’m happy to report that they’re not bad, though it was a true tug-of-war to harvest them and while preparing them they seem frighteningly woody and dirty. Apparently they’re a common ingredient in Japanese food, and the recipe I used is called Kimpira Gobo (gobo being the word for burdock). I modified it from a couple of recipes, one from a cool site of foraged food recipes called Wild Food! by Steve Brill.
1-2 c. scrubbed, sliced burdock (they say don’t peel it but I didn’t have a sturdy enough scrubber, so I peeled)
2 c. peeled and match-sticked carrots
1 T veg. oil
2 t sesame oil
2 T sesame seeds
1 T soy sauce
1 T water
Prepare the burdock and carrots (peel and slice). Throw the burdock into cold water to keep from turning brown. In a wok or large skillet, heat the two oils. When hot, sprinkle in sesame seeds and cook, stirring for about a minute. Drain burdock and add it and the carrots to the pan. Cook and stir over medium-high heat for five to seven minutes. Add soy sauce and water, cover and continue cooking until liquid is mostly gone. Total cooking time about 10 minutes.
Serve over rice.
It was good, the carrots adding sweetness and the burdock tasting nutty or almost popcorny. A bit chewy where I think they’re supposed to be tender, or crisp. But not bad. OK, I also had an incongruously Mediterranean salad with tomatoes and avocados, as well as a decent Spanish red wine. Which might have helped.
Other sources say to boil for 20 minutes. Maybe I’ll try that next time…. The stuff seems to grow back at the least provocation…