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I was tickled to read in Sam Thayer’s book, Forager’s Harvest, that the silk of milkweed pods, in its immature form, melts just like cheese. Fascinating information, but I had no idea how to use the knowledge.* Then a friend of mine invented this delicious, easy casserole, which uses the silk of immature milkweed pods instead of cheese. (Read her amusingly-written original recipe here.) Though the recipe calls for butter, you can easily substitute oil and make this a vegan casserole. Lambs quarters is a common weed growing in gardens and other areas with disturbed soil. It is a close relative of quinoa, and like qinoa, it is highly nutritious. People compare it to spinach, but I prefer it over spinach since it doesn’t make your teeth feel weird in the way that spinach does.

Ingredients:
4 Tablespoons butter
½ Cup milkweed silk from immature pods (Note: You must use immature milkweed pods within an hour of harvest, or they will turn tough, and the silk won’t melt like it should.)
1 Cup lambs quarters
1 Cup uncooked rice
2 Cups hot vegetable bouillon

Instructions:
1. Preheat oven to 475F
2. Melt 4 Tablespoons butter in casserole dish
3. Remove pre-silk substance from immature milkweed pods. This is easy: Simply grasp each end of the pod and bend; the pod’s skin will split, just like a banana skin. Remove the silk substance and discard the pod. Fluff the silk a bit with your fingers so that it will mix in without forming big lumps.

The immature pods should be full-length,  with a soft green covering.

The immature pods should be full-length, with a soft green covering.

Split skin of milkweed pod.

Split skin of milkweed pod.

4. Rinse and chop lambs quarters.
5. Mix 1 Cup uncooked rice (I keep emphasizing the uncooked part because I once unthinkingly used cooked rice, and it was an inedible disaster), lambs quarters, and silk. Place mixture in buttered casserole. Pour vegetable stock over mixture, cover, and put in oven.

Mixture of milkweed silk, rice, and lambs quarters.

Mixture of milkweed silk, rice, and lambs quarters.

6. Bake for 10 minutes at 475, then reduce heat to 350 and bake 20 minutes. Remove cover and bake for 10 minutes to make the top crispy (if you don’t want a crispy top, bake at 30 minutes after reducing heat).  Serves 4.

The finished casserole!

The finished casserole!

A few weeks ago, impatient for the milkweed pods to be ready to harvest, I decided to make this casserole with what I had in my refrigerator. I substituted cheddar for the milkweed silk, and lightly sauteed broccoli for the lambs quarters. Spinach would also be a good substitute vegetable.

* Please check out Thayer’s book (or read this post on his website) and his description of common milkweed, or Asclepius syriaca, before picking and ingesting any milkweed. Never eat any wild foods unless you’ve done the research you need to be absolutely sure you’re picking the right plant.

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