I remember the day when I learned that I no longer had to weed-out the peculiar tall, stalky plants with the dark green leaves from the garden beds. Plucking one of the plant’s velvety leaves and popping it into his mouth, the visiting farmer sighed, “Just like spinach.”
Indeed, the flavor of lamb’s quarters (the spelling and name differs depending on the region) is quite comparable to spinach, and their thin leaves contain much of the same vitamins. What a shame that, despite this, the plant is commonly pulled-up for no other offense than having not been planted with purpose. In my time following this lesson, I picked the leaves for salads and leisurely munched from the plant while working. When I moved to Korea however, I was sure that my foraging days were over.
Imagine my happiness when, while walking off the beaten path this week, I discovered a large patch of my beloved weed. I harvested a few handfuls, then set out to create a sophisticated side to raise the lowly expectations often attached to foraged food.
Though lamb’s quarters leaves are excellent raw in a fresh salad, I wilted them with garlic to compliment smoky, caramelized red onions. Sauteed in red wine vinegar, the tart, dried cranberries tie this recipe together nicely. I have included tips below the recipe for foraging your own lamb’s quarters leaves.
2-3 cups lamb’s quarters leaves, washed (if unavailable, lamb’s quarters can be substituted with spinach)
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup dried cranberries
2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/2 tablespoon butter or ghee
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
Though the three main ingredients are cooked separately, the same pan can be used throughout with no washing necessary.
Melt the butter or ghee in a medium-sized sauce pan over low heat. Add the sliced onions and stir continuously, making sure they are properly spread out in the pan. After a few minutes, sprinkle the sugar over the onions. Over the next 10-15 minutes, stir the onions frequently until a nice, caramel color is reached. Remove the onions from the pan and set them aside.
Next, heat the cranberries and red wine vinegar over low-medium heat. Stir until the vinegar is gone, and the cranberries are jewel-colored and slightly plump. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Next, heat the olive oil over low-medium heat. Add the lamb’s quarters leaves and stir continuously until the leaves are just “kissed” with heat, no longer than 30 seconds.
Place the wilted leaves on a serving dish, spoon the caramelized onions and cranberries on top, and serve immediately.
Tips for Foraging Your Own Lamb’s Quarters
- Be sure that what you are foraging is indeed lamb’s quarters. Take along an identification book or a mentor until you can identify the plant with certainty.
- If foraging with children, teach them to always ask the name of the plant and if it is safe to eat.
- Be respectful of other wildlife by harvesting only 10-30 % of any plant at a time. If you only need leaves, there is no reason to uproot the plant.
- Harvest from plants in remote areas that do not see much traffic, from cars or feet.
- Be especially wary of harvesting from plants along streams, as the water could very well be polluted.
- Do not harvest leaves that appear diseased or ridden by insects.