Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Asparagus, arugula, avocado soup, & eating on the wild side

Last weekend, I went foraging, for the first time in my life. And I think I fell in love. There I was, with a new group of people, in the woods, learning about a completely new topic. I felt so alive.

This was the perfect symbiosis of nature and cooking. And you probably have gathered by now how much I love cooking. Perhaps I can share a little bit here about my love of nature.

Not to be overly dramatic, but the love of nature might have saved my life, many years ago. 

When I was 16, I had what you might call a crisis of faith. Faith in life. In its value. I was a cerebral kid, who spent a big amount of time in my own head. My head was my space, for better or for worse. And so not so surprisingly, at 16, I reached the very cerebral conclusion that one should live only as a deliberate act, provided one could find something worth living for. Something that could justify going on living when everything around seemed hopeless and dark.

And I had come up with nothing. Everything that might make life worth living seemed either inaccessible or inauthentic. And so I was coming close to the inevitable conclusion: I had no business going on living.

Then, there was a trip to the United States. A backpacking trip with a group of other teens, traveling across the country.

And there was the Grand Canyon.

The day I flew over the Grand Canyon, the overwhelming beauty and immensity of it, I thought for the first time: this is worth living for. Seeing this.

So this land, this beautiful land, now my land, gave me a reason to live when I needed one.

As I spent more and more time in the United States (I ended up actually working at the Grand Canyon for a few summers before moving here), my love of nature became less cerebral and more real. It got me out of my head and grounded me. Ever since, it has made me feel like I belong on earth. I love to seek it out as much as I can, whether it’s hiking through Yellowstone, or going camping, or simply eating outside.

And now, there’s foraging.  I mean, what’s not to love: you go hike in the woods, learn about wild edible plants, learn how to cook them or how to use them in your cooking.  (And it will be so great to take Pablo foraging when he’s a bit more of a functional hiker :-))

I am so thankful to my good friend Linda for introducing me to Pascal Baudar and Mia Wasilevich this weekend, the lovely and talented couple who guided our foraging experience. (If you are in the LA area, definitely check these guys out.)

Pascal Baudar, a Belgian man who has lived in the US for many years and a forager for the past 13 years (he forages for chefs too!), had black fingers, from harvesting thousands of black walnuts, he explained. How I love hands who tell a story.

He guided us down a trail and talked (among many things) about green, red and black currants, elderflowers and berries, wild peaches, wild fig leaves, mugwort, thistle and chickweed. I munched on wild mustard flowers that taste like broccoli, smelled white sage and sage brush.

What better way to commune with nature than to actually eat it? Its flavors open up every one of your tastebuds at once. Nature as a tastebud opener. I like that. Next time, I can’t wait to forage wild spinach, wild radishes and watercress.

After our walk, Mia, a very talented wild food chef (more about her right here) had prepared some treats for us: roasted potatoes with her foothill spice blend made with local wild aromatic plants. Wild spinach empanadas. Nectarines roasted inside a wild fig leaf. And a wild watercress gazpacho with wild watercress flowers (picture below), that tasted like a cool running creek at dawn. And there was Pascal’s fermented white sage lemonade and wild mugwort beer too...      

I plan on experimenting first with fermented sage lemonade and elderflower syrup, recipes I will be sharing with you here soon (should they be successful, that is ;-))  

I have so much to learn it makes me feel young.

So if culinary hiking sounds like something you would enjoy, I highly recommend you give foraging a try! And if you have gone foraging, please tell me all about it! What have you made? What have you found?

It’s such an appropriate metaphor for life too. Let us spend less time in our heads and more time in the real world. Let’s forage the good stuff out of life, for it is so flavorful...

In the meantime, I leave you with this lovely & seasonal asparagus wild arugula soup, nicely complemented by some wild mustard flowers foraged by yours truly. 

Asparagus, wild arugula & avocado soup with wild mustard flowers

Barely adapted from Small Plates and Sweet Treats by Aran Goyoaga

Serves about 4 generous bowls

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes

Age for babies: Without the crabmeat (just the soup), 6-8 months.

2 tbsp coconut oil
1 shallot
2 cloves of garlic
1 bunch of green asparagus
3/4 tsp salt
3 cups vegetable stock
2 cups (about 2 oz) wild arugula
1 avocado
4 oz crabmeat (optional)
2 tbsp sheep's milk yogurt
Foraged wild mustard flowers (optional)

Mince the shallot and garlic. Cut off the tough ends of the asparagus, and dice them. Peel, pit and dice the avocado.

Heat the coconut oil in a large pot of medium heat. Add the shallot, garlic and asparagus with 1/4 tsp salt, stir, and cook for about 3 minutes (do not brown).

Add the vegetable stock, bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 5-6 minutes, until the asparagus are tender.

Add the arugula and cook for another minute. Remove pot from heat. 

Pour mixture in the blender, add the avocado and remaining 1/2 tsp salt. Blend thoroughly, until very smooth. 

You can serve hot or chilled, topped with some crab meat, a swirl of yogurt, and a few wild mustard flowers on top. 

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  1. Lovely! I've been learning foraging from my dear friend who runs http://hutngerandthirstforlife.blogspot.com and it's an AMAZING feeling to find and pick your own food! You'll be seeing food everywhere you go now!

    1. Thanks so much for the referral to that blog, looks incredible! And thank you for the visit too :-)

  2. This soup looks wildly delicious! I love the addition of wild mustard - so pretty! I've lived in Los Angeles for 14 years and had never heard of the foraging hikes before - will definitely check it out, though. Sounds like a lot of fun and also very educational!

    1. It is so fun, I hope you give it a try! :-) Thanks for the kind words, Trisha.

  3. I have enjoyed reading for your blog for some time now - your honest words, beautiful photographs, and delicious recipes are so inspiring!

    I have four children and we too try hard to be mindful about how we eat. Having read a couple of books on children/parenting in France, my kids aren't always so sure of what to make of my new food education, but hopefully they're learning the pleasure of eating in the process.

    Thank you.

    1. What a kind and generous compliment, Kathryn, I'm very touched by it. Your children are lucky to have a thoughtful mom like you :-)

  4. I have always loved being able to walk outside and gather the food I need for my meal from my garden. I can see how foraging would just take that feeling to the next level! What fun.
    On another note we discovered a Pinot up in Pt Reyes called 'The Forager'. Delicious and worth finding. :)

    1. Thanks for the tip, Robin. How did you and your little one like the oysters?

  5. I had a day out mushroom foraging in the woods and that was great fun! Love the soup!

    1. Oh I would love to go mushroom foraging, not sure how much of that there's in the LA area though, so dry here. So glad you like the soup :-)


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