Boullion of the Woods

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BOTW before grinding.

If you’re a mushroom forager, Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus spp.) aren’t really the first fungi that spring to mind when thinking about drying the harvest. Indeed, the appearance of a slightly-too-far-gone specimen is something of a wild food cliché, sometimes accompanied by gags of the “no spring chicken” variety. Hilarious.

When they are fresh, it is their tenderness, as well as their flavor that encourages comparisons with poultry. Newly-emerged Laetiporus can be stir- or deep-fried to resemble chicken breast meat to a very credible degree. When they are still fresh but not quite as soft, I can still deep-fry them or use them in a slow-cooked dish with great results. They can also be used at this point, and perhaps a little further along, to make a great mushroom and herb powder that substitutes quite handily for powdered or cubed chicken bouillon.

First, the mushrooms should be dried in a dehydrator or by placing on wire racks in a place with a great deal of air movement and not much humidity. Once they are dried quite thoroughly they can be made into the BOTW or left in glass or plastic jars bags until ready to be ground. You will get the most optimal results by using the freshest mushrooms. If the fungus is really quite dry when you encounter it, it may already have lost too much of its flavor to be saved. If you prepare this, also try the test mentioned below and see if the flavor is adequate.

Combine in a food processor :

4 oz. dried chicken of the woods mushrooms (Laetiporus spp.)

2 tbs good-quality sea salt

1/4 cup dried wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) leaf

2 tbs dried sweetfern (Comptonia peregrina) leaf

Pulse and then process until the product resembles semolina or corn meal.

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Ground BOTW.

To test the flavor, dissolve a small amount in a coffee mug full of hot water. If the flavor resembles chicken broth, you’re good to go.

As far as substitutions, you can use oregano in lieu of wild bergamot, and perhaps thyme or bay leaf in half the quantity listed to substitute for sweetfern. The flavor won’t be exactly the same, but should still serve amiably.  You may wish to add more salt to more closely approximate dried chicken bouillon (which is extremely salty), but I usually find it more helpful to add salt to the dish directly, leaving this powder with just enough salt content to use as a broth base without making it too salty to add to dishes with abandon.

Texture of the ground powder is a consideration. I like to leave it a bit coarse, even allowing for the occasional lentil-sized nugget of Laetiporus to go unground. These larger bits can always be strained out of a broth later if I am looking for consommé-like refinement. More often I am using BOTW to add to meatballs or stews, or as a base for a ramen bowl. In these cases, small chunks of mushroom are a bonus rather than a hindrance. If you prefer it finer, simply grind until it is as fine as white flour.

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Ramen made with BOTW, shredded parsley root, cooked leeks and parsley root leaf.

To use as a soup base (it makes a lovely ramen powder), use 1 tbs to 2 cups of water. You can also use it to enhance a tired or weak broth by adding in the same ratio or slightly less. Be careful when adding to quickly-boiling water or broth, as the BOTW will make the hot liquid tend to foam vigorously if the heat is too high. The coarser the grind, the more likely you are to use it as a substitute for breadcrumbs in dishes with good success. In a heavily-breaded dish I may add a couple of tablespoons of BOTW for every cup of panko or breadcrumbs.

There are a myriad of other uses for BOTW, from adding to soups or stews to savory bread and pancake mixes, or adding to liquid sauces which will be strained in lieu of broth. The powder is relatively low in salt, so can be used as a lower-salt substitute or liason for dishes in which savory flavor is called for but salt must be kept to a minimum. BOTW can also substitute in any recipe that calls for ground dried mushrooms or mushroom powder. Bear in mind its’ salt content while using, and increase or decrease the salt content in the initial grind accordingly.

As I post more recipes using this handy kitchen helper I will post them here, for now :

Oyster Mushroom “Meatballs”

 

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Nearly Wild Curry Mix

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Curry powder always seemed to me a shabby thing to buy, it being so much more interesting to work with the whole spices themselves. I was spurred on by one of the first cookbooks I ever bought, a collection of recipes and information about spices published to sell the goods of a local spice importer. By understanding the spices individually, I was able to experiment with them culinarily, adding more or less to a mix depending on what I intended to do with them. Cardamom and cloves, for instance, could be added if I was using a mix to spice tea or desserts with. I would add more dried curry leaves and turmeric when making a mix for fish.

When I began to seriously incorporate more of the native and invasive wild spices of the world of wild food, it wasn’t a great stretch of the imagination to start to envision a masala or curry mix made entirely of foraged aromatics. And while an excellent entirely wild curry mix can be made, I usually find that I miss the cumin acutely. For day to day use and especially when replacing imported curry powder in traditional recipes, I have settled on a curry mix that is “nearly wild,” relying only mainly on foraged ingredients. It is also quite flexible, and may be adapted, altered or expanded by anyone who uses it, with many replacements or omissions possible. I believe it can be used in most temperate climates without too much trouble, assuming the availability of traditional imported spices to replace what cannot be foraged.

I have omitted any turmeric or substitute for turmeric in this recipe. To many, the taste and color of curries cannot be separated from that spice. Now that organic fresh turmeric is much more widely available, I use it in these curries, when it can be added at the time of cooking. You may wish to add that or the powdered form to affect a more traditional coloration. I sometimes add annatto seed instead for “local color,” but of course the color is a different one. Below is the recipe, see notes after the recipe for information on substitutions. I have deliberately split the list of ingredients into three groups.

 

Combine :

 

1 ) essential bases

1 tbs. black mustard seed (wild or domestic)

1 tbs. cumin seed

1 tbs. wild parsnip or pushki or coriander seed

1-2 tsp wild carrot seed (optional, omit if using coriander seed)

 

2) optional aromatics

2-3 northern bayberry leaves or 1-2 bay leaves or 8 curry (kari) leaves

1-2 tsp ripened (red) spicebush berries, dried or 1/2-1 tsp allspice

1-2 magnolia buds, dried or pinches of magnolia leaf or 1 clove

1 tsp american juniper berries or 1/4 tsp european juniper

1-3 eastern hemlock cones

 

3) “hot” or piquant aromatics

1-2 tsp prickly ash berry or sichuan peppercorn

1-3 tsp waterpepper seeds (or 1/2-1 tsp black peppercorns)

1-2 tsp chile flakes or 1-3 small dried hot chiles

 

Combine all the above in a heavy pan and heat over low to medium heat, tossing every thirty seconds or so, until the spices are toasted and fragrant. You can also store the mix, combined and use as whole spices in pickles or broths, or toast and grind it to order, which will give the best flavor. My only advice would be to use the whole recipe when grinding or using to infuse, as the many different-sized and shaped ingredients tend to separate themselves in the jar.

The trinity of mustard-cumin-wild parsnip is essential to this mix, nearly everything else can be omitted or varied. If using domesticated mustard seed, the variety to use is the brown or black mustard seeds preferred in Indian cuisine. Wild mustard genera which produce seeds that can be used for this include Brassica, Lepidium, Barbarea, Thlaspi, etc. Wild parsnip or pushki (Heracleum maximum, other edible Heracleum species can be substituted) seed, along with wild carrot seed all bear some resemblance to family member coriander. Pushki and wild parsnip have a drier, earthier flavor to them while wild carrot is spicier and lightly citrus-y. Always remember to avoid wild carrot seed if pregnant or desiring to become so–while I doubt that the small amount involved would have much effect unless consumed in massive quantities, wild carrot seed is traditionally considered an abortifacient.

The second group of aromatics are all wild but any can be omitted or substituted with the imported spices listed, with the exception of hemlock cones, which really have no parallel. If there is one wild spice in this group that I would strongly recommend investigating (and not replacing with allspice, which is a paltry substitute), it is spicebush. Native to the eastern US, it is a native understory tree which produces a green berry in summer that matures to a deep red in autumn. It is resinous and pungent and can be used ripe or unripe, fresh or dried. It has become inseparable from various curry mixes and is the most distinctive background player in this recipe, in my opinion.

Heat can be regulated by adjusting the last group of ingredients, which is in part why I have left a range for those items. I would describe this mix as moderately spicy, but not extremely so, even if using the larger numbers and including all three hot items. For a heavier spice, simply add more of whichever piquant aromatic you prefer.

Garam Masala March 2015 : New Times Masala

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Place in a large, heavy skillet or cast-iron pan over medium-low heat :

1/2 cup coriander seeds (1.75 oz)

1/2 cup cumin seeds (3 oz)

seeds of 3 tbs green cardamom pods (.5 oz) (about 1 1/2 tbs seeds)

1 tbs vietnamese cinnamon (.25 oz)

1 tbs cloves (.25 oz)

4 tbs black peppercorns (1.75 oz)

Toast spices, tossing gently, until aromas have been released but before coriander and cumin seeds begin to darken. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.

Leave whole and store in glass to be ground fresh and used in recipes, or grind to a fine powder and store in glass jars or shakers. I usually like to leave about half as a solid spice mix and grind the other half. Remember when using the whole spice mix that it should be shaken before measuring, as it will likely settle and separate in the jar.

Ground masala will remain usable for at least a half of a year, the whole spice mix for a year. If spices are burned or darkened they will deteriorate more rapidly.

Masalas are inherently variable things, dependent on the mood of the cook and the spices available. I encourage you to come up with your own spice mixes, reflecting your own tastes and adding a touch of your own personality as a cook. This one is just a snapshot, a new masala for new times.

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Spiced Daikon Pickle

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Another year-round staple of my kitchen, this is pickled radish inspired by the Vietnamese do chua pickles, served with noodle dishes, salads and banh mi. I specifically made this to pair with my sweet-hot pickled carrots. I was introduced to the combination of pickled carrot and radish threads (sometimes with cucumbers added) in the Vietnamese restaurants and sandwich shops of Houston, and have made some variation on do chua ever since. My love of variety gave me the idea a few years ago to separate the pickles into two different treatments, adding chile and more sugar to the carrots and a mix of savory spices to the radish.

Place in a glass quart jar* :

2 star anise

2 tsp sichuan peppercorns, whole

2 tsp black peppercorns, whole

1 stick of cinnamon or a few pieces of cassia

*You may choose to place these spices in an infusion bag, so that the flavors get into the pickle without having whole spices scattered amongst the pickle. You may also simply leave them in, and enjoy the intense flavor of crunching into whole spices. I like both, and will vary according to my mood or what I plan to serve this with.

Slice into shreds / julienne with a mandoline or knife :

1 lb. daikon radish or other large asian radish

Heat in a small saucepan, stirring until the sugar and salt are dissolved :

2 cups white vinegar, brewing vinegar or other mild vinegar

3 slices of ginger, about 1-2″ inches long and wide

2 tbs sugar

1 tsp salt

Place the shredded radish into the quart jar with the spices, then pour in the seasoned vinegar while it is still hot.

Allow to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate.

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This is another fairly straightforward quick pickle, once which will be ready to eat once it cools, slightly more flavorful after 24 hours, and which will develop in flavor over time and last at least a month or two.

It does, however, come with a warning. Pickled radish has a very strong odor. When I serve this pickle for a buffet of noodles or banh mi, or any other occasion, I always make sure to open the jar a couple of hours before the guests arrive. Another option is to place a serving of the pickle in a small bowl and return it to the fridge, uncovered, which will keep the pickle cool and let it air out. Once you make this pickle, you will quickly understand how important a step this can be. It doesn’t bother me much, but for some the smell will permeate the pickle board and inhibit their appetites. None of the odor really permeates the flavor of the dish, which is spicy and mildly sweet.

Excellent served with sandwiches, salads, noodle bowls and so on, either as a component of the dish or an optional garnish. Because of the complex, savory spices used this pickle doesn’t necessarily register as specifically “asian” in flavor and can be used to accompany a wide variety of dishes and cuisines. An especially enjoyable use of them that might not be readily obvious is to pair them with hard cheeses such as gruyere, cheddar or gouda. They also make an excellent foil for sweet or spicy cold meats and sausages.

Pickled Kohlrabi

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Assemble in a clean glass quart jar :

1 lb kohlrabi bulbs, peeled and cut into batons (as pictured below) or shreds

4 oz onion, peeled and cut into thick slices

1 star anise, whole

2-3 hot chinese dried chiles or 2 tsp red pepper flakes

1 tsp whole mustard seed

1/2 tsp whole sichuan peppercorns

Heat in a small saucepan until sugar and salt are dissolved :

2 cups vinegar (see notes below, a mix of vinegars is best)

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 tsp salt

While still hot, pour the vinegar-sugar-salt solution into the glass jar. Allow to sit until cool, then cover with a cap and refrigerate. Ready to eat in 24 hours, best after three or more days.

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Winter Lentil Salad with Warm Spices

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Boil as you would pasta (in a large, boiling salted kettle) :

1 cup green or brown lentils

The lentils are done when they are al dente like pasta, still firm to the tooth but not troublesome to bite through.

Drain lentils thoroughly and quickly toss with :

2 tbs extra virgin olive oil

1 tbs vinegar of fairly light character (i.e. sherry, cider, malt, white wine, rice rather than red wine, balsamic or black)

Salt to taste

Add to lentils :

3 oz. celery and celery leaf, chopped fine

4 oz mild or sweet onion, sliced thin or same amount sharp onion soaked and squeezed in several changes of water

2 oz freshly chopped medium-heat green chile such as jalapeno, or mix of hotter and milder peppers

2 tsp ground cumin

1-2 tsp hot paprika or hot chile powder such as chile de arbol

1 tsp dry mustard

Stir thoroughly, allow a few minutes to settle, then taste and adjust seasonings. At this point add more olive oil and vinegar if necessary, it likely will be. This is very much an “add to taste” recipe, especially in terms of the dressing. I always add a bit at a time, let it settle, taste again. If it seems underwhelming when I am serving it, more can always be added. In particular, lentils will take a lot of both ingredients, much like the similarly mealy potato.

This can be served still warm as a side dish or a room temperature as part of a meal of mixed plates. It can be used as part of a meal of small plates or tapas, or as a side dish served with a more substantial meal. It is best as an accompaniment, rather than its’ own course. It fits well into meals of North African, Mediterranean, Indian, or non-denominational Vegetarian slant. It is also excellent served with a hearty winter roast and root vegetables.

I call it ‘warm’ rather than spicy in terms of the balance represented in this recipe. It can be freely made “spicy,” by simply adding more chiles and dry spices. This is a very adjustable recipe, and will often be altered or added to based on what I am serving it with. Garnish it with something complementary to the meal that it accompanies : fresh cilantro for Indian or Southeast Asian fare, an extra splash of olive oil and sprigs of parsley for Greek or Italian, etc.

Just as any experimentation in garnishing will likely work with such a simple, adaptable recipe, one could go further and incorporate all kinds of ingredients at hand to the salad itself : Some wild mushrooms, quickly sautéed with oil and thyme. A couple of small cucumbers, deseeded and neatly chopped. Some tahini or miso paste. A squeeze of lemon and a pair of minced anchovies. Crispy fried slices of garlic. Black walnuts and a splash of walnut oil. And so on…

In a similar vein, this is a recipe meant for constant tasting and adjusting by the cook. I never measure any of these ingredients when I make this kind of salad except when testing a recipe. I am always tasting, adjusting, tasting. So should you, when making a dish like this. Taste each time you add a new ingredient or three, taste and adjust accordingly. Trust your judgement. Trust your taste. You’re the one who decides what’s best.