Into the Wild
Because foraged foods have such strong, distinctive flavors—sourness, pungency, saltiness, and bitterness deter herbivores in the wild—it’s best to create recipes that spotlight, rather than compete with, their rich tastes. In the hands of a creative cook like chef Mark Fischer, owner of Six89 restaurant in Carbondale, Colo., foraged food like young, spring dandelion leaves can become almost anything. “We’ve done dandelion martinis, pesto, braised greens, risotto-stuffed leaves, salad, and soup,” he says.
Wild foods at the market
Foraging for wild edibles in parks and backyards is safe if you know what you’re doing. Otherwise, buy foraged foods at a green market or specialty food store. Wash all plants thoroughly and, if possible, find out where they were foraged to make sure your food wasn’t exposed to landscaping chemicals or vehicle exhaust. Follow these additional shopping tips:
DANDELION GREENS. Be sure the little yellow flowers haven’t appeared yet—that’s a sign that dandelion greens have turned bitter. For the best taste and texture, they should be bright green, tender, and not yet starting to droop.
FIDDLEHEADS. These young fern fronds should be free of black specks. The freshest are a glistening green and can be cooked as you would asparagus.
MINT. The most flavorful wild mint will show no signs of wilting, discoloration, or flowering.
MORELS. This mushroom, dubbed the “truffle of the north” by chefs, should be springy to the touch but firm and dry. Little flecks of dirt and wood are normal—just wash them off with salted water.
RAMPS. Buy these wild leeks with the roots still attached—look for short, tender leaves attached to a round bulb.