Chef Matt on Foraging, Nettles and our new Adobo Shrimp & Wild Nettle Quesadilla

November 20th, 2015

For me, fall rains are synonymous with foraging. Almost 20 years ago when I had first moved to the Bay Area, I was turned on to a book called Mushrooms Demystified. Its author, David Arora, is a mycologist who teaches at UC Santa Cruz. His field guide to mushrooms is one of the most comprehensive available, and while covering the entire country, it is focused on the Bay Area since this is the author’s main stomping ground. Due to the drought, the last 2 years have been pretty much a washout, pun intended, when it comes to foraging mushrooms, so it was with much excitement that I struck out into the East Bay hills this past week.   While I didn’t find any mushrooms (I suspect that it will take one more heavy rain to trigger fruiting), I did find other edibles – particularly leafy greens. There are many wild edibles that grow in our area, from fennel and wild radish blossoms to miner’s lettuce (named for the gold prospectors that survived on such greens during tough times) and wild nettles.

I am particularly fond of wild nettles. While in their raw form nettles have fine threads on their stems that will sting, once cooked that sting is neutralized. They are one of the healthiest foods on the planet, packed with Vitamin C and Iron. Nettle tea is frequently used as a diuretic to boost kidney function and to support prostate health. In addition I find nettles to be quite delicious, kind of like super intense spinach.

One quesadilla that I’ve broken out each year for our annual New Year’s Eve party (more on this year’s party in the coming days) is stuffed with adobo marinated white shrimp, chipotle salsa and wild nettles. At John Paluska’s suggestion, I’ve decided this quesadilla is too delicious to only save for special occasions, so starting tonight and throughout nettle season, we are going to work this quesadilla into the mix of our daily changing menu. Let’s hope that this El Nino is for real and we are blessed with many wild edibles to forage this rainy season.