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Ask Carb Diva: Questions & Answers About Food, Recipes, & Cooking, #159

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.


Please Vote

If I cannot convince you of how important your vote is, perhaps these people can:

“The most important office, and the one which all of us can and should fill, is that of private citizen.” –Louis Brandeis

“Our political leaders will know our priorities only if we tell them, again and again, and if those priorities begin to show up in the polls.” –Peggy Noonan

“Voting is the expression of our commitment to ourselves, one another, this country, and this world.” –Sharon Salzberg

“Talk is cheap, voting is free; take it to the polls.” –Nanette L. Avery

“Not voting is not a protest. It is a surrender.” –Keith Ellison

“There’s no such thing as a vote that doesn’t matter.” –Barack Obama

“People shouldn’t be afraid of their government. Governments should be afraid of their people.” –Alan Moore

“We do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.” –Thomas Jefferson

“Bad officials are elected by good citizens who don’t vote.” –George Jean Nathan

Are You Ready?

Let's get started with today's mailbox. If you're an old friend, you already know how this works. But, if this is your first visit, let me introduce you to my kitchen.

Each week I receive questions about food ingredients, cooking or baking terms or methods, requests for recipes, and queries about nutrition. Just about anything food-related has been covered here.

I'm sharing this past week's questions and my responses; it happens every Monday. Want to join in the fun? You can leave your question in the comments below, and next week the answer will be right here. It's that easy.

The first question is from Eric.

Field of dandelions

Field of dandelions


It is that time of year. I put together some freewheeling stuff. I just finished a “jam” with wild prickly pear fruit. I regale some with my wild dandelion and watercress salads. I like wild blackberries and interesting grape of wildness. Are we to forget raspberries and long left apples? Natural stuff is different as we have learned from you about game meat. What about game fruit?

No specific answer is raised. Just your thoughts.

What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Eric, what you're talking about is foraging, harvesting edible wild plants and using them for jam, soup, salads, and herbs. How lucky that you have such a wealth of plants from which to choose in your area. Let's begin with a few basic rules; I'm sure you know these, but other readers might not. Then I'll cover the specific forage items you mentioned.

Rules of Foraging

  • Of course, don't trespass on private property.
  • Know what you're picking; you can eat any wild berry or mushroom, but some of them only once. (Ponder on that for a moment and I think you'll get my drift). Be absolutely certain that what you have gathered isn't poisonous.
  • If you're new to the concept of foraging, try to find a mentor, someone to guide you on the where's and what's and what-nots. If that isn't possible, go to your local library for some reference books. They are many out there, with photos and vivid descriptions. I can't stress this enough.
  • Know what grows where. Boggy plants won't be found on a hillside.
  • Don't over-harvest. Leave some for the next forager, and keep in mind that some will have to go to seed, spread runners, etc. to create the next generation.
  • If you are gathering in a marshy, wet area, know the source of water. Polluted water doesn't stop at the roots; it moves upward.

Prickly Pear, Dandelion, and all the Rest

Prickly Pear: I'm glad that Eric is using one of those prickly pear jelly recipes I shared with him. Dear readers, if any of you missed that episode of Q&A, here is what I wrote in May of this year.

Eric, there were dozens if not hundreds of prickly pear jelly recipes out there, but all of them require a hot water bath, and I'm pretty sure that you don't have a kettle, rack, and tongs for making shelf-stable preserves. So, I used my super-powers and found two that might work for you—the first is jelly that can be stored in the refrigerator for up to six months, and the second is a freezer jam. Both have detailed instructions and lots of photos. I hope that helps.

Dandelion: Every part of the dandelion (flowers, leaves, roots) is edible assuming, of course, that it has not been plastic with herbicide. The Prairie Homestead has 16 recipes for using every part of that pretty yellow weed.

Wild Watercress: Eric, I have good news and bad news. Let's get the bad part out of the way so that we can then focus on the positive. Wild watercress can carry the cyst stage of a parasite (fasciola hepatica) when growing on land containing livestock. This means if you eat it uncooked, there is a small risk of them hatching into liver flukes inside you. That would not be good. But, if you cook the cress (toss it in a soup, for example) the parasite will perish and your gut will be safe from harm.

There are a few more plants that are easy to find and identify. You might try these as well:

Wild Onions and Garlic: Identify them by their smell. If they smell onion-y, they are the real deal. But be careful. There are imposters that look like but don't smell like a member of the onion family.

Scroll to Continue

Flowers (Wild and Domesticated): I wrote an entire article on edible flowers. The link is here.

Stinging Nettles: They carry a nasty bite (from formic acid on the hairs on their leaves and stems), but once cooked/steamed the sting is gone and they can be used in any recipe that would call for cooked spinach. A link to my article on how to safely harvest and prepare is right here.

Cooking Terms

In the past two weeks," we've investigated "aerate to dredge" and "dust to leaven." Let's keep going with the "action verbs" of cooking.

Macerate – To soak fruits or vegetables in wine, liquor, or syrup so that they are infused with flavor. Sugar or salt can be used to draw out excess moisture. Sugar added to fresh fruits will cause them to release liquid which that then be thickened (consider for a moment strawberry shortcake, or the process of making jam or jelly). Salting vegetables can draw out bitterness (eggplants or zucchini).

Mince - To cut or chop food into extremely small pieces.

mise en place (MEEZ ahn plahs): This technique is IMPORTANT and one that’s hardest to get novice cooks to stick with. It’s a French term for having all your ingredients prepped and ready to go before starting you start cooking. That means everything is cleaned, peeled, chopped, diced, measured out, whatever’s necessary to get the ingredients ready prior to preparing your dish. Many of us start cooking and prepping at the same time. A big NO-NO. Try to get into the habit of mis en place.

Nap: To completely cover food with a light coating of sauce so that it forms a thin, even layer.

Pan-broil: To cook uncovered in a hot frypan, pouring off fat as it accumulates.

Pan-fry: To cook in small amounts of fat.

Parboil: To boil until partially cooked; to blanch. Usually, this procedure is followed by final cooking in a seasoned sauce.

Pare: To remove the outermost skin of a fruit or vegetable.

Blending Spices for Curry

Now I get the idea of 7 Indian spices and I love curry. What can a simpleton like me do to it right. Mine just tastes like 7 spices.

A few curry spices

A few curry spices

Eric, the trick to getting those herbs and spices to work together is help each individual spice reach its ultimate flavor potential. There's how:

  • Use whole spices (the pre-ground stuff just doesn't have the same oomph).
  • Dry roast those spices in a shallow pan; don't add any oil. As they heat up, their flavors will change (in a good way). They will release volatile aromatics (yummy smells) that will then break down and recombine to form complexity. As soon as they release their fragrance, remove them from the pan and let them sit until cool.
  • Do you have a mortar and pestle? If you do, good for you. Using one is oddly satisfying. If not, grab a clean coffee grinder. (I have one set aside for grinding spices only).
  • Now, bloom those spices. Add the oil (or butter) in your recipe to the pan. When it begins to shimmer, add your spices. When they begin to smell toasty turn off the heat. How do you bloom spices, you ask? The folks at Bon Appetit explain it perfectly in this article.
Almond and Pear Rose Tarts

Almond and Pear Rose Tarts

Almond and Pear Rose Tarts

Last week I answered a question from Denise, providing an alternative to potato roses wrapped with bacon (Denise wanted a vegan alternative). In case you missed it, here's a link. Well, on the same theme I found one more recipe that simply looked too good to keep to myself. Thinly sliced red pears (leave the peel on) are wrapped in puff pastry. They're sweet and spicy (cinnamon and cardamom), buttery and flaky. What's not to love?

We're Organized

Did you know that there is a Table of Contents for this series? I have created an article that provides a detailed listing of each question I've received. It's broken down by category, and within each category, the questions are listed alphabetically. Each question is actually a hotlink back to the original post.

Here's a link to that Table of Contents.

I have also cataloged all of my personal recipes that I have shared with you in this weekly Q&A series and in all of my other articles as well. The link to that Index is here. There are hotlinks to each recipe and this will be updated as new recipes are shared.

Miss Kitty, my able assistant, is ready to help me answer your mail.

Miss Kitty, my able assistant, is ready to help me answer your mail.

Let's do this again next week. If you have questions about foods, cooking techniques, or nutrition you can ask them here. If you are in search of an old recipe or need ideas on how to improve an existing one I can help you. If you want to learn more, let's do it together. Present your questions, your ideas, your comments below. Or, you can write to me personally at this email address:

And, I promise that there will always be at least one photo of a kitty in every Monday post.

© 2020 Linda Lum


Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on October 20, 2020:

Good morning MizB. I'm always happy when I receive notification that you've left a comment for me. Your comments are usually better than the article.

Your Larry sounds like a bit of a handful, but God love him for being your helper in the kitchen. Me? I tend to run a pretty tight ship and my Mr. Bill knows to just stay the heck out of the way.

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on October 19, 2020:

This week's article was fun reading, Linda. I enjoyed the terminology, some of which I already knew. Mise en place was new to me (the term, not the act). My hubby Larry would never think of mise en place. He starts cooking and then starts yelling, "Doris, get me some xxxx quick, hurry the xxx is almost ready! Or "where's the garlic powder? I need it now!" Very annoying of him. What's worse, I must keep reminding him of what my chemistry teacher emphasized to us, "hot glass looks just like cold glass!" when he yells "find me a potholder, quick!"

Oh well.

We love homemade jellies and preserves, but we don't care for refrigerator or freezer varieties. So we do own things like a pressure canner, water bath, cold pack canner, etc. His grandma taught him well. Me, I'm just thankful he does it for me.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on October 19, 2020:

Hi Mary. Yes, you must be really careful when gleening from the wild. My husband thought that lily of the valley shoots were the same as hosta shoots. Yes, they look the same but one is tasty and the other is deadly poison!

I have the same problem with those old recipes. I'll have an answer for you (I hope) next week. Stop back tomorrow, OK? I'll have a new article for all of you.

Mary Wickison from USA on October 19, 2020:

I love the idea of foraging but am always hesitant. Some of my neighbors still have the knowledge of many medicinal plants, and what types of 'weeds' are edible.

From your list, I have never heard the word nap used in reference to food, so that is good to know.

I was recently looking in my old Betty Crocker cookbook. So many of the recipes (especially cakes and cookies) use shortening. What can I do to avoid that, and still make the recipe work?

I agree with your thoughts about voting.

Have a wonderful week.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on October 19, 2020:

Shauna, I'll be going to the produce stand today or tomorrow and plan on finding some firm pears or perhaps some Pink Lady apples. I simply MUST try those rosettes. We got our ballots on Saturday and will be dropping them in a collection box tomorrow. Have a great week. See ya tomorrow.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on October 19, 2020:

Linda, the pear/puff pastry rosettes are so pretty. I'll bet they're as yummy as the look, too.

I never knew that "nap" is also a culinary term. I learned something new today!

BTW, I've already voted. I mailed my ballot last week.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on October 19, 2020:

Bill, I would be happy to cover the topic of mushrooms for you. There is a mycological society in Olympia, I think. I'll do some investigating for you and also a list of what's available and how to use them. That sounds like a full list for next week. Thanks for that. I'll see you tomorrow.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on October 19, 2020:

Eric, it was my pleasure writing this one for you; I know that you and Gabe will have fun in the kitchen with this one.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on October 19, 2020:

Pamela, where I live there are many different berries, wild onions, nettles, and (if you know what to look for) wild mushrooms. Have a wonderful day. I'll have another article tomorrow.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on October 19, 2020:

Good morning John. Try blooming those spices and see if it makes a different. The aroma is amazing.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on October 19, 2020:

Oh Flourish, I can almost taste them. I'll be going to the produce stand today and hope to find some Pink Lady apples. They would be perfect. It's too cold land wet to work outside, so Beth and I always play in the kitchen.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on October 19, 2020:

Mackyi, welcome to my kitchen. Turmeric is a valuable spice, for cooking and health. I wrote on that topic about a year ago. If you Google "Exploring Turmeric AND Delishably" you will find it.

Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. I hope you'll come back again.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 19, 2020:

I should probably help you out with a question: what are the most common edible mushrooms found in Western Washington? Asking for my wife, of course. :) Happy Monday, my wise and loving friend.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on October 19, 2020:

I love my mortar and pestle. So cool about spices. My kitchen is going to smell so good.

Oops; you are the one that gave instruction on Jam and Jelly.

I am getting better at mis en place. Thank you for keeping me thinking about it.

I grew up in a place where I learned all the plants well. It took 15 years or so to learn them where I live now.

Thanks for this one.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on October 19, 2020:

Happy Monday, Linda! This is a very interesting article and those tarts look so good. I have picked blackberries but that is the limit of my foraging. That is a very interesting topic, but I don't think there is much in my part of the country to forage.

Yes, Vote! We are fortunate to be able to vote as that is not true in all countries.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on October 18, 2020:

Great questions Linda. It seems that Eric is your major contributor and obviously spends serious time in the kitchen, I liked the answer to blending the spices to make a curry. I attempted it once but I didn't like it as much as store-bought curry powder so haven't tried since.

FlourishAnyway from USA on October 18, 2020:

Those almond and pear tarts look good and would also be good as apple and pecan rose tarts. Mmmmm.

I.W. McFarlane from Philadelphia on October 18, 2020:

Thanks for reminding everyone of the importance of voting.

This recipe, food and cooking blog is very interesting. I'm currently trying to get back in cooking---one of my favorite hobbies. I will be trying some of these herbs and spices. As for the Tumeric, I have been using it a lot since the Covid-19 pandemic started.

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