Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Dutch Oven Dandelion Delicacies, part 1

Late last summer, I had read online where people actually cook and eat dandelions.  I was both repulsed and intrigued.  I had actually heard of it in the past, but this time I saw some recipes and processes that caught my eye, and I determined to try it.

Unfortunately, at the time, It was kinda difficult to find the cute yellow flowers in bloom.  Most in my neighborhood were well into seed at that point.

So, today, I was driving home and I happened to notice that the dandelion flowers were really budding out in force.  It was also a bright, warm, sunny day (and we’ve had precious few of those lately), so I decided to jump on the opportunity and take a chance.

Of course, I had never cooked them before, nor had I ever eaten them.  So, it was kind of a wild shot that it would even work, that it would even taste good.  I tried two different dishes, one with the greens and one with the flower.  They were not only edible, but even palatable.  It was an odd taste.  It had tones of sweet and savory, depending on the dish, and also an underlying tone of bitter.  But the bitter was really just an edge, rather than the whole flavor.  Like I said, it was odd.  I don’t think it’s for everyone.  In the end, I liked it.

I also need to explain.  Since this was the first time I’d tried it, there were things in the process that I think I did wrong.  Well, not so much “wrong”, per se, but “not in the best order”.  So, I’m writing this from the point of view of how I would do it next time.

Dandelion Greens

8” Dutch Oven

10-12 coals below

10” Dutch Oven

14-16 coals below

1 12” collander filled to heaping with rinsed and trimmed dandelion greens.
~2  cups  water
2 tbsp salt

1 lb bacon
1 med onion
3 cloves garlic

crushed red pepper
lemon or lime juice

The first step is to gather the dandelion plants.  I went foraging in our neighborhood.  I’ll bet I looked like quite a sight, with my box of flowers and my hand shovel.  I looked for plants that had lots of bushy leaves, and plenty of large round flowers.  I also tried to look in places where I didn’t think people would have sprayed with herbicides.  I didn’t want to be eating toxic chemicals.  I got a few from my own yard, but not many because I had just mowed, so the leaves on most plants were chopped short already.  When I found a plant I wanted, I just dug it until the root snapped and tossed the whole thing  in my box.

It’s good to get a whopping lot of dandelion plants for this project, because after you trim the leaves from the root structure, and then after those leaves cook down, there really isn’t much there.  So, start with lots and you’ll end up with plenty.

Were I doing this again, I would prepare the greens first, and take my sweet time doing it.  After lighting up some coals on my porch, I would work at my sink.  I would grab a dandelion plant and first snap off any usable flowers, then rinse the remaining plant many times over.  I’d separate the leaves from the longer flower stems and tear the leaves off just above where the green leaf starts to grow from the stem.  Then, I’d rinse those leaves again and toss them into the collander.  I’d repeat this process for all of the plants I’d harvested.

At this point, the coals would probably be ready and I’d put them under the 8” Dutch oven with the water and the salt.  I’d let that come to a boil.  I’d also put more fresh coals in my side fire to light for the flower fritters.

While that was getting to boil, I’d put more coals underneath my 10” Dutch oven, and put in the bacon, cut into short 1” bits.  Then, I’d dice or slice the onion and mince the garlic.

Once the bacon was getting crispy, I’d use a spoon and pull out most of the drippings.  I’d toss in the onion and the garlic to saute.

By now, the water would be boiling, so I’d add in the greens, a bit at a time.  I’d let that boil again, cooking for about 10-15 minutes more.

While the greens are boiling and the onions and bacon are still sauteing, I’d make the flower fritters (see below).  Once the greens are done and tender, I would lift them out with tongs and put them back in the collader over the Dutch oven to drain a bit.  Finally, I’d toss them into the 10” Dutch oven and stir it all up, sizzling it for a few minutes more.  I would add in the seasonings here, too, with particular emphasis on the lemon or lime juice.  That goes a long way in tempering the bitter. I had also thought that balsamic vinegar would taste great instead.

At that point, things really don’t need to “cook” any more.  It’s all done, you’re just combining it and merging the flavors.  Just serve it up.  This really is a veggie side dish.  In this case, since I was just trying it out, I served it up on plate by with the flower fritters.

My son had been very skeptical, but even he was impressed in the end.

Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including MarkHansenMusic.com and his MoBoy blog.

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