The cool weather this spring means that farmers markets may be looking surprisingly bare for late May. Parks and forests, however, are already bursting with life — and tasty, nutritious finds for knowledgeable foragers.
One commonly foraged favorite is lambsquarters. The leafy green grows in sunny meadows, college campuses, and even between the sidewalk cracks in Brooklyn. Forager Ava Chin might ogle the hearty specimens shooting up along city streets, but she admitted that she stays away from eating plants growing in high-traffic areas.
Lambsquarters leaves taste like spinach, and Chin likes to sauté them with garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. In her new memoir Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love and the Perfect Meal, she describes feeling like Popeye upon trying it for the first time.
“Lambsquarters has the distinction of being one of the most nutritious plants in the world,” Chin said. “It is a member of the chenopodium family, which means that it’s related to quinoa, spinach, and beets. It’s high in vitamins A and C. It’s also high in things like riboflavin, niacin, potassium, calcium, and manganese.”
The leafy, stalky plant is a sustainable choice for foragers since it is highly adaptable to various climates. “It’s actually not native to the United States,” said Chin. “It’s native to the Mediterranean and Asia, where, by the way, it’s a revered vegetable in Greek, Persian, and Bangladeshi cuisine.”
(Photo: Ava Chin/Owen Brunette)
Another important advantage of lambsquarters is that there are no poisonous look-alikes. The leaves on the tall stalky plant are triangular and give it the common name of “white goosefoot.” It’s also known as “pigweed,” and those in the U.K. might recognize it from the name “fat hen.”
“Another characteristic besides the leaves is that it has this white, powdery coating on the new growth, up at the top of the plant, and also at the bottom of the top leaves,” explained Chin. That coating is naturally produced by lambsquarters and has no effect on its edibility.
So the next time you see a tall stalk with triangular leaves and a white powdery coating on the new growth, give it a second look, positively identify it, and then give it a try in the kitchen.
“One of the great things about foraging and being in touch with nature in the city is you start to realize that there’s a great abundance of natural things that are growing all around us on every block, on every street, in every borough,” says Chin. “Nature really likes to rub its elbows against the city and, for me, that’s the interesting thing about foraging.”
Lambsquarters Ricotta Pie
Adapted from the "Wild Greens Pie" recipe in Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love and the Perfect Meal
Pie pastry, enough for base and latticework topping
- 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 clove of garlic, crushed
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 3 cups of lambsquarters
- 1 cup of spinach, Swiss chard, or store-bought dandelions, roughly chopped
- 1 cup mustard greens, roughly chopped
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- 15-ounce container ricotta cheese
- ½ cup grated Pecorino Romano (can substitute Parmesan)
- ½ grated fontina cheese (or any other good melting cheese you prefer)
- ½ cup grated mozzarella cheese
- 3 large eggs, beaten
- 1 egg white, optional
- 1 teaspoon water, optional
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Press pastry into a 10-inch diameter springform pan. Build pastry up wall of pan at least 1½ inches tall.
2. In a pan over medium flame, heat 1 teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil. Add the garlic until lightly browned (3 minutes), and sauté the onions about another 3 minutes. Heat the remaining teaspoon of oil, then mix in the wild and store-bought greens, salt, and pepper. Sauté until all liquid from the greens evaporates, about 3 minutes.
3. Combine the ricotta, romano, fontina, mozzarella, and eggs in a large bowl. Add the wild greens mixture, blending well.
4. Spoon the filling into the pastry-covered pan. Cut the remaining pastry into thin strips and weave into a latticework topping; place over pie, trimming edges. Mix the egg white with water and brush over pastry, if using. Bake until the filling is set in center and browning on top, approximately 40 minutes.