The California Culinary Trend: Foraging

Stinging NettleForest-to-table foods have become the latest haute cuisine

Wild food foraging has become popular in the Bay Area. Chick weed, miner’s lettuce, and nettles are just a few of the culinary samples available in our neck of the literal woods. Increasingly, these elements are making it onto haute cuisine plates.

Professional and home chefs trek into the woods with their backpacks, searching for edible foodstuffs. Some have made it a business of guiding foodies into the wild.

Imagine the splendor of indulging in a salad made from chickweed, oxalis, and lamb’s quarters. Add a dressing of pomegranate juice, rice wine vinegar, olive oil, and season with salt, pepper, and herbs. It might be adventurous to go out and forage for yourself. But you can still enjoy the fruits of labor when dishes made with this wild ingredients are served at restaurants and by caterers.

Here are a few of our favorite foraged foods:

Chick weed—Hearty yet delicate, chick weed leaves can be added to salads, soups, and stews for extra texture and flavor. Chick weeds stems and flowers are also edible and can be added to cooked dishes. 

Miner’s lettuce—Plentiful in the Bay Area, miner’s lettuce is chockfull of vitamins with a crunch. It’s great for salads.

Stinging nettles—Called a superfood because of protein and vitamins, nettles must first be blanched before using in recipes, especially soups, Italian dishes, Greek dishes, and tea.

Lamb’s quarters—This earthy, mineral-rich plant offers a taste similar to chard. Don’t be put off by its white, powdery finish. Raw, it can be added to salads. Steamed, it can be added to soups and sautés. It can also be dried and sometimes its seeds are used, for example, to replace grains such as quinoa in recipes.

Mustards, like sweet rocket or field pennycress (stinkweed)—Bitter leaves of mustard plants are best eaten when young, otherwise they are too bitter. They can easily be added to salads and soups or used to season stews. The seeds of field pennycress are often ground into powder and used in recipes calling for mustard. The seeds can also be sprouted for salads.

Wild fennel—You may think, yes, you can buy fennel in the produce aisle at the supermarket. That fennel has a large white bulb, but the fronds don’t offer much flavor. Wild fennel, on the other hand, has no bulb and the fronds taste like anise. Wild fennel also offers edible seeds. The fronds are frequently used in pasta and other Italian dishes.