Those dandelion greens are strong stuff.
Dandelion greens are excellent for you – they’re nature’s answer to winter’s famine, chock full of potassium and calcium and vitamins K and C and A. They’re also the food of fools, fools I tell you! Or at least fools that shop at farmer’s markets, because we looked at their gorgeous display and said, “Ooo! Those look interesting! Let’s try some, shall we?” Wherein we proceeded to pay $2 for a bunch, and then got home and weeded $40 worth (at farmer’s market prices) out of our overgrown, pesticide-free lawn and threw them in the yard bin. Sigh. We ain’t so bright.
The ones at the market are toothier than the ones in your lawn, though:
and at least we know (or can hope) they don’t have dog pee on them. If you’re picking them yourself, also be aware that they seriously resemble another plant called sowthistle, especially when young. Sowthistle’s leaves are wider than dandelion’s and often have a bit of purple in them, but they’re almost identical in a young plant – in older plants, the flowers even look almost the same, but sowthistle will grow a huge leaf-lined stalk up the center (as high as six feet in our untended garden) where dandelions will stay pretty low to the ground and just grow their flowers in the center. Dandelion leaves sprout up in a little circle, with bright green toothy leaves and a very tough root that can run very deep. Roots and flowers are edible as well, but not in this post.
But wow are they bitter. Some people describe them as peppery, which I suppose they are, but I find them more straight up bitter than spicy or peppery. It’s a little like when you take a bite of walnut shell accidentally, but not nutty. Of all things, there’s a plastic undertone to the bitterness, like you’ve eaten something that just came off an industrial belt. I’m really selling these, aren’t I?
Yeah, well, they’re not my favorite. Cooked, they do become a more interesting thing. They add a nice sharpness to bland dishes, and I imagine they’d be stellar in some sort of soup or spicy dish, but here’s where a confession needs to take place: I can’t eat spicy foods. Red pepper flakes? Out. Chili powder? Nope. Indian food? Hahahahahahahaha! I like horseradish and garlic and a lot of root-based ingredients that add a little strength, but I can’t take the heat, people. (Exit the kitchen jokes here.) So my choices are limited in terms of recipes to try, since there seems to be a bit of a spice consensus in the canon.
We tried them two ways. First, we followed the “always wilt them” advice some experts touted, which involves cooking them in boiling water for about 5 minutes. This leaches out a lot of the bitterness. They were then sauteed in garlic and olive oil, tossed with pasta, olive oil, balsamic, and, because it makes all bitter greens better, bacon. Delicious! As I said, they add a nice sharpness and a good counterpunch to the smoky, slightly sweet bacon. I imagine a vegetarian option without bacon would be just as nice if you used a balsamic glaze rather than straight vinegar – something a bit thick and syrupy to play off the greens.
We also shredded them up and tossed them with regular spring greens into a regular salad with tomato and avocado. That’s where the yowza comes in. I repeat, yowza! That’s some bitter stuff for you right there. Frankly, they ruined the salad. We picked out the tomato and avocado and couldn’t even eat the regular greens anymore because we were so scared of spearing a dandelion green accidentally. Supposedly really young dandelion leaves are much nicer raw, which makes sense, and I vaguely recall trying a dandelion green salad recipe in the past, I think something like Dandelion Salad with Warm Hazelnut Vinaigrette that was edible at least, helped by the hot dressing, but yeah. Raw is out for me from now on.
Trim? The stems can get a little tough when the leaves are old, but in general, especially if you’re cooking them, they’ll soften up when you cook them, so most trimming is unnecessary.
Edible when raw? If you like the taste of ear wax, baking soda, or aluminum foil… Young leaves might not be so bad, and old leaves certainly won’t kill you, but if you’re hesitant about trying new foods, definitely start with cooking them.
Worth the price of organic? Probably. I can’t imagine someone who sells dandelion greens (a specialty item to be sure) being crazy heavy on the pesticides, and they’re tough little suckers, as anyone with a yard knows, but on the other hand, you’re eating nothing but the greens which means you’re getting nothing but the surface area that’s been sprayed. I’d go organic, or at least “No Spray.”
In season: Spring through early summer.
Best with: Garlic, bacon, red pepper flakes, balsamic – preferably strong flavors with a sweet edge that can counterbalance the greens’ bitterness.
How to Store: In the fridge, washed, they should keep for about a week or even longer. They’re quite hardy.