Imagine you were taking a walk in let's say...Central Park with some other folks. Now let's imagine you stop and pick a dandelion leaf and say to the others in the group, "Dandelion leaves make a great salad or you can just eat them fresh!" You pop the dandelion leaf in your mouth and eat it.
You finish your little jaunt in the park happily eating berries and such then wham! You're in cuffs and headed downtown to see the man in blue. The charge? Eating the Flora in Central Park.
That incident really did happen to Steve Brill, an environmental educator, author, cook, teacher, among other duties. Steve almost has more identities than you can shake a mulberry bush at. And this fellow knows how to shake a mulberry bush!
Those of you who remember the late naturalist and forager Euell Gibbons will be plenty familiar with searching for wild foods. Back in the mid 70s, I had every Euell Gibbons book available. Then, for some unknown reason I sold all but one. So then I hear about this guy in New York City foraging wild foods in Brooklyn, Bronx, Manhattan, and getting arrested for it, and I think, "Euell? Is that you?" It's not, but Steve does pick up where Euell left off so many years ago.
Steve has just published a cookbook titled The Wild Vegetarian Cookbook. Quite honestly Brill has so many recipes (500) you have to wonder if he sleeps at all. I know, your thinking. "Dave, me forage?" Why not? Chefs like Jon-Georges Vongerichten and Larry Forigione do it. It's not as hard as you might think. I recently foraged a few shopping bags full of ramps (wild leeks) this spring. With a good identification book (Steve also wrote an identification guide) you should have little problem foraging, and you'll be surprised at how close to home much of this wild food is.
The introduction explains a lot about foraging, what makes wild food special, and preparation. There is also quite a few recipes for "unwild food," ranging from Tofu Cream Cheese to Vegetable Stock. Steve is an enthusiastic vegan and it shows throughout the introduction.
Brill has thoughtfully organized the book into seasons for easier use. For us beginning foragers this is a good idea. We can just look up the season we're in and find what is available to go foraging for, field guide in hand of course.
Even after all my Euell Gibbons reading Steve showed me ingredients I would have never imagined using for food. Like wisteria. Yes, common wisteria. Steve makes ice cream from the blossoms as well as pancakes.
With each ingredient, he gives a short description and then dives head first into a mess of recipes. With ramps for instance, there are thirty one. From Ramp Aioli to Ramp Wine. (Steve: If you are reading this I roasted the ramps and made roasted ramp vinaigrette. Superb!) For the non-forager Steve has provided alternatives to the foraged ingredient in many of the recipes. It's a big help that the recipes are clearly written as well. Brill really wants us to use the book.
Wild Vegetarian wraps up with five very handy appendices. Herb and Spice User's Guide; Quick Guide to Dairy Free Cheese; Quick Guide to Wild Wine; Equivalents; and Flour Substitutions.
When I last spoke with Steve he was in the process of planning a wedding...his. Between his edible wilds tours in and around New York City, writing, and cooking I can't imagine where in the world was he going to find time to get married. If you can't make it to NYC for a tour with Steve then you should have this book in your collection. Great recipes, clearly written, and a good resource to boot.