Nature guides us in the rebirth it brings forth each spring. Our native flora and fauna provide an effortless example of this transition. The efficiency of nature to produce exactly what we need to flourish is an undeniable brilliance. Fiddlehead ferns are a perfect example. Ascetically, they tease the senses with their unfurling beauty, beckoning the sunshine, rain, and air to open them to their full potential. And they are a nutritional powerhouse, filled with vitamins, antioxidants, and essential fatty acids, making them a fantastic spring energizer.
Enjoy this beautiful recipe from my editor and cookbook author Leda Scheintaub.
The fiddlehead fern, the magical furled fronds of a young fern, looks like the scroll at the end of a violin. The taste is grassy, with hints of asparagus and artichoke. They are available only for a short time during the season, and they are a true wild food, only found through foraging. (Note that many varieties of fern are poisonous, so make sure you’re well informed before you decide to search out your own, and do not eat them raw, as raw fiddleheads can cause gastric upset.)
I had no idea that ferns were also savored in Southeast Asia until I flipped through my copy of James Oseland’s Cradle of Flavor to find his recipe for an Indonesian fern curry. This recipe is adapted from his, with some added Indian flavor notes to tailor the dish to the menu of our South Indian food truck, Dosa Kitchen, based in Brattleboro, Vermont.
Serves 6 as a side dish
1 pound (about 6 cups) fiddlehead ferns
1 large red onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 to 2 small fresh green chiles, or to taste
One 2-inch piece fresh ginger, chopped
2 tablespoons unrefined coconut oil
½ teaspoon black mustard seeds
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
1 cup coconut milk
1 ½ teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon jaggery or unrefined brown sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
Clean the fiddleheads: Brush away as much of the light brown papery sheath from the fiddleheads as possible, then wash the fiddleheads in several changes of cold water.
Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Add the fiddleheads, return to a boil, and boil for 5 minutes. Drain, then rinse the fiddleheads. Rinse the saucepan, dry it, and return it to the stovetop.
Meanwhile, combine the red onion, garlic, chile, and ginger in a food processor and process to a paste, scraping the sides of the machine as needed and adding a little water if necessary to loosen it.
Heat the oil in the saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the mustard seeds and leave for about 30 seconds, until they start to pop. Add the red onion paste and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until the paste thickens and no longer smells raw.
Add ¾ cup of the coconut milk, 1 cup water, and the fiddleheads. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat and cook, stirring frequently, until the fiddleheads are tender and a darker shade of green, about 10 minutes.
Add the salt and jaggery and stir in the remaining ¼ cup coconut milk. Return to a simmer to heat through. Turn off the heat, add the lime juice, taste, and adjust the seasonings with salt, jaggery, and lime juice if needed. Stir in the cilantro and serve.