As I wrote last fall, milkweed is quite the versatile veggie! Earlier this spring, Tim and I enjoyed some young milkweed shoots, boiled and served as a side dish with some salt and pepper. If you’d like to try this vegetable, I strongly recommend Samuel Thayer’s book The Forager’s Harvest. Thayer has a very helpful table of differences between young milkweed’s poisonous lookalike, dogbane. Do not try to harvest young milkweed shoots without doing some serious research!
Other parts of the milkweed plant are pretty easy to identify with certainty. Recently, I made a tofu-veggie teriyaki dish with the milkweed’s flower buds. People often say these milkweed florets taste like broccoli, but I don’t think they do, really. It’s just that they’re the same part of the plant, so they resemble each other. I can’t compare the flavor to any other veggie, because like other veggies, milkweed buds have their own flavor. But they’re mild enough that I can’t imagine anyone taking a dislike to them!
**Note: Before you pick anything, read what a reputable wild foods book has to say about identification and poisonous lookalikes. As I’ve mentioned before, I love Sam Thayer’s books and recommend them to anyone in North America. But I also recommend Edible Wild Plants: A North American Guide to Over 200 Natural Foods, by Thomas Elias and Peter Dykeman, and, for New Englanders, Foraging New England: Finding, Identifying, and Preparing Edible Wilde Foods and Medicinal Plants from Maine to Connecticut, by Tom Seymour.**
To wash the florets, dunk them in a bowl of water and swish around, making sure they get fully immersed. Then lift them out with your fingers or a slotted spoon, leaving any dirt, dust, or bugs at the bottom of the bowl. If they’re leaving a lot of dirt behind, do this until the water stays clean.
Here’s how I prepared them: I fried tofu slices in sesame oil until golden-brown, then removed the tofu to sauté the florets. After 5 or 6 minutes, I re-added the tofu to the pan, seasoned with a teriyaki sauce, and served over Wehani rice (a type of especially flavorful brown rice). You could also leave off the teriyaki and drizzle a Thai peanut sauce on top, or use coconut oil for frying the tofu and cook the veggies in a panang curry. Both spouse and I pronounced it Good.