Friday, March 23, 2012

Knotweed and lamb curry

I had these bunches of young Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum), a very invasive weed here in the States.

There were few people in the woods. Some birdwatchers - easily identified by their binoculars and camouflaged super-telephoto lenses. Some lone men sitting on benches looking contemplative, and a little expectant.  That guy with the two big white and tan matching dogs with muddy feet, which roam wildly all over, looking panicked and lost before he barks for them to, C'mon Now! Get Back Here! I don't like him.

Two guys on a bench ignored me studiously as I sliced through some young fat stems of knotweed. A pale and plump mother and daughter looked at me sideways as they took pictures of themselves in all my knotweed patches. Foragers in disguise?

The first night, I made risotto. The second, this curry. And I kept my knotweed fresh in bundles in a little water. I think it grew, overnight.

It's worth mentioning what you already know: That curry is thought to come from the Tamil word kari (கறி), which means sauce. This is not the powdered yellow stuff labeled "curry."Although that has its uses, too.

Knotweed, when subjected to heat, turns a pale, drab colour. And retains its shape, till you poke it. Then it collapses into supple creaminess, its texture soft and wonderful. It comes from East Asia, and I wondered how its lemony flavour would fare with coconut milk and lamb.


This curry starts off wet and turns dry in the sense that the sauce reduces and becomes concentrated. I like it served over brown rice.

Knotweed Curry - Serves 2

2 lamb shoulder chops, lightly seasoned with salt and pepper
1 Tbsp butter or ghee
1 Tbsp very finely chopped lemon grass heart
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, sliced then chopped finely
3 cups Japanese knotweed shoots (or tips), chopped roughly
2 Tbsp (plus 1 extra) fish sauce
1 cup coconut milk
1 tsp dried, hot chile

In foaming butter brown the seasoned chops briefly on each side, then remove to a bowl. In the same pot sauté the garlic and lemongrass over medium heat for a couple of minutes, without browning. When fragrant, add the ginger and stir. Return the chops to the pan and add the knotweed, piling it on top of the meat. Add 2 Tbsps of the fish sauce, the coconut milk, chile and enough water to barely cover. Bring the liquid to a brief boil and lower to a lightly bubbling simmer until the sauce has reduced to a creamy mass around the meat. This will take about two and a quarter hours. Taste. If you need more salt, add more fish sauce.

Serve with rice.

A side salad of mango and radishes in a raw ginger and lime-ish dressing with lots of chile, some fish sauce and sugar, is very good. At the last moment I top it with wild arugula and more chile.

I think this curry would be wonderful with fish, too.

I shall find out.


  1. This sounds fantastic! Perhaps next weekend...thank you!

  2. I've been fighting this stuff in my building's backyard with spade and shovel for the last two years. Hate the sight of it but maybe I'll like the taste.

    It's in Prospect Park too. I think I'll head over today and pick myself some dinner.

  3. I'll have to start using the knotweed sprouts that come out by my fence from now on. I used to tear them out (furiously!) until I read about your enthusiasm about them. Although I only see two red knobs so far. I must try making the custard you made with them. Curried knotweed sounds promising too. Your excitement about these lowly knotweeds is contagious, I must say. I will always remember you everytime I see one. Thank you for all the info on knotweeds. I feel braver to try it now.

  4. I've been anxiously awaiting the first shoots upstate--still no sign. This curry looks like an inspired use of them!

  5. Foraged today in CP by my apartment on W 85th, been watching a patch, waiting for it to grow tall enough to snip. Am making your lamb curry now, was wondering if you cover while it simmers for the 2 hours?
    New reader, fellow container gardener/farmer, I love your blog!

  6. Oh dear, Kohler - I saw this too late. Good for you! I leave the lid off after it has come to simmer - I should have been more clear. That way it reduces gently. I appreciate your feedback...

  7. Not to worry! I figured it out and it was DELICIOUS! (A bit salty, you weren't kidding when you said to lightly season the lamb! Also, I was not very fastidious about trimming the fat, I'll know better next time...) We nibbled as it cooked and because we noticed the knotweed was reducing so much I added another handful with about 15 minutes left to go... I think next time I would probably add a generous handful at the start and then two more cups about 90min in.
    We were so pleasantly surprised by the flavor of the knotweed. I cook a lot - by recipe, the gift of throwing something together seems to have skipped from my father right over me - and would love to hear other ideas for uses for it. I saw your lamb leg recipe, but lamb is probably a once a season treat. May try a similar curry with tofu or plain old chicken.

    My 8 year old was greatly amused by his mom's city foraging (as was my mother, a horticultural botany major in college, who had know idea knotweed was edible!) and is ready for more. Thanks again!

  8. I just looked at your photos again, the knotweed we used was quite a bit younger and smaller which was probably why it cooked down so much so quickly. Will try to keep size/maturity in mind when thinking about cooking time.

  9. Hi Kohler - so good to hear your own knotweed experience :-) Yes, it certainly does "disappear", in the manner of sorrel, but the flavour does make it through. I like the creaminess into which it dissolves. With the roast lamb (yes, substitute a chicken), the knotweed retains some of its integrity - it may be because of the dry air in the oven. I have used it in chicken curry, too; also soup,and blanched then gratinated under a broiler with some parmesan.

  10. I just looked at your photos again, the knotweed we used was quite a bit younger and smaller which was probably why it cooked down so much so quickly. Will try to keep size/maturity in mind when thinking about cooking time.

    1. Knotweed will always soften if cooked in moist heat, though...


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