Friday, March 8, 2013

Native American Cooking: Nettles and Mushrooms

Last night, we had quite a feast in my Kumeyaay traditional foods class. The Kumeyaay are, of course, the local Indian tribe who inhabit San Diego County south of the San Luis Rey River and extend south of the border into Mexico.

Last night's meal was, er, not so traditional. A week ago, as class ended, I asked our instructor what we would do this week. She showed me a picture of a huge mushroom growing on a nearby tree and said we'd eat it. "How will we cook it?" I asked. She asked how I would cook it. Umm, saute it?

I mentioned the tons of highly edible stinging nettles growing on the reservation that we walked through that night. She said we could have those too. "How will we cook those?" I asked her. She asked what I would do. Well, I would put them on a pizza. She got really excited about it and asked if I'd bring a pizza.

But I'm not taking this class to learn how to make Italian food! I want to know how the Kumeyaay prepare nettles! In the end, we decided we could do both.

Yesterday, I made a pizza dough around noon and let it rise. A few hours later, I rolled it out into 2 crusts. By 4pm, when my carpool arrived, I was packed up with the following:
  • 2 pizza crusts
  • Camping grill
  • Cutting boards
  • Pizza sauce (homemade)
  • My favorite cheese (Organic Vally Raw Wisconsin Jack Style Cheese)
  • Pesto sauce (homemade)
  • A Meyer lemon
  • Tongs
  • A knife
  • Silverware
  • A microplane
  • A colander
  • Thyme
  • Sea salt
  • A bag
  • Olive oil

You think I packed enough stuff?

When we got to the classroom, I laid out my stuff. Here's one of the uncooked crusts that we started with:

(The recipe is literally yeast, 1 c. hot water, whole wheat flour, 1 tbsp. sugar, and salt to taste... I just add wheat flour til it's not gooey and sticky and continue adding it as kneaded - PUN INTENDED!)

While it was still light out, my classmates and I gathered firewood. The two backpacking experts in the class got the fire going and set up the grill so that the pizza wouldn't catch fire as it cooked.

As they fussed with the fire, the rest of us set off to get the nettles:

Stinging nettles

I know I've written a lot about nettles on here (they're a widely available, healthy, tasty, free food so I love them) but I'll reiterate that they STING until you cook them or dry them. And you want to get little ones if you're going to cook them fresh. Less than about 8" tall. If you get bigger ones, you want to dry them before using them. You can use them to season soups or make tea with them once they are dried.

I brought the tongs and the knife to harvest them, but the knife didn't work very well - scissors are better - and two of my (crazy!) classmates decided to pick them by hand instead. I react pretty strongly to the sting so I still used the knife and tongs.

Back in class, we put the pizza dough over the fire to cook just one side of it a bit:

Meanwhile, one classmate cut the leaves off the nettles (the stems are tough), while another grated cheese.

After a few minutes, I removed the crust from the fire and flipped it over so that the already-cooked side was face-up. Then my classmates added pesto, tomato sauce, nettles, cheese, and mushrooms, in that order.

The pizza. After the pesto, sauce, and nettles, but before the cheese.

Meet our mushroom:

A Lion's Mane mushroom

Here's what it looked like after we took it apart and donated the non-edible bits to my compost pile.

At first, when we saw this, nobody really knew what to do with it. But before long, we were scattering bits of it on top of the pizza.

The first pizza on the fire

With the first pizza cooking, the class prepared pizza #2. I brought the thyme, lemon, olive oil, and microplane to use when we sauteed the mushroom, but somebody put the thyme and lemon zest on the second pizza too. It wasn't bad!

The first pizza cooked and it disappeared into our mouths before I got a picture. So I took a picture of the second pizza BEFORE we cut into it and ate it:

We put more mushrooms on the second pizza because we couldn't taste them very well on the first one.

With the pizzas done (and eaten), we got started on the mushrooms. We put these in a saucepan on the fire and we added only olive oil, butter, and sea salt. We added too much butter, in my opinion, because I ended up with a stomach ache from it. But it sure tasted great!

Lion's Mane mushroom, cooked.

Last, we asked the instructor about the nettles. How do the Kumeyaay eat them? She said they often boil them in water, and they also use them to make tea. But this time, she suggested we just cook them in the saucepan with nothing else. They became dry and crispy, like kale chips. I would've preferred a bit of olive oil and salt, to be honest.

Cooking the nettles

All in all, it was a great meal and a great night. We finished up by spending a while sitting around our lovely fire before packing up and going home. The mushroom was such a big hit that we plan to eat another one next week. Next week, we're making burritos, and I'm on the hook to bring the tortilla ingredients. We're also going to cook up some wild mustard greens from the invasive black mustard found all over the place - and I, for one, am not going to eat it. There are very few vegetables I don't like, and mustard greens are one of them.

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