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Native Cooking

Happy Spring! Yes, it is actually warm today in New England! Even though it is early, lots of green is poking through. As our ancestors made extensive use of wild edibles as both food and as medicine, we should, too. Because of environmental pollution, we have to be a bit more careful to wash what we harvest.

Tender roots, leaves and shoots are showing their faces to those lucky enough to recognize them. If you are one of these people, it is so important to pass this knowledge along if you can. Writing down the names of your favorite wild things, where to find them and when, is good, too, if your protege is elsewhere.

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<b>Spring Soup</b>

1/2 pound fiddleheads (or asparagus), cut in half (If using asparagus, cut into 1/2-inch pieces)

4 leeks, washed and chopped, white part only

8 – 10 pea pods, cut in thirds

1 medium yellow summer squash

1/2 cup watercress, chopped

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1-1/2 quarts chicken or vegetable broth

Saute the leeks in a little olive or corn oil in a large soup pot. Add the other vegetables and cook for about two minutes before adding the salt, pepper and broth. Simmer all for about 20 – 30 minutes. For a bit of color, grate some carrot in when adding the other vegetables.

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Dandelion is a versatile early wild thing and I love it in salads especially, but there is another spring green that is very useful: lamb’s quarters. It can be eaten raw like dandelions, but I prefer it cooked. It is virtually interchangeable with spinach in most recipes. This recipe for lamb’s quarters can be made ahead and frozen (I love that), and can be cooked without defrosting.

<b>Lamb’s Quarters Appetizer Rolls</b>

2 cups lamb’s quarters or spinach, chopped, cooked and drained

1 cup ricotta or cottage cheese

1 egg

1 cup parsley, tarragon, mint and watercress, mixed and chopped

12 sheets filo dough sheets or thin flour tortillas

Olive oil or melted butter

<b>Dip</b>

1 cup plain yogurt

3 tablespoons fresh mint, minced

2 scallions, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

Combine the greens, egg and cheese in a medium bowl. Work with two sheets of filo or one tortilla at a time. Brush with oil or butter. Put about two tablespoons of the filling in the middle, tuck in sides and roll up. Brush the ends and press lightly to seal.

Place the rolls seam-side down on a baking sheet, give all a final brush of oil or butter. Bake at 375 degrees for about 25 – 30 minutes.

Combine dip ingredients and chill before serving.

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This side dish goes very well with lamb or roast pork.

<b>Spring Potatoes</b>

12 – 15 red potatoes, quartered, not peeled

2 cups fresh mushrooms, any type or a combination, sliced thin

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 large sweet onion, chopped fine

2 teaspoons fresh thyme, finely chopped

1 teaspoon fresh oregano, finely chopped

4 tablespoons olive oil or butter

Put potatoes in a large saucepan and cover them with cold water. Bring this to a boil and boil for about 5 – 7 minutes. Potatoes should be tender but still firm. Drain and cover potatoes with cold water and set aside.

Put the oil or butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the garlic, onion, salt, pepper, thyme and oregano. Now stir in the mushrooms and cook all for 2 minutes. Drain the potatoes and add to this pan slowly. Stir and cook all for 3 to 4 minutes.

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<b>Spinach Salad</b>

Fresh spinach, washed and torn into bite-sized pieces

Cooked bacon (reserve 2 tablespoons of warm bacon fat)

Bleu cheese

Sliced mushrooms

Croutons

<b>Dressing</b>

3/4 cup oil (you can replace 2 tablespoons of oil with warm bacon fat)

1/4 cup cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1 clove garlic, crushed

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

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<b>Another Good Spinach Salad</b>

Fresh spinach, washed and torn into bite-sized pieces

Avocado, sliced

Orange, peeled and cut

Bleu cheese

Pine nuts

Use the dressing for Spinach Salad or make one with a lemon juice base.

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<b>Notes & Tips</b>

* The best way to get healthy produce is to grow it yourself or buy it from local growers at farmer’s markets. This will ensure that your food is organic and not processed with possibly toxic preservatives and other chemicals. Think about it: If your lettuce and tomatoes have to travel from California to you in, let’s say, Atlanta, you’ll have to pay more for that transportation cost, not to mention the pollutants encountered during the trip.

* Want to plant truly native seeds that are pure? Write to Native Seeds/SEARCH, 526 N. 4th Ave., Tucson, AZ 85705, or call toll-free (866) 622-5561 for a catalog. Their Web site is www.nativeseeds.org.

* I always keep food storage and sandwich-sized plastic bags in the car. Not just for garbage but also for foraging finds, with wet paper towels inside some for quick wash-ups, and others full of air for a quick pillow if needed. Just keep some in the car and they’ll find ways to make themselves useful.