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Key Ingredient: Milkweed

Carnivale's David Dworshak tackles butterfly food

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The Chef: David Dworshak (Carnivale)

The Challenger: Jeffrey Hedin (Leopold)

The Ingredient: Milkweed

Milkweed, named for the milky sap inside the plant's stems, is best known for being the only thing that monarch butterflies eat. It's not widely consumed by humans, though foragers have been using it for ages; the early spring shoots are edible, as are the plant's flowers and unopened flower buds.

David Dworshak had never used milkweed before, but it wasn't difficult to find. After forager Dave Odd—who supplies local restaurants with found edibles—dropped off a bunch, Dworshak noticed that there was also some growing outside the back door of his Fulton Market restaurant Carnivale. Before the area was developed, Dworshak says, it was a popular hunting place for urban foragers.

Not all plants that are edible make for good eating, but Dworshak found that milkweed isn't bad. "The green buds maybe have a taste of broccoli or asparagus, and the flowers have the scent of lilac or jasmine, almost," he said. "The flowers taste good in the right application, and the buds just taste OK. They're not mind-blowing. So I tried to jazz 'em up a little bit."

He jazzed them up a lot, folding them into an arepa with cheese, which he served with beef belly and tempura milkweed buds. He used the flowers to infuse both cachaca (a Brazilian alcohol made from sugarcane), which he used to make caipirinhas, and cream, which he made into ice cream—garnished with candied flowers. Dworshak also dehydrated some of the flowers, ground them up, and added them to the tempura batter that coated the fried milkweed buds.

"It was good to just dive headfirst into it," he said.

Dworshak was happy with how the milkweed flavors came through in what he made. The buds had "really a green, vegetal kind of flavor—it is unique; it stands on its own," he said. "I think the flowers are where you get more of that milkweed flavor. In the cocktail and the ice cream it really jumps out at you, that lilac/jasmine kind of flavor."

He could even taste the flowers in the tempura batter, though it was subtle. "And the cocktail I love, because I think the infusion of the cachaca really pulled out a lot of flavor, and you get the smokiness of the cachaca and that floral note and the lime."

Dworshak had a lot of flowers left over and plans to use them for specials at Carnivale, which offers pan-Latin fare. "Either I'll make more ice cream or infuse more cachaca," he said.

Who's Next:

Mark Mendez of the yet-to-open restaurant and wine bar Uva, working with tomato leaves. Mendez is the former chef of Carnivale and "a mentor of mine," Dworshak says. "I worked with him so long, I know what he likes and what he doesn't like. And there's a million things he doesn't like." Dworshak once suggested using tomato leaves at Carnivale while Mendez was still the chef, and "I'm pretty sure he shot me down," he says.

Dworshak personally likes to put the leaves in tomato sauce. "There's nothing like that fresh tomato plant flavor."


Video by Michael Gebert/Sky Full of Bacon

Milkweed-infused caipirinha

6 oz cachaca, brand of choice

1 cup milkweed flowers, plus extra for garnish

2 oz simple syrup

4 limes, cut into 12 pieces each

Add the flowers to the cachaca and infuse for at least five days. Use 1.5 oz cachaca per drink in individual rocks glasses, add .5 oz simple syrup, one lime, and three to eight fresh milkweed flowers (or another edible flower). Muddle all together, put in shaker with ice and shake vigorously, return to glass and pound.

Milkweek arepa

2 cups Masarepa (dry flour for arepas, available at some Latin stores, specifically South American)

2 cups very hot water

2 T lard or butter

salt and pepper to taste

1 cup blanched milkweed buds

4 oz queso fresco, grated

Add flour, water, lard, salt, and pepper to a bowl and mix well. When cool enough to handle, roll dough into three-ounce balls, fill with cheese and some milkweed buds, seal. Line an appropriate ring mold or lid with plastic wrap and place milkweed buds around the edges, press the dough in until flat and remove. Sautee or bake with butter until browned lightly.

Tempura milkweed

12 milkweed buds

1 cup Wondra or all-purpose flour

3/4 cup cornstarch

1 t baking soda

salt and pepper to taste

2 T dried milkweed flowers

1-2 beers of your choice, preferably local.

Add all dry ingredients, and slowly add beer, mixing slowly with hand or a spoon (no whisk!). It should be a thick pancake batter consistency; some lumps are OK. Dip buds into batter to lightly coat and fry in 350-degree oil, then drain and season.

Milkweed ice cream

1 quart cream

1 quart half and half

3 cups milkweed flowers or other edible flowers

1 pound sugar

2 cups egg yolks

pinch of salt

Scald heavy cream with flowers. Let cool and infuse at least overnight or longer. Rewarm cream, strain flowers, add half and half and eight ounces sugar to a scald. Whisk together yolks and eight ounces sugar in a bowl. Slowly add warm cream to yolks while whisking, return to pot and slowly rewarm while stirring with a wooden spoon until the mixture coats the back of the spoon nicely. Strain again and cool over ice, process in ice cream machine and freeze until set.

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