New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
Corresponding with today’s emphasis on natural foods and the increasingly popular concept of foraging, the timely release, on January 12, of “EDIBLE WILD GREENS From California, U.S.A and Attica, Greece, Foraging and Recipes,” by renowned chef, Effie Noifelt, promotes a healthful life in this new year by bringing awareness of the nutritious potential of free-for-the-taking greens growing wild. Helen Bora is editor and translator of the book.
Known by the apropos moniker of Cheffie, Chef Effie Noifelt (author, illustrator, photographer) chef de cuisine specializing in Greek cuisine, won Chefs Club of Greece Gold Award for traditional Greek cooking twice, early in her career, and the Modern Greek Cuisine Award in the 11th International Culinary Competition of Southern Europe.
Cheffie was born and raised in Nigeria, where her Greek parents worked for a British company. In the 60’s and 70’s Nigeria was a melting pot of many countries’ cultures, with various countries’ private clubs and with many international gourmet restaurants. “My journey of gourmet cuisine started there in the Delta of the Niger River, where the spices are strong and the fruits amazing,” says Cheffie, whose next publication will be “a book about Cajun food and its direct connection to its lost Nigerian roots.”
Effie relates that when she would visit her grandmother, in Vlachokerasia, Arcadia, in the Peloponnese, her grandmother would teach her how to identify edible greens and how to gather and cut them without injuring the stalks or their roots. “She taught me the names of the herbs and their healing properties. Best of all, she taught me how to cook them and how to make her famous wild greens pie. Perhaps I’ve inherited the cook’s or the ‘herbalist’s’ gene, from my grandmother… One thing is for sure, I like to collect greens, and more, I like to cook them in many different ways.”
Later, on her walks in the mountains of California, she discovered similar vegetation to that in Attica, the soil morphology having similarities with that of Attica, and similar weather, due to having approximately the same geographical latitude. “I started my endless comparisons of the flora, recording them and using them in my recipes,” Cheffie says of her pursuit of knowledge about wild greens, and her extensive experience in cooking them, as a chef, which led to the writing of “EDIBLE WILD GREENS.”
A conversation with Chef Effie reveals her integrity, deep commitment, and the dedication of an artist to her life’s passion: cooking.
GN: Fascinated by my mother’s memory I compiled a list of the Greek names of the wild greens my mother loved to pick in Arcadia. I intended to find out their English or Latin names. I’m thrilled that you did this for me! And so much more, in “EDIBLE WILD GREENS”
EN: Indeed, “EDIBLE WILD GREENS” is not just another cookbook. It’s a book that describes the way to get back to Mother Nature, to collect the best things she has to offer—which most of the time are free—and lists the benefits of doing so. These wild greens not only bring new tastes and new textures to the everyday meal, but, as a substitute for expensive vitamins, they treat the body to a healthful new experience.
GN: The illustrations and the photographs of the plants and leaves make this a beautiful book to look at, as well. Who did them?
EN: The photos and the illustrations are all mine. My mom use to say: Μάθε τέχνη και άστην και αν πεινάσεις πιάστην!
GN: Your book revitalizes the ancient practice of searching for wild greens.
EN: I inspire curious minds to grab a cotton bag, a small pocketknife then walk in the steps of our ancestors to forage wild greens.
GN: Does the wonder lie in the experience of the search, in identifying the plants, or in both?
EN: To answer this question, I’ll refer to page 13 in my book: “When you are in a forest looking for food, your whole mood can change. There is something empowering about gathering food for your family and friends. Primordial feelings emerge in the environment, you become the primitive hunter and gatherer, and you regain the instinct of man who only eats what nature has to offer him on that particular day.”
GN: From how far away can you, personally, spot an edible green?
EN: When I forage for greens, I always look for signs that will lead me to the plant. When I look at a hill in my path, I kind of guess what kind of plants I will find there. The same when I look at a river; there is a big chance of finding wild greens next at the riverside. Also knowing the seasons during which the wild greens grow helps to find them, even when they are far away. In fact, getting closer to the greens which are ready to collect you will realize that there is not just one plant but a full colony of your favorite plant. Some of the colonies of wild plants are protected by other, non-edible wild plants. The trained eye knows that close to one plant, another is hidden. And it has to be a “trained eye,” because as I say in the book, “If you don’t know it, you do not collect it!”
GN: Please tell us about the benefits of wild greens in respect to issues such as world food shortages, the effects of climate change/pollution, and overpopulation.
EN: The edible wild greens are weeds and parasite plants. They can grow into full colonies even over concrete or on the side of a tarred street. They thrive by taking advantage of all the ingredients in the soil in order to grow big and full of vitamins. When driving on the freeway, you can actually spot a lot of wild greens. However, be aware of the pollutants that are involved in the growing process of these particular wild greens. You can’t always forage greens, especially in heavily populated areas.
GN: What do you consider to be the most important advantage of using wild greens?
EN: For me primarily, the most important advantage of using wild greens is their nutritional content. They have a lot of vitamins and minerals that you cannot find in other greens. Secondly, I really like cooking with these greens. They tend to “elevate” the taste of my dishes to a whole new level.
Let me add that I like greens a lot, but I don’t exclude other elements in my diet, because the most important thing is to eat well, and feel good about ourselves and our bodies. After all, what I learned from Greek history is: ‘Let your medicine be your food and let your food be your medicine.
GN: How likely are people to mistake harmful plants for edible ones? Is it comparable to mistaking poisonous mushrooms for edible mushrooms? What should we look out for?
EN: Every plant has certain characteristics. You should observe the color, the shape, the texture and the smell of every green. You should also observe the surroundings for pollution, parasites and small creatures. One of the points that I cannot stress enough is: “if you don’t know the plant, don’t collect it.” Some of the plants might look similar, but they are never the same. With some experience you can forage edible wild greens, and if you don’t have the experience on that subject, find a friend who does, and hike with them. Even the most experienced plant collector, if he or she is not so sure about a plant, will not pick it up.
A SHORT BIO
Effie Noifelt graduated high school in Athens, Santa Monica College, and studied at California State University of Northridge as a candidate for a BS degree in Environmental Health Science, with an emphasis in sustainability in food and food safety, then graduated from the AKMH Cooking School in Athens. She made over 200 videos on traditional local food recipes that had been lost through the ages for Yolenis.com.
She has worked as a chef de cuisine in Athens, the Aegean islands, and as a personal chef for families with special dietary needs who have an appreciation of healthful, international gourmet cuisine. Honored for her vegetable and cheese carvings at the 1st Festival of Gourmet Products in Amfilochia, Greece, she also won a Silver Medal in the Live Carving competition at Croatia’s Biser Mora Culinary Festival, in addition to their Bronze Medal for her Greek Chicken Dish.