Milkweed is a useful plant, entirely edible in its early stages. The young shoots are a delight when they emerge in the spring. Later, the tender young leaves are worth seeking out, but it's the reproductive parts that start out as buds, then open into sweet-scented flowers, and develop into tender-crisp pods that interest me most.
By mid-summer the plant toughens as it directs its energy into producing seeds. Though the mature pods are too cellulosic to consume, they're beautiful to look at. Pulling one apart, I am reminded of the recurring motifs found in nature: the seeds, perfectly shingled like feathers and fish scales, the 'cobs' composed of lustrous filaments— finer than silk— that unfurl into ghostly flowers to carry the seeds into perpetuity. Genius!
Although I had managed to harvest and pickle some flower buds while they were in season, I thought I had missed the window for the young pods until I found a stand of stunted plants growing in deep shade. The pods must be blanched to draw out their milky sap. I served them as crudites with a kefir-based dip and made some new milkweed (and kefir) converts. I saved a few to garnish a cold soup that I'm excited to tell you about.
All summer long my blender had been busy making raw, green gazpacho-style soups. Packed with good flavor and nutrients, they were a savory on-the-go alternative to smoothies, yet with some prudent garnishes they easily transitioned to more formal meals. Mostly, I made them with whatever was fresh and on hand, with variations of the basic components. Here's my framework recipe with percentages based on weight:
45% english cucumber, unpeeled
20% liquid- water, white wine, veg broth
15% fruit- green grapes, melon, avocado, white peach
8% fat- evo, almond oil, avocado oil
3.5% greens- lettuce, herbs, arugula, spinach, sorrel
3% nuts- almonds, macadamia, pistachio, sunflower seeds
2.75% acid- citrus juice, vinegar
2% aromatics- garlic, shallot, scallion
A few weeks ago, I made what would likely be the last cold soup of the year. I packed the blender with cucumber, nasturtium leaves, Crenshaw melon, almonds, garlic, scallions, and olive oil. I didn't have any open white wine or vegetable broth, but I did have a lot of fresh kefir whey left over from making kefir cheese. Since it was more than moderately acidic, I used it to replace both the liquid and the acid in the soup. In doing so, I realized that I was adding an ingredient that was alive with lactic acid and yeast, and that if given the right conditions (time and temperature), they would be capable of fermenting the soup. After consuming part of the soup, I put the rest on my front porch on an 85℉ day. Four hours later, the soup was notably transformed. The texture had lightened, almost to the point of being 'fluffy'. The sharp edges that I remembered from the soup that I had consumed earlier had rounded out (except for the acidity), yet the flavor had amplified. The difference was like listening to a CD versus a attending a concert; the raw soup was good, but the fermented soup tasted alive.