You'll have to go foraging -- carefully -- for this one. Poke, a weed that's edible only after you detoxify it, is native to the greater Washington area. "You can find poke everywhere," says William Schindler III of Washington College, who created a class called Food, People and the Planet. To find it, he suggests searching for the stalks from the previous year. They grow up to 8 feet tall and can stay around for a year or so.
It's important to use poke shoots that are less than 8 inches tall; taller shoots may be too toxic. The smaller, the better. Cut the shoots into 1- to 1 1/2-inch sections (they will detoxify faster and more thoroughly than whole shoots). Wash the cut shoots before cooking.
Don't even think about skipping the multiple boilings and water changes; they are essential.
- 1 pound poke stalks, cut into 1- to 1 1/2 inch-segments (see headnote)
- 4 slices thick-cut bacon, preferably homemade or nitrate-free, chopped
- 2 to 4 medium cloves garlic, minced
Prepare an ice bath by filling a large bowl with a mix of ice and cold water. Line a plate with paper towels.
Boil a kettle of water.
Meanwhile, place the poke pieces in a medium pot and add cool water to cover. Cover and place over medium-high heat; after the water comes to a boil, cook for 1 minute. Strain the poke into a colander (the water should be pink), then return the poke to the pot. Use some of the just-boiled water in the kettle to cover the poke; bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook for 1 minute.
Meanwhile, boil a second kettle-ful of water.
Drain the poke again; the water that is poured off should be less pink this time. Return the poke to the pot and cover with boiling water from the kettle, returning the pot to medium-high heat. Once it returns to a boil, cook uncovered for 3 minutes. This should complete the detoxifying process.
Drain immediately, then transfer the poke to the ice-water bath to cool. Once it has cooled, drain the poke.
Line a plate with paper towels.
Cook the bacon pieces in a medium skillet over medium heat, until the bacon is crisp. Transfer to the paper-towel-lined plate, leaving about 2 tablespoons of the rendered bacon fat in the skillet. Add the garlic (to taste) to the bacon fat and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until aromatic. Add the cooked, drained bacon pieces and the detoxified poke to the skillet; toss to incorporate and heat through.
From William Schindler III, an assistant professor at Washington College in Chestertown, Md.
Tested by Stephanie Witt Sedgwick.
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