As a former chef I suspect I have fielded the question
“What’s your favorite food?” more than most people, and by and large the answer
is always peanut butter. It really is my favorite food and has been since I can remember. This past week I re-discovered an item that may have never been the answer to that question for anyone: dandelion greens.
weed and its flower (Taraxacum officinale) that you,
o’ dauntless suburbanite yard-tender, have spent uncountable hours trying to
get rid of, is an edible and nutritious-not to mention plentiful- food source. I
can personally attest to its abundance after taking a tour of my yard this past
weekend--the things are everywhere. I can also tell you that even I, o' dedicated
food-guy, did not think of them as food. That is until now--but with a
disclaimer that I will share later. Part of the chicory family, the soft, soothing murmur of its name is even overlooked; in old French, it was le dent-de-lion, or “the tooth of the
lion”. With such a great name, something must have been lost in translation: How did this ancient yellow flower become a New World nuisance?
Looking into the history of this lawn-loitering green I kept finding Old World style recipes: Chopped, boiled, then sautéed in olive oil; blanched, then chopped and mixed with olive oil; chopped then mixed with other greens for a salad with olive oil dressing. See a pattern? However, it turns out all the chopping and olive oil is not without merit.
The leaves can get up to 15” long
(chop, chop) and the earthy mild-to-moderate bitterness is nicely offset by the
mellow, fruity nose of olive oil. Add a little garlic and salt and you’ve got a
truly complimentary experience on the palate.
of the past, I found evidence of a renewed contemporary perspective on not only
our ubiquitous little yellow flower, but also other plentiful and locally
available foodstuffs/plants from locales more like the lawn than the garden. Chefs, of course, have had a hand in this as we love
to put something unknown to the public on the menu that allows charging good
money for next to nothing---pea tendrils, anyone? However, naturalists as well
as an amazingly pervasive subculture of foragers (both urban and rural) are
putting their embrace of wild plants as food throughout cyberspace. Searching
under various terms surrounding these issues, I kept seeing one name rising
through the fray: Steve “Wildman” Brill.
New York’s Park authority ended up looking predictably terrible after the story was picked up by Dan Rather and the CBS Evening News
and instead of prosecuting him, they hired him. This story, as well as Steve’s
vim and vigor for foraging are available at his website. He’ll be in Connecticut
later this month. If I can make his walking tour of White Memorial Conservation
Center in Litchfield, CT I promise a follow-up story as I am more than a little
intrigued at what else in my wood-lined lot may lie in wait with yet untouched
culinary promise. And to think this trove of epicurean promise was discovered just by wondering
about who in their right mind actually eats dandelion greens? Earlier I
mentioned a disclaimer on my considerations of dandelion greens as food. Here you are:
I will probably keep my dandelion consumption near where it is…approximately zero. This doesn’t stem from a bad experience with
dandelions but rather a fierce aversion to weeding. But we’ll see how the foraging course with
Summer Salad w/Backyard Dandelion Leaves
- 2 large handfuls of dandelion leaves- cleaned and dry
- 2 small beets- roasted, peeled and sliced
- 1 ear of corn- boiled, cooled and sliced off the cob
- 1 clove of garlic, THINLY sliced
1 minute Vinaigrette
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- Sea salt, pepper to taste
**Author’s note: If you were wondering about the wine, it was a 2006 Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel. Flawless with the spice of the dandelion greens, garlic, and mustard.