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Marcus Nilsson

The emergence of wild leeks each spring elicits an enthusiastic following in certain parts of the country. As the tender shoots unfurl to reveal the first sign of edible green in the forest, there comes a message of hope: You have survived another winter. Come, lift your head from the root cellar, and feast on nature's bounty.

Also known as ramps, wild leeks have long been celebrated. With the publication of "Stalking the Wild Asparagus" in 1962, Euell Gibbons conferred widespread respectability on foraging for all manner of plants. Cattails, milkweeds, chicories -- not only were they all edible, but Gibbons treated them like gourmet fare. That same back-to-nature spirit speaks to the current desire for wholesome, naturally grown produce. After all, what could be more organic than something that sprouts up all on its own in the wild?

Today, chefs clamor for ramps and other edible weeds whose appearance in markets each spring is eagerly anticipated, if ephemeral. Dandelion greens, once spurned as a menace to lawns everywhere, enjoy a prominent place in produce sections. Purslane, at home in any crack in the sidewalk, gets star billing at farmers' markets. Even lowly chickweed, a rampant pest despised by vegetable gardeners, has been elevated to salad status.Many of these weeds are commercially grown and appear at grocery stores. As for others, who knows? With a reputable guidebook and a little snooping, you might find tonight's dinner growing right in your neighborhood. Maybe your own front yard.

Pappardelle with Rabbit, Ramps, and Garlic

Flatbread with Sorrel Pesto and Edible-Weed Salad

Dandelion Salad

Dandelion Jelly

Dandelion Cordial

Edible-Weeds Glossary

Stinging Nettle

These hearty leaves turn almost nutty when cooked.

Chickweed

Imparts a mild, earthy flavor to soups and salads.

Lamb's-Quarters

Slightly more delicate in taste and texture than spinach.

Purslane

Adds a citrus touch to salads, sautes, and soups.

Burdock Beneath

The root's gnarled exterior is a crisp texture and a slightly sweet, earthy flavor.

Ramps

A pungent cousin to both leek and garlic.

Dandelions

Mildly bitter leaves; serve raw or cooked, alone or with other greens.

Sorrel

Both types are refreshingly sour.

Wild Garlic

Both bulb and stem have a bold flavor.

Fiddleheads

Crisp, curly, and sweet.

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April 20, 2009
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