Ramp recipes and fun facts (but first, a bit on dandelion greens and watercress)
by Kara Elder
May 05, 2020
More green things that may be showing up in your Path Valley boxes/bags include dandelion greens, watercress, and ramps.
As Jennifer McLagan writes in her book, Bitter, dandelions get their name from the French dents de lion, meaning "lion's teeth," a cute and slightly terrifying way to describe the plant's leaves. "Curiously, the French have another name for the plant," McLagan also writes. "Pissenlit, which translates as 'piss in the bed,' and is a reference to the dandelion's diuretic quality."
Dandelion leaves are rich in iron and vitamins A and C. They're also bitter. If bitterness bothers you, you have have a few options: braise or blanch the leaves, which will tame their bite, or dress the raw leaves liberally in a fatty, acidic, salty dressing — which will play so well with the bitterness that you may find yourself embracing the bitter — such as this one based on cured pork or this delightful anchovy-based one that Jacques Pépin demonstrates in an equally delightful Facebook video.
If you decide to blanch the leaves (and you have stinging nettles) then do the blanching in the same pot of water to both save water and produce a nice nettle + dandelion tea to sip on. (More on that process in my earlier blog post.)
Watercress, a member of the Brassicaceae family (the same fam as cabbage, cauliflower, mustard, horseradish, etc.) is another fun and super versatile green. It stores well without wilting: keep it in its plastic bag (with a little air left in the bag to provide circulation) in your refrigerator for at least a week. To wash, rinse in cool water and then drop into a bowl of cold water and let soak for a few minutes, so that any grit will drop to the bottom. Lift the watercress out of the water and let it dry out on a towel (or use a salad spinner if you have one).
Watercress adds a crisp almost spicy note to salads and sandwiches; it also cooks beautifully. Drop it in a hot skillet with a little oil or butter and cook just a minute or so, until wilted but still bright green. Dress with a little salt and a splash of lemon or vinegar. Add it to bowls of noodles, soups, and rice. Chop it up and use it to fill dumplings! (I ended up filling those potstickers I mentioned last time with a mix of minced ramps, watercress, onion, and pea shoots and dill from The Farm at Sunnyside. They were very green and very good.)
Last but certainly not least, ramps, aka every food person's spring darling. Ramps are wild leeks that pack a potent garlicky/oniony punch (which you're probably familiar with if you've gotten Number 1 Sons ramp kraut!). They grow wild in moist, wooded areas and are easy to identify by their broad, dark green leaves and tell-tale oniony smell.
Before I get to the cooking tips, here a few ramp facts to zest up your next Zoom call with friends and family:
- Chicago is named after ramps! Probably. Maybe. Or maybe not. If you feel like going on a potentially hours-long rabbit hole of allium-themed reading, click through those links to learn about indigenous tribes of the area around Chicago; as the UIC Heritage Garden site explains, shikaakwa is the Myami Tribe’s name for the region, referring to the land where wild leeks, garlic, and onions grow. "Other tribes of the region referred the area as the place of onions (Pottawatomie) and legends of a great skunk who devoured humans and covered the land in its pungent spray (Hoĉąk)."
- It takes several years for ramps to mature to the point where they can be picked for eating. Over-harvesting in some places, like Quebec, led to the foraging of ramps to be declared illegal.
- More of a visual learner? Tune in to the documentary "The King of Stink," which first aired in 2005 on public television.
Once you have your precious ramps, take care to clean them well to remove any grit. I find it's easiest to drop them in a bowl of water, let them soak, and lift them out and spread on a towel to dry, as per above.
Try adding ramps to scallion pancakes, pestos, and sour cream and onion-type dips. Cook them with other greens and stir into pasta. Chop them up and add to a slaw. Or, my current favorite: pair your ramps with blanched nettle and dandelion greens and make a pkhali. (Pkhali is a Georgian dish made from basically any chopped/minced vegetable mixed with ground walnuts, vinegar, salt, spices, and garlic. In this case I subbed chopped ramps for the garlic. It's sort of a spread, sort of a dip, sort of a salad. It's pkhali!)
You can also get a little ~fancy~ with your ramps and use the whole leaves to decorate focaccia, flatbreads, tortillas, or crepes. If you want to preserve the ramp season a little longer, you can brine the bulbs in a vinegary solution (or drop them into a container of brine from your Number 1 Sons haul) and/or blitz the leaves with kosher salt to make a super green, pungent seasoning. If you make the ramp salt, use a basil salt recipe as a guide, but swap in ramps; note that your whole apartment will smell strongly of ramps if you do this. :)
The appearance of ramps like clockwork, every spring, is inspiring, especially now. Know what else is inspiring? Poetry — specifically haikus that are ramp-themed and a little silly. I guarantee that writing a haiku about ramps will make you feel better than you did before you wrote a haiku about ramps. Here's one from Katie at Path Valley:
forest ground moving
ramp weed pushing up and out
clean, cook, and eat, Spring
And here's mine:
the scent of onion
a leafy green springs up, wild
we can pickle that
Write us your own haiku, ramp-themed or otherwise, and drop it in the mail to:
Number 1 Sons
PO BOX 100161
Arlington, VA 22210
Stay safe out there and happy writing :)