Our family likes foraging for food. Sometimes, we don’t even hike anywhere to do it. Just out the back door, we have a healthy stand of macho ferns, which scientists call Nephrolepis biserrata and New Guineans call dinner. (When eating plants you don’t find at the market or the farm, it’s a good idea to at least Google the scientific name to make sure it’s not going to leave you with stomach aches or worse.)
For being as popular a landscape plant as they are, it’s surprising more people don’t look at ferns as snack food. The fiddleheads (those spiralling young shoots that look like the scroll on a violin neck) were a staple for early Florida settlers, and they occasionally show up on the tables of adventurous Yankees as well. Fresh fiddleheads are crispy, nutty-flavored things that combine the woodsy umami of sesame seeds with the greenness of blanched asparagus. And, you know, there’s a good chance they’re out in your yard, growing for free.
Daughter loves picking them even more than she loves eating them. In cooler climes, I imagine children of a certain age are taking up baskets and heading out to pick berries. We grab tupperware and walk around the back yard, collecting spirals.
This salad turned out rather well, considering quite a few ingredients were things we grow ourselves that just happen to bring out the best flavors in each other – everything is sharp, snappy and crisp.
- 1 head romaine lettuce
- 1 cup arugula (give or take)
- 1 egg, hard boiled, chopped
- 1/3 cup fern fiddleheads (give or take)
- 1 Tablespoon basil, minced
- 1/2 purple onion
- Juice of 1/2 lime
- Olive oil
- Black pepper
- Pinch salt
Chop onion rather finely and soak in lime juice. While it’s soaking, chop up the lettuce, arugula, egg and toss in a bowl. Scatter fern fiddleheads and minced basil over the top. Add oil, pepper & salt to the onion-lime mixture and blend well before pouring over salad. If you feel like a little added excitement, add a pinch of cayenne or the Everglades Seasoning previously mentioned here – but the arugula should be just sharp enough for most salad fans.