Food

Dandelions 101

Mixing bitterness with pleasure

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Our country was born loving dandelions, having been brought—intentionally—on the Mayflower by the pilgrims, presumably as an easy source of nutrition, but also perhaps for its medicinal value as a digestive aid and blood thinner.

Somewhere along our personal journeys, grownups manage to convince us dandelions are bad, because of what they do to the grass monocultures most Americans cultivate instead of food.

Eating dandelions make me feel good, so it isn’t surprising to learn they are full of nutrients like carotenes, antioxidants, calcium, and Vitamin A.

The entire plant is edible, from the tip of its tenacious taproot to the bright yellow pollen in the blossom. While bitter is the dominant flavor, there is complexity as well. The flowers have an aromatic flavor that has been likened to banana or licorice.

There are two basic approaches to dandelion eating: bury the bitter flavor, or work with it. Either way, a rich sauce is involved. Most examples of burying involve cooking, while the more daring approaches leave the plant raw. My family consumes bitter greens with a salad dressing of olive oil (two part) soy sauce (one part) and mixed vinegars (balsamic, cider, white, lime; one part).

But for many of us, the right sauce may be that into which we dip our batter-fried dandelion blossoms. I batter mine with a hint of the ocean, using Tony Chachere’s seasoned Creole fish fry mix, which contains a mix of corn flour and cornmeal, in addition to seasonings.

I make an egg wash so the batter will stick to the dandelion flowers. It contains one beaten egg with a splash of cream, a shake of garlic powder, a few drops of fish sauce and a teaspoon of oyster sauce. I dump the Creole corn coating in a pan, and go outside for some dandelions.

To deep-fry open or closed flowers, first wash them and let them dry. Drop the blossoms in the egg wash, pull them out one at a time, and roll each flower in the breading.

Heat an inch of olive oil to 300 degrees, and drop the flowers in. Cook until they are golden brown all around. Remove and drain.

Another approach to eating dandelions is to just eat the yellow petals. They can be added raw to anything, from salad to sushi to pancakes. They make a striking garnish for a soup, and the way they dress up rice is perhaps my favorite way to eat dandelion flowers.

Whole dandelion buds can be added too, raw or cooked, to any dish at virtually any point, as can the leaves, typically chopped. Topped with some crumbled nori sheets, soy sauce, sesame oil and hot sauce, the bitter flavors disappear.

My wife’s favorite cooked dish is dandelion-leaf mashed potatoes. The bitter power of the dandelion can give pizzaz to the bland, and balance any strong flavor, be it spicy, sweet, salty or fatty, and even more bitter.

The key is to get yourself some dandelion parts from a young plant that hasn’t been sprayed by the nozzle of a pesticide applicator or territorial animal. This can be a challenge, but it’s possible to find pristine specimens in public spaces throughout the summer. They are free, handy and, frankly, they are pretty dandy.

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