Milkweed Bud Tikka
Ever since I first tasted my friend's paneer tikka, which is cheese, onion, tomatoes, and peppers slathered with a spicy yogurt marinade then roasted, I could envision it with one of my favorite wild foods - milkweed buds. Because I enjoy them so much as a vegetable, and their season is so short, I've rarely eaten milkweed buds any other way than with butter and salt, or occasionally with garlic and sesame.
Milkweed always offers us an opportunity to check our foraging ethics, something that I believe should always be at the forefront of our minds as wild foods enthusiasts. Milkweed is essential to monarch butterflies, and it is a resource that is being depleted. Because of this, it is particularly important to harvest milkweed mindfully, only taking it from patches where harvesting can be done sustainably. I never take more than one cluster of buds per plant. Those of you who are fans of my friend Wild Food Girl's Wild Edible Notebook, might recall the interview she did in the July 2013 edition, which pointed to loss of habitat, both through physical destruction and the use of herbicide, such as occurs with big agriculture, as being the major way milkweed populations dwindle. As foragers, we have a unique opportunity to protect the habitats we love and want to return to every year both by harvesting mindfully, and by replanting milkweed when appropriate.
On to the recipe. If you have tomatoes, I think they would make a nice addition to this dish. I don't yet have any. Still, a bite with onion, cheese, and milkweed is near perfection. The milkweed grabs the spice and stays slightly sour, the onion is sweet, and the cheese is deeply savory. You might want to serve this recipe with cattail pollen dosas.
Milkweed Bud Tikka
3 c. milkweed buds
1/2 red onion, sliced into pieces the same size as milkweed
1/2 lb. paneer cheese, cut into cubes the same size as milkweed
1/2 c. thick yogurt
1 to 2 tsp. red chile powder (suit your taste with regard to heat, I used a combo of ancho and arbol)
1/2 tsp. turmeric powder
1 Tbsp. garlic + ginger paste
1/2 tsp. garam masala
1 tsp. chaat masala
2 - 3 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. olive oil*
salt to taste
cilantro, finely chopped (I've been substituting Monarda fistulosa because I have that fresh)
1. Begin by making the marinade. Combine the yogurt with all the spices and herbs and lemon juice. Add salt until it tastes good.
2. Prepare the milkweed buds. Pick out any leaves or bugs that may be stuck to the buds and give them a quick rinse under water. Plunge the milkweed buds into boiling water, and let them cook for 1 minute, then drain away the water and pat them dry. I can do this because my local milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) doesn't have a trace of bitterness, even raw. If you are eating a species of milkweed with bitterness, you may need to repeat this process several times. In the end, if it tastes bitter, don't eat it.
3. Place the blanched and dried milkweed, along with the onion and cheese in a shallow baking dish. Pour the yogurt marinade over them, and use a spatula to gently toss the ingredients so every bit is covered with yogurt. Cover, and leave the marinating vegetables and cheese in the refrigerator for at least six hours.
4. Heat a grill (or your oven) to over 400˚ (F). Grease a foil-lined baking sheet, then arrange the milkweed, onions, and cheese on top of it. Try to keep the milkweed toward the center of the sheet, and the onions on the outside, as this will help them cook more evenly.
5. Place the baking sheet on the grill, then close the cover, and let the tikka cook until each ingredient has browned edges. You may have to pull individual pieces off as they cook to prevent them from burning. Be prepared, the scent of these tidbits cooking will make your tummy growl.
6. Serve immediately either as a side dish or a main. Milkweed bud tikka is particularly nice served with basmati rice.
* the milkweed seems to need the extra oil, though the original recipe didn't contain it