I'm not sure if I've mentioned before that I was a rather odd child. I grew up in the country with few playmates and a wildly overactive imagination. When other people talk about the toys they had as children, I have nothing to add. I don't remember having very many toys; I only needed space to roam and some drawing tools. I wrote books and had wild adventures. I think most writers will tell you something similar. But I'm digressing already. At some point, I must have been 10 or so, I read that the roots of the dandelion could be roasted, ground, and brewed like coffee. I actually did this - harvested the dandelion roots, roasted them, and brewed them. In retrospect, my mother was truly a long-suffering saint; I seem to remember her helping me with this project. I don't really remember how it tasted, I'm just using this to illustrate the fact that I've always been an adventurous eater. I believe the roots are also edible, but for this episode, we are only focusing on the greens. I apparently don't have the same patience I had as a 10 year old (mom, I can hear you laughing), because the thought of washing all that dirt off the roots is more than I can bear on my day off, even for you, my dear, dear readers.
Of course, I don't have a single dandelion in my yard, our yard is home to acres of sprawling flawless green. Just kidding. I live on a busy street in a biggish city. I'm lucky on the days when I only have one small piece of non-organic detritus floating about. But the other day, when it was time to get the yard in gear, I thought I'd harvest some dandelion greens before they were gone. Choose young, tender leaves from small plants. As the leaves grow, they get furry and leathery. You should be able to let your fingers tell you which leaves you should eat.
For those of you who don't know, I come from Amish stock. The Amish are a dandelion-loving people, and my aunts and grandma swoon over dandelion season. I believe dandelion greens are widely consumed in Europe, as well, but here in the States, they seem to have a bad rap. Of course, someone must be eating them, because Whole Foods has carried them since they opened. But why pay $4.99 a pound for them when you can forage them for free? After doing a little research, it seems you can eat any type of dandelion green, provided they aren't covered with pesticides. My dandelion greens are probably covered in diesel fumes from city buses, so they took a nice little soak in some vegetable wash and a few changes of water.
I like a basic bacon drippings vinaigrette recipe for dandelion greens, the same thing you might think of when making a spinach salad. If you aren't willing to eat bacon drippings, I can't suggest an alternative. You need the bacon and the fat, and I just don't think olive oil would be the same here. Feel free to contradict me. Dandelion greens are pleasantly bitter, so don't use too much vinegar. My favorite way to taste the seasoning level in my vinaigrette is to dip a green into it and taste.
By the way, Dandelion Greens are quite good for you - one cup of raw leaves has 54% of your daily Vitamin A and 32% Vitamin C. It also has 188% of your Vitamin K, 10% of your daily calcium and contains only 25 calories.
Old Fashioned Dandelion Greens Salad with Bacon, Egg and Sweet Onions - serves 1
1 cup dandelion greens, well-washed and spun dry
2 thick cut bacon slices, cut into small strips (aka lardons)
2 tbsp cider or sherry vinegar
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp sugar
Salt and pepper
1 hard cooked egg, sliced
1/4 sweet onion, such as Vidalia or 1015, sliced very thinly on a mandolin
Cook the bacon over medium heat until crisp, then remove the bacon pieces. Turn the heat off and add the vinegar, mustard and sugar to the bacon drippings, stir with a whisk and add a little salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Toss the greens in the hot dressing (yes, you want them to wilt a little) and place them on a plate. Top with the egg and sweet onions. YUM! Now you are an honorary Amish girl! or boy!
psst - want to know a secret? Don't tell anyone. Salt interferes with your taste buds' ability to detect bitterness, so if the greens are too bitter for you, add a little sprinkle of salt. The same goes for things like curly endive, a deliciously bitter green who is disdained primarily because people don't know how to prepare it. Salt is also a splendid grapefruit topper - so next time, skip the sugar and try salt instead.