Let’s face it: At this point kale is about as alternative as a Maroon 5 song. The coolest greens out there now are the ones that previously didn’t have the best reputations. They have been called ugly, nuisances and pests, but now these weeds are called dinner. And anyone who is scared by the idea of foraging salad ingredients, don’t worry. Most of these formerly frowned upon weeds are actually available at your local farmers’ market.
Here are five plants you should be eating right now.
1. Dandelion Greens: From the French dent de lion, meaning “lion’s tooth,” the word dandelion refers to the jagged, tooth-like shape of the leaves. While the leaves can be bitter, they are a perfect addition to a salad, or sautéed as a side dish. In the markets you’ll most likely find just the greens––less bitter than if you pull them from the ground––but if you decide to forage them yourself you’ll be able to get the crown as well, which you can cook separately, and surprise first-time tasters with a buttery-soft treat. Another great reason to get dandelions in your diet? Health benefits. According to herbwisdom.com, the root is already used in many patented medicines.
Make Chris Cosentino’s Braised Dandelion Greens
2. Amaranth: This small leafy green––sometimes called pigweed––also produces a wonderful seed we wrote about here. A summer weed, it is another perfect salad ingredient. In the wild, the leafy plant usually has a red stem and green bushy leaves, but the cultivated versions tend to be all one color—either green or red. The top leaves of any wild plant will be the youngest and most flavorful, so you may want to avoid the lower ones. But give it a nibble and decide for yourself.
Try this callaloo soup, a traditional West Indian dish that highlights this green.
3. Lamb’s-Quarter: You can find this delicious and pesky weed in Central Park. You can also find it served in place of spinach at upscale restaurants. The leaves have a soft diamond shape, and when you find them in the wild they will be coated in a natural white dust. Sautéing lamb’s-quarter is where you’ll see the flavor shine through. According to forager Ava Chin, eating cooked lamb’s-quarter reveals a taste that will out-spinach spinach. (Take that, Popeye.)
4. Bamboo Shoots: Bamboo––part plant, part building material––grows fast, sometime as much as four feet in one day. The flavor is mild and tender, like artichoke or hearts of palm. In order to eat them you’ll need to remove the tough outer layer and cook the shoots in a few changes of water, which will reduce the bitterness. The last step is to boil them, add them to a stir-fry and then pat yourself on the back for being one of the few people who didn’t use those icky canned versions from the supermarket.
Try these shrimp-and-pork dumplings with bamboo shoots.
5. Purslane: The USDA classifies purslane among its “introduced, invasive and noxious plants.” On the other hand, Michael Pollan refers to this weed and the previously mentioned lamb’s-quarter as “two of the most nutritious plants in the world.” The leaves, small and oval, make it look like a tiny sibling to jade plants and the taste is a springy burst of plant essence. Depending on the particular piece of purslane, it can be like biting into a cucumber or even jicama. It’s perfect in salads, dropped into soups and, if you’re feeling wild, maybe even a taco.
Try this cool and creamy vegan soup from Alain Coumont.