Guess what? It’s a great time to pick dandelions. No, not to de-weed the lawn, like you were grudgingly made to as a kid to pitch in with household chores. To eat them! Because they’re great right now. Wait for them to grow a few more weeks and they’ll be more brittle and less palatable. And check out this comparison:
Shown above are misspelled dandelion greens on sale at Met Grocery store in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. These long, gangly bunches don’t look terribly tough or promising of bitterness, but at $1.79/lb, they’re more expensive than the version that grows between the cracks of the sidewalks. (Yes, it’s the very same plant.) I prefer to pick mine a few blocks away, in Prospect Park. Here’s what they look like now:
As you can see, these ones are smaller, a bit more silky and elastic in texture, and lighter green in color. And since they’ve just been picked, carefully so as to choose only the young, tender-looking leaves, they’re also fresher and better-tasting. The free greens win! By a landslide.
If I sound like I’m over-stating the obvious so far, then I apologize. You are the enlightened few to wild edibles. Most people think I’m nuts when I start talking about how I cooked with something I plucked in the park, or — gasp — ate it fresh. If you’ve ever gone on a Wildman Steve Brill tour, or another foraging tour led by an experienced wild edibles expert, then you know how great not only dandelions are, but a whole world of wild shoots, leaves, fruits and roots. You also know that there’s nothing to be afraid of by eating a lot of them, once they’ve passed the twenty-four hour test. (See, I was told by expert Tim Keating a year or so ago to try just a small amount of something wild, then wait twenty-four hours first. If you experience no physical reactions, then you’re not allergic.) You also know that wild plants are pure of the chemical pesticides that conventional produce is sometimes grown with. And you are also not afraid of dirt, dog urine or other public park residue, because when you actually look at a leaf and pick it up, you can pretty much tell in a second if it’s been contaminated in that way. Plus, with this recipe at least, I’m soaking, rinsing, blanching, sauteeing then baking the greens, so how much cleaner do you want them to get? You know all this already, because you, my friend, are awesome.
But what you might not know (and what I hope Mr. Brill and Mr. Keating would be proud of me for) is that dandelion greens make one delightful little pocket pastry. Dandelions are such a versatile green. They’re not as sharp as arugula, and have a grassy, almost herbal quality — a little close to parsley, I tend to think. But once cooked, they’re fairly mild in flavor. You can sautee them with garlic (or other ingredients), toss them into soups, or eat them fresh in a salad. This time I blanched them, sauteed them with some cream and onions, then stuffed them inside a buttery pastry. I’ll admit the shape of these turnovers look a little familiar to my recent Jamaican patties; rolling dough into ovals just seems the easiest way to make stuffed pastries to me. Phyllo dough might make a fabulous wrapper, too. Or what about a dandelion quiche, or omelette? The possibilities are endless.
[Tip: these are great for wrapping and freezing, then re-heating for a quick lunch.]
Wild Dandelion Turnovers
for the filling:
6-8 oz. fresh dandelion greens, trimmed of long stems, soaked in cold water, and rinsed (to remove dirt)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
1 tablespoon butter
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 tablespoon flour
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of nutmeg
for the pastry:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cubed
1-2 tablespoon cold water
1/2 teaspoon salt
optional: egg wash or milk for brushing
Make the pastry: Sift flour and salt and cut in butter in a food processor or with a pastry cutter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs no larger than a pea. Add cold water a small spoonful at a time just until moist enough to form a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and chill while making the filling.
Heat up a large pot of water and prepare an ice water bath in a large bowl. Once pot of water is boiling, add the dandelions and cook for 1 minute. Remove with tongs and immediately place into the ice bath for another minute. Drain and squeeze excess water from dandelions. Chop roughly.
Cook the onions and butter in a saucepan on medium-low heat for about 4 minutes, until softened. Add the flour and stir thoroughly. Add the dandelions and stir. Add the cream and cook, stirring about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste and pinch of nutmeg. Taste, adjusting seasoning as desired. Remove from heat and let cool.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Divide chilled pastry into 6 equal balls and roll each one out to about 6-inch ovals. Fill one side of each oval with an equal allotment of the filling. Fold over the other side of the pastry, and crimp the edges shut with a fork. Brush tops of pastries with optional egg wash or milk (for a golden color). Place on an ungreased baking sheet and bake for about 25 minutes, until edges are lightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool 10 minutes before serving.
(for 6 turnovers)
6-8 oz. foraged wild dandelions: $0
1/3 cup chopped onion: $0.15
7 tablespoons butter (at $4/pint): $0.88
1/2 cup heavy cream (at $2.99/pint): $0.75
1 1/2 cups flour: $0.35
1 garlic clove, salt and pepper, pinch of nutmeg: $0.15
Four brownie points: There’s another reason I eat dandelion greens, aside from giving my mom a heart attack when she reads this post; they’re really, really healthy. They have tons of vitamins and minerals, including iron, fiber, Vitamins A, E and C, and apparently have more calcium per cup than cottage cheese “but only 34 calories.” When I was introduced to the plant during my first foraging tour, I was told they’re also great antioxidants and immune system-boosters, like many dark greens. But along with the really good, there’s some really bad here. The butter and cream. Oh, the butter and cream. At the very least, a little more calcium, perhaps?
Six brownie points: If you grew up anywhere near a lawn, then I probably don’t need to tell you that dandelions are invasive weeds, and they grow back, and back, and back. On Wildman Steve Brill’s site, he explains how often, the more you try to rid dandelions, the more they grow back. Plus, they’re well adapted to “disturbed habitats,” like, for instance, a city. So in case you were wondering all along in this post, no, I’m not decimating wildlife by picking some of these to eat.