A bowl of Sichuan style dry-fried fiddlehead ferns with chile oil, garlic and scallions
Heather Arndt Anderson / OPB


Superabundant dispatch: Sichuan style fiddleheads, a shiny new episode and this week’s news nibbles

By Heather Arndt Anderson (OPB)
April 5, 2024 1 p.m.

Forest to table at its finest

OPB’s “Superabundant” explores the stories behind the foods of the Pacific Northwest with videos, articles and this weekly newsletter. To keep you sated between episodes, Heather Arndt Anderson, a Portland-based culinary historian, food writer and ecologist, highlights different aspects of the region’s food ecosystem. This week she offers a new “Superabundant” video and a recipe for spicy Sichuan style dry-fried fiddleheads.

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If you pay any attention to foraging or truly seasonal ingredients, you’ve no doubt heard mention of fiddleheads. Maybe you’ve seen them at the farmers market or on menus. But what even are they? They’re the crozier (or unfurling shoot) of a few different species of fern, and true to their name, fiddleheads indeed resemble the curled scroll at the end of a violin’s neck. In the Northwest, it’s usually going to mean lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) but it can also refer to bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum), which turns out to be the fifth most common weed in the world, eaten throughout East Asia for centuries. Since it thrives in disturbed areas, you’ll usually find it in clear cuts around these parts, but if you do harvest bracken fern, you’ll have to soak it in a few changes of water and cook it well before eating. Do you know why? Read on to find out!

A new episode of “Superabundant”! Plus: Protecting water quality from a potato giant and micro-farms alike, cool reels, more cherry cities and good things in markets and gardens

A new spin on Native cuisine

A new episode of “Superabundant” features Portland’s only Indigenous pop-up restaurant, Javelina. With dishes ranging from frybread tacos to sophisticated presentations of wild game, the menu at Javelina pays homage to chef Alexa Numkena-Anderson’s Indigenous and Mexican heritage.

Watch the Javelina episode

Tater trouble

Lamb Weston, the Hermiston-based potato processor that brought us the waffle fry and a potato-slicing water cannon (as noted in the “Superabundant” newsletter one year ago this week) is in hot water with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality for violating wastewater regulations 90 times (!!) between 2016 and 2021. OPB’s Monica Samayoa has the story.

Small dairy farms get a break

The Oregon Department of Agriculture changed its 2023 decision about what constitutes “confinement,” allowing small dairy farmers to avoid steep costs intended to keep manure from entering waterways on larger dairy operations. The regulations were set to take effect on April 1, but a few small farms sued to block them. OPB’s Alejandro Figueroa reports on the state’s reversal.

Delightful content alert

A few weeks ago we saw a lovely reel of Portland crows while scrolling through Instagram, and fell in love with the rest of the creator’s content. Josh Havelind, a Lincoln City-based surfer and graduate from OSU’s marine biology department, makes beautiful films about nature in Oregon. Capturing everything from the quietude of the forest floor to river otters on the coast, Havelind’s work is proof that social media isn’t just a lawless hellscape.

Letter from a reader

Oregon historian and author Richard Engeman wrote recently to let us know that the Beaver State was home to more than one cherry chiefdom. “Besides Salem, where the city buses are still called Cherriots, Oregon had at least two other ‘cherry cities,’ The Dalles and Cove. The Dalles might still be able to claim the title. Cheers for cherries!” Thanks for the clarification, Richard!

Good things in markets

Rhubarb and all manner of raab are as crisp and flavorful as they’ll ever be, and are equally suited to being baked on a sheet of puff pastry with lots of lemon zest and creamy ricotta. The holy trinity of wild foods — nettles, fiddleheads and miner’s lettuce — are going gangbusters right now, and if you know where to look (moist woods and creek banks) you can get a little fresh air while you fill your basket. You can also check farmers markets and gourmet grocery stores if a foray isn’t in the cards.

Note: If you pick bracken fern fiddleheads, you’ll want to soak them overnight and blanch them in salt water to reduce their toxicity; the ptaquiloside found in the plant has been linked to stomach cancer but it’s fairly soluble in water. Boiling almost entirely denatures the toxin and adding salt or baking soda further helps it evaporate out.

Selecting produce or seafood can be fraught for people who want to avoid potentially harmful chemicals, but this week NPR published one horticulturist’s interesting take on the issue. In short, eating conventionally grown vegetables is still better for you than skipping them just because they’re not organic.

In the “Superabundant” garden this week


The herbs and greens are so fresh and delicious right now — we’re putting some combination of mint, chervil, parsley, lovage, cilantro, Greek cress and garlic chives into pretty much everything we cook. Evergreen herbs like sage, oregano, rosemary and winter savory are all stirring from rest too, emerging with tiny new leaves and flower buds for zhuzhing thin-skinned fingerling potatoes and jammy eggs.

If the gobs of pendulous green flowers are any indication, the redcurrant bushes will produce a bumper crop this summer. The Italian prune plum is similarly laden with flowers, giving us hope for a good harvest in September.

Recipe: Sichuan style dry-fried fiddleheads

A bowl of Sichuan style dry-fried fiddlehead ferns with chile oil, garlic and scallions

A bowl of Sichuan style dry-fried fiddlehead ferns with chile oil, garlic and scallions

Heather Arndt Anderson / OPB

Fiddleheads have a delicate flavor and texture often compared to asparagus or green beans, and that got us thinking: Why stick to pasta or risotto, when you can smother the spring vegetable in garlicky chile oil? As we’ve learned from Chinese restaurants, “dry-fried” is a delicious way to eat vegetables (this is a classic for a reason), even if it’s anything but dry — restaurants usually deep-fry the vegetables to quickly achieve that blistered exterior and tender-crisp interior. Like string beans or asparagus, fiddleheads don’t really require deep-frying to achieve the crispness and bright green color you expect, and best of all, this recipe is super fast and only takes a few basic ingredients.

Here we use a quick homemade chile crisp with garlic, scallions, and Sichuan peppercorn for that numb-spicy mala tingle, but you can use the jarred stuff to make this even easier. To round this out to a full meal, just add your favorite protein and rice or noodles. Serves 4.

Note: We used Korean gochugaru rather than the type of red chile flakes you see in shakers at pizza joints. Besides the fact that we always have lots of it in the pantry, we tend to find gochugaru to be less spicy and have a slightly sweet/fruity aroma that works well here. Feel free to use whatever type of chile flake you like best.


Chile oil

¼ cup chile flakes

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 scallion, finely sliced

1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns

1 tsp fine sea salt

¼ tsp MSG

½ cup neutral oil (such as vegetable or peanut)


1 tbsp neutral oil

4 cups fiddleheads, rinsed and patted dry

Few pinches of salt and MSG

1 tsp Shaoxing or nu-er-hong wine


  1. Make the chile oil: add the chile flake, garlic, scallions, Sichuan peppercorn, salt and MSG to a heat proof bowl. Heat the oil in a small pot until a slice of scallion sizzles in it, then pour the hot oil over the chile mixture and stir to combine.
  2. Heat the tablespoon of oil in a large wok over high heat until it begins to smoke, then add the fiddleheads. Season with salt and MSG and stir-fry until they’re bright green and glossy, about 4-5 minutes. Add the Shaoxing wine and cook until the alcohol is burned off, another minute or so. Add a few tablespoons of the chile oil and toss to coat.

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