Jul 10, 2015

Lunch From The Lawn

By Lawanda Jungwirth  

No need to run to the grocery store when you need something for lunch.  If you haven’t poisoned every weed in your lawn in an effort to make it look like your own personal putting green, there’s a good chance you can find lunch right outside your back door.

Chickweed is a pretty little plant with small 1/8-inch white star-shaped flowers.  Each of its five tiny petals is two-lobed, so it appears that each flower is made of 10 petals.   Its delicate stems and leaves intertwine into a mat.  Chickweed’s Latin name is Stellaria media, which means “little star in the mist.”  Don’t you just love that? 

As delicate as the plant is, it is also quite hardy, sometimes remaining green throughout winter. Chickweed can be found growing in lawns, flower beds, cultivated fields, waste areas and even in forests.

The edible parts of chickweed are the leaves, flowers and stems.  It is easy to harvest – just grab a handful and pull.  It is most tender between May and July.  Chickweed is eaten raw in salads and sandwiches or tossed into soups and stews during the last five minutes of cooking.  It can also be dried for use year-round.

Along with its good taste, chickweed is good for you, containing vitamins A, D, C, ascorbic-acid, beta-carotene, calcium, magnesium, niacin, potassium, riboflavin, selenium, thiamin, zinc, copper, gamma-linolenic-acid, iron, phosphorus, zinc, manganese, and silica.

You probably won’t find lamb’s quarters in the middle of your lawn, but instead in weedy spots around the edges, or in your garden if you aren’t the most diligent weeder.  It’s also common near streams, rivers, forest clearings, and waste places, in unmanicured areas of urban and suburban parks, along roadsides, in overgrown fields and in vacant lots.

Lamb’s quarter is also called goosefoot, because of the triangular shape of the toothed leaves.  They look to be in need of dusting; there is a white powdery coating on the underside of the large leaves and on the top and bottom of the smaller, younger leaves.  Its flowers are nothing to write home about, just tiny green seedy looking things in slender, branching clusters at the top of the plant.

The plant usually grows to about three feet tall, although plants to six feet have been found.  They are easy to harvest.  Just cut or pinch several inches off the top of each stem.  If the stems are tender, there’s no need to spend time removing each leaf.  The stems are edible and tasty too.

Leaves collected in spring are most tender, but they can be harvested up until frost.  Lamb’s quarter has an earthy, mineral rich taste.  If you like chard, kale, collards and spinach, you’ll probably like lamb’s quarter.

Like chickweed, lamb’s quarter is very nutritious.  It's one of the best sources of beta-carotene, calcium, potassium, and iron in the world and also contains trace minerals, B-complex vitamins, vitamin C, and fiber.

Collect a lot of it!  It shrinks by about 2/3 when cooked.  Since lamb’s quarter tastes like spinach you can substitute it for spinach in casseroles, make it steamed or creamed, or add it to salad, stir fry, quiche, eggs and dips. 

Leaves can be dried and powdered to be used as a seasoning in main course dishes.  Leaves and stems can also be frozen for future use.  Blanch for two minutes, then rinse in ice water.  Drain or blot dry and store in freezer bags.

CAUTIONS:  Chickweed absorbs nitrates from the soil.  People with allergies to daisies might want to pass it by.  Lamb’s quarter can also absorb nitrates as well as the pesticide 2,4-D from contaminated soil so do not harvest the plant near fertilized or pesticide treated farm fields or lawns.  While lamb’s quarter can be eaten raw, it does contain oxalic acid, so avoid over-consumption of it.  Cooking destroys some of the oxalic acid so eat as much cooked lamb’s quarters as you like.

POSITIVE ID:  Make sure to positively identify any wild plant, before you consume it.  Chickweed has a row of tiny hairs growing on one side of the stem, switching to the other side at each pair of opposite, oval, pointed leaves.  It does not have milky sap. If you bend the stem, rotate the ends in opposite directs and pull gently, the outer part of the stem will separate but the inner part will not.  You will find a stretchy inner part between the two stem ends.  To positively identify lamb’s quarter, look for the white powder covered leaves.  The powder rubs off when you brush your finger over the leaves.  The leaves have virtually no odor when crushed.  

CHICKWEED PIE

One 10-inch pie crust

3 C chopped chickweed

1 C diced slab bacon

½ C finely chopped onion

3 large eggs

1½ C sour cream

1 T all-purpose flour

½ tsp grated nutmeg

Preheat oven to 325°.  Line a 10-inch pie pan with crust and make a raised border around the rim to prevent filling from overflowing during baking.  Remove all leaves, twigs and root ends from the chickweed, reserving only the greenest, leafiest parts.  Rinse thoroughly; gently pat dry with paper towels.  Bunch the chickweed together into a ball and chop with a sharp knife until reduced to a confetti texture.  Measure, then put chickweed in a large bowl.  Fry diced bacon in a skillet until it begins to brown, then add onion.  Cook about 3 minutes.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon and onions to bowl with chickweed.  In a separate bowl, beat eggs, then add sour cream, flour and nutmeg.  Add egg mixture to chickweed mixture.  Spread filling evenly in the pie shell and pat down firmly with a spoon.  Bake 45-50 minutes, or until pie has set in center and top is golden.

STEAMED CHICKWEED

12 C chickweed, rinsed, drained, and chopped

1 T olive oil

1 1/2 tsp lemon juice

Salt to taste

Black pepper to taste 

Steam the chickweed covered, in a heavy saucepan over low heat for 5 to 10 minutes, or until just wilted, without any more water than what clings to the leaves after rinsing and draining, and without a steamer rack, (avoid overcooking).  Stir in the remaining ingredients and heat for another minute.

Serves 6

LAMB’S QUARTER CHEESE BALLS

1 ½ lbs. lamb’s quarter

2 beaten eggs

1 ½ C dry bread crumbs

½ C grated cheese

2 T finely chopped onion

1 T lemon juice

1 tsp salt

Oil for deep frying

Cook lamb’s quarter in a small amount of salted water until tender.  Drain cooked leaves well and chop finely.  Mix in the remaining ingredients and shape into small balls.  Deep fry until brown and crisp.  Drain on paper towels.  Serves 6-8.

LAMB’S QUARTER SPREAD

2 cloves garlic

1 small red onion

3 C lamb’s quarter leaves

1 ripe avocado

1/2 C toasted nuts (walnuts or almonds)

 1/3 C kalamata olives

 2 T miso

 1 T chili paste or 1 tsp cayenne pepper or to taste

Chop garlic in food processor.  Add the onion and chop.  Add remaining ingredients and process until finely chopped.  Makes 2 1/2 cups.  Serve with pita chips or as a sandwich spread.

ROASTED LAMB’S QUARTER STEMS

2 C young lamb's quarter stems, chopped into 2-inch pieces

2 T flaxseed oil (or other cooking oil)

Garlic powder

Black pepper

Spices of your choice (optional)

Sea salt

Wash the lamb's quarter stems and place in a bowl.  Add the oil and spices and stir to coat.  Place parchment paper on a baking sheet and spread stems on the sheet.  Sprinkle with sea salt.  Bake at 350° about 10 minutes or until crispy.  Check frequently to avoid burning.  Roasted lamb's quarter stems can be broken and added to salads for extra flavor.