Monday, June 2, 2008

A Weed is Not a Plant

It is an idea about a plant.

Spring Lamb's Quarters and Dandelion Salad with Chive-Dill Dressing

If you have a garden in Minnesota, you have lamb's quarters. If you have a yard, you have dandelions--unless you poison them with chemicals. In which case, do not attempt to gather salad from your yard. Needless to say, only gather wild edibles from an area you know to be chemical-free.

Gather sufficient young, tender lamb's quarters and not-too-bitter young dandelion greens to feed however many you have to feed. Look for dandelions that have not yet sent up a flower stalk. Taste a leaf. You will know if it is too bitter. It will taste too bitter. The lamb's quarters I used were tiny plants just coming up. Later in the summer you can use the tender top leaves for salad. Larger leaves can be cooked. By that time all the dandelions will be too bitter.
Make this dressing, or another one you like. This dressed a salad for two:

Glug, glug of grapeseed oil or an oil of your choice (a little flavorful walnut oil would be nice)
Splash and a half red wine vinegar (or white, it doesn't matter that much)
Drizzle of honey
Pinch of salt
Grind grind grind fresh pepper-stop, that's enough
Chopped chives and dill, as much as you please (or another herb that you like)

Make a salad. Decorate with a few pansy blossoms, if you have them and you feel like it. You could use other edible flowers--violets, nasturtiums, marigold. Not all flowers are edible, however.

(The lovely bowl is from Utile Mud at the Midtown Farmers' Market )

I got a preemptive email warning from the Weed Police at the Dowling Community Garden where we're lucky enough to have a plot, requesting that I please look into my unintended early spring crop. As warnings from the dreaded Weed Police go, this one was quite pleasant, presented as it was in the form of a limerick which began:

There was a young fellow from Leeds,
Who lost sight of his flourishing weeds....

I'm not sure what Leeds has to do with it. I'm not from Leeds, which I believe is in England. Nevertheless. I was urged to take care of those weeds, which eight inches in height did exceed. I had it on my schedule to visit the garden that week anyway. I'm planting tomatoes and squash there, and with nighttime temperatures in the 40s and highs sometimes mired in the 50s, I'd been in no hurry to plant.

The garden was messy but not too much of an eyesore. I had most of the weeds out in an hour-and-a-half. In the course of which I realized that some of what I was tossing in the compost pile could be considered not weeds but salad. The young lamb's quarters were delicious, more flavorful than most lettuce. And the pansies which had migrated over from a neighboring plot were very pretty, but in this context they were weeds--except that they could also be garnish. With the spring as cool as it has been there were plenty of palatable dandelions to add variety.

In our home garden the dill plants reseed reliably, providing welcome early flavor in salad dressings, sauces, and mayonnaises. But they come up so widely and indiscriminately that when I'm ready to plant those beds they shift from herb to weed.

The chives are just chives. They stay where they're meant to be and don't cause anyone any trouble or epistemological worry. They are just good citizens of the allium sort.

Dinner at our house isn't always a wine-and-candlelight affair. Sometimes a bottle of beer and a grilled-cheese sandwich will do just fine.

(It's Roth Kase Wisconsin "gruyère" and seven-year-old Wisconsin cheddar on our olive oil-sage bread, with a little home-smoked bacon in there for added interest. What, you were expecting Velveeta on Wonder Bread?)

Text and photos copyright Brett Laidlaw 2008


Anonymous said...

That grilled cheese sandwich sure looks good!

d said...

Wow! I got notice of your blog via e-mail! What a wonderful blog, and the photography! and the recipes! and the general high level of posting. I can't wait to make Sourkraut in Jars this fall.

Trout Caviar said...

Devin: Get yourself a copy of "Wild Fermentation," and you'll soon be fermenting everything you can get your hands on. It's not just a way to keep vegetables from rotting, it's a lifestyle!