Swedish Inspiration for Off-Season Foraging

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in: Cooking

Mountain trout with root vegetables and mallow greens. Credit: Wendy Petty

It is said that a wise person rides the tide of the seasons, and takes the changes in stride, admiring the beauty of each in turn. Clearly I’m not yet wise. Foraging is my greatest passion, the thing that makes my heart squeeze in rapture. However, in the Central Rockies, where I live, growing seasons can be maddeningly short. I’m able to pick plants in appreciable quantities only from May to October, if the weather cooperates. For the rest of the year, when the ground is a frayed quilt of forlorn browns and filmy whites, my off-season foraging desires go largely unfulfilled.

This situation is made infinitely worse in the age of the Internet. If I lived in relative isolation in this place, I might be able to appreciate the quiet of my foraging off-season. But every time I power up my computer, I’m bombarded by images from foragers in more temperate zones. My fellow wildcrafters in California are picking lush greens and budding plants. Foraging buddies in Australia are enjoying fruits of all colors. My friend in Israel regularly returns home from foraging trips with enough food to cover her kitchen table. And here I am, trapped by the skim-milk skies of winter, growing increasingly despondent.

Oh sure, there are things I could pick, even when it has been freezing for months. But snipping tips from conifers, scraping at bark, rattling crusty old amaranth for seeds, and freeing roots from the frozen clay soil with a pick ax can hold my attention only for so long.

None of those things compares to the glamour of plucking a mushroom from the ground, or filling a basket with verdant new leaves.

Nordic winter inspiration

Luckily, something has come along this year that has broken my funk, and kept me from pouting. In his restaurant, Fäviken, chef Magnus Nilsson employs a creative process to create the  highly localized menu.

Winter in the Rockies. Credit: Wendy Petty

Winter in the Rockies. Credit: Wendy Petty

Some have scoffed at Nilsson’s recipes, such as “Monkfish gilled slowly over burning birch coals, a leaf of kale steamed so briefly that it is dying on the plate, green juniper and alcohol vinegar,” going so far as to call them pretentious. I don’t see pretentiousness here. I see a glimpse into the mind of an innovator who is generous with his accounts of how he arrives at his final dishes.

I consider myself a creative cook, but Nilsson is performing kitchen magic that rattles even my imagination. He relies on everything from employing unusual curing techniques, to using odd foraged items such as lichens, to aging vinegar in a burnt-out tree stump. And he’s doing it all year long in Sweden, a place like my own home that suffers real winters.

Nilsson’s is the kind of U-turn thinking that I find incredibly inspiring, and it has shaken the way I’m looking at what is available to forage and cook, even in deep winter.

In several recipes, Nilsson utilizes brown, decaying leaves in his cooking. He cooks root vegetables in a nest of leaves, so that the diner can have the experience of plucking roots fresh from the garden.

foraged leaves

Foraged leaves. Credit: Wendy Petty

He also uses leaves from the forest floor to make delicate infusions to serve with both meats and vegetables.

Perhaps not everyone can appreciate the excitement I felt upon seeing rotting leaves being used in a recipe. But it was a technique that I was itching to try, and I wasted no time in experimenting with it. An infusion of decaying leaves smells exactly like taking a walk in the woods on a damp autumn day, and it tastes rather like tea, with a pleasant mild bitterness. It makes the perfect complement to the quiet, earthy flavors of the snow season. In this recipe, I’ve used it along with freshly caught mountain trout, root vegetables, and a wild green called mallow.

Mountain Trout

Ingredients

5 to 6 big handfuls of decaying leaves from the forest floor

4 trout fillets (reserving the skin if you fillet them yourself)

Salt

Pepper

½ teaspoon ground sumac (or a few drops of lemon juice)

Olive oil, as needed

4 cups boiling water

½ pound various root vegetables (such as burdock, parsnip, carrot), cut into matchsticks

12 mallow leaves (or parsley)

Rice flour (or cornstarch)

Directions

1. Place the leaves in a large bowl. Pour the boiling water over them, cover, and leave them to brew like a tea.

2. Season the trout fillets with salt, pepper, and sumac, then roll each up into a bundle.

3. Place the trout rolls onto a lightly greased baking sheet, and brush each roll with a small amount of oil. Bake the trout in a 350 F oven until a thermometer stuck into the center of the rolls reads 145 F, approximately 15 minutes.

4. While the trout is baking, boil the root vegetable matchsticks in salted water just until they become tender, 1 to 3 minutes. Drain the vegetables, and set them aside.

5. Strain the leaves out of the tea, and discard them. Do not salt the leaf tea.

6. Dust the mallow leaves (or parsley) with a little rice flour (or cornstarch), then briefly pan-fry them in a little oil until they go crispy. If you’ve filleted your own trout, fry pieces of the fish skin at the same time. The fried mallow leaves and fish skin add a crunchy contrast to the finished dish.

7. To assemble the dish, place the baked trout roll in the bottom of a shallow bowl. Scatter the root vegetable matchsticks around the fish, then gently ladle a cup of the leaf broth over the fish and vegetables. Garnish with the crispy fried mallow leaves and fish skin.

Mountain trout with root vegetables and mallow greens. Credit: Wendy Petty


Zester Daily contributor Wendy Petty lives in the Rocky Mountains, where she is a forager, photographer and wild foods consultant. She writes about her adventures with mountain food on her blog, Hunger and Thirst.

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Comments

Kate
on: 1/19/13
I love the idea of using autumn leaves as a tea... I'd be curious to try different kinds, to see if they're as wildly different as green/black/white tea is.
Wendy Petty
on: 1/19/13
There is definitely some difference in taste. I tried cottonwood leaves and found them to be a little too bitter. Nilsson seems to enjoy birch leaves. My own personal favorite (so far) is linden.
drfugawe
on: 1/23/13
Hi Wendy, I too am a forager, up here in Oregon - but I'm embarrassed to tell you that I'm not taking advantage of our moderate winters (no snow here on south-west coast) to discover what's available - truthfully, I've only foraged mushrooms to date, and I quit about Thanksgiving each year. But I love the idea of the leaf broth. I have several fruit trees in my yard, how do you think apple or pear leaves would do in this dish? And I'm wondering if my common flowering mallow leaves would sub for the wild mallow above? Thanks for an interesting post and recipe from such an innovator.
Wendy Petty
on: 1/23/13
Oh you lucky soul! I imagine it is quite green in your area now. I'm jealous! Which mushrooms do you harvest? My best advice is to experiment with the leaf broth, thinking of it as you would a tea. You might find a blend of leaves that you prefer, or you may come to the conclusion that most taste about the same. Do you know the species of your common flowering mallow? I use Malva neglecta.
drfugawe
on: 1/23/13
We get a glut of chanterelles in my area - if I'd be brave enough to get out about now, I may find hedgehogs and maybe some winter chanterelles - but unless we get a break in the weather, it's almost always rainy, and nasty in the woods - I love the beauty of our forests in the fall, and that ruins it for me when the weather turns. Yes, I'm sure my mallows are in the Malva family - I've got purple and pink flowered ones - I've heard they are edible, but not yet tried them. My daughter got me Nilisson's book for Christmas, and as of yet, I've not dug in - pleasures await!
Wendy Petty
on: 1/24/13
I'd beware mentioning gluts of chanties, as you might end up with a crowd of mycophiles on your doorstep, and if I lived closer I'd be among them ;)
Heather
on: 11/25/13
My god, you write beautifully. This is the first time that I've read Wendy's words. 'Skim milk skies? Wow.
Wendy Petty
on: 11/25/13
Thank you, Heather.

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