BY SCOTT HOME
Having been hoisted off the boardwalk by a little old lady demanding “WHEN are you going to write the chickweed piece?”, I act. A year ago, I could only say I have used it fresh in salads, chopped in potato, root vegetable and pasta salads, but I have never cooked with it. To yield my fan’s enthusiasm involved a foray into undiscovered country, and would take another summer.
An uncompromising one. I went looking for cooking tips and found nearly none: “Fry it.” “Good tempura.” “Dip in hot olive oil, put on garlic bread, cover with rockfish filet and butter and garlic and broil.” I could come up with better off the bald spot of my head: cook it in mac and cheese (Mac and Chic!), in grits with pine nuts and pepper jack; in cream sauce for fish; and it definitely does guacamole. Full frontal disclosure requires I admit I have not done any of these things, except the tempura.
There is a patch by my house, which is particularly lush, probably because it is regularly refreshed with nitrogenous sprays. I don’t harvest it. But seeing recipes for chickweed in a glossy national magazine tells me one thing: them damn Yankees is a-selling’ that stuff. Which means I’ve been pissing over a valuable resource.
The problem with any one set of recipes is that the flavor of chickweed varies from place to place in Southeast Alaska. That in Glacier Bay has a lemony tinge. The local crop tends more fennel-ward. The recipes below assume this local strain.
Our own wild aromatic greens- chickweed, young dandelion, beach greens – substitute very well in any recipe so styles, and with any mix of store greens. Never forget you are getting a slam-dunk of nutrients, especially when they’re same-day fresh. Dandelion is the mildest flavor; too much chickweed will take over. Beach greens (Honckenya) have the flavor of ocean air, which is to say, heavy on the iodine; too heavy for some papillae. (There are people who have 16,000 TIMES the taste buds of minimals; that’s howcum there’s no accounting for taste.) Early leaves make a good mix; by summer’s end they’re at he-man level. The other two can be chopped but beach greens have to be shucked; their stems stay stiff entirely too long. The proportions here should show them to best advantage.
CREAM OF CHIKWEED SOUP: Model this on cream of watercross or dill, adding sliced or julienned fennel or kohlrabi, elephant garlic, shallots and celery. Or on the sorrel cream soup that is 1/3 white wine. For a nearly unique flavor try baking horseradish root to mix into this. Slice horseradish root in half and remove the inner core which otherwise will make it inedibly bitter. Fill the cavity with wasabi powder and seasoned salt, tie the sections back together and bake 45 minutes. The flesh that comes out tastes like nothing that went in. This is equally a good addition for lots of other cream soups.
CHICKWEED PESTO: 2 c chopped chickweed, 1 c chopped young dandelion, 1/2 c beach greens chucked, 1 c + olive oil, 1 c mixed finely chopped scallions, shallots and chives, 2 T ajwan seeds, 4 T fresh lime juice, 4 T finely grates pecorino or parmigiano, dill and sesame seeds. I’d add black pepper. Grind it all fine in a processor, and it will keep for weeks refrigerated.
CHICKIE CHIZHIPIZHI, a word in the unique Georgian tongue for what we call a scramble, can us the same proportions of greens, or any of them alone. Before the egging starts, brown crumbled sausage, peppers, shallots, with hot paprika, cheese like feta, Caerphilly, Havarti, etc., which are also good in the skillet with the greens. Possible ingredients are numerous.
And chickweed with shaggy mane or oyster mushrooms would complement them sautéed in buter with black pepper, lime juice and tarragon.
This should ward off the tactics of the Beldam Liberation Front. You don’t mess with old Alaskan ladies. They can beat the crap out of you.
A world class glutton nothing edible is safe from: good thing he doesn’t like you. Just don’t piss on his chickweed.