This excerpt is from Alan Bergo’s new book The Forager Chef’s Book of Flora: Recipes and Techniques for Edible Plants from Garden, Field, and Forest (Chelsea Green Publishing, June 2021) and is reprinted with permission from the publisher.
Makes roughly 10 cakes
There’s a reason this is the first recipe in this book. It’s a hybrid of a recipe by French Chef Jacques Chibois and one outlined by Sam Thayer in his third book, Incredible Wild Edibles, and it’s a statement on the culinary dichotomy of these two chefs, since wild plants are high-quality ingredients sought after by chefs, but also available to anyone who takes the time to get outside and learn about them. Many different species of plants can be used, and no two batches I’ve ever made have been exactly the same. My favorite part of this recipe is how the greens continue cooking on the inside of the cake, almost as if they’re cooked under pressure, retaining a bright green color, with a tender bite that eats almost like meat. The cakes are meant to be a mild side dish—a different way to get your greens. If you want to jazz them up, consider serving them with a yogurt-, tomato-, or mayonnaise-based sauce. Sometimes I add cooked onions, seeds or other alliums and herbs if I have them, so think of this recipe as a blank slate you can make your own. Breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner or as an appetizer: I’d struggle to think of a meal that wouldn’t welcome a few green cakes.
- 2 packed cups (455 g) blanched and shocked wild greens, or a mix of spinach, parsley and kale
- 2 large eggs
- 1/4 cup (30 g) flour or flour equivalent
- Kosher salt, to taste
- Fresh-ground black pepper, to taste
- Fresh-grated nutmeg or your favorite spice mix, to taste (optional)
- Cooking oil, such as lard or grapeseed oil, as needed for cooking the cakes
- Fresh lemon wedges, for serving (optional)
Squeeze the greens dry very well. Chop the greens fine and mix with the eggs and flour. Season the mixture with salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste; it should be well seasoned. Ideally, you’ll now let the batter rest for 30 minutes or so before cooking, but it can be cooked straightaway if needed. Cook a small piece of the mixture to test the seasoning and adjust to your taste. Shape 1/4 cup (2 ounces / 55 g) into cakes with your hands, then fry on medium-high until browned on both sides. If your cakes seem loose or wet, mix another spoonful of flour into the batter. The cakes are sturdy and reheat well, so I usually make them in large batches. Serve with lemon wedges.
- Using different grain flours and seasonings can give you different themes. For example, Latin American–flavored cakes made from quickweed and fine cornmeal, scented
with cumin, are great used to scoop up
guacamole—a bit like fried plantains. By the same token, chard or wild beet green cakes bound with buckwheat or millet flour would be at home with Eastern European flavors such as sauerkraut and pork sausage. Middle Eastern–inspired cakes could be made with malva or violet leaves, seasoned with baharat spice mix, bound with ground wheat flour, and served with tahini sauce.
- Nutmeg is traditional here, but other spices, especially seeds from the carrot family, are really good in nutmeg’s place.
- Play around with combinations of bitter and “sweet” greens. Horseradish greens can be unpalatable for some people, but mixed with other greens (1 part to 3 parts) they can add a nice depth.
- Use the cakes as vehicles for dips, sauces, and salsas.
- After the cakes are cooked, they’re great in a lot of places you’d use a meat patty or ground meat.