Think of dandelions and visions of a weed-infested garden, a fun spring day or even a not-so-fun night of wetting the bed are likely to arise. Yet, how about as a food? The entire dandelion plant is edible, from the golden blossoms to the roots to the leaves, but the green cannot shake its reputation as an obnoxious weed that should be ignored, not relished. According to Michael Castleman’s book The New Healing Herbs,
“The FDA continues to treat dandelion as a weed. The agency’s official position is that “there is no convincing reason for believing it possesses any therapeutic virtues.” … “'What is a weed?'” [Ralph Waldo] Emerson wrote. “A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”’ As far as dandelion is concerned, truer words were never penned, although its virtues have been well-documented. ”
The dandelion plant used to be considered, and by many still is considered, an herb. Dandelion greens themselves are high in iron, calcium, Vitamins A, C, K and B2 among other vitamins and minerals, and at one point were used for medicine. On top of that, they also contain more protein and iron than spinach. Dandelion greens are also a diuretic, which is where the old tale that dandelions cause bed-wetting came about. (The French slang word for dandelion, pissenlit, literally means piss in the bed.) But, besides assisting with urination, dandelion can help against cancer, inflammation and the immune system.
Whether weed, herb or flower, dandelions are a great addition to the diet. They can be picked by hand out of the backyard, but this is not highly recommended (especially if they were sprayed with anything or around any dogs), but the greens can also be found in a local Whole Foods or heath food stores. They are bitter, so be aware of their flavor before taking a big bite of a dandelion salad.
Here are just a few ways to cook with its rich, nutritious greens.
1. Sauteed or Braised
Sautéing and braising are simple and delicious ways to cook dandelion greens. A great compliment to a bitter green is sautéing with olive oil, and lots of garlic. Or, take it one step further by adding pancetta or bacon and braising in a little chicken stock. For a softer texture, braising would be the way to go.
There is also a nice complement to be had between a bitter green and a creamy, subtle bean. White beans such as cannellini, great northern and navy work nicely with dandelion greens. You can add the greens to a white bean salad, stew or even soup for that extra flavor and nutrition.
Mark Bittman: Dandelion Greens with Double Garlic
Emeril Lagasse: Garlic Braised Dandelion Greens with White Bean Puree and Crispy Pancetta
Just a nice citrusy vinaigrette will do the trick to balance the bitterness of a raw dandelion greens salad. Eating them raw may be an acquired taste, so don't be disappointed if you do not like them prepared this way.
3. With Eggs
Greens, melted cheese, fluffy eggs and maybe even a couple other vegetables are the perfect mix for a great healthy and hearty meal. An easy and familiar way to incorporate dandelion greens into breakfast (or any meal) would be including them in an omelet, frittata, quiche or tart. Try substituting spinach with dandelions the next time you whip up breakfast.
Pesto is one of those glorious sauces that is easy to make, but the balance of ingredients is critical. And for a dandelion pesto, it is really important because the bitterness of the greens can overpower the other flavors. Try using a recipe as a base with a little heavy cream, adjusting the flavors little by little to your taste; it should downplay the intensity of the pesto.
5. Just throw it in
Throw some dandelion greens into a soup just as you would kale, chard or any other tough green. And as you might expect, dandelion greens work really well in a bean based soup such as lentil or pasta fagioli.
Dandelion greens also mix well in pasta dishes. Varieties of chicory (a relative of dandelions), or cicoria in Italian, are grown throughout Italy and have been a staple in the diet of la cocina povera for centuries, including many pasta dishes.
For a quick meal, mix the braised or sautéd dandelion greens with cooked pasta, a spoonful of pasta water and grated parmigiano or romano cheese.