Foraged Flavor: Finding Fabulous Ingredients in Your Backyard or Farmer’s Market (Review)

© Clarkson Potter

Foraged Flavor by Tama Matsuoka Wong and Eddy Leroux, chef de cuisine at New York restaurant Daniel, is a hybrid weed field guide and cookbook. The partnership between forager and chef came about one day when Tama brought anise hyssop into the restaurant on a whim and asked if something could be prepared with it.

This has lead to a culinary collaboration between the two that culminates in Foraged Flavor.

The ingredients that Wong forages and sells to Daniel come from her meadow in New Jersey, but can easily be sourced from your own backyard and urban environment.

The book could be called Foraged Urban Flavor as I count only a handful of plants in the book that I can’t find growing wild in my own garden or within a short distance.

Watch the Foraged Flavor Trailer.

This book isn’t an encyclopedia of every edible plant you can stumble upon in your garden or local farmer’s market. The list of recommended plants has been edited to highlight plants with interesting flavors. For me these leads to a couple of interesting discoveries like the use of wisteria flowers and cattail shoots.

Another benefit of the edited list is that nothing is too out there. You won’t need to hire a Sherpa, rent a canoe, or go backpacking into a forest to harvest the ingredients yourself. Anyone with a yard likely has a large portion of the plants from the book growing in it.

The emphasis on foraging for flavor is something I appreciate because it makes the act of foraging more sustainable and within reach for the average individual.

There’s no need for over harvesting or an expansive meadow to forage many of these plants. I could step out into my garden and harvest the 1 ounce of wood sorrel leaves right this moment that the recipe for scallops and wood sorrel with white wine shallot sauce calls for.

Chef Leroux should be commended for making the recipes so easy. When I was offered my review copy of the book I thought I’d need expensive food processors, rare spices, and a dress rehearsal to ensure I didn’t screw up the recipes. But the ingredients are easy to source (even in my inner-city neighborhood) and the recipes are simple enough that someone like me could follow them.

My only issue with the book is the use of illustrations. The illustration of lesser celandine leaves (pg.54) could be mistaken for cyclamen-even an African violet-at the scale and quality it is printed. In person the leaves of the plants look nothing alike.

Also, half of the book is about recipes but there isn’t one photograph of any of the dishes. I’m a visual person and when cooking from a recipe I find it helpful to have an idea of what the finished plate should look like. I know books with pictures are more expensive to produce but a book on foraging weeds really needs big, detailed, colored photographs.

Just the other day I was complaining about the mess the birds will make with the berries on my juniper. I’m going out to harvest them to try the caramelized braised endive with juniper berries recipe now that I know I can do something with them. If you can get past the lack of photographs of the dishes Foraged Flavor will have you eyeing those weeds, plants, and trees you walk past every day in a whole new light.

Foraged Flavor is published by Clarkson Potter and will be on Sale June 12, 2012. The book’s cover price is $25.00 but I received my review copy for free.

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