Wild About - Milkweed Pods

*This is a re-post of a feature I did last year about this time.  It is the peak of the growing season here, and I am quite happily spending nearly every minute of my free time out wandering in the mountains.  I hope you enjoy revisiting this delicious food with me.*

Eat milkweed pods? Yes! And they're delicious! It used to be that I'd pick wild asparagus in the spring, and wild fruits in the fall, with no harvest in between. But now, each week brings an exciting new find. Foraging has opened a whole world of new food possibilities. And it's really a dream come true for me, as someone who loves to cook, to experiment with all of the new wild foods I've picked.

Did you get to try milkweed buds when they first emerged last month? Milkweed plants have since flowered in a starburst of purple, and dropped their blooms. Now, there is another tasty little gem emerging from the plant - the pod.

I was afraid the phrase "it tastes like asparagus" would be my overused descriptive phrase for foraged green things, much like "it tastes like chicken" for exotic meats. I do love asparagus, but it's nice to appreciate variation in tastes. The milkweed pod brings a new flavor to the party; I actually think it tastes a lot like okra. I let that flavor-comparison guide how I treated it in recipes.

When you are hunting milkweed pods, try to choose pods that are about 2" or smaller. Larger pods do get tough. Have a peek inside of one of the larger pods you are harvesting. If the seeds and silk still look moist, you're good to go. If the seeds and silk are starting to dry out, or if any of the seeds are turning even slightly brown, you won't enjoy eating it. Another good test to make sure you are harvesting the best milkweed pods for eating is to give them a gentle squeeze along the natural seam. If the pod pops open easily, it's probably too mature to make good eats.

It's a good idea when you're collecting milkweed pods to either use gloves, or take along a wet cloth to clean your hands. The white milk they release is incredibly sticky, and leaves you looking like you've been attacked by a bottle of Elmer's.

As always with foraging, don't take more than you can use, and never wipe out an area. Be kind to the plants themselves, as well as the other plants and animals in the ecosystem who depend upon them.

Once you've got your milkweed pods home, give them a rinse, and clean them of debris and dried flowers. Then, plunge them into boiling salted water for a minute or two. Drain and pat dry, and you're ready to prepare some fantastic recipes.

One of the greatest assets of milkweed pods is the built-in pocket. I thought they must be a natural for stuffing, and boy oh boy, stuffed milkweed pods are an out-of-the-park home run. I like to think of them as milkweed pod poppers.

Start with your parboiled milkweed bud. Make a lengthwise slit down the side, and use a spoon or your finger to dig out the seeds and silk (these are yummy, eat 'em!). Next, fill with your favorite stuffing. I made three fillings - sliced jalapeno and oaxaca cheese, goat sausage, and goat cheese/ roasted red pepper/ basil leaf. To close a stuffed pod, break a toothpick in half, and use each half to pin the pod closed, making and "x." Since the sausage-filled pods contained raw meat, I let them slow cook in a skillet, with the lid on. For the cheese-filled pods, I dipped them into thin homemade yogurt (buttermilk would work), and then into seasoned cornmeal (cornmeal + copious amounts of powdered onion and black pepper + a sprinkling of salt), and shallow-fried them over medium heat until browned all over. I wish I had a picture of these, but they got polished off before I could get my camera.

Have you ever had fried okra? I'm not from the south, so the only time I've ever had it is at the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain. This next recipe, I'm almost certain, could be passed off as fried okra. Take your parboiled milkweed pods (the ones which are too small to be stuffed), and slice them into rounds. Dredge the slices into the same yogurt and cornmeal mixture as the poppers, but let them sit for a good five minutes so that the cornmeal has time to absorb the yogurt. Shake off any excess cornmeal, and shallow fry (the only reason I shallow fry, instead of deep frying is to conserve my precious lard) until golden on both sides. These were unbelievably good. If you've got any milkweed pod doubters in your camp, try this recipe first.

Finally, for a little variation, I reached for some of my favorite Indian spices. Slice your parboiled milkweed pods diagonally into two or three pieces. In a skillet over medium heat, saute a shallot until soft, then toss in a small dried chile (whole), coriander seeds, mustard seeds, and nigella seeds. When the seeds become fragrant, stir in the sliced milkweed pods, and cook for a few minutes more so that the flavors have time to mingle. This recipe is quick and would make a lovely side dish to any meal.

See how versatile a simple foraged plant can be? Really, the possibilities are endless.

Are you thinking about dipping your toes into the ocean of foraging possibilities? Click here to see some of my foraging successes, and get inspired. Foraging is the ultimate source of local, green, super-nutritious food. Go get your hands on some goodies!

This post is my entry into the Two for Tuesdays blog hop, and Real Food Wednesday.

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