There are New York legends of all stripes: athletes, entrepreneurs, politicians, activists, socialites, artists, criminals, and freaks. You hear about them and wonder if the stories are true. I’m not sure how I first heard of “Wildman” Steve Brill, part activist, part criminal (see the section on his website about his arrest), and part freak, but he is the real deal.
Steve Brill is an environmental educator, naturalist, and expert on wild things you can put in your mouth—and those you can’t. For the last twenty or so years, he has led foraging tours in the city parks and has developed a reputation for being knowledgeable, intrepid, and not a little kooky.
As I mentioned in my last post, I recently followed the Wildman’s pied pipe (mouth claps) through lovely Prospect Park in Brooklyn, NY. CHG contributor Rachel organized the outing that also included her beau, J, and Kris’ Boyfriend. We couldn’t have ordered a better day, and properly appointed with The Boyfriend’s spade, Rachel’s pocket knife, and my whistle from a 2003 Polyphonic Spree show, we were ready to forage.
Along with 20–30 other urban adventurers of all ages, we were barely inside the entrance to park before the Wildman pointed out something we could eat: lamb’s quarters, a diamond-shaped leafy green with a spinachy taste. There was a whole mess (a Southern unit of measure) of it right there, and we were encouraged to take what we wanted.
Since joining my oft-mentioned CSA, I’ve called upon the Wildman’s website for recipes utilizing some of the more unusual greens that have come my way. This made me something of an intermediate forager on the walk. I recognized, sampled, and harvested a bagful of lamb’s quarters before the Wildman got the instructions out of his mouth.
Next up (above our heads) were carnelian cherries, which sent everyone into frenzy. Fruit?! Wild fruit?! It was a free-for-all. Most of the ripe ones were on the ground, and people were scrambling, myself included. We encountered some tiny black cherries and elderberries too. The fruits were the most crowd-pleasing, but I wanted more herbs and greens.
Rachel and I got down and dirty when the Wildman showed us how to dig up burdock root. Putting to use the spade, the knife, and the Barbie garden gloves my mother gave me for my birthday last year, I dug around the root, and cut it free. My cup runneth over with handy friends and good stuff to eat from the good earth.
If you’re considering a foray into foraging, I heartily recommend the Wildman. It was not just inspiring for the adventurous eater/cook, but a total blast. Here’s what I learned on the Wildman trek:
- Never pass up a chance to spend a day with a legend.
- You are responsible for what you eat.
- It’s possible to mouth-clap Chopin’s funeral song to comic effect and then let it go on just a bit too long to still be funny.
- A pretty flower called soapweed is a natural, sensitive-skin cleanser.
- Wood sorrel looks like kind of like clover and tastes like lemon.
- I’d rather pee in the woods than in a portable toilet.
- Four hours is just a touch too long for this kind of thing; three would be perfect.
- If you raise kids on this stuff, they will like it.
- There is plenty to eat in the wilds of New York City.
- You need a lot more burdock root than I dug up to make today’s recipe, but it was still really good.
I substituted wild rice for the two kinds of brown rice in the original recipe, and replaced fresh basil for dried rosemary because that’s what I had on hand. This dish has made me the envy of my co-workers all week long. Wildly delicious!
Sesame Rice with Burdock (adaptation)
From THE WILD VEGETARIAN COOKBOOK by Steve Brill
2 cups water
1 cup burdock root, very thinly sliced (Note: I only gathered 3 small roots, which came out to about 1 tablespoon.)
1 cup wild rice
1 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted
1 tablespoons tamari soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon fresh basil
1/4 teaspoon ground dried wild ginger or regular ground ginger (Note: I used ground ginger.)
1 teaspoon chili paste or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
1) In a large saucepan, bring all the ingredients to a boil over medium heat.
2) Drop heat to low. Cover. Cook/simmer about 40 minutes, or until burdock and rice are tender. Serve.
Approximate Calories, Fat, and Cost
157.5 calories, 1g fat, $.46
Wild rice: 571 calories, 2g fat, $1.33
Sesame seeds: 19 calories, 1g fat, $.10
Tamari soy sauce: 11 calories, 0g fat, $.25
Fresh basil: negligible fat and calories, $.02
Dried ginger: negligible fat and calories, $.02
Chili paste: 29 calories, 1g fat, $.06
TOTALS: 630 calories, 4g fat, $1.84
PER SERVING (TOTAL/4): 157.5 calories, 1g fat, $.46