5@5 - Practically free ingredients
May 7th, 2014
05:00 PM ET
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5@5 is a food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.

Editor's note: Brothers Matt Lee and Ted Lee recently both hosted and cooked at the James Beard Book, Broadcast, and Journalism Awards ceremony. Their latest book, "The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen" won an International Association of Culinary Professionals award in the American cookbooks category, and the duo are about to launch Cookbook Boot Camp, a two-day intensive workshop for professional chefs and others eager to publish cookbooks of quality.

Like many regions of the country, South Carolina's Lowcountry experienced a cold, hard winter that seemed like it would never end. And it wreaked more than a bit of havoc on the ingredients we forage for - and typically find abundant - come Spring. Something about their being less plentiful made us realize how much we love them and wish they had a bigger platform, a more prominent venue, leagues more supporters.

It’s exciting to have farmers in the South digging deep into seed banks, finding heirloom grains and legumes that haven’t been tasted for decades. But we’d also like to shine a light on these five naturalized plant ingredients that already grow in abundance and are often overlooked. So this is a call to action to chefs in the South - and elsewhere - to get hip to the brilliance of FREE FOOD.

5 practically free ingredients we wish more Southern chefs would use: Matt Lee and Ted Lee

1. Mulberries
Most folks think they’re a nuisance: they splatter onto sidewalks, stick to your shoes, and get tracked in the house where they stain carpets and rugs. But they have a cool flavor, more mellow than a blackberry or a blueberry. They make a great syrup for glazing proteins; we add a bit of vinegar for a sour top note. We recently discovered that “green” mulberries - ones that have yet to turn purple - have a sweet-sour thing going on that we think could work in crudos.

2. Chainey briar
The tendril-like shoots of the vine Smilax bona-nox are pleasantly crisp like pea shoots and have a bright, refreshing flavor. We tend to treat them like the slenderest, tenderest asparagus, grilling or steaming them. But they’re also great raw, in salads, especially with radishes and spring greens.

3. Fresh bay leaves
There are hundreds of varieties of laurel - or bay - and each produces leaves with its own beguiling aromas. These can range from bubblegum sweet to minty to downright eucalyptus-like and it can be harnessed.

In the 19th century, rice was stored in barrels with bay leaf to drive off bugs - an aging process that these days results in a cooked grains with an otherworldly flavor. There are sweet applications as well—infused syrups that can add layers of flavor to cocktails.

4. Loquat

Home cooks make sweet preserves out of the fruit of Eriobotrya japonica (also known as “Japanese plums”). Their fresh, tart, cherry-meets-Granny-Smith flavor is overshadowed by the almond-like character imparted by the pits, when used in recipes like “Loquat Wine” - a vodka infusion that shows off the whole fruit.

5. Glasswort (aka Salicornia, Sea Beans, Sea Kale, etc.)
Glasswort grows abundantly in the drier, upper zone of the Lowcountry’s salt marshes. This crunchy, sea-salty little succulent (picture a miniature asparagus spear, with branches) is a lovely complement to fish and shellfish, especially sweet crab - as in the dish we served Friday at the James Beard Media Awards.

Glasswort

Previously:
Ramps, fiddleheads, fava beans and other spring vegetables about which people are freaking out
Travel the world from your cookbook shelf
Don't fear the vegan! Feed them.
Reclaiming the soul of Southern food
Scorpacciata – sea beans
A vegetarian may show up at your cookout. Do not be alarmed.

Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.

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Filed under: 5@5 • Foraging • Local Food • Scorpacciata • Southern • Spring Vegetables • Think • Vegetables


soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Weeds

    About Loquat, I was suspicious but I've confirmed this fruit is used to make the Asian style dried salted plums called Li hing mui. These are a dried salted plum that puts all sour candy to shame. At first you get the salt, then the sour starts coming in and it has a sweet tart finish. This article has inspired me to incorporate these in to a main dish. Thanks for the article and inspiration.

    May 12, 2014 at 4:38 pm |
  2. marisab67

    I learned the tarp underneath/shake the Jesus out of a big branch method of picking mulberries last year. It saves your hands from the inevitable bleaching later. Also, they aren't very good left whole in preserves, they tend to be a bit dry, so using juice only and making jelly is better than a preserve, like with blackberries.

    May 12, 2014 at 10:13 am |
  3. Thinking things through

    If at all possible, I'd like to give all these items at least a try! I believe I had mulberry years ago, and it would be great to find some around here.

    May 8, 2014 at 6:05 pm |
  4. ∞ Weeds ∞

    Chainey briar? Oh please Mr Br'er Bear, don't throw me into that briar patch! I'm definitely going to give this a try. This briar was/is famously used to make Sarsaparilla.

    May 8, 2014 at 2:09 pm |
  5. deannagreensandgardenart

    I think I will be trying mulberry scones! Thanks for the thoughts.

    May 8, 2014 at 10:05 am |
  6. JellyBean

    Oh man, my Grandmother used to make mulberry pie right after we picked those suckers in the hot summer sun. Loved it and miss her. Thanks for the great read.

    May 8, 2014 at 9:42 am |
    • AleeD® @ JellyBean

      Can you describe what it tastes like? I've never had one.

      May 8, 2014 at 10:04 am |
      • JellyBean

        I remember them having a very mild, berry flavor. If we picked them early partially ripe, they had a tart flavor as well. Good memories and great pie.

        May 8, 2014 at 10:29 am |
        • ∞ Weeds ∞

          My neighbors mulberry has fruit that tastes like a subtle blackberry. Just sweet and tart enough to want to eat another but not so much to go on a berry frenzy. I've never tasted, but I see how they'd make nice pies and preserves. Thinking about it here, I can easily see them in sauces, with bay leaf, for poultry and pork.
          I think I'll have to "raid" my neighbors tree this summer.

          May 8, 2014 at 1:57 pm |
  7. Truth™

    Interesting!

    May 8, 2014 at 8:26 am |

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