Last weekend, I went to the farmer’s market without Man of La Muncha, who was feeling a bit under the weather. Going to the market by myself is typically a bit of a dicey proposition, as I have a tendency to buy, not only what we need, but also things that look weird or interesting. Two weeks ago, I came very close to bringing home elderflowers, but didn’t because I wasn’t sure what we would do with them (though I do have unlimited faith in Man of La Muncha’s ability to make something tasty out of virtually anything).
Elderflowers, you say? What farmer is growing elderflowers to bring to market? A good question. The elderflowers in question were at the forager’s stall. The foragers are often my downfall when I go to the market alone–they always have mushrooms, as well as an assortment of really interesting foraged edibles. They remind me that there’s food all around us, even if we don’t recognize it as such.
Last weekend, however, the elderflowers were gone. In their place was a basket full of what looked like spruce or cedar fronds, but without the woody bits. I asked what they were, and was told that they were seabeans.
Seabeans are also known as glasswort. They grow on beaches and in marshes, and are generally available during the summer. In addition to being edible, seabeans can be burned and the ashes used as soda for making glass and soap. They have a flavor reminiscent of a day spent at the ocean–salty, briny, and the slightest bit vegetal, with a bit of a crunch.
I ask the foragers how they should be prepared, and am told that they can be eaten raw or tossed in salad, though blanching will remove some of the salt. I buy about two cups’ worth and, after finishing my shopping, head home.
When I get back to the house, Man of La Muncha is interested to see what I have brought back. I show him my finds; when I get to the seabeans, he mentions that he has seen them before at the foragers’ stall and suggests that I prepare them for friends who are coming over for a Fourth of July barbecue.
The afternoon of the Fourth, I fill a pan with water and set it to boil. One of our friends, J., is a bit early and is in the kitchen as I bring out my seabeans. She asks what they are, and by way of explanation I offer her one. “They taste like the ocean!” she exclaims. The water starts to boil, so I pop the seabeans in and let them roil around for about thirty seconds before straining them and running them under cold water. I then toss them with a light sesame vinaigrette and let them sit. In the meantime, I get a head of arugula from our CSA box (conveniently arrived that very day), wash and trim it, and then toss it with my vinegared seabeans. I put no additional dressing on the salad, and pop it into the refrigerator until it’s time for dinner.
Later that evening, right before the Seattle tradition known as “rain on the Fourth of July”, we sit down at the picnic table. Man of La Muncha has grilled some sausages, another friend, K., has brought deviled eggs, and I bring out the salad of arugula and seabeans. The combination of the saltiness of the seabeans with the tang of the vinaigrette and the slight bitterness of the arugula makes for a very tasty contrast in flavors. The salad (along with everything else) is finished, even as fat raindrops dampen our feast.
I can’t wait to see what they have at the forager’s stall this week.