Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Knotweed Syrup

I have been experimenting with Japanese knotweed this spring, as there is certainly no shortage of this extremely invasive species on our Vermont riversides and backyards. Now that you see an image of it, you have probably noticed it everywhere, right? In the early spring, when the shoots are young, it is tender enough to eat raw or cooked. The taste is similar to rhubarb, perhaps with a bit more citrusy tang. I was simply cutting the young shoots at the base, removing the leaves, and using them anywhere I would rhubarb- in dessert bars, cakes, or even in savory soups.

After our late frost, I noticed that the stalks got pretty tough, too fibrous to really chew through and enjoy on their own. But the flavor was still there- so I started to make some simple knotweed syrups- for pancakes, mixed drinks, morning bowls or yogurt and the like. Here is a very simple recipe for a knotweed syrup- I encourage you to try it yourself for a local, and very inexpensive natural sweetener.

I used a few beets to help bring a crimson hue to this syrup- as the greenish/brown of the knotweed alone did not wet my appetite. Another option (especially in a month or so) would be fresh
strawberries. Yuummm.

Knotweed Syrup

6 cups of chopped knotweed, leaves removed and ends trimmed
6-8 cups of water
1/2 cup of raw cane sugar, or maple syrup, plus more to taste
1/2 cup of red beet, diced
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. allspice
1/8 tsp. salt
1-2 tbs. arrowroot, or organic cornstarch


Place knotweed through beet in a small pan, narrow enough so that the water nearly covers the knotweed. Over high heat, bring to a boil. Remove lid, lower heat to medium-low and continue to cook until both the knotweed and beets are soft, tender and broken down, about 20-30 minutes. Remove from heat, add spices and cool.

Once cool enough for the blender, blend the entire mixture until completely smooth, adding additional water as needed. Using a cheesecloth lined funnel, strain mixture into a quart sized mason jar. As the mixture will be thick, you will probably have to work in batches, pouring some into the cheesecloth, and then squeezing the liquid though, similar to making nut milk.

Once you have strained the entire mixture, you should have about a quart of syrup. Taste and adjust sweetness with additional maple syrup or honey to taste. I like to give it a final strain through a fine-mesh strainer to remove and fiber strands that might have snuck through.

Rinse original pot and return strained syrup to the stove top. Over medium heat, bring syrup to a low simmer and whisk in 1 tbs. arrowroot. Continue to whisk until thickened, just a minute or two, adding a second tablespoon if necessary.

Enjoy as a mixer for seasonal cocktails, over bowls of toasty granola, to flavor plain yogurt, or for an interesting syrup for morning waffles and pancakes. I also used it to make a chia pudding, simply by blending about 2 cups of the syrup with 1 cup of chia seeds and a few frozen strawberries (this makes a lot- you might want to downscale). I then used some of the chia pudding as the center for my Almond Thumbprint Cookies- it bakes down into a nice gooey filling! Tee hee hee.

Relax. Eat Well.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Wild Dandelion and Ramp Pesto

Wild ramps and spring dandelions are out- and ready for the picking! Don't you just love free food?

Dandelion greens are best from young, vibrantly green plants, found in any nice field not frequently used for walking. After snipping the greens and washing with cold water, they can be enjoyed as a bitter component in raw salads, or cooked like any other hearty green.         

Ramps, or wild leeks, typically grow in wet areas, often by rivers. Part of the allium family, they smell distinctively like onion and have an earthy scallion-like flavor. Go hunting with a small trowel and gently dig up the roots to preserve the whole plant. The general rule of thumb is to take no more than 10% of the patch you find, as they will not grow back the next year after being harvested. 

The leaves are milder than the roots, and can be enjoyed raw or cooked. This year, I made some leaves into pesto and pureed the rest simply with olive oil, then froze them in ice cube trays for convenience. With the more potent roots, I pickled some in a sweet and spicy brine and chopped and froze the rest to use throughout the year. 

Packed with omega-3 fatty acids as well as loads of vitamin C and chlorophyll, this pesto can be used on pasta, baked breads, pizzas, or the like. I love a little scrambled in my morning eggs.

Wild Ramp and Dandelion Pesto

Makes 2 cups

2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup walnuts
3 cups dandelion greens, washed and chopped
2 cups wild ramp leaves, washed and chopped
1 bunch basil, washed and chopped
1 cup arugula
1/4 cup hemp seeds
Juice from 1/2 a lemon, 2 Tablespoons
1 teaspoon miso
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1 Tablespoon flax seed oil (optional)
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt to taste

Process the garlic and walnuts in a food processor until well ground.  Add all of the greens, hempseeds, lemon juice, miso, and yeast and process to combine, stopping to scrape the sides as needed.  While the motor is running, add oils until the pesto is holding together.  Season to taste with salt as needed and refrigerate until serving.

Relax. Eat Well.