Pest or gift, they live in our memories in so many ways!
Long before the peas grow and blossom and fruit, when tomato plants are just inches high, and well before even the radishes are ready to slice, the weeds begin to grow in the garden and lawn. If the weeds happen to be dandelions, it’s not all bad news!
Love and hate
I have a long, mostly love sometimes hate, relationship with dandelions. They have been, and continue to be, some of the most beautiful bouquets in my life, picked by little hands and offered in wonderment at the beauty growing free in the world. They are priceless gifts. As children, we also teach each other to make a wish and blow the fluffy seed heads into the wind. Magical. Sometimes, those wishes came true.
Foraging with the best
My Uncle Leonard was a great forager. He used to pick the greens in early spring when they were young and he would braise them with pork parts and a bit of onion, and delighted in just this for supper. Maybe a biscuit to sop up the broth. If he was lucky, his foraging ventures would bring some fiddleheads, ramps, or delightful wild morels to the pot. He was usually lucky, but then again, he knew where and how to look. If I was lucky, he would bring me along and show me where the best stuff grew. I think of these early spring treasures as great seasonal companions on the table, and have joined them stewed, sautéed, and in soups and salads. So good, and so very nutritious, especially after a long winter without the luxury of picking something green.
A craving like no other
When I was pregnant for my second child, I craved dandelion greens, but unfortunately it was winter so I was out of luck. I tried everything, spinach, chard, even soggy-looking canned beet greens. It was really a desperate craving, with no satisfaction. They were all I wanted and I remember feeling like I must be crazy. The week after she was born, the dandelions appeared in the yard. I didn’t want them any longer.
I also tried to make dandelion wine once. It was an old recipe that mother had, but she didn’t know where she got it and said she never made it herself. I was intrigued at the idea of using weeds for a special treat. It called for baskets of dandelion flowers, honey, and beautiful citrus fruits. When it was ready to sample, its aroma was out of the world, so fragrant and enticing. I had a party and invited friends over to sample.
It tasted like old compost.
I don’t know to this day what I did wrong, or perhaps it was meant to taste like this? But I never gave it another try since it was so much work! That’s the hate part.
Something to love
This salad is one of the love parts, and is hardly any work at all. While dandelion greens have become a bit trendy and you can easily find them at farmers markets and co-ops, it’s fun to pick your own, right from the yard! Make sure they are not growing in a spot that has had any pesticides or herbicides applied, especially if they are growing close to a neighbor’s perfectly groomed, herbicide-manicured yard.
Every part is edible
Every inch of the dandelion plant is edible, the greens, the flower buds, the flowers. The root is dried and made into a tea, and you can usually find it in the bulk section of most food co-ops and health food stores. Probably the next wonder food, or maybe it already was but I was busy and missed it.
Degrees of bitterness
While the greens are a bit bitter, if you pick them when they are very young, the bitterness is mild. However, if you wait until they are full grown and flowering, they will be much more bitter, even for me, but you can still blanch them to remove some of that and use them in soups, stews, and stir-fries.
You may love them, or you may hate them, but they are certainly worth a try, especially after a long winter.
Or you can just wait until they go to seed and blow wishes into the wind.
Wild Dandelion Salad with Chickpeas and Morel Mushrooms with a Simple Lemon Vinaigrette
- Wild dandelion greens, rinsed and dried
- 1 cup cooked chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
- 4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tsp. fresh thyme, minced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- Salt and pepper
- 1 tbsp. fresh chives, minced
- A handful of morel mushrooms, cut in half
- A few dandelion flowers
- The zest from the lemon
Wash the greens and spin or towel dry. Set aside.
Combine the olive oil and lemon juice, whisk well, add salt and pepper to taste, along with about a tablespoon of roughly chopped dandelion leaves, thyme, and garlic. Pour this over the chickpeas and let sit for 15 minutes.
In a small skillet, add a bit of olive oil and toss in the morels with a bit of salt. Sauté until soft.
Assemble the salad: Arrange a layer of dandelion leaves and add a spoonful of the chickpeas. Toss on a few morels, and drizzle with a bit more of the dressing from the chickpeas.
Garnish with the chives and petals from the dandelions, and scatter the lemon zest on top.
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