I’d been meaning to try eating whitetop, aka hoary cress (Cardaria spp., Lepidium draba or related Lepidium sp.)—an invasive plant targeted for eradication in many parts of the West. It saddens me to see whitetop taking over entire fields; I always wonder what plants might grow there if that hoary mustard hadn’t so asserted itself.
Last summer, when Colorado wild edible plants expert Cattail Bob Seebeck gave me my first taste of whitetop flowers in a farm field in Mesa, it nearly burned my tongue off—a seriously spicy mustard. Which is why I was so surprised that my friend Butter found it to be pleasant and mild prepared in the style of broccoli rabe. She harvested the tops before the flowers opened, including a small portion of stem and leaves, then blanched and sautéed the hoary cress with salt, red pepper flakes, and red wine vinegar.
Whitetop Broccoli in Fried Rice
A couple of nights ago I took a page out of Butter’s book and used some “whitetop broccoli” I harvested recently from Fort Collins in a simple preparation—steamed for approximately 8 minutes and served atop refried rice with oil, soy, salt and an egg scrambled in with it.
Gregg’s take was that the whitetop faux broccoli is somewhat like broccoli in texture, but with some of the bite of Brussels sprouts. A broccoli fan through and through, he kept uttering: “I just can’t believe that whitetop broccoli. I just can’t believe it.”
One thing to note is that whitetop is often targeted for herbicide spraying, so it should be collected where that’s unlikely to happen, and obviously where plants are not deformed and curled inward upon themselves as if being tortured (poor things), which is what they look like when sprayed.
Whitetop & Oyster Mushrooms Quiche
Next, I took the whitetop-as-broccoli experiment to something fancier—a twist on a broccoli quiche recipe from The Joy of Cooking. I used whitetop for broccoli, milk in place of cream, Parmesan cheese instead of Gruyere, and added fresh oyster mushrooms, using the tougher parts of the mushroom stems so we could save the soft, gilled caps for another recipe. To replicate it:
½ – 1 cup oyster mushrooms, sliced thin
½ medium onion, chopped
butter and/or oil
1 tbsp dried feral garlic flakes (or onion flakes)
1 packed cup whitetop, upper stem & leaf bits chopped into chunks, with flower bud clusters intact
1 cup milk
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground pepper
¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Preheat oven to 375.
- Sauté oyster mushrooms in butter until golden brown; then set aside.
- Sauté chopped onion together with onion flakes until the onions are translucent; then set aside.
- Blanch whitetop in boiling water for one minute; then strain.
- Mix eggs, milk, salt, and pepper.
- In a frozen pie shell (or pre-baked fresh), layer Parmesan cheese, oyster mushrooms, onions, and blanched whitetop; then pour custard mix on top.
- Bake for 25-35 minutes or 40-45 if you’re at 10,000 feet like me—basically until the custard sets and becomes light golden brown.
This recipe was fairly decadent, despite the omission of heavy cream, and turned out to be a big hit in our house—as evidenced by Gregg’s happy and incredulous moans for the duration of brunch and subsequent consumption of the leftovers.