If your desire to eat sustainably does not include wild and foraged foods, you’re missing out. So what is on the vine now in the parks and prairies? Milkweed pods, and they’re so good!
Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is plentiful in Iowa, and this chest-high prairie plant is the species most prized for eating. Milkweed is a perennial, and when they first appear in late spring, the tender shoots (to be harvested when they’re no longer than the distance between your wrist and the tip of your middle finger) make a delicious boiled or roasted dish. Now though, in late summer, the milkweed pods make for prime eating.
Harvest the immature pods located near the top of plant. The desired pods will be plump and pale green and no bigger than two inches. Cut or tear open to make sure the floss and seeds are still silky and white. If the insides are brown, the pod will most likely be too tough, and make a less than desirable meal.
Rinse the pods and blanch in boiling water. Be sure to dunk them in ice water following the boil, as you don’t want the pods to be overcooked. Like okra or asparagus, the blanched pods will turn a vibrant green when blanched.
If you’ve harvested and blanched two dozen milkweed pods, then crack four eggs in a bowl and whisk with a fork. Mix a cup of flour with a cup of breadcrumbs or panko and add salt or pepper or any other seasonings you’d like to this dry mixture. Dunk each pod in the egg and then dredge through through the flour/breadcrumbs and fry in oil over medium heat. Some folks like olive oil, but I’m on a serious coconut oil kick and appreciate the slight coconuty flavor.
Gild the lily
You could dip your freshly harvested and fried milkweed pods in ranch, which is the totally Iowa thing to do, but for something a little more interesting, why not make your own dipping sauce? Start with some Greek yogurt, add little El Yucateco chipotle sauce and some diced green onion.
Looking for more information on sustainable eating? Resources like Sustainable Table offer handy seasonal food guides for each state — corn, melons and tomatoes are hitting a stride right now in Iowa!