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Cooks urge weed whackers to make peace with plant by eating it

Weed loathers bent on destroying the stubborn dandelion might well try to make peace with the plant by eating it.

Go ahead and yank it out of the lawn, the cracks of sidewalks and fields - as long as no pesticides are used.

VANCOUVER -

Weed loathers bent on destroying the stubborn dandelion might well try to make peace with the plant by eating it.

Go ahead and yank it out of the lawn, the cracks of sidewalks and fields - as long as no pesticides are used.

Then wash it well and toss the stems and flowers into dishes such as salads, pastas and omelettes to add some zing and colour to everyday fare.

Fans of the plant say spring is the best time to make a meal out of it because it starts to get bitter into the late summer.

And they love the weed that others consider a pest for its ability to sprout just about everywhere, saying the whole thing - the leaves, stem and root - is edible and even nutritious.

Paolo Frau, who owns an Italian restaurant in the heart of Vancouver's so-called little Italy, grew up eating dandelions back in the old country.

"It's beautiful," he says. "You can just cook it like you cook spinach. It's the best."

Frau stir-fries dandelion stems and leaves in olive oil and eats his creation drizzled with more oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper.

"It's gold, and you get it for nothing," he says of the plant he picks from a park near his home.

Peter Hoffmann, owner of Barnston Island Herbs in Surrey, B.C., grows dandelions in a greenhouse and sells them to restaurants all year long.

But he says that just like other plants that flower in a controlled environment, they're not as strongly flavoured or as nutritionally superior as those that sprout outdoors.

Hoffman says dandelions are similar to radicchio, so they're bitter enough to add some dash to an egg dish, for example.

"I've made devilled egg, and it's a nice snack."

He's also heard of chefs pairing dandelion with roast duck for a "fantastic" meal.

"You can pull off the leaves and sprinkle it on a salad and you get a nice yellow colouring, but you also get a little bit of the bitterness in there, similar to a chive blossom with which you'd get an onion flavour."

Hoffmann says his mom recruited him as a kid to ask neighbours if he could pick dandelion leaves from their lawns for homemade wine.

"All I knew was that my mom used to dance around the kitchen when she was making dandelion wine," he says.

"Within five years it's almost like drinking whisky," he says of his wine-sneaking days as a 12-year-old boy. "It's really, really strong. And as a young individual taking the stuff you kind of shake your head and say, 'Well, it's wine so I should drink it, it's alcohol."'

Andrea Carlson, executive chef at Bishop's restaurant in Vancouver, prefers cooking the leaves of red-stemmed dandelions, which she says are not as chubby as their garden-variety cousins, but just as tasty.

"I love the look of it and the flavour," she says of the red dandelion, which diners at the restaurant are sometimes surprised to learn are edible.

"They say, 'I have some growing in my yard and spend so much time trying to get rid of it."'

"We'll add them to a dish at the last minute if we're making a saute or something like a pasta to cut through some of the other components that might be a bit richer. It might be like adding an herb or a parsley because it does cook down really easily."

"It gets a couple of tosses in with a hot item and that wilts it."

Carlson says the hearty dandelion is a good shoulder-season food at the eatery that uses as much local produce as possible.

"It's coming on right now when other things aren't available to us yet, in early spring."

Chef Andrew George, who teaches an aboriginal cooking course at Vancouver Community College, sautes dandelions just until they're wilted and throws in some shallots, garlic and white wine to serve with seafood such as seared halibut.




DANDELION Recipes

Chefs say dandelions put zing in everyday dishes from salad to pasta
Chef Andrew George, who teaches aboriginal cooking at Vancouver Community College, says dandelions are a traditional food source for First Nations and offer a versatile twist to everyday meals. He offers the following recipes using dandelion greens for you to try.
Curried Dandelion Greens With Golden Onions and Cashews
1 large onion, cut lengthwise into 5-mm (1/4-inch) wedges
90 ml (6 tbsp) olive oil, divided
10 ml (2 tsp) curry powder
5 ml (1 tsp) ground coriander
5 ml (1 tsp) ground cumin
2 ml (1/2 tsp) ground cinnamon
5 ml (1 tsp) mustard seeds
1 ml (1/4 tsp) cayenne
125 ml (1/2 cup) coarsely chopped salted roasted cashews
500 g (1 lb) spinach, tough stems discarded (about 1.5 l/6 cups)
340 g (3/4 lb) chard or spinach, stems and centre ribs discarded (about 1.25 l/5 cups)
340 g (3/4 lb) dandelion greens, any tough stems discarded (about 1 l/4 cups)
125 ml (1/2 cup) water
Salt, to taste
In a 25-cm (10-inch) heavy skillet over moderate heat, cook onion with salt to taste in 45 ml (3 tbsp) of the oil, stirring occasionally, until deep golden and some wedges are crisp, 15 to 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together spices.
Add cashews to onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until nuts are 1 shade darker, about 3 minutes. Stir in 7 ml (1 1/2 tsp) of the spice mixture and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Remove skillet from heat.
In a 5-l (25-cup) heavy pot, heat remaining 45 ml (3 tbsp) oil over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then cook remaining spice mix, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Immediately stir in the 3 greens and water and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid is evaporated and greens are tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Season with salt.
Serve greens sprinkled with onion mixture.
Makes 4 servings.
Warm Dandelion Greens Salad
340 g (3/4 lb) dandelion greens, any tough stems discarded (about 1 l/4 cups)
30 ml (2 tbsp) olive oil
45 ml (3 tbsp) red wine vinegar, divided
2 ml (1/2 tsp) salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
125 g (4 oz) smoked bacon
1 slice French or Italian bread, cubed
1 hard-boiled egg, crumbled
Wash greens and tear into small pieces. Place in a warmed salad bowl with oil and 15 ml (1 tbsp) of the vinegar. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss lightly.
Fry bacon until half cooked. Add bread cubes and fry until cubes are golden and bacon is completely cooked. Tip contents of the pan (fat and all if you want to be completely French about it) onto the greens. Toss quickly.
Pour remaining 30 ml (2 tbsp) vinegar into pan and heat rapidly. When it is bubbling fiercely, pour over greens and toss. Serve immediately with a sprinkling of the crumbled egg on top.
Makes 2 servings.
Dandelion Blossom Cake
500 ml (2 cups) flour
10 ml (2 tsp) baking powder
7 ml (1 1/2 tsp) baking soda
5 ml (1 tsp) cinnamon
5 ml (1 tsp) salt
250 ml (1 cup) sugar
250 ml (1 cup) Dandelion Blossom Syrup (recipe follows)
375 ml (1 1/2 cups) oil
4 eggs
500 ml (2 cups) dandelion blossom petals
1 can (398 ml/14 oz) crushed pineapple, drained
125 ml (1/2 cup) walnuts
125 ml (1/2 cup) coconut
Frosting (recipe follows)
In a medium bowl, sift together dry ingredients.
In a separate large bowl, beat together sugar, dandelion syrup, oil and eggs until creamy. Add pineapple, walnuts and coconut and mix well.
Stir dry ingredients into pineapple mixture until well blended.
Pour batter into a greased 3-l (9-by-13-inch) cake pan and bake in a 180 C (350 F) for about 40 minutes or until a tester inserted in cake comes out clean. Place on a wire rack to cool. Run a knife around edges, then carefully turn out of pan and frost.
Frosting
1 pkg (250 g/8 oz) cream cheese, room temperature
250 ml (1 cup) powdered sugar
15 to 30 ml (1 or 2 tbsp) milk
In a bowl, beat cream cheese. Gradually beat in sugar and enough milk to make a smooth consistency.
Source: Chef Andrew George

Organizations: Vancouver Community College, First Nations

Geographic location: VANCOUVER, Italy, Surrey

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