>>Green Gourmet

Eat the Invaders!

As marauding hordes of invasive species devour heaping helpings of the North American landscape,
we offer some recipes that might help turn the tables.

By Joe Roman

There's an alien army marching across our country, an army so great, so destructive, it would send even Orson Welles running for the cellar. These marauders arrived on American soil in all shapes and sizes, by all modes of transportation, usually by accident but often by invitation. You would recognize many of them—tree-choking vines from Asia, bottom-dwelling fish from the Old World, and garden-variety weeds from just about everywhere—because lots of times they live right outside your door.

These exotic plants and animals currently infest more than 100 million acres of America, and they're multiplying fast, spreading across an additional 3 million acres each year. They endanger native species, threaten the productivity of our waters and soils, and cost the U.S. economy more than $138 billion annually.

Conservation biologist Stanley Temple has called the eradication of invasive species "the nasty necessity," but it's easier said than done. Land managers have tried using bait. They've resorted to pesticides, fire, even their bare hands. At times biologists have imported new invaders—natural enemies from the alien's old home—although more often than not this results in yet another invasive species wreaking ecological havoc.

Still, such drastic measures may not be necessary. There's already a relentless omnivore on the plains, in the mountains, along the shore, and perhaps in its favorite reading chair right now. In fact, nothing is better qualified to wipe out an entire species than humans. Sure, it requires a killer appetite, but just look at our track record: Atlantic cod, bison, right whales, and Pismo clams have all but disappeared due to our voracious demand. We managed to dispatch all 5 billion passenger pigeons—many of them smoked, roasted, stewed, fried, or baked in potpies—in less than 100 years. After the birds were gone, market hunters missed the pie—half a dozen pigeons and three crimson legs stuck in the crust—as much as they did the birds themselves.

So why not turn this enthusiasm on the very invaders we're trying to fight? Who needs the supermarket, with its Styrofoam packaging and frozen foods, or cargo planes, factory farms, and aquaculture when exotics are growing, well, like weeds? You can eat them raw, roasted, with butter and garlic, or au gratin. This fall, instead of dressing your yard with herbicides, you might want to consider balsamic vinaigrette. The culinary possibilities are endless—think Iron Chef meets Stalking the Wild Asparagus—but to help get you started, the recipes on the following pages offer innovative ways to whip a number of our worst invaders into a feast fit for a gourmet.

In the past, haute cuisine and conservation rarely overlapped, but fisheries and aquaculture biologist Bill Walton provides a perfect illustration of how they can. He's striving to turn European green crabs, which colonized American waters just after the Revolutionary War, into a delicacy. Since then they've pushed native crabs into deeper waters and devastated local clam populations. Today green crabs are the dominant predator in New England's intertidal zone. By developing a soft-shell fishery for these invasives, Walton hopes to bolster the local economy while easing pressure on native crustaceans like the Chesapeake blue crab, which is in decline. But, Walton insists, in this case overfishing is an acceptable thing, no matter how good the green crabs taste. "You have to be clear about it," he says. "Extinction is a happy ending."


[ Soup ]
Weed Whacking

Americans spend more than $500 million each year fighting a losing battle with weeds like dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) that stubbornly crop up in their yards. They could save a lot of money and avoid a lot of chemicals by taking a cue from early colonists, gathering the tender, young leaves for salad and the golden blooms for flower wine. Many edible, exotic greens—such as lamb's-quarter (Chenopodium album), purslane (Portulaca oleracea), and sorrel (Rumex sp.)—grow wild along the edges of roads and fields, where they compete with native plants. Watercress (Nasturtium officinale), on the other hand, is usually found growing in cold, flowing streams.

Though all of these greens are high in vitamins and minerals, each—peppery watercress, tangy purslane, lemony sorrel—retains its own unique flavor. The combined effect, says David Hirsch, chef of Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, New York, makes for a delightful and warming spring soup.

Exotic Jade Soup

Serves 4 to 6

4 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 cup boiling water
6 cups vegetable stock (canned or homemade)
1 1/2 tablespoons grated fresh gingerroot
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced carrot rounds
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced leeks or onions
6 lightly packed cups chopped exotic spring greens (dandelion, watercress, sorrel, lamb's-quarter, or purslane, to name a few); for better flavor, use at least two or three kinds of greens
1 cake soft or silken tofu, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Soy sauce to taste
Minced scallions or chives
Sesame oil

Place the mushrooms in a heatproof bowl, cover with the boiling water, and set aside for 10 minutes.

Heat the stock and add the gingerroot, carrots, and leeks or onion. Simmer for 5 minutes, then add the greens and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables are tender but still somewhat firm.

Drain the mushrooms and add their soaking liquid to the soup. Thinly slice the mushroom caps and add them to the soup along with the tofu. Heat for 5 minutes. Add soy sauce to taste.

Garnish each serving with scallions or chives and a few drops of sesame oil.


[ Appetizer ]
Meating Their Match

The fur industry proved no match for the nutria (Myocastor coypus), an imported South American rodent that escaped from fur farms in the 1930s. There are now as many as 6,000 nutrias per square mile in Louisiana alone. These beaverlike animals enjoy nothing more than a solid meal of marsh grass, and are devouring the state's wetland habitat—home to more than 250 bird species—as if there's no tomorrow (an estimated 100,000 acres in the past three years). European wild boar (Sus scrofa) quickly outpaced the hunters who first introduced them, too, and millions now roam the landscape, disrupting plant communities as they root around for food. And while some crawfish belong in U.S. waters, anglers and aquaculturists have helped spread others, like the hardy red swamp crawfish (Procambarus clarkii), far beyond their native range. Prejeans Restaurant in Lafayette, Louisiana, offers an Asian-flaired approach to controlling all three: Nutria, Wild Boar, and Crawfish Egg Roll Towers. Dieters rest assured: Nutria's low in carbs and fat.

Nutria, Wild Boar, and Crawfish Egg Roll Towers

Makes 20 egg rolls

2 1/2 pounds ground nutria
1/2 pound ground wild boar
1/2 pound crawfish tails, chopped fine
1/2 cup water chestnuts, chopped
1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms, chopped
1/4 cup sliced green onions
1 1/2 tablespoons Thai-style seasoning
20 egg roll wrappers
Peanut oil for deep-frying
1 egg, beaten
Sweet and Spicy Side (see recipe below)

In a large bowl, mix the nutria, wild boar, crawfish, water chestnuts, mushrooms, onions, and Thai seasoning. Brown the mixture in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat.

Remove from the heat, drain, and cool.

Place 2 ounces of the mixture in each egg roll wrapper. Follow directions on the wrapper package for rolling and sealing the egg rolls.

Pour 3 inches of oil into a heavy, deep saucepan. Heat the oil to 350 degrees. Fry the egg rolls until golden brown.

Place three egg rolls in another wrapper and brush the edges of the wrapper with the beaten egg. Fold the edges over to create a bundle. Repeat until you have used up all of the egg rolls. Fry the bundles until golden brown.

Slice open each bundle across the top on the bias. Place the egg rolls upright on a plate and serve with the Sweet and Spicy Side.

Sweet and Spicy Side

1/2 head bok choy (Chinese white cabbage)
1/2 head Napa cabbage
1 1/2 cups sweet chili sauce (found in any Asian grocery store)
1 1/2 tablespoons Thai-style chili powder
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup pineapple juice
1/8 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/2 tablespoon cornstarch, dissolved in 1/4 cup cold water

Finely chop both heads of cabbage. Rinse the cabbage in ice-cold water and drain.

Place the cabbage in a heavy saucepan with the remaining ingredients, except the cornstarch. Bring to a simmer and reduce for 10 minutes. Add the cornstarch and simmer about 5 minutes, until the desired thickness is reached.


[ Main Course ]
Baiting Them into Oblivion

Although the virtues of the common carp (Cyprinus carpio) are extolled throughout its native Europe and Asia, North Americans have long failed to appreciate this large, abundant minnow. If only the U.S. Fish Commission had understood our parochial tastes—and the carp's hardy nature—before importing it in the 1870s. Today the common carp has been reported in every state except Alaska. It uses its suckerlike mouth to stir up sediment, affecting water quality and destroying plant life important to both breeding fish and birds.

A little canned corn should easily entice it, or any of the other three invasive carp species (silver, grass, and bighead) onto your line. The versatile carp's firm, palatable flesh is worth the effort. It can be canned, pickled, smoked, fried, simmered in beer, stuffed with bread crumbs, or formed into cakes. George Lang, owner of Café des Artistes in New York, offers this Hungarian recipe for baking it.

Carp in Sour Cream With Wild Mushrooms

Serves 8 to 10

5 pounds cleaned and scaled carp
Salt and pepper
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the parchment paper
1/2 pound wild mushrooms, sliced
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon flour
Buttered steamed new potatoes

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Cut the cleaned carp into serving pieces, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the pieces in a baking pan in one layer and dot with the 4 tablespoons of butter.

Sprinkle the mushrooms, onion, and parsley over the carp. Pour the wine over the fish and cover with buttered parchment paper. Bake for 15 minutes or more, until cooked through.

Mix the sour cream, heavy cream, and flour in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. When the carp is about halfway done, pour the sour cream mixture over it and complete cooking.

Adjust the salt to taste, and serve with buttered steamed new potatoes.


[ Dessert ]
Rooting Out a Horror

There's a good reason kudzu (Pueraria lobata) is known as "the vine that ate the South." It has a monstrous appetite—for old fields, abandoned buildings, fences, trees, highway signs, and anything else foolish enough to stand in its path. Since it was first introduced to the United States as an ornamental plant in 1876, it has marched across more than 7 million acres of southern landscape, undeterred by natural insect enemies left behind in China and Japan.

Because it grows as much as a foot a day, there's plenty of this trailing vine to feed the culinary imagination. The starchy, tuberous roots can be ground into a fine soup thickener, the leaves steeped in tea, or the fragrant purple blossoms boiled into a jelly. As proved by award-winning chef Jose Gutierrez, of Chez Philippe at The Peabody in Memphis, Tennessee, you can even finish off a fine meal with a sweet kudzu dessert.

Kudzu Sorbet

Serves 4

2 cups dry white wine
2 cups water
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 cups kudzu blossoms
1 ounce licorice root, minced
1 pinch cayenne pepper

Place the wine, water, and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. When this is boiling, add the kudzu blossoms, licorice root, and cayenne pepper and boil for only 1 minute more. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and leave overnight to infuse the flavors. The next day, strain the mixture, place it in an ice cream maker, and process according to the manufacturer's directions.

For those without an ice cream maker: Transfer the strained mixture to a glass baking dish. Freeze the mixture until firm, stirring occasionally, for about five hours. Break the sorbet into large pieces and purée it in a food processor until smooth and creamy. Cover and freeze until firm. Let the sorbet stand at room temperature for 5 minutes before serving.



© 2004 National Audubon Society

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