For me, shopping at the farmers’ market feels like traveling. Similar feelings arise at the market as in another country—I’m exhilarated, overwhelmed, and intimidated. Why intimidated? Well, there’s the feeling-like-a-visitor part. And then there’s the language barrier. I thought I had the hang of English pretty well, but it turns out that there are many words out there that I have not learned yet. Since becoming a regular farmers’ market shopper I’ve learned about kohlrabi, mizuna, and celeriac.
I have yet to know anything about burdock root, sorrel, and wait—I can cook with chrysanthemum leaves?! There’s so much to know. It is, yes, exhilarating, overwhelming, and intimidating.
One booth in particular holds a special intimidation/fascination: Foraged and Found Edibles, a popular booth that sells wild mushrooms, fiddleheads, and other items that I cannot identify or remember. People who work there (and shop there!) just seem so cool to me. I imagine these mavericks wandering in the wilderness, finding food in secret places and maybe also living off the grid somewhere in a remote cabin.
Today I was passing by Foraged and Found Edibles and saw a pile of something that looked strange, stemmy and jointed, like something I might have weeded out of my garden. The sign said, “Sea Beans.” I was strolling with my baby girl, so I pointed to them and said, “Look! Sea Beans.”
A card next to the sea beans explained that they grow in salt marshes. You need to blanch them for 30 seconds to remove some of their intense saltiness. They are great on salads, with seafood, or in brothy soups, the card read. The part of the description that really caught my fancy, though, was that they “taste like the sea.” This is how I describe fresh oysters when they are good, so I wondered how it worked with these little stems.
Anyway, as I was standing there debating whether to get some, people kept wandering past and saying aloud thoughtfully, “Sea Beans.” I started to crack up the sixth time it happened. It’s like we can’t help it. When you see a sign that reads, “Sea Beans,” apparently it compels you to utter it aloud—maybe even against your will. (Though, why wouldn’t you want to say “Sea Beans”? It’s pleasant and almost funny to say. Have you said it aloud yet? If not, I salute you. You are a stronger person than me or anyone else shopping the market this morning). Well, I thought, any food that is this compelling to a crowd must be given a fair culinary shot in the kitchen. I bought a few handfuls of them, along with a bag of some lovely, delicate salad greens that were also foraged (in the forest, I think? Perhaps next to that imaginary cabin?).
I felt victorious with this purchase, finally having broken that invisible barrier – after years of wistfully passing by Foraged and Found Edibles I finally bought something from them, those cool people. After this personal coup, I lingered, talking with the kind, informative, and approachable woman working the booth. I asked her if one might put Sea Beans in pasta, and she said yes. But really, she said, they taste awesome with fish.
Optimistically I planned to get some fish tonight for dinner. Then life happened. What I’m saying is we had takeout Chinese. But after Rosalie went to bed I tasted my adventurous purchases. The salad greens were quite mellow, not bitter like I had expected. They tasted like the fresh air you breathe in when you are hiking in spring rain. Then I boiled some water and blanched some sea beans. They were salty, alright. But they indeed tasted like the sea, in a clean yet intense way. The texture was cool, too. Imagine if green beans were very slender and grew underwater in a very salty ocean. This is how I would describe the flavor and texture of sea beans. Tomorrow we’re off to Fresh Fish Company to find a main dish to go with these wild side dishes. Oh. Fish Markets? They have their own language, too...so much to learn.