Dining: Before the Bloom

All of last year’s harvest was gone from the freezer. Then, as we got ready to till the garden to plant the early spring crops of spinach and peas, we noticed tender green shoots coming up all over. Dandelions! We went to work and harvested two bushel baskets of the young, fresh greens.

Although gardeners scorn the bright, perky yellow flowers, these “weeds” are not native to the American continent; European settlers brought them here as a source of food and nutrition. The word dandelion comes from the French “dent de lion,” or lion’s tooth, because of the deep-toothed leaves. They’ve continued as a staple in the South, where they’re often sold in produce sections of supermarkets, and among African Americans. My friend tells me how, as a child, he used to pick the tender greens with his mom.

The long, jagged, lance-shaped leaves are delicious when harvested early and cooked right. They are also packed with nutrition. The tender greens contain more calcium than milk, as well as many other essential nutrients. They have more than 10 times the vitamin A of lettuce (one cup contains more than the recommended daily allowance); they’re high in vitamin C and fiber; and they’re a good source of iron, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus and copper and vitamins E, B6, folate, thiamin and riboflavin.

Like other greens, they have almost no calories—a mere 25 per cup. So there’s a good reason why Hecate is said to have fed Theseus dandelions for 30 days so he would become powerful enough to defeat the Minotaur.

Harvest the greens now, when they’re tender and just coming up. Once they bloom, they become tough and bitter. They’re a great addition to salads, and are also good in other dishes, such as beans and greens, or egg dishes like quiches and frittatas.

To clean dandelions, place the greens in a large bowl with cool water; add a little salt and stir to loosen any sand. Let the sand fall to the bottom; scoop the greens from the top. You may want to repeat this procedure. Then place the greens in a colander and rinse under cool water.

Here are a few dandelion recipes we’ve enjoyed. Please note that piquant dandelions go well with salty ham or bacon, but these can be omitted if you want vegetarian versions of these dishes:

Dandelion Lettuce Salad

1/2 teaspoon salt
1 small clove garlic
1 teaspoon spicy prepared mustard, Dijon style
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 cups shredded lettuce
2 cups dandelion greens
1 red onion
1/2 red bell pepper
1/2 yellow bell pepper
1 cup garbanzo beans
1 cup finely chopped prosciutto (Italian ham)

Crush the garlic with salt to make a paste (I use a mortar and pestle for this). In the bottom of a salad bowl, whisk together the garlic paste, mustard, oil, and lemon juice with a fork or wire whisk. Add lettuce and dandelion greens and toss into the dressing, mixing well. Slice the onion and peppers and stir in along with the prosciutto and garbanzo beans.

Dandelion Pasta and Beans

1/2 pound ziti
1 Tablespoon canola oil
1 large onion, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
4 cups washed dandelion greens
1 15.5 oz. can butter beans
1 small can diced tomatoes with juice
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon marjoram
1 cup finely chopped ham (optional)
1 cup grated mild cheese

Cook ziti according to package directions. In large skillet, heat oil. Add onions and cook a couple minutes. Add garlic and dandelion greens and cook another three to four minutes till greens are wilted. Drain and rinse beans and stir in along with tomatoes, herbs, optional ham and cheese. Cook 5-10 minutes on high to reduce the liquid. Serve hot over cooked ziti.

Author: Yvona Fast

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