Friday, May 4, 2012

Dandelions? Yum!

So I think that my mind and body have been frozen in a state of laziness for the past, oh, month or so. Let me explain: Somewhere around the middle of March, the weather got so beautiful, hot and sunny, that my mind convinced the rest of me of the imminent coming of summer, and end of the deep cold of winter. I opened the windows to air out the house. I started rounding up hats, mitts and scarves, along with the winter coats and boots, ready to store back in the attic for another year. I let the cats run free as I watched the last bits of snow melting from the yard, looking forward to seeing crocuses and tulips emerging from the ground soon. In short, I was too eager. Not a week later, the temperature dropped back down again. As a result, I got a nasty cold, which stifled my creativity, so even if I was in the mood to make something, my body quickly put on the brakes.
 Finally, a sign of spring, enough to pull me out of my funk and get the creative juices flowing again - the hearty dandelion. You might be wondering, "Wow, the winter has really messed with your brain. How could the lowly dandelion, enemy of good and green lawns everywhere, be inspiring?!" In my kitchen, it makes for our first harvest of the year. Yup, we eat the stuff, and it is delicious. 

Now, I do have to mention a disclaimer here: I live in a quieter area just past the edge of town, am very aware of the animal traffic in my yard and don't use any sprays of any kind. Be aware of your grass before picking and consuming any part of the dandelions on your lawn. If you have frequent dog traffic, or spray your grass in any way for anything, DO NOT consume your dandelions. Come eat mine instead.
 Now that that's taken care of, on to the picking. Dandelion leaves are bitter by nature, but more so once they have flowered, so now is the time for harvesting. Choose small, tender leaves on plants that have buds, and pick by hand. Try to avoid getting too much grass, as you'll just have to sort it out later anyway.
Pick those dandelion leaves to your heart's content, or until your bowl is full, which ever comes first. Toss the contents into a sink full of water to wash away the dirt and grass, which I wasn't careful enough remove in the first place. Slosh them around a whole bunch and when you're satisfied that the leaves are clean, scoop them out of the water by hand and into a strainer or salad spinner to dry.
See how beautiful they look when they're all nice and clean? Now comes the fun part - eating them! Dandelion leaves work really well in recipes that use arugula, since the bitterness is about the same in both. I have not tried cooking with them yet, so I don't know how well they react to being heated. However, I've never really wanted to, since the resulting salad tastes to delicious!
 In the bottom of your salad bowl, whisk together 2 tbsp. olive oil, 2 tbsp. lemon juice, 1 minced clove of garlic, salt and pepper to taste. Add the dandelion leaves and toss to coat. That's it! The lemon juice and garlic compliment the bitterness of the dandelions perfectly and the whole salad tastes so fresh and delicious.
 Along with the salad, I pounded slices of pork tenderloin into cutlets which I then floured and panfried. I also made a simple pasta side with homemade tomato sauce. To serve, I topped each cutlet with the dandelion salad.
 This is a flavour revelation, if I've ever had one. The first time I tried a bite of pork tenderloin, topped with dandelion salad, I was amazed at how good the combination of taste was. You really have to try it. Really. You won't be sorry.

Every spring, once the snow melts, the first thing I know I can always look forward to, without having to plant a single seed in the ground, is a wonderful meal featuring tangy dandelion salad.
Oh, and you know that the rhubarb has begun growing too, right? Can you guess what I'll be cooking up next?