I make a point to eat a dandelion every day. The whole plant is edible, from the sunny top to the deep taproot and all the stem, stalk and leaf in between. There are ways to eat dandelions that won’t contort your face with bitterness but rather turn your frown upside down, inside out, round and round. Yes, they can taste good and be part of a delicious meal. They’re also one of the most all-around healthy foods you can eat, rich in vitamins, fiber and many other nutrients.
Fried in butter, oil or bacon, the sunny flowers taste like extra-floral artichokes. The buds have a meaty chewiness and are slightly sweet, with a sunny floral taste that’s reminiscent of the plant’s smell. Like summer and fresh-cut grass.
The hollow flower stalks make great cocktail straws, bitters included. The roots can be roasted until chewy, crunchy or browned like coffee. The leaves are most of the plant. Raw and cooked, I’ve found ways to get hooked.
Native to northern Europe, dandelions specialize in colonizing disturbed areas, which humans specialize in creating. They’ve followed humans and their disturbances around the world, colonizing every continent except Antarctica. While often labeled as weeds, they don’t hang out where they don’t belong.
In a little forest patch near my house, where most of the plants and animals living there or passing through are native species and the ecosystem is roughly intact, there are no dandelions, except alongside one trail through the grove. And you sure don’t want to eat those.
The best dandelion habitats are unsprayed, overgrown lawns, which are about as disturbed as a piece of land can get. Dandelions want to help steer the ecosystem toward diversity. When you go out hunting, look for a place that wouldn’t have yellow snow in winter, if you know what I mean. Whether it’s the root, leaf, stalk or flower you seek, harvest them as cleanly as possible, bringing as little dirt home as possible.
In winter, it’s more challenging to eat dandelions. It involves more tea — and roots, if you can jump on them before the plant flowers. They need to be gathered now, in the summer, when the living is easy and the buds are open and high. Eat them fresh and stock them up for later.
Blanch and freeze. Dry the leaves and roots. Add flowers to a jar of pickled cucumbers for some quick-pickled buds. They will close up but get chewy and tangy. Add leaves to sardine salad. Make dandelion-infused oil, dandelion wine, dandelion barbecue curry, potato salad, smoothies or olives and cheese in a rolled up leaf, a tapestry of daring dandelion tapas. Here are some do-it-yourself dandelion cookery ideas for every day of the week.
Sunday: fried flowers
In a cast iron or omelet pan, fry the flowers with the yellow sides in butter, oil or bacon grease. Add garlic, salt, pepper and whatever else you can think of.
Monday: raw leaves with grapefruit
Wash, dry and chop a bunch of raw leaves. Add onion and minced or mashed garlic. Dress with olive oil and lemon juice and season with salt, copious amounts of feta or both. Toss with peeled and cut grapefruit flesh.
Tuesday: radikia, the famous Greek dandelion dish
Blanch some leaves in salted, boiling water for about 60 seconds. Transfer immediately to cold water and chill. Then drain, squeeze and chop the dandelion. Dress with lemon juice, salt and olive oil.
This is a Korean-style way to prepare dandelions. Blanch the leaves as above and dress with a sauce made of minced garlic, sesame oil, apple cider vinegar, chili powder, a pinch of sugar, fish sauce or anchovy paste and salt to taste.
Thursday: roasted roots
Excavate the root as gently as you can, loosening it as deeply as possible. Ideally, it would be before it has flowered, after which the root can get woody. Scrub it clean, chop it and roast slowly at 275 degrees until dark brown. Serve with salt, honey, chocolate or as a coffee-flavored tea.
Friday: stalking bitter bubbles
Go into the yard and pick the longest dandelion flower stalks you can. Pop off the flowers. Mix with gin and juice or tonic. Insert straw. Serve.
“Tampopo” means dandelion in Japanese. It’s also the name of a movie heroine, a hapless maker of mediocre ramen, in “Tampopo,” a masterful Japanese comedy from 1985. The heroes attempt to teach her how to make ramen but can’t. Drama and hilarity ensue. I only found out about it when I searched for dandelion ramen to see if I invented it. But no, I am not the first person to add dandelion to a high-end ramen, like Nongshim or Sapporo Ichiban brands, with an egg cracked toward the end. Use any part of the plant, including leaves and roots. As long as it’s clean, add it to the pot.
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