Cooking through the landscape with chef and forager Alan Bergo

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In the same family as the artichoke, sunflowers can be blanched and eaten in the same fashion. Photo by Alan Bergo.

Living on a 400-acre farm in Wisconsin, chef and forager Alan Bergo scours his environs for wild ingredients and finds new ways to look at otherwise familiar plants. Bergo describes different ways to use purslane, sunflower, milkweed, and black walnuts. From making syrup from milkweed with a taste similar to watermelon-flavored Jolly Rancher candy, to blanching a sunflower and enjoying it like an artichoke, his first cookbook is “The Forager Chef’s Book of Flora.” 

Cornmeal-Fried Milkweed Pods
Makes 3–4 milkweed pods per serving

Here wild okra gets the fried okra treatment, but just between you and me, these are better. The secret is in the texture of the pods themselves. Liquid naturally clings to them, so instead of having to use a flour-egg-crumb breading that could get heavy, all the wee pods need is a soak in some beaten egg or buttermilk, followed by a dredge in some cornmeal, before their date with a bit of oil in a hot pan.


Milkweed attracts Monarch butterflies, but Alan Bergo has a recipe using the pods, which he compares to okra without the slippery quality. Photo by Alan Bergo.

Ingredients 

  • Fine cornmeal, as needed for dredging
  • A generous dash each: salt, pepper, cayenne, and paprika (also worth trying: ground dried ramp leaves or similar, or curry powder)
  • Small, young milkweed pods (no larger than 2 inches / 5 cm)
  • Buttermilk, or beaten egg, as needed for dredging the pods
  • Condiments, for serving: hot sauce, lemon wedges, hot sauce mixed with mayonnaise, garlic aioli, or Goddess Herb Dressing (page 43)

Instructions

-Season the cornmeal with a good pinch each of salt, pepper, cayenne, and paprika.

-Blanch the pods in boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes, then remove and drain completely. Put the blanched pods in a bowl and cover with buttermilk, then toss the individual pods in the cornmeal.

-Heat a pan with a layer of oil (or prepare a deep fryer) and cook the pods until golden all over, then cool on a paper towel to drain excess oil. The pods hold heat very well, so allow them to cool for a few minutes before digging in.


“Once you see it, you will never be able to see it as just something to make bird food again,” says Alan Bergo about harvesting sunflowers before they bloom. His book is “The Forager Chef’s Book of Flora.” Photo courtesy of Chelsea Green Publishing.

Credits

Host:

Evan Kleiman