A Maryland Woman Gets Wild In The Kitchen (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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A Maryland Woman Gets Wild In The Kitchen

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:09
I'm Rebecca Sheir and welcome back to "Metro Connection." We're only what, I don't know, a third of the way through the show and I am so hungry right now. That's because it's our annual Down The Hatch show where we dish all about stuff to eat, stuff to drink and in just a bit, we'll crack open some local beer, gobble up some ice cream and meet the makers of some spicy homemade sausage. So stick around. But first, we turn to some foods that are a little more, well, out there. Environment reporter Sabri Ben-Achour introduces us to a woman who's all about experimenting with some truly wild cuisine.

MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR

00:00:44
Susan Belsinger lives in Brookville, Md. Her house is in the middle of the woods.

MS. SUSAN BELSINGER

00:00:48
Herbs are what my life is all about, you know. And I use them to develop recipes and cook with, but I also use them in aromatherapy and medicinally.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:01:00
And all I see here is green. It's beautiful, it's green, but I don't see anything that I see in a grocery store here. So show me what's actually here.

BELSINGER

00:01:09
So here we have violets and the leaves and the flowers are edible. They sort of taste like a mild green lettuce. They're very high in Vitamin A and C. And everything that is a weed here that, you know, people would pull it out, I leave in if it's not invading a plant's space. They have a lot of trace minerals and vitamins that our regular plants that we grow every year don't have.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:01:36
We wander past wild ginger, mountain mint and edible day lilies.

BELSINGER

00:01:40
Try one. It's not dirty.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:01:42
Okay, so you're just giving me a petal. This beautiful salmon petal. I'm going to eat it. It's sweet.

BELSINGER

00:01:48
Isn't it sweet?

BEN-ACHOUR

00:01:49
Oh, it's like a fruit. Belsinger says that when you're identifying wild plants you're going to eat use at least two field guides, three is even better. Some things are poisonous and other things need special prep.

BELSINGER

00:02:01
You know about nettles, right?

BEN-ACHOUR

00:02:01
Yeah, I know that nettles can sting me and that they hurt.

BELSINGER

00:02:06
They hurt really bad. So you see I just put my gloves on.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:02:09
Yeah.

BELSINGER

00:02:11
All right. And so we're going to cut these and take some of these in because nettles are so high in vitamin and mineral content. They're really good for you. One of the best greens that you could ever eat, but they're stringy so you can't eat them raw. You have to wilt them down.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:02:30
She points out different things she uses for salads and for syrups, tinctures and tonics. Bee balm tastes great in tea and spicebush goes in stew, comfrey helps a sore ankle. These plants are all very common and just about everything is good for something.

BELSINGER

00:02:44
So this right here is a -- it looks like a clover, but it's a wood sorrel. That's really tart.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:02:53
Oh, yeah, that's, I mean, that's like lemon level of tartness.

BELSINGER

00:02:57
Mm-hmm. It's really nice to add these with other greens 'cause it gives a flavor.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:03:00
We wander back into the house where rows of mortars and pestles mingle with orchids on sunny shelves, dozens of well-used skillets hang from the ceiling and bundles of dried herbs hang from the rafters. Today, Belsinger is going to cook a frittata. In the kitchen, the wilderness is arrayed on the counters. Home grown chard, mustard, beet leaves and kale fan out like a peacock's tail. All the weeds she's collected on our walk are in the sink under well water.

BELSINGER

00:03:27
That's the wood sorrel. This is the lamb's quarters and this is the violet.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:03:31
There's also purslane and orange nasturtium flowers. Belsinger sautes the chopped greens with oil and home grown onions and then gets the eggs ready.

BELSINGER

00:03:44
If you're making a frittata, you have to figure two eggs per person. Salt, sea salt and grind some pepper in here.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:03:54
A touch of nutmeg is a secret ingredient. And after the greens wilt down, Belsinger pours in the eggs and some grated cheese.

BELSINGER

00:04:00
So this is really rustic. (unintelligible) That's perfectly fine.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:04:08
Why do you think that so many of these plants are not known more widely? Why don't people use them?

BELSINGER

00:04:12
Well, in Europe, the Mediterranean diet really uses wild greens. They're really good and it's sad that we don't eat more of them.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:04:22
A few minutes later, it's time to eat. Belsinger rubs spearmint leaves around the rim of glasses that she fills with ice tea. The tea itself is flavored with lemon and bergamot scented bee balm flowers from the garden. Oh, I just have never had a more perfect ice tea on such a hot day. And those bergamot flowers, it's like drinking perfume and taking a cool shower in summer.

BELSINGER

00:04:51
It's really refreshing.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:04:51
And then the main course. The golden brown and green frittata is brought to the table.

BELSINGER

00:04:59
Bon appetite.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:04:59
Oh, my gosh. This is so good. And I can taste -- well, I can just taste a lot of different things going on.

BELSINGER

00:05:07
You can get the bitter and the tart, you know. It's got deep, herby green flavor, I think. It's really yummy.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:05:13
Well, Susan Belsinger, thank you for this amazing meal made from amazing plants that I will no longer throw in the compost pile.

BELSINGER

00:05:22
Good.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:05:23
Thanks so much.

BELSINGER

00:05:24
Thanks. Thanks for coming out.

SHEIR

00:05:26
That was environment reporter Sabri Ben-Achour with herbalist Susan Belsinger. To see some of Susan's recipes as well as links to cookbooks and field guides, check out our website, metroconnection.org.
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