Friday, May 13, 2011

Dandy Dandelions

Pity the American dandelion! In countries across the world the dandelion is considered a delicious vegetable and is consumed with affection. It has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries. In America, it is most often cursed as an bothersome weed and is dug out, pulled, poisoned and otherwise generally maligned.  
Dandelions are one of the most nutritionally dense foods you can eat.
Knowing when to pick them and how to use them is key. If you pick a dandelion leaf that is not a new leaf and pop it in your mouth . . . .  it will be terribly bitter.
It is best to harvest the leaves when they are brand new. The best time seems to be in the early spring before they bloom. The bitterness is offset by a spicy twang that is much like arugula. You can even tame the bitterness of the more mature leaves by blanching them. If you live in an area that gets frost in the fall (we do not) you are in luck. The older leaves loose some bitterness after a frost.
In harvesting be sure to avoid areas that have been treated with lawn chemicals. Do not use dandelions along highways or roads. These plants (like most) accumulate pollutants. 
The roots of dandelions can be used as a substitute for coffee. The flowers can be used in recipes and for garnishes. Creme de pissenlits (cream of dandelion soup) is an easy to make dandelion soup. Dandelion syrup is also easy to make. Both recipes follow.
2 pounds (about 6 cups) dandelion greens, trimmed and washed
1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
4 cups vegetable stock
2 large leeks, white and light parts only, cleaned and sliced
1 carrot, cleaned and diced
2 1/2 cups milk
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Dandelion buds and/or flower petals for garnish

1. If using more mature or very bitter tasting greens, blanch them in a pot of boiling salted water, then drain and squeeze out the excess water, chop and set aside.
2. Heat butter or oil in a large pot over medium high heat, add greens, carrot and leeks and cook, stirring often, for 15 minutes.
3. Add stock and simmer for about 15 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and whisk in milk, cook stirring frequently, until slightly thickened.
4. Puree mix in a tightly-covered blender until smooth, taking care with the hot liquid. Season with salt and pepper, and add Dijon if you like.
5. Serve in bowls and garnish with flowers or buds.

100 dandelion flowers, or 1 and 1/2 cups petals
1 cup sweetener (see below)
3 cups water
Juice of 1/2 lemon (optional)

1. Remove the petals from the sepal (the sepal consists of the small tight leaves that extend from the stem and grasp the flower). It takes a while to get the hang of, but gets much quicker as you go along. Be sure to not allow any green into the petals, it will add bitterness to the syrup. Rinse to get rid of any insects or dirt.

2. Place the petals in a medium pot and cover with 3 cups water and bring to a simmer. Turn off the heat, cover and let set overnight.

3. Strain dandelion water into a bowl, pressing on the flowers with the back of a spoon to extract all the liquid.

4. Return water to pot and add sweetener, and lemon juice if using, and simmer over low heat until thickened. The longer you simmer the thicker it will get. So stir and

5. Allow to cool, and pour into a clean, sterile* jar or bottle. Store covered in refrigerator.
Makes about 2 cups
*Sterilize: Wash in soapy water and then heat in oven @ about 130-150 degrees for 30 minutes. Throw the lids in a pot of boiling water for 15 mins.
Traditionally white sugar is used, but here are some alternatives. (H/T to Melissa Breyer Senior Editor @ Care2 Green She played around with some other alternatives, all with quite different results. Here is what she found:

White sugar made a syrup with a faint taste of vanilla and very slightly nutty, it was really just mostly sweet and somewhat plain.

Sucanat, one of my favorite sweeteners, was, as I expected, too heavy in flavor to let the subtle dandelion taste shine through. That said, it was very interesting; like an herbaceous molasses.

Honey has that smooth edge that became more pronounced after simmering. I used a mild clover honey and the result was like a somewhat spicy and grassy honey.

Agave syrup worked beautifully because it is such a clean-tasting sweetener—the syrup made with agave was sweet and clean, with bright green undertones.

So pick your dandelions, pick your sweetener and make some syrup!

More details about dandelions can be found at Coffee Grounds and Eggshells. It is quite interesting stuff!

GRAPHIC OF SYRUP: Happy Self Sufficient 

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