They’re hated by serious lawn people, loved by small children, and you see them everywhere. Dandelions. Those bright yellow flowers of dread that mean the difference between a beautiful lawn and being the embarrassment of the neighborhood. Look out your door and I bet you’ll spot at least one, if not a whole field of them. I’m certainly in the “field” category, because, much to the horror of my neighbor with the pristine, manicured lawn, I’m a fan of the “wild” look. I’ve always considered them pretty, but now I’m thinking that they belong on my table.
The other day a friend stopped by to pick up eggs, and while telling her of my adventures eating nettles, she mentioned how fond she’d become of eating dandelions. I have tried them, but found them bitter. When I told her this, she let me in on a few secrets she’s learned, as well as some very tasty sounding recipes. She’s been so pleased with the flavors she’s started actively seeking out recipe books for dandelions. Not an easy task. Since she was kind enough to share some recipes and tips with me, I’ll share with you what I’ve learned.
The trick to the bitterness, it turns out, is both the time of year you pick them, and the method of preparation. Early spring, when the plants have just come up out of the ground, is the time of year to harvest leaves with the least amount of bitterness. As the plants age, not just get bigger, they produce more of the bitter flavor in their sap, making the leaves less edible, in my opinion. Head out in March and April to harvest dandelion leaves. Don’t pull the plant up by the roots, instead cut it off just above ground level. Strip off the leaves to be eaten. With the root in place, the plant will re-grow and you’ll get at least one, if not two more harvests of fresh, young dandelion leaves.
I am not a fan of bitter in any form, so I can’t tell you that young dandelion leaves are sweet enough just to put in a salad to eat, but many people do this. Of course, many people put a lot of different bitter leaves in their salads, so if you like to eat things like arugula, I’m guessing that you would find raw dandelion just dandy. Me, I need it cooked.
Two great recipes for dandelion leaves
Gather up a big bowl of fresh dandelion leaves and rinse them off. As with most greens, the leaves will shrink down quite a bit when cooked so start with more than you think you want. I would avoid the stem; I’ve read both that they’re super health and slightly toxic. Your choice – I’m sticking with the leaves.
Instead of eating them raw, cook the leaves to reduce the bitter flavor. Stick with simple:
Sautéed dandelion leaves
- One big handful of dandelion leaves, rinsed, dried and chopped
- 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
- ¼ cup of green onion, chopped
- four slices of bacon
- salt and pepper to taste
Yep, you know where this is going. Cook the bacon, pat off the grease and crumble it.
Drain most of the bacon fat from the pan and use the tiny bit left to sauté the garlic for a few minutes.
Throw in the handful of dandelion greens and continue stirring until they wilt. Turn off the heat, add the salt, pepper and onion and stir for a minute or two more until the onion has warmed through.
Dish it up with a squeeze of lemon juice over the top if you like.
Yes, very similar to what you’d do with spinach.
Too much green for you? Try using them as an herb:
Root vegetables with dandelion seasoning
- Finely chop about a ½ cup of very dry, washed dandelion greens
- Mix with 1 clove of garlic, 1 teaspoon of paprika, some oregano, salt and pepper
- In a roasting pan, chop large pieces of potatoes, turnips, parsnips, carrots and whatever your favorite root vegetable is. Drizzle with peanut or vegetable oil (not olive, the extended heat will make it bitter).
With the oven at 375 degrees, cook until vegetables are about three quarters done, stirring a couple times while they are cooking. They length of time they need to bake will depend on how full your pan is. I tend to fill a roasting pan about half to three quarters full, and plan on an hour and a half to cook. So for me, I’d do this next step at about one hour into the process.
Sprinkle your dandelion seasoning over your root vegetables, and stir gently to get the seasoning all over each piece. Put the pan back in the oven and continue cooking until the vegetables are soft. You may want to stir them again if it looks like your herb mix is getting too crispy on top.
This makes a great side dish for almost any type of meat.
And a bonus recipe for the flowers:
Ok, you still won’t put one of those nasty bitter leaves in your mouth? How about one of those pretty flowers? You can steam them when they’re just at the bud stage, or pick the opened flowers and make lemonade. Yes, if life hands you dandelions, make lemonade. It’s very easy and gives ordinary lemonade a nice little earthy undertone.
Pick about two cups worth of dandelion blossoms. You want the ones that have just opened, not the older flowers (they start getting bitter – surprise!). Rinse the flowers well, remove the stems right at the flower.
- Put your handfuls of flowers into a gallon jar
- Fill with water (leave a little space)
- Squeeze in the juice from four large, or five small lemons
- Add honey or sugar to taste, and put the jar in the refrigerator to chill.
Leave the flowers for at least four hours, after that you can strain them out, or leave them in to keep adding flavor.
They’re also pretty floating in a glass.
Now, the next time you look out of your window you won’t be grousing “aw crap, I need to weed the lawn”, you’ll be thinking “Hey! There’s dinner!”