Last weekend at the cottage I braved the wet weather and went out hunting for mushrooms. I had hoped that this slightly warm and very wet spring would mean an abundance of morels. Either they aren’t out yet or I was looking in the wrong places. I did find–you’d have to be blind not to–an abundance of one the spring’s most interesting wild treats: dandelions.
Foraging for dandelion greens isn’t as easy as spotting the obvious yellow flowers and taking the leaves that surround them. Younger leaves are much preferred because as the plant diverts energy to producing flowers the greens begin to taste very bitter and are no longer very good for use in salads. If you can’t just look for yellow you need to get a sense of what the leaves themselves look like. Easily done by finding an example that has flowered and then searching out its neighbours (usually in shadier spots) that aren’t as far along.
I guess that Toronto’s ban on pesticides is good news for the urban forager. I picked mine from an area (well outside of Toronto) that I know has not been chemically treated in the recent past–if at all. If I were going to eat leaves taken from city lawns I would want to be absolutely sure that they had not been treated and would stay away from ones that are closer to the street and therefore are exposed to exhaust and road spray.
I admit that eating “weeds” seems like taking local eating a bit too far. Apparently, dandelion greens are very nutritious and more to the point they do taste quite good. The taste is quite bitter–more so for leaves from plants that have started to divert energy to the flowers–but this is mellowed by blanching them and perfectly sets off the flavour of a little butter and lemon juice added at the very end of cooking. The flowers, roots, and crowns are also edible.
Like the vegetables that are harvested from the garden particular attention needs to be paid to thoroughly washing all grit and dirt from the dandelion leaves. To cook my foraged greens I simply blanched them in a pot of salted water that had been brought a rolling boil and then finished them in a pan with butter, lemon juice, and a bit of finely minced garlic.
Dandelion Greens with Butter and Garlic
- a medium size basin of dandelion green, very well washed (I guess this was probably about 1.5 lbs but please don’t run around your backyard with a kitchen scale weighing your basket after each addition. Aim to collect a bit more than you think you should because dandelion greens wilt much like spinach when cooked)
- a knob of butter, approximately 2 tsp
- 2 cloves of garlic very finely minced
- a generous pinch of kosher salt
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Submerge greens and cook for ten minutes.
- Melt butter in a medium sized pan. Remove greens from water and squeeze with tongues to remove some of the water.
- Put greens in melted butter, sprinkle with salt and garlic and cook for about two minutes, stirring occasionally, until garlic has mellowed and the greens have been coated with butter.