Often looked upon disparagingly as the scourge of the perfect, well-manicured American lawn, dandelions were cultivated in European kitchen gardens for hundreds of years. They were purposely brought fron Europe to the New World by the settlers. So if you consider them a curse, you will have to blame your ancestors.
I, however, am not among the obsessed who work frantically to eradicate these beauties from my property. Instead, I embrace them and look fondly at the golden kisses that grace my landscape.
My beekeeping friends tell me they are very important to honey production and as I witnessed yesterday the butterflies love to feast on them too. Did you know they are also safe for human consumption? One of my favorite childhood memories is my father foraging for those tender leaves in the early spring (best picked before they flower as they become more bitter as they age) to make his famous dandelion salad. Here is the simple preparation:
Enough young tender dandelion greens to make the size salad you desire (do not use greens that grow on the side of the road as the may be sprayed or contaminated from pollution).
Basic vinaigrette , your favorite or mine (below).
2-3 hard cooked eggs, peeled and chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Carefully wash and dry the greens (I use a salad spinner). Add the chopped eggs and add just enough of the vinaigrette (if using the recipe below, you can save the left over for future salads or to dress up steamed or roasted vegetables) to barely coat the leaves. Remember these leaves are very tender and should not be overdressed. Taste and add salt and pepper as desired. If available, you can garnish with the flowers.
This simple preparation was loved by me and my siblings but if you want to punch it up, try adding bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled. For the dressing, make the vinaigrette using less oil and adding a little bacon fat. Warm it and pour sparingly over the greens to wilt them. Adjust the salt to allow for the saltiness of the bacon.
Jeanne’s Vinaigrette (Standard ratio is 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar)
1 shallot, peeled and diced
½-1 t Dijon mustard
¼ c white wine vinegar (substitute Champagne, red wine, sherry or any vinegar of choice)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 c extra-virgin olive oil
You can mix this with a whisk or in a blender but I often put all the ingredients in a jar with a lid and shake vigorously. If using a blender, add the oil slowly at the end while the motor is running. The idea is to emulsify (bind together) all the ingredients.
The above preparation is best in early spring before the plant flowers but don’t worry, the blossoms which have a sweet, honeylike flavor when picked young, are edible too. Here is one of my favorite recipes:
Dandy Eggs Serves 2
1T unsalted butter
20 dandelion buds
4 dandelion flowers
Melt the butter in a 10-inch skillet over medium-low heat. Add the dandelion buds, cooking until they begin to open into flowers. Whisk the eggs until frothy. Slowly pour the eggs over the buds and cook low and slow, stirring continuously until small curds form and the eggs reach your desired consistency. Serve garnished with dandelion flowers.
The Native Americans and the American pioneers made great use of all parts of this plant whose name is derived from the French dent de lion, which translates to lion’s tooth, denoting the toothed edges of the leaves. Although I do not recommend you cultivate them in your garden as they do in Europe, I would love for you take a second look and embrace their beauty and usefulness in nature and in the kitchen.