By Elizabeth Keyser
Here’s a real seize the moment activity that’s good for your body and mind. Go out to your yard right now (with or without the kids) and pick some wild dandelion leaves. That is, if you don’t use pesticides or herbicides on your lawn. I’m assuming that Fairfield Green Food Guide (FGFG) followers don’t poison their yards. If you do, I urge you to quit fighting nature. Instead, use its bounty. Eat your dandelions.
Picking and eating dandelion leaves is an ancient rite of spring. Dandelions, and their edible look alike chicory (for illustrations go to Wild Man Steve Brill’s website,) are full of vitamins and minerals – Vitamins A, B, and C and minerals potassium, magnesium, phosphorous, plus fiber. They are a tonic for the blood, liver and digestive system. Yes, they are bitter (less so before the yellow flowers bloom – so, look for the ones in shadier areas; they probably haven’t bloomed yet.) You’ve probably also read about the benefits of putting your hands into the soil. When you pick dandelions, don’t wear gloves. Getting your hands dirty is good for you!
If you are new to eating dandelions and apprehensive about the bitterness, you might want to cook them rather than eat them raw. Some of the best I’ve ever eaten were served in Greek restaurants, like Eos in Stamford. I follow their general principles of cooking. Wash the leaves by soaking them. Then add them to a pot of boiling water and simmer until the leaves turn tender. How long is that? Well, it depends on how big your dandelion leaves are. The ones in your yard will be much smaller than cultivated dandelions. Check them after 10 minutes to see if they are tender to the tooth. If not, keep cooking them. You want to cook them to the point where the leaf is whole and tender. You don’t want to cook them so long that they become stringy , with their stems predominating.
For additional flavor and health benefits, I like to add a smashed clove of garlic to the pot of water before adding the dandelions. To serve, lift the leaves out of the water with a slotted spoon, put them in a bowl and drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with fresh lemon juice, and dash with salt. Go easy on the salt. Dandelions are naturally high in sodium. I confess I love dandelions so much that I have been known to drink the water they’ve been boiled in.
Which brings me to soup. I like adding dandelions to garlic soup. Garlic soup, which has a mellow garlic flavor, is a tonic, of sorts. Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking tells us it is considered good for the liver, blood circulation, overall physical tone and spiritual health. I love that almost-instant gratification part about spiritual health. And who doesn’t need an overall physical toning after a long winter?
The other day I transformed this recipe into a spring ‘whats’-in-the-garden’ soup. Along with the bountiful dandelions growing in my lawn, I picked bits of whatever was sprouting – parsley, thyme, oregano, and the scallions that overwintered. I smashed the cloves from a head of garlic with the heel of my hand, then threw them in a pot of water (I love that this is a water-based rather than stock-based soup; it is clean and simple). I added the fresh parsley, thyme and the white part of the scallions (reserve the scallion greens for a final embellishment). Because my sage mysteriously disappeared from my garden over the winter, I used a teaspoon of dry sage. A whole clove is an essential part of this soup, lending a subtle spice. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the mix and simmer for 20 minutes. Then add the dandelion leaves and continue to simmer until tender.
Julia Child’s recipe calls for making a mayonnaise (beating olive oil into an egg yolk), and whisking that into the soup. Use a local farm-fresh egg, and remember to remove the pot from the heat and to mix in a little hot liquid into the mayonnaise to temper it (prevent curdling) before whisking it into the soup. Taste it. Does it need a bit more salt, pepper. A squirt of lemon? To serve, place a crouton covered with grated, aged cheese in the bottom of each bowl. Ladle in the broth and top with reserved herbs. Dandelion garlic soup is a wonderful spring elixir.
Some Like ‘Em Raw
My husband likes dandelion leaves best raw. And I can’t dispute their virtues. Dandelions are a strong, hearty green that can stand up to a heavy dressing. Yes, this is the moment for a classic honey-Dijon vinaigrette. We used Red Bee honey (we had pumpkin flavor on hand), Bragg’s apple cider vinegar, garlic, and olive oil. The dressing itself was like a refreshing energizer, and it brought a sweetness to the greens. We enjoy a bowl of dressed dandelion greens as is (paired with a rich braised lamb shanks from Butcher’s Best Market). Those who wish to tame the dandelion’s bitterness might add chunks of rich avocado and bright, sweet red pepper to the salad. In this case I’d forgo the honey-vinaigrette for a lemon-olive oil-garlic dressing.
Dandelion also stands up well to a dressing of bacon fat, like La Quercia’s organically-raised Berkshire bacon, or just an olive oil dressing with lardon cut from La Querica Lonza.
As you can see, there are lots of ways to use dandelions and more to discover in your own kitchen. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go out and pick more leaves.
Elizabeth Keyser is an award-winning freelance writer based in Fairfield, CT and a regular contributor to the Fairfield Green Food Guide. Her work has been published in GQ, American Photo, The New York Times, The New York Post, Connecticut Magazine, Edible Nutmeg, the Yankee Brew News and newspapers in Connecticut and Massachusetts.