Weeds growing in popularity as ingredient

By Haley Hernandez - Health Reporter

HOUSTON - Overgrown gardens and sidewalks are usually considered an eyesore, but a new diet trend considers them an urban farm.

The trend is growing faster than weeds. In fact, the trend is weeds. People are making them a part of their daily diet and some Houston area restaurants are including them in their dishes.

"It's growing pretty fast, across the country it's known now," Uchi chef Nilton Borges Jr. said.

He said it sprouted from the "farm to table" movement, taking the unsightly greens of the earth and making meals out of them. Borges said part of his weekly routine is to pick weeds like dandelions, purslane, Pig's Weed and others from an urban farm in Austin.

However, eating weeds it about as old as food itself.

"Dandelion greens aren't new. Purslane is not new, that's been in the Greek culture, in the Mediterranean culture for years. Bamboo shoots, talk to the Chinese about bamboo shoots," Memorial Hermann dietician Sharon Smalling said.

But the unconventional way weeds are being used is what's getting attention now, like at Houston's Uchi restaurant in Montrose.

"I sourced this out of a farm in Austin, an urban farm, and it's literally growing out of a crack in concrete and we snap them out and there you have it," Borges said.

Smalling said that, although it would take a lot of weeds, it can be a good alternative for people on strict diets.

"Spinach is very high in vitamin K and so we ask Coumadin/Warfarin patients not to eat spinach," she said. "These patients are often on blood thinners and vitamin K interferes with the medication, but if they can have a leafy green like purslane and it's not affecting their levels then that's a positive for them."

Below is a recipe for a dish made at Uchi and images of some if the ingredients (weeds) that go in it.

Sawagani (Japanese River Crabs) 

Uchi Version

Components:

  • Barbecued crabs, south east texas style with sawagani
  • Pickled Turkish eggplant, raz al hanout
  • Sautéed broccolini florets, with butter, garlic, and shallot and dressed with white soy
  • Yuzu crème fraiche
  • Purslane and sorrel, dressed with lemon and olive oil
  • Fresh pear tomatoes, sliced into rounds 1/8th of an inch thick
  • Season with long pepper and maldon
  • Lemon zest

Recipes:

 

Sawagani

 

Crabs, split in half

Barbecue Seasoning mix, or a Cajun seasoning mix

Oil

 

Simply split the crabs in half and liberally dust with the spice mix.  Let sit for 5 minutes and then fry at 310-320F.  Once bright red/orange, and the spice mix is brown, not burnt, pull and place on paper towels to soak up excess oil.  Serve immediately.

 

Turkish eggplant (this is like a cross between a green tomato and eggplant)

 

Raz al hanout

3 parts vinegar/2 parts sugar/1 part water… pickling liquid

 

Slice the eggplant into rounds.  Taste while raw.  They have an innate bitterness, but in some cases its extreme and cannot used.  If mild, then pickle using the raz al hanout pickling liquid.  Heat the spice mix, sugar, vinegar, and water to a boil, and continue to boil for 5 minutes.  Strain out the spices.   Pour the hot liquid over the eggplant slices and seal the jar with the lid.   Let cool at room temperature.  Once cool place in refrigerator.  These should last up to three weeks.  To serve, make one incision to the round in the center.  Then gently fold into a cone. 

 

Yuzu Crème Fraiche

 

1 cup heavy cream

2 TBSP yuzu juice

 

In a bowl, combine cream and yuzu juice.  Cover with a clean cloth and let sit on your kitchen counter until the mixture thickens, preferably in a warm place, draft free place.  After about 12 hours (may take up to 18), when the mixture is thickened but still somewhat pourable, stir and place in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  This should last up to a week refrigerated.

 

 

Translating this recipe for the home cook…

A lot of these items will be very difficult for the home cook to source, but there are a couple variations and substitutions you can do to this and still have a delicious dish.  After preparing, I would suggest tossing everything together like a salad.  Enjoy!

Components:

  • Barbecued crabs, south east texas style   In the above version we are using Japanese river crabs but for the home cook these will be hard to come by.  I would suggest buying lump blue crab meat and dusting it with the barbecue style seasonings and serving cold; or you could grill shrimp with the same seasoning which would be a great replacement!  As far as the spices, you can pick up a great barbecue seasoning or Cajun seasoning mix at any grocery store, try a few out and see what you like best!
  • Pickled Turkish eggplant, raz al hanout   You will not likely find Turkish eggplant in your local supermarket, but it is very similar to green tomato, or a tomatillo.  Raz al hanout is a Moroccan spice mix, which can be found at most grocery stores, however with this its really up to you.  Try adding the spices you like, and see how it comes out!  You can prepare the tomatoes using the same method.      
  • Sautéed broccolini florets, with butter, garlic, and shallot and dressed with white soy  There are times where I have seen broccolini in the stores, but regular broccoli is much more common.  Just buy that and cut into small florets.  You can cook the same way and either omit the white soy or use regular, whatever you prefer!  
  • Yuzu crème fraiche  The easiest and most delicious variation of this would be to stick to a more traditional recipe since yuzu may be hard to find…Buttermilk and a touch of lemon!
  • Foraged Purslane and sorrel, dressed with lemon and olive oil  These greens are foraged in Texas but if you can't find them, fresh herbs and hearty greens like spinach work great!
  • Fresh pear tomatoes, sliced into rounds 1/8th of an inch thick
  • Season with pepper and maldon  
  • Lemon zest

 

Green Tomato (or tomatillo) pickles

 

1 part Raz al hanout

3 parts white vinegar

2 parts sugar

1 part water

Mason jar (*note make sure you properly sanitize all containers when making pickles)

 

Cut tomatoes into bit size pieces and place in a non-reactive jar, a mason jar works best.  Heat the spice mix, sugar, vinegar, and water to a boil, and continue to boil for 5 minutes.  Strain out the spices.   Pour the hot liquid over the tomatoes and seal the jar with the lid.   Let cool at room temperature.  Once cool, place in refrigerator.  These should last up to three weeks.

 

Lemon/Buttermilk Crème Fraiche

 

1 cup heavy cream

2 TBSP buttermilk

1 tsp lemon juice

 

In a bowl, combine cream, buttermilk, and lemon juice.  Cover with a clean cloth and let sit on your kitchen counter until the mixture thickens, preferably in a warm place, draft free place.  After about 12 hours (may take up to 18), when the mixture is thickened but still somewhat pourable, stir and place in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  This should last up to a week refrigerated.Uchi Version…
Sawagani (Japanese River Crabs)
Components:
• Barbecued crabs, south east texas style with sawagani
• Pickled Turkish eggplant, raz al hanout
• Sautéed broccolini florets, with butter, garlic, and shallot and dressed with white soy
• Yuzu crème fraiche
• Purslane and sorrel, dressed with lemon and olive oil
• Fresh pear tomatoes, sliced into rounds 1/8th of an inch thick
• Season with long pepper and maldon
• Lemon zest
Recipes:

Sawagani

Crabs, split in half
Barbecue Seasoning mix, or a Cajun seasoning mix
Oil

Simply split the crabs in half and liberally dust with the spice mix. Let sit for 5 minutes and then fry at 310-320F. Once bright red/orange, and the spice mix is brown, not burnt, pull and place on paper towels to soak up excess oil. Serve immediately.

Turkish eggplant (this is like a cross between a green tomato and eggplant)

Raz al hanout
3 parts vinegar/2 parts sugar/1 part water… pickling liquid

Slice the eggplant into rounds. Taste while raw. They have an innate bitterness, but in some cases its extreme and cannot used. If mild, then pickle using the raz al hanout pickling liquid. Heat the spice mix, sugar, vinegar, and water to a boil, and continue to boil for 5 minutes. Strain out the spices. Pour the hot liquid over the eggplant slices and seal the jar with the lid. Let cool at room temperature. Once cool place in refrigerator. These should last up to three weeks. To serve, make one incision to the round in the center. Then gently fold into a cone.

Yuzu Crème Fraiche

1 cup heavy cream
2 TBSP yuzu juice

In a bowl, combine cream and yuzu juice. Cover with a clean cloth and let sit on your kitchen counter until the mixture thickens, preferably in a warm place, draft free place. After about 12 hours (may take up to 18), when the mixture is thickened but still somewhat pourable, stir and place in an airtight container in the refrigerator. This should last up to a week refrigerated.


Translating this recipe for the home cook…
A lot of these items will be very difficult for the home cook to source, but there are a couple variations and substitutions you can do to this and still have a delicious dish. After preparing, I would suggest tossing everything together like a salad. Enjoy!
Components:
• Barbecued crabs, south east texas style In the above version we are using Japanese river crabs but for the home cook these will be hard to come by. I would suggest buying lump blue crab meat and dusting it with the barbecue style seasonings and serving cold; or you could grill shrimp with the same seasoning which would be a great replacement! As far as the spices, you can pick up a great barbecue seasoning or Cajun seasoning mix at any grocery store, try a few out and see what you like best!
• Pickled Turkish eggplant, raz al hanout You will not likely find Turkish eggplant in your local supermarket, but it is very similar to green tomato, or a tomatillo. Raz al hanout is a Moroccan spice mix, which can be found at most grocery stores, however with this its really up to you. Try adding the spices you like, and see how it comes out! You can prepare the tomatoes using the same method.
• Sautéed broccolini florets, with butter, garlic, and shallot and dressed with white soy There are times where I have seen broccolini in the stores, but regular broccoli is much more common. Just buy that and cut into small florets. You can cook the same way and either omit the white soy or use regular, whatever you prefer!
• Yuzu crème fraiche The easiest and most delicious variation of this would be to stick to a more traditional recipe since yuzu may be hard to find…Buttermilk and a touch of lemon!
• Foraged Purslane and sorrel, dressed with lemon and olive oil These greens are foraged in Texas but if you can't find them, fresh herbs and hearty greens like spinach work great!
• Fresh pear tomatoes, sliced into rounds 1/8th of an inch thick
• Season with pepper and maldon
• Lemon zest

Green Tomato (or tomatillo) pickles

1 part Raz al hanout
3 parts white vinegar
2 parts sugar
1 part water
Mason jar (*note make sure you properly sanitize all containers when making pickles)
Cut tomatoes into bit size pieces and place in a non-reactive jar, a mason jar works best. Heat the spice mix, sugar, vinegar, and water to a boil, and continue to boil for 5 minutes. Strain out the spices. Pour the hot liquid over the tomatoes and seal the jar with the lid. Let cool at room temperature. Once cool, place in refrigerator. These should last up to three weeks.

Lemon/Buttermilk Crème Fraiche

1 cup heavy cream
2 TBSP buttermilk
1 tsp lemon juice

In a bowl, combine cream, buttermilk, and lemon juice. Cover with a clean cloth and let sit on your kitchen counter until the mixture thickens, preferably in a warm place, draft free place. After about 12 hours (may take up to 18), when the mixture is thickened but still somewhat pourable, stir and place in an airtight container in the refrigerator. This should last up to a week refrigerated.

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