Getting Down and Dirty with Succulents

stone fruit and succlent salad

succulent (adjective): juicy, moist, luscious, ripe, soft, tender; choice, mouthwatering, appetizing, tasty, delicious; scrumptious.

You have probably noticed the abundance of succulent succulents on the menu over the past few weeks. We love using these crisp and tangy wild edibles in salads and for fun nibbles! The succulents we use in our kitchen have all been hand-harvested by our very own chef Christian. By cooking with foraged plants like these as well as biodynamically farmed foods, we continue to move beyond organic. Eating wild, native plants reduces our carbon footprint and keeps us engaged with the nature that surrounds us. The more foods like these succulents that we can incorporate into our diet, the better off we and our planet will be.

Today, we want to share more juicy details about wild harvesting and succulents.

BRINGING WILD PLANTS INTO YOUR KITCHEN:
Eating wild plants is as easy as taking a step outdoors. You just need to know where to look. Many edible plants grow wild in the Bay Area. Our chef foraged for sea succulents in Bolinas, and you can find similar plants along other parts of the coast. Other plants like wild fennel and blackberries are abundant this time of year. If you decide to forage for your own, be sure to follow a foraging guidebook and only eat what you know is safe. Wild edibles are also only as good as the environment in which they’re grown; be sure to avoid foraging in polluted areas.

Some plants, like this week’s featured succulents, will grow in home gardens. Agretti and sea beans can even help neutralize the soil for other plants by sucking up any excess sodium.

There are also professional foragers who sell their finds online and sometimes at farmers’ markets. They are great resources for products and knowledge. We like to work with Alicia Funk of the Living Wild Project (you can purchase her edibles through Flavors of the Wild). Connie Green of Wine Forest Wild Foods is also a fabulous source for wild mushrooms and sea beans. She supplies wild edibles to the top restaurants in the Bay Area, so she really knows her stuff!

COOKING WITH WILD SUCCULENTS:
Succulents are flexible ingredients—they can be eaten raw, lightly cooked, and even incorporated into soups and stews. We often mix our succulents into sweet fruit salads, slicing them into small nuggets of bright salinity. When lightly blanched, sea beans and agretti make a fine bed for gently cooked seafood. Purslane is mucilaginous when cooked, which means that it exudes a thick, viscous substance that is a great thickener for soups and stews.

NERD OUT ON SUCCULENTS!
Succulents are a category of plants that store water in their leaves and stems. Their leaves are thick and fleshy, and they thrive in dry climates like the Bay Area. They soak up water from the soil and store it in their leaves and stems for later use. Because of their intricate storage systems, they retain water for a long period of time.

You’d be surprised how many succulents growing in backyards, deserts, and beaches are actually edible! There are even restaurants around the world serving a garden’s worth of succulents on their menus. These edibles are full of nutritional goodies that the plants pull from the soil. This week, we’re featuring three succulents that we harvested from the coast:

puslane1Purslane: Commonly considered a weed in the U.S., purslane has been enjoyed as a common leafy vegetable throughout the world. Its small, round leaves taste like a cross between spinach, lemon, and watercress, and they are a veritable powerhouse of nutrition. Not only does purslane have abundant vitamins and minerals, it is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, it is one of only a few plants that contain both EPA (eicosapentaenoic) and ALA (alpha-Linolenic) fatty acids in fruitful quantities. EPA is most often found in oily fish and ALA is common in pastured animal fats. Imagine how many omega-3s you could get from eating a grass fed beef salad made with purslane! But perhaps the coolest discovery about purslane is that it has been shown to remove BPA from water. (Still, you wouldn’t want to eat those particular plants.) Purslane has been used as a medicinal herb since antiquity; writers such as Pliny stressed the plant’s ability to lower blood pressure and cure headaches. The plant was also believed to quell sexual desire and ward off evil spirits. Purslane grows just about anywhere; if grown near the ocean, the leaves will have a subtle salty tang.

agrettiAgretti: This elegant, leafy succulent is a favorite among chefs for its gentle salinity and elegant appearance. It’s a challenging crop to grow, so it retains a selective status among knowledgeable eaters. It was originally cultivated to make soda ash (sodium carbonate), which is used for glassmaking and soapmaking. The plants were burned and their ashes collected. Today, soda ash is made commercially, so agretti is free to be eaten. While the leaves don’t pack the same omega-3 punch that purslane does, agretti does contain calcium, iron, and vitamin A. Agretti has a salty, minerally flavor, reminiscent of spinach or asparagus.

seabeansSea Beans: With their high sodium content, sea beans are some of the more potent edible succulents. They are found on coastlines around the globe, where they are called names like glasswort, samphire, pickleweed, and sea asparagus. Sea beans come from the same botanical family as agretti, but they look much different. The short stalks look like cacti, with arms that jut out horizontally from the stalk. Sea beans are much more tart and salty than agretti, and they provide a good dose of vitamin C in addition to the calcium, iron, and vitamin A. They’re considered the “amphibians of the plant world,” as they are happiest straddling salt and freshwater conditions. Therefore you’re more likely to encounter sea beans in estuarial environments. Sea beans have a mineral flavor much like a good fresh oyster, but also carry grassy, celery-like notes.

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