Picking weeds

Taraxacum officinale. Swine snout. Blowball. Lion’s tooth. Cankerwort. Puffball. Priest’s crown. Wild endive. Pissabed (Pissenlit). Tell-time.

Dandelion aliases.

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Dandelions mark the beginning of the growing season. To me, they are both a reminder and a promise that summer is happening soon, and that, in the meantime, there is dirt to rummage in and salads to be made. As soon as the first dandelions pop up, I know to put on sensible, mud-friendly shoes, and to never leave home without scissors and a large ziplock bag.

For harvesting them. Duh.

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While growing up in northwestern BC, I frequently saw people pulled off to the side of the highway, gathering dandelions in the ditch by the bucketful. At the time, it seemed like just another weird redneck thing. One day I’ll tell you all about the morning my high school science teacher brought some roadkill into class for us to dissect.

Anyways, long story short, it never occurred to me to eat dandelions until a couple summers ago, when I was kitchen manager at a small cafe. Enter dandelion flower lemonade and dandelion green salads. It was a crazy euphoric thing: to know that just outside, next to the sidewalk, next to any sidewalk, was the makings of lunch. Like the first time I grew vegetables from seed, or the first time I went dumpster diving. Sometimes the perimeters of my food world expand through small things (for example, roasted cauliflower); sometimes they expand so suddenly and dramatically that the way I approach food is transformed in the process.

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The dandelion is really the perfect plant, as it can be used in its entirety. The young leaves are like the wild brother-in-law-twice-removed of arugula, equal parts tangy and earthy. The older they get, the more crotchety they become, developing a strong bitter taste and thistle-like stubble that they refuse to shave off. The flower itself is mildly sweet, with a back note of honey and pollen. It pairs really well with citrus flavours, tempering and adding complexity to the sharp acid. The roots, once dried, roasted, and ground, can be brewed like coffee.

One quick note about gathering them. Use common sense. Early in spring is best, before people start pesticiding everything in sight. Don’t pick from otherwise-pristine yards — to me, that’s a good sign the soil is pretty toxic to weeds already. I usually look for the nooks and crannies, the places that no one cares about, leaving the dandelions to grow in peace. Alternatively, if you feel generally nervous about the whole is-it-safe-will-I-die thing, some farmers markets now sell bunches of dandelion greens and roots. I have yet to see the flowers make an appearance there, though. 

And the flower is the best part. But more to come on that later… – Rachel

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Kale and Dandelion Green Caesar Salad

Inspired by Saltie

  • 1 bunch of kale, stemmed and torn up
  • 1 bunch of dandelion greens, trimmed
  • fresh focaccia bread, cubed into half-bite-sized pieces

Dressing:

  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 1/2 Tbsp mayonnaise
  • half a bunch green onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 3 Tbsp parmesan cheese, grated (plus more to top salad)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • a handful of green olives

Massage kale leaves with a drop or two of olive oil, until they become dark green and slightly softer in texture.

Gently toss kale with dandelion greens and focaccia bread.

Whiz the dressing ingredients in a blender for 10 seconds, then pour over salad and lightly toss to coat.

Top with a few more shavings of parmesan and the handful of olives, and eat immediately.

P.S. I tend to approach salads as inspiration, rather than as precise chemical formulae. This recipe clearly makes a large bowl of salad that could feed a couple people as a meal, or more as a side. Adjust quantities as needed, and salad dressing (and ingredients) to taste. No salad should be exactly the same, like, ever.

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