Stalking the Waiter

Riffing on foods, flavors and methods, that would be telling.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Weekend Herb Blogging #17 - Wild Bay

The California bay laurel, Umbellaria californica, grows in wild profusion in my part of the California Wine Country (as elsewhere, I'm sure). These are not the "true" laurel, Laurus nobilis, but their leaves can be used in cooking.

Dry them as you would true laurel and add them to soups or stews. Although the flavor is very similar, these leaves are much stronger than their "noble" relative. Use about half what you would of true laurel. For example, one leaf in a large pot of flageolet beans is plenty. If you have access to California bay leaves, experiment with them, to see how much is palatable for you.

Lightly Pickled Veggies

I wish I could remember the proper name for these, but I don't. I got the recipe from a Guatemalan friend I worked with at UCSF. They’re lovely and light as part of a hot weather buffet or snack tray. Berta used to make a huge batch for her annual entertaining the coworkers party, and they vanished with amazing speed. They’re cooked only long enough to give them a little pickle flavor. They should definitely still have their crunch.

  • Baby carrots or carrot sticks
  • Cauliflower, broken into florets
  • Salsify, cut in pieces to match the carrots
  • Celery sticks
  • Green onions
  • Water, enough to let the veggies move around without crowding
  • Bay leaf
  • White vinegar
  • Salt
  • Sugar
  • Peppercorns

  1. Put the water, bay leaf and peppercorns in a large enough pan to give the veggies room to move around. Set it over medium heat.
  2. While the water is heating, wash all the veggies and drain.
  3. Cut the tops off the green onions about an inch above the white, just enough to give them a flare of green, and remove the root end.
  4. When the water is warmed, begin adding vinegar, salt and sugar, tasting as you go until you like the acid/salt/sugar balance – it should be a little tart. As a starting point, if you used a gallon of water, start with a cup of vinegar. Add the salt and sugar by pinches – it’s easy to get too much.
  5. Add the solid ingredients, like carrots, caulilflower and salsify, first. Don’t let the mixture boil; just keep it at a simmer (just below a boil)
  6. After 15 minutes, add the green onions and celery. Simmer for an additional 10 minutes.
  7. Remove veggies from the liquid with a slotted spoon and let cool to room temperature. You can chill them if you like. They keep well in the refrigerator for at least a week in their cooking liquid, but they will be come more strongly flavored.
To serve: Arrange decoratively on a platter. They’re a good accompaniment for poached fish or grilled chicken breasts.
Leftovers – if you have any of these veggies left over, which I doubt, you can slice them up in a salad for nice bits of zingy flavor.

Caution: It's probably best not to pick leaves from roadside trees or trees on public lands, unless you can ascertain that they haven't been sprayed, making them toxic and not fit for food use.


At 10:19 AM, Blogger Gigolo Kitty said...

The Unfortunate!Mistress is a passionate cook and occasionally she does pick up herbs from the roadside. But she takes the precaution of serving the dish to the Troll first. If the Troll does not keel over clutching her stomach, the food is good to go.

I kid you not!

At 1:11 AM, Blogger b'gina said...

Poor Troll! I don't know how widespread roadside spraying is, but where I live, I see them spraying the wild blackberry bushes every year. I've tried telling the people who stop to pick the berries, but they act like I just want them for myself. I assume no one has died from it, or we would have heard about it.

At 2:40 PM, Blogger cookiecrumb said...

I actually did get a tummy ache last August after eating blackberries that probably had been sprayed. But, yeah, I lived, and all.
Hey, now I know what California bay looks like. Not very much like my Greek laurel leaves (which I use fresh; don't even wait to dry 'em out).

At 10:29 PM, Blogger e! said...

B'gina! There you are!

I kept forgetting to look you up after you visited my blog... very glad I made it here in the end!

Random question: what is your favourite cookbook? I know you riff, but you must turn to books for inspiration some of the time!

At 12:49 AM, Blogger b'gina said...

Cookie, that pic is actually on our property. If you're looking for them this time of year, just look for those yellow clumps and the elongated leaves.

The darn things are everywhere, here, just like the wild fennel and miner's lettuce used to be. But I don't think the trees are going anywhere.

Hi, e! Hmmm. My favorite cookbook. Well, I have several, and, strangely enough, I've just been thinking about blogging on the subject. One of them is a sausage cookbook where I got the recipe for the gyros meatballs in the Blog Party #6, Retro Party post. I have some quirky old cookbooks, too, that I love.

Standby for details...soon. Honest.


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