’tis the sweet spring season for Wild Leeks! Their garlic scent and spring onion flavor are a true sign of the season, and I’ve been really looking forward to foraging some of my own now that the weather is beautiful. It truly takes every ounce of self-discipline I have, on days like these, to keep myself indoors and productive during the 9-5 work day. Luckily for me, my boss is a sweet, kind 70 year-old active man who loves and encourages an afternoon walk through the forests in our “backyard.” So on Monday afternoon during my beautiful afternoon excursion, I brought along a butterknife & went foraging.
Wild Leeks (Ramps) have broad, smooth green leaves with a darker purple or burgundy tint on the lower stem, and a scallion-like bulb. The entire ramp, including leaves, stem and bulb are edible and they can be found in darker, damp forested areas.
In the early season when the leaves are green you’ll need to bring a butterknife with you to dig around the bulb and cut the roots. Later in the season however, when the leaves are limp and dried, you’ll find it easier to simply pull the leek out of the ground from the stem. A rule of thumb in foraging leeks “1 for now, 2 in the ground” is really important because otherwise the blessings like leeks that are found wild and natural, may be diminished by too much foraging. If you leave the forest floor looking nearly the same as when you arrived, and yet you’ve got a few handfuls of delicious wild leeks, you’ve done your job right.
Wild Leeks are a delicious addition to pastas, soups, scrambled eggs and truly any dish you can think of in substitution for garlic and onion. With my fistful of leeks and the delicious shiitake mushrooms & fresh radishes I got at Saturday’s Farmers Market I was eager to put together a fresh Pasta Primavera for dinner in celebration of spring and all its bounty!
Pasta Primavera Ingredient List: Wild Leeks, Shiitake Mushrooms, Chives, Radishes, Diced Avocado, Parmesan Cheese, Linguine
A super interesting fact I learned recently is that Wild Leeks have a strong connection with my “hometown” of Chicago. Apparently in the 17th Century, a french explorer named René-Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle and his comrade, the naturalist Henri Joutel, explored the Great Lakes and ultimately claimed the Mississippi River Basin for France. While traveling through the area that would later become Chicago, the explorers described it with emphasis on the dense growth of ramps near the water (Lake Michigan). The plant which was called shikaakwa (chicagou) in the 17th-century by natives, gave Chicago its name and was later determined to be the reference to a ramp or wild leek.
Step outside and go in search of shikaakwa my friends, you’ll be glad you did!