The chef behind Chicago's Elizabeth is an expert forager.
Iliana Regan
Credit: © Iliana Regan

While she was growing up in rural Indiana, F&W Best New Chef 2016 Iliana Regan would often hunt with her family for wild mushrooms and edible plants. Today, that means you'll find all kinds of delicious, indigenous ingredients on the menu at her Chicago restaurant, Elizabeth. "Since my time is more limited these days, I'll spend two or three days a month foraging. I go to a farm in Deerfield, IL where I know I can get everything I'm looking for," she says. Here, Regan shares seven of her favorite gatherable Midwestern ingredients.

1. Milkweed
"You can find them in hedgerows and open fields and the shoots are great to use as you would asparagus. I use it in a cold soup. You can fry the soft young pods, which have a really awesome woodsy flavor. When they go to bloom, the flowers are beautiful for a garnish."

2. Stinging Nettle
"You can use this as you would for any cooked spinach preparation. It's great to blend into egg yolks and make pasta or blanch it and mix it with cheese for a delicious pasta filling. I've done stinging nettle ricotta pasta."

3. Elderflowers
"These are great for pickling with a ratio of 1-1-1 water, vinegar and sugar. You can save them to use later in the season and the liquid from the pickled elderflowers is great for sorbet. I'm currently making a chutney with them and they're great in syrups."

4. Violets
"Violet flowers are fantastic for spring syrups and salts or as a garnish. Plus, the leaves can be used as salad greens."

5. Cattail shoots
"You can find these along the edges of ponds and they have a really nice cucumber flavor; it's delicious lightly seasoned in a salad."

6. Redbud flowers
"In spring, Redbud trees are among the first to bloom. The tiny pink flowers are edible, they can also be pickled, and the seeds taste like little sweet peas."

7. Sassafrass
"Sassafrass has fragrant citrus flavor, which I'll use for ice cream (see the above photo of her incredible porcini ice cream with Sassafrass crumble)."