Cooking with Weeds

Every garden has pests: the Japanese beetles that chew and munch, not to mention the weedy daggers of dandelions that pierce the verdant lawn. So why not eat them? Okay, so maybe not the Japanese beetles. But the dandelions, violets and garlic mustard cropping up in a yard near you, serve up tasty.

Those three ingredients found their way onto the chopping board of Chef Lisa LaValle, owner of the Botanical Garden’s popular Trellis Café. Hard to believe? Sure. But the taste buds don’t lie. Ralph Waldo Emerson famously pined that weeds were plants whose virtues simply hadn’t been discovered. In these insults to fine lawns everywhere, LaValle has found virtues of the palatable kind.

“This is thinking local,” jests LaValle, but only slightly. Long a proponent of local ingredients, even before they were chic, LaValle suggests we ought to celebrate all the land has to offer, even if it means foraging the yard for weeds.

1. Chopped Violets with Whipped Honey

“You can use violets for all kinds of things,” says LaValle of the favorite tea time garnish. “Candied violets are classic, of course, but I like to just chop the flowers up.” Whipped honey, light in name but rich in taste, slathers elegantly onto toast corners to form the base of this satisfying breakfast treat. Coarsely chopped violets never looked better than scattered on bread, after all.


2. Dandelion Mead Spritzer

Rendered as the all-star accoutrement to honey and wine, dandelions morph into a digestif. LaValle riffs on the ancient beverage of lore by spiking sauvignon blanc and pinot grigio with honey. “I tried for something clean and austere so it blends with and doesn’t detract from the honey,” says LaValle. Left to swim in the concoction, a well-washed dandelion leaf finishes the palette on an herbal note.

3. Garlic Mustard Pesto

Garlic mustard is a vicious invasive, but LaValle isn’t fazed by botanical aggression. “There’s quite a stand of it in Greenwood Park and as it seemed to close in on my garden fence, I thought, why not eat it?” Leaves stripped and chopped, tossed in oil with pan-fried garlic and a generous dash of salt later, LaValle conquered. She finishes the pesto, destined for a flatbread, with some stone ground mustard and a pinch of honey.