I can’t think of a better blend of high and low culinary cultures (haute and “not”) than this fragrant late-spring vegetable dish. Nor a better time to cook it than Earth Day. Happy “green” eating, everyone — with maybe a little orange on the side.
I took another “Wildman” Steve Brill tour of Prospect Park last Saturday. For those unfamiliar with this particular New York legend, Brill regularly hosts ecology and wild edibles tours of public parks throughout the tri-state area. I toured Prospect Park with him at around the same time last spring/early summer, and this refresher course was just what I needed in order to cook up something new.
Matt snatches some wild garlic
At this time of the year, late spring, there are so many delicate, floppy leafy greens sprouting up on the turf coyly waiting for someone to come by and take a nibble. But I don’t recommend you just go out there on your own unless you really know what you’re picking. There are books to help you out with that — several by Brill himself. However, if you’re just looking for some peppery, zingy dandelion greens, then alright. Go ahead and grab yourself fistfuls of it. You probably know what they look like well enough, if you had to help your parents pluck them from grass like I did as a child to “weed” the lawn. These greens, which are soft and mild-tasting now, and thicker and more bitter later in the summer, are exactly the same wild variety you’ll get for $1.50/lb and upwards at the Union Square Greenmarket and other specialty stores around the city. So dig in.
more weeds gone wild: hedge garlic (left, not used in recipe) and young, spring violet leaves (right)
But this time around, it was the ultra-delicate, silken texture of the violet greens that really stole the show for me on the tour. Eaten raw, they were mildly sweet, without virtually any trace of bitterness. When they absorbed a little oil, they were heavenly. No wonder Brill decided to name his own daughter after the plant (actually, he’s got a whole story behind that naming, which you’ll doubtless hear if you take his tour).
Last year I made a simple salad of dandelion greens and other little weeds I gathered on the tour. I guess I’m really taking my time here learning about wild edibles and how to cook them, because this dish is a really simple, quick sautee. Some slivered, crisp and juicy carrots went into the pan with butter and shallots first. Five minutes later, I added the greens and wilted them for no more than about a minute. And lastly, as a finishing touch on the plate, I drizzled some of that enormously flavorful (and expensive) argan oil I brought back from Morocco on top.
a potent bottle of “liquid gold” (aka argan oil)
I realize that I basically killed the almost perfect “green”ness rating I could have given this recipe without that final flourish of global decadence. Or did I? Wait, I bought the argan oil in Essaouairia, in the only region of the world where the stuff is made, and I flew it back to the states with me. Hm. I can’t figure out if that kills my 100-mile diet. In any case, if you don’t have the luxury of splurging on argan oil, I might try a flavorful nut oil as a substitute, or simply your favorite extra-virgin olive oil.
Sauteed Carrots, Dandelion Greens and Violet Greens with Argan Oil
(makes 1 serving, or 2 sides)
2 medium carrots, sliced thinly on a bias
1 bunch tender spring dandelion greens
1 bunch tender spring violet greens
1 shallot, sliced thinly
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
pinches of salt and pepper
1/4 cup water
1-2 teaspoons argan oil
Melt butter in a medium saucepan and add shallots. Cook on low heat for about 1 minute. Add the carrots, stir to coat evenly and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Add the water and cover. Open cover after approximately 3 minutes. Carrots should be just tender and have darkened a little in color. Cover and cook a little longer if necessary (depending on how thinly the carrots are sliced). Add a pinch of salt and pepper each and all the greens. Toss a couple times until the greens have absorbed some of the butter and have wilted. Add the vinegar and cook, stirring for another minute. Taste for seasoning, adding a tiny more salt and pepper if desired.
Remove from pan and plate onto a serving tray. Drizzle the argan oil on top and serve.
2 carrots (at $1/lb): $0.40
1 shallot (at $5/lb): $0.15
1 bunch each of foraged dandelion greens and violet greens: FREE
1-2 teaspoons argan oil (I had to bargain heavily in Morocco, but at about $4 US/5ml bottle): $0.70
1 teaspoon vinegar, pinches of salt and pepper: $0.08
One brownie point: I can’t tell you how healthy both dandelion and violet greens are for you (oh wait, maybe that’s the point of this Health Factor rating). Packed with tons of heart-healthy vitamins and antioxidants thought to help prevent cancer and boost your immune system, which is especially helpful when living in the toxic urban environments, these greens are practically free medicine.
Eight maple leaves: I’m leaving some room here before going up to nine maple leaves, because then what would a perfect ten be? This rating system is still in its infancy, and I don’t want to blow it out of proportion just yet. But I did want to make something extra earth-friendly today in honor of Earth Day, so the ingredients in this one all came strictly from the Greenmarket and its adjacent Prospect Park, save for the salt and pepper, and aforementioned argan oil.
Just because it’s Earth Day, I thought I’d share this photo of a trash can in Prospect Park, taken around 4:30pm last Saturday. Need I say more?