Kallas’s friends have invited us into their farmhouse kitchen to prepare our lunch. We spread out the day’s harvest, an astounding bounty. Still, Kallas promises more variety in later spring and summer, when there will be lemony sheep sorrel and sweet-and-sour purslane, as well as wild lettuce and lambsquarters—all mild-flavored greens.
In a big bowl of cool water, he gently swishes the greens, just like anybody would with lettuce from the grocery store, and dries them on a kitchen towel—a process that doesn’t take much longer than rooting around the kitchen cupboard for a salad spinner or ripping open a bag of prewashed arugula. Cooking with these plants is much like using store-bought greens—some require or withstand the heat of cooking, while others are better fresh.
Kallas often boils dandelion greens to mute their bitterness and bring out their more complex underlying flavors. As hearty as chard, they can also stand the high heat of a sauté. The same is true for nettles, which are more fibrous. We sauté the dandelion greens with garlic and anchovy and toss them with thick strands of bucatini pasta. After we boil the nettles to inoculate their sting, we sauté them in butter with shallots, finishing them with a dollop of crème fraîche. Then we spoon the creamy, aromatic mixture onto slices of buttered toast and top each with a poached egg—wild comfort food.
We save the best part of our meal for last. Kallas expertly blends our collection of greens into a balanced salad of mellow and strongly flavored varieties. He combines one-third each of chickweed, wild mustard and miner’s lettuce with a scattering of dandelion greens and mustard blossoms. Dressed with hazelnut vinaigrette, our wild salad is so fresh and succulent it makes prepackaged mesclun mixes seem dull. Kallas, a man who is accustomed to feasting on more exotic ingredients like cattails and sea vegetables, tastes the mix and nods in approval of our simple fare. “Salads are a great way to introduce people to wild foods. They’re not too weird,” he says, “but you can always get crazier.”