"Weed" is such a strong word for poor dandelion. Although its pernicious growth leads to a bad rap in gardens, its culinary and medicinal gusto precede its infamy on manicured lawns.
Dandelions are edible in their wild and cultivated forms; they're bitter, though not ferociously so. The cultivated varieties are less brazen than their wild neighbors.
"Dandelion" is derived from the Middle English "dent-de-lioun," once removed from Middle French "dent de lion," or lion's tooth, for its maw-like leaves. Today, the French call it "pissenlit," which less poetically translates to "wet the bed." This refers to the leaves' diuretic effect, which has been harnessed to treat liver disorders and high blood pressure. Various parts of the plant are used to tackle stomach upset, inflammation and kidney disease.
Dandelion greens are higher in protein than spinach, and one of the highest sources of calcium and iron among leafy greens.
For the last several years, Harmony Valley has been growing much of Madison's dandelion greens supply, and its last planting will be harvested and sold over the next several weeks. The demand for them has been a pleasant surprise to owners Andrea Yoder and Richard de Wilde.
De Wilde and Yoder were perusing a grocery store to see what people were eating, and they unexpectedly spotted dandelion greens.
They saw an opening to offer the crop at a local level, and asked their CSA members what they thought. Somewhat to Yoder's surprise, she says, "They were very much in favor of growing them."
Harmony Valley's dandelion greens appear at both Willy Street Co-op locations, Metcalfe's, and at the Saturday Dane County Farmers' Market.
The greens are edible in their raw and most gutsy state, in salads or (for the courageous) in smoothies or juices. I can vouch for them in fermented foods - they were beautiful tossed into a beet-and-maple syrup-based kimchi.
You can take them down a notch, too, by cooking them, and even more so if you blanch them first. Yoder likes them best sautéed with olive oil and a bit of garlic or as a wilted dandelion salad with bacon and a warm vinaigrette.
Yoder's sauté is perfect straight up, or turned into a meal. Toss it with pasta, throw it into leftover soup, pile it on a hot sandwich, or throw in some eggs.
A frittata (an Italian open-faced omelet) provides immediate gratification. I'm reading An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler, and she insists that room temperature is best for a frittata: "No one has ever eaten a frittata hot and not been scolded for it."
Luckily, there was no one around to scold me when I ate it right out of my cast-iron skillet, still bubbly from the oven. And the greens? They bit back just a bit. But I liked it.
- 1 bunch dandelion greens, ends of stems removed
- 1 tablespoon garlic
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 6 eggs
- 2 tablespoons half-and-half (or substitute milk or cream depending on desired richness)
- 1/2 cup cheese (I used BellaVitano Sartori Gold Reserve)
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Whisk eggs and half-and-half together. Set aside.
In an oven-safe skillet, heat half the oil over medium heat. Sauté the greens in small batches, for about 3-5 minutes until wilted; replenish oil in between as needed. Put all cooked greens into skillet and toss in garlic, cooking 1-2 minutes until fragrant.
Spread mixture in a single layer on the bottom of the pan (make sure there is a liberal coating of oil left). Sprinkle cheese over the mixture, then pour eggs on top. Cook until eggs are just set up, then finish cooking in the oven - about 10-15 minutes until cooked through.
Serve room temperature if you can wait, but there's no shame if you can't.