A Mess o' Greens, and Rice and Beans
A few weeks ago, during my April vacation, our very dear friends Ryan and Nicoline came to visit Bill and I on the island. They're beautiful, slender, healthy people. She's a yoga instructor and he's a musician. I put my vegan cooking skills to work for her that week, making black bean soup with avocado pico de gallo and spicy corn flatbread. At the church coffee hour, where we took them for a perfect slice of local color (and Kate's donuts, which Nicoline ate despite the almost definite non-veganness of them,) Kate herself, the school librarian and member of my corps de teatre, so to speak, offered to take us dandy greening.
I'd been bugging Kate about getting some fiddleheads - baby ostrich ferns - for a while, but they weren't yet up. Dandelion greens were the best alternative, and she offered to take us around the island looking for whatever wild edibles we could find. Kate is the expert in picking things and eating them- something I've been doing somewhat haphazardly since I was a kid trying to convince my sister to eat goutweed root ("it's Queen Anne's lace! I swear! They call it wild carrots!")
Obviously, I needed some guidance, so I was delighted. The four of us piled into Kate's car and she took us around, from one summer house's back yard to the next. Ryan stepped on a snake (both were okay,) Kate and I waded into a swamp looking for cattail shoots (too soon for those, too) while Ry and Nicoline looked on (their footwear was more on the moccasin and Converse end of things than the intense rubber boot style Kate and I were rocking,) and we filled one huge plastic bag with dandy greens.
You dig dandy greens up by the root, trying to sever as much off as possible while keeping the bunch of leaves together for easy transportation. They're at their best before the flower stalks get tall, and definitely before they sport blossoms. They're pretty easy to recognize, too - everyone's seen a dandelion. The toothed leaves point down towards the center of the bunch, and they're not fuzzy.
After the dandy greening, Kate took us clam digging, which was great fun, although I eat no meat. We got about 3 dozen steamers for Ryan and his brother's eventual consumption out of the clay bed of the swimming hole, using her clam rake and washing them in a special clam basket. You can find a clam by looking for little air holes in the sand, and occasional squirts of water. You have to dig a few inches down to get the clams, and its best to discard any that are under 2.5 inches long.
Definitely discard a broken one.
After the company left and I had an evening free, I set about cleaning and cooking the huge bag of greens. Kate had assured me we'd have just enough for a mess for Bill and I. It looked like way more than a mess to me, and it definitely MADE a mess - piles of trimmed root and dirt and little worms on the cutting board, a huge bowl of greens soaking in changes of water trying to get rid of the dirt and sand and grit lodged in the little leaves. After two changes of water and several twirls in a salad spinner, I decided it was time.
I sauteed some thingly sliced (but not minced) garlic and a chopped up onion in about 3 Tbs of butter in a large wok. As the garlic got translucent, I added wads of still damp greens, tossing the mixture with a wooden spoon over fairly low heat. I replaced the lid of the wok after each big wad to help steam the greens and reduce them a bit. After all the greens were reduced, I added some salt and pepper and waited for the red beans and rice, which Bill had started, to be ready.
Red Beans and Rice:
2 cans of red kidney beans (or dried, prepared accordingly)
Red wine vinegar
Diced jalapeño slices
Salt and pepper
1 chopped onion
Enough water to just cover the beans.
Put beans, liquids and onion in a medium-sized pot or big pan
Put on medium heat
When liquids start to simmer, add salt & pepper, diced jalapeños and cayenne pepper. Taste for heat and adjust seasonings accordingly. Keep over heat until liquids thicken and reduce.
Serve over brown rice.
The bitter greens, the spicy beans and the sturdy rice worked really well together...and the huge bag of greens reduced to make just two big servings.