Improvising and Foraging

I have been in a back-to-nature mood with food this week. We have a forest of spearmint that has popped up outside our door with the intention of laying claim to the entire garden space if we permit it. 

Last summer, the mint meandered, too – as it does – and I looked up recipes but didn’t find any that sounded terribly interesting. My favorite way to utilize our abundance of mint is simply to make minted water. I bought a great thermos last year that keeps ice water icy for nearly the whole day (and keeps it cold into the next day), and I’d take a thermos of minted ice water in the kayak for a refreshing drink on hot days. For me, minted water is the taste of summer.

Until the weather became warmer recently, I was in the habit of starting the day with hot lemon water. I’d squeeze the juice of half an organic lemon into a cup or more of hot water and finish it with a drop of agave nectar or honey. It felt like a wholesome way to start the day.

I like both lemon water and minted water and came up with a new idea last night to make minted lemon water to sip throughout the day. This is always a busy time of year for teachers, but this year our workload seems to have tripled. Bringing a lovely mason jar of minted lemon water is a healthful way to pamper myself during the final, very hectic, month of the school year. It’s simple: I either fill a mason jar about a quarter of the way with water the night beforehand and stick it in the freezer, or add several ice cubes in the morning. Then I put a few organic lemon slices in the jar along with a few sprigs of spearmint. Then add local spring water. Simple as that! I could just as easily put it in my super efficient thermos, but it looks so beautiful in a mason jar! I keep it in my mini refrigerator during the work day and take a refreshing sip when I feel thirsty or want to elevate my senses.

Last year, my husband discovered the culinary virtues of lamb’s quarters (also called pigweed), an edible plant that grows wild. I let him enjoy his pigweed all by himself last year (I think I was turned off by the name) but decided to give it a try this year. It tastes similar to spinach but apparently is even more nutritious as long as it’s harvested from good soil. 

It was tasty steamed without anything on it. (We did not eat the roots.)

Sunday was a rainy day, and I was in the mood to make spinach lasagna with some of our canned tomatoes. However, I didn’t have enough spinach or any ricotta cheese on hand. So I decided to improvise, substituting a creamy vegan white sauce (from a Cauliflower and Corn au Gratin recipe I posted previously) for the ricotta and lamb’s quarters for the spinach. It was delicious! My husband commented that it was probably the best lasagna I’ve ever made.

While my husband was harvesting pigweed last year, I turned my attention to chive blossoms. 

It must have begun with me photographing bees pollinating an abundant garden patch of chives and scallions that had bloomed with purple flowers, and then doing some online research. 

In the process, I learned the flowers are edible. I’ve added them to mini frittatas, cream cheese, and – most recently – hummus. 

Here is a hummus recipe I created. You can stir chive blossoms into the hummus or sprinkle them on top for a garnish – or both!

Quick and Easy Hummus (food processor required)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup bean liquid or water
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 3 tablespoons tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon cumin (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil (optional)
  • 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
  • 1 chive or scallion blossom, stem removed and cut so the tiny flowers separate (optional)

Procedure:

  1. Put all the ingredients in a food processor or blender, and blend until it’s a creamy purée. Add more water if needed to achieve the desired consistency. Stir in chive blossoms, or sprinkle on top. Let stand for about 30 minutes to give the flavors a chance to develop. You can serve it as a dip with crackers, pita bread, vegetables, etc. or use to stuff cucumber logs (my son’s favorite).
  2. To make cucumber logs, peel cucumbers, and cut into 1-inch cross sections. Scoop out most of the seeds with a spoon, creating a little cup inside the cucumber log. (Be careful not to scoop all the way through because the hummus would not stay in place.) Fill to overflowing with a spoonful of hummus. Dust with paprika, and perhaps garnish each filled cucumber log with a tiny chive blossom or two. 


    Speaking of chives, have you ever tried garlic chives (also called garlic greens)? They look similar to regular chives but have flatter, broader blades and a subtle garlic taste. They are available at farmers markets in my area around this time of year and make the best pesto! The twirly, tougher garlic scapes also can be used for pesto.

    Garlic Greens Pesto

    • 1 bunch (2 cups) garlic greens (or 1 cup garlic scapes), chopped, packed
    • 1/4 cup olive oil (or more if you like it oilier)
    • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
    • 1/3 cup walnuts, chopped

    Combine ingredients in a food processor, and blend until smooth.


    Day lilies are the next wild edible I’d like to try. My husband and father-in-law insist they are delicious. Nearly the entire perimeter of our yard is lined thickly with day lilies when it’s their time of year. I’ll let you know how that goes!

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