Monday, April 9, 2012

Eating Your Lawn Part II: the Awesomeness of Dandelions

I held Easter dinner at my house this year for about fifteen friends and family. In developing the menu, I wanted to stick to a spring theme: early vegetables, in-season game, and savory but light seasonings. For the first course, I planned a split pea soup with my own oatmeal wheat bread, herbed butter, and a light spring greens salad. Though I planted mesclun greens, spinach, and kale in the cold frame during a warm spell a few weeks ago, the seedlings were definitely not ready to be called anything near salad-ready. I had resigned myself to that great evil that cooking for a large group often necessitates—the trip to a bulk produce store (shudder)—when an epiphany occurred. 

Early Friday morning I puttered around the lawn with a can of salt, finishing off the last stubborn vestiges of my thistle invasion, and then decided to get a head start in weeding one of the flowerbeds. Even from a distance, I could see that young “weeds” were sprouting up more quickly than the Echinacea, gerbera, day lily, phlox, or honeysuckle I had planted.
I had pulled about a dozen young dandelion plants from the bed when I stopped dead.  I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of this before. Here I was, “weeding” young dandelion greens when I was planning a large salad only a day later!  What a waste!

Though the dandelion is a weed to most of us, this delectable and nutritious plant is actually quite a boon to have around. Each part of the plant is delicious in its own way, and can be used for different purposes. Pluck the young greens (before the plant has flowered) for high iron and vitamin C veggies that also have detoxifying properties. If you look closely, a greens floret will have a small bud nestled in the center. This is the jackpot. They are absolutely tender and full of vitamins. Toss them right into your salads. Once the dandelions bloom, pick the young yellow flowers and eat them raw or sauté them in olive oil and salt until slightly crunchy for the maximum delivery of liver assisting detoxifiers. The root, dried and ground, makes a great tea any time. If you aren’t ready to use your young dandelion greens, flower, or root at the time, dry them in the sun and crush them using a mortar and pestle. They are amazing added to a stir-fry, rubbed onto meat, or mixed in a soup.

This plant is undoubtedly as useful (and most likely more nutritious) as the industrially farmed and processed spices and herbs for which we pay a lot at the grocery store. Our unfortunate mentality tends to be that if we pay for something at a store, it must be of better quality and better for us. Often this is false, particularly so in the case of our dear friend, the dandelion. As we simultaneously seek food that is not chemically treated and does not leave a carbon footprint, yet is also nutritious, it seems that the dandelion is the ideal solution. With plentiful dandelion greens growing within our sight, no chemicals or trucking necessary, it would seem very nearly foolish to go to the store.

So I served dandelion greens and young buds to accompany my pea soup and homemade bread; if I can judge by the fact that none of the salad was left after dinner, it was a hit. I dressed it in olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, mustard and, since dandelion greens can be a tad bitter, a bit of honey. Delicious. Next time you’re hankering for a gratifying and green gourmet experience, look no further than your back yard.

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