Early spring has me pondering the merits of dandelions. They’ve crept into the garden during the last few weeks of mild weather—invading with the sort of bravado only a sturdy weed can muster. I note their presence with an odd feeling of respect—their mighty tap roots hang on for dear life, as I strain to unearth them. There are other reasons to admire the dandelion as well: the perky yellow flower that weaves supply into a rustic crown and the feathery seeds that take flight in all directions, with one deep breath from a schoolgirl’s playful lungs.
Even if the jagged weed’s charm is best appreciated by a childish turn of mind, its nutritional profile can’t help but impress adults. One serving contains a day’s requirement of Vitamin A plus a whopping five times as much Vitamin K. Not bad for a weed. And while I don’t typically toss these wild garden interlopers into salad, I’m looking for ways to enjoy the occasional bunch of their cultivated cousins.
Dandelion greens actually have a long culinary history in Europe and Asia, where they are prized for their bold flavor. Fans pair them with equally assertive partners, for instance cheese (think tangy goat), lemon and other citrus, vinegar, pancetta or bacon (if you eat meat), and aromatics such as garlic, ginger, onion and leek. The greens perk up unassuming foods like eggs, beans, grains and potatoes. Or mix them with milder leaves—kale, collards, spinach or chard—if you prefer a tempered tang. Cooks sometimes blanch dandelion greens briefly in boiling water before sautéing, to mellow their bite.
No matter how you prepare dandelion you’ll treat your body to a wealth of nutrients: antioxidant and vision supportive Vitamin A; heart and bone healthy Vitamin K; and immune system boosting Vitamin C, for starters. Dandelion packs a healthy dose of calcium and iron as well, plus beneficial levels of manganese, potassium, Vitamins B1, B2, B6, and dietary fiber. Even a surprisingly respectable amount of protein for a leafy green vegetable.
It’s worth reassessing the dandelion. Yes, it is basically a weed. But a tasty, healthful one.
Recipes for the Week:
Sauté chopped dandelion greens in olive oil with minced garlic. Meanwhile toast sliced baguette. Spread soft goat cheese over the toast, top with sautéed greens, a drizzle of olive oil, squeeze of lemon (and a bit of its zest) and a sprinkling of salt.
Skip the puff pastry in the recipe above and serve the dandelion-potato mixture as a side dish.
For a bold, bitter-sweet salad combination chop a few dandelion greens and toss with mixed citrus slices—oranges, blood oranges, grapefruit—olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Add a few shavings of red onion, cubes of salty feta cheese and a handful of torn kalamata olives across the top.
Stir-fry roughly chopped dandelion greens with minced ginger and garlic, and sliced onions. Add a splash of soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and a drizzle of sesame oil.
Ideas for this week’s cauliflower…