Dandelion greens. Not the flowers or stems or the puffy white seeds kids love to blow (thereby complicating your eradication efforts). Just the long, green leaves that grow toward the base of the plant. Because though we know it better as a weed, since prehistory the leaves of this plant have been gathered and consumed around the world.
Americans have been cooking with them for many years. In fact, Fannie Farmer included them in the first edition (1896) of her classic cookbook.
The taste is a cross between arugula and kale — slightly bitter and robustly peppery. They are about a foot long with a saw-tooth edge. Why try them? So-called bitter greens (of which dandelion leaves are just one of many at grocers today) work so well with so many of the flavours you already love. They go particularly well with rich, even fatty ingredients, helping to cut through those flavours much the way acid (think lemon juice) does.
A note about foraging. First, be careful. Never eat anything from an area that could have been sprayed with herbicides or other lawn treatments. Second, while wild dandelion greens are perfectly edible, they tend to be shorter and slightly more bitter than the cultivated variety found in grocers.
Dandelion greens can be refrigerated in a plastic bag for several days. For longer storage, trim the bottoms and stand in a glass of water in the refrigerator. If you find the bitterness a bit too much for you, you can cut the bitterness by blanching the greens for a minute in boiling water.
Stymied for how to use them? Consider them for any recipe you'd normally used arugula, or even baby spinach. For example, dandelion greens would be delicious mixed into the cheese of a lasagna or stuffed pasta shells. Need more ideas? Try these, as well as my recipe for cornbread studded with chopped dandelion greens, corn kernels and whole cumin seeds.
— In the South, chopped fresh dandelion leaves are a classic addition to stewed pork. Or mix it up by adding to pork meatballs or a pork-based chili.
— Add a handful of chopped raw leaves to your salad, but balance the bitterness with crunchy croutons and soft goat cheese and hard-boiled eggs.
— For a delicious side, serve the greens raw by the bowlful. Make a lemon vinaigrette (blended with an anchovy), then heat and drizzle it over.
— Saute the greens with a bit of olive oil, garlic and onions, then toss with cooked pasta and as much grated Parmesan and cracked pepper as you can handle.
— For a cooked side, saute the greens with a bit of garlic and bacon, then dress with lemon juice, salt and pepper.
CUMIN-DANDELION GREEN CORNBREAD
Start to finish: 45 minutes
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 cups chopped fresh dandelion greens (about 1/2 bunch)
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups milk
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, melted
2 large eggs
1 cup frozen or canned corn kernels
Heat the oven to 375 F. Place a 9-by-9-inch metal baking pan or 9-inch cast-iron skillet in the oven to heat.
Meanwhile, in another large skillet over medium-high, heat the oil. Add the dandelion greens, cumin and red pepper flakes. Saute until the stalks are tender and any extra liquid has evaporated, about 10 minutes. Drizzle the greens with the lemon juice, toss well, then set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, sugar and salt.
In another bowl, whisk together the milk, butter and eggs. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry, stirring only enough to moisten the dry ingredients.
Gently stir the dandelion greens and corn into the batter. Remove the heated pan from the oven and coat with cooking spray. Spoon the batter into the pan and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until golden. Cool in the pan.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 270 calories; 100 calories from fat (37 per cent of total calories); 11 g fat (5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 65 mg cholesterol; 37 g carbohydrate; 7 g protein; 3 g fiber; 520 mg sodium.
J.M. Hirsch is the national food editor for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JM_Hirsch.Suggest a correction