Last Friday, I traveled across the country with a bowlful of dough rising on my lap. In the bag with the dough bowl were my chopping block and a big knife wrapped in a kitchen towel. Sitting in the sherut (fixed-route taxi) with nine other strangers and watching the highway whizz by, I thought, At least no one’s going to stop me and suspiciously ask what I’m doing with such a knife.
I actually did intend to chop heads off with it – for my lunch. The heads of nettles and mallows, that is.
Sarah Melamed and I thought it was a good time to show fellow bloggers how to forage for edible weeds. The wild green things don’t have too many more weeks before summer withers them. Now’s the time, so six hardy bloggers stepped out behind Sarah, glad to be outdoors such a mild, sunny day. She led us around her neighborhood identifying weeds.
Here’s Sarah talking about amaranth, while Yaelianlooks on.
There were at least 15 edibles and medicinals growing rampant in the overgrown gardens nearby. Some, like Cape sorrel, are delicious. It has a bright, sour taste. Kids love to nibble on the stems. We ate the leaves and flowers as well, sharing with the bees.
Ariella of AriCooks wanted to hear all about chickweed and took a good handful home.
Sarah told us how her son had fallen out of a nearby mulberry tree – smack onto a patch of nettles, like Winnie the Pooh. He roared for his Mom, and she came running out with her heart in her mouth – to find him covered in nettle rash, poor little guy.
There’s a neat way to harvest nettles with a minimum of stinging – cut the stems with scissors, then use the scissors to pick them up by the stem and drop them into your basket.
Only one or two of the Hardy Foragers was interested in trying the scissors system. Truth is, over the years I’ve gotten tough, and pick most of my nettles bare-handed. This horrified the ladies.
The morning was wearing away and Shabbat still starts early, so we returned to Sarah’s kitchen for lunch. She placed her big iron saj over two burners to get hot. A saj is light and dome-shaped, like an upside-down wok. Druze women bake flatbreads on the hot surface, stretching dough out like pizza and slapping the circles down on the hot saj to bake into crisp, tender flatbread in a few minutes.
The plan to was to make flatbread like that. We all pulled pieces out of the dough I’d brought and tried stretching them out deftly. The bread came out, well, rustic. Mine was frankly pretty awful. The really thick one under everyone’s much nicer breads was mine. Liz Steinberg‘s flatbreads were much the thinnest and crispest.
As Liz remarked, it was the first time we English food bloggers had cooked together. It was great fun. And I did chop a mean onion for the greens…
Being the nettle-proof one, I washed and chopped them for cooking, along with a handful of mallows. Into a new pot went all the vegetables, on top of the chopped, sauteed onion. No salt yet – like spinach, nettles absorb a huge amount of it. The greens steamed with no extra water; it took about 10 minutes until they were tender and darker green. Then I salted them lightly, stirred, and covered again.
Alternately, we used labneh yogurt mixed with fresh, chopped za’atar from Sarah’s garden.
That was simply delicious. I had never considered just roughly chopping fresh za’atar and adding it to something like that – would have thought it too strong. You can do the same with fresh oregano and cream cheese or with yogurt strained overnight to become thicker (become labneh, actually).
We put the rolled-up, stuffed flatbreads back on the saj to heat them through and let the cheese melt slightly.
Sarah had hospitably bought a lovely spread of pastries, but we were most interested in the saj bread stuffed with nettles and cheese. There was a fruit salad, decorated with edible pansy, allysum, and begonia flowers.
As usual when food bloggers get together to eat, we all stood around the table taking pictures of the food and of each other taking pictures. We laugh when we do it, but we do it. Then we sat down and feasted.
You can see the stack of rolled-up breads in the background of this photo: the rose and shepherd’s purse came from Sarah’s garden. Yaelian took some great photos and put them on her blog. Although it’s in Finnish, the photos speak for themselves. And joy! you get to see my hands, washing the nettles, there. My hands tingled pleasantly from the nettles, till evening. I do believe my Carpal Tunnel tsuris was alleviated somewhat from the repeated stinging.
Thanks for hosting the morning, Sarah!