As a little girl, my dad would tell me stories how his mother back in Italy would forage for dandelions and make a big salad with them. So one Spring day when I was still knee-high to a grasshopper, we decided to relive the tradition. We roamed our yard, carefully removing as many dandelions as we could find. I loved the outdoors and it was like a game hunting down the next plant. That night at dinner, I ate with pride my dandelion salad and could not wait to tell my friends.
Believe it or not, dandelions were not always considered a plague on suburban lawns everywhere. They were known for their medical qualities and, in folk medicine, were referred to as a “common herb.” Supposedly, Middle Eastern physicians in the 10th century were the first to make mention of dandelions as medicine.
Why bother eating dandelions you might ask? Well, they are incredibly good for us. They contain more protein per serving than spinach. They are high in iron, fiber, calcium, potassium, vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, and vitamin K among other things. One cup of chopped raw dandelion greens is only 25 calories and provides 112 percent of the daily requirement for vitamin A. Dandelions support digestion and reduce swelling and inflammation.
|Science, Industry and Business Library: General Collection, The New York Public Library. "Dandelion." The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1739. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47dd-c1f5-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99|
The entire dandelion plant is edible, from flower to leaves to root. If your goal is to eat the greens, select young leaves from a plant that has not yet gone to flower. Dandelions are slightly bitter, but that bitterness factor increases quite a bit once the plant goes to flower. If the plant has gone to flower, then pick the flowers. You can dip them in a light batter and fry, or make jelly, or even make wine with them. You can also sprinkle the raw petals in baked goods or on top of a salad. And, of course, the roots are edible too. Typically, they are steeped in water and enjoyed as a tea.
You can buy cultivated dandelion greens in many markets, but where is the fun in that. Your lawn can be the market. I cannot stress this enough, if you are in fact going to forage for your own dandelion deliciousness, please be aware of the source. Be certain you are harvesting them from land that hasn’t been treated with pesticides, herbicides or other contaminants. Do not pick them from public trails, roadsides, urban waste lots, or any chemically tainted area including treated lawns. Another important point is to thoroughly wash these greens. They hold on to grit and whatever else, so let them soak for 10 minutes, rinse and repeat.
Now, let’s get cooking. This is my take on a Southern Italian classic called Ceci e Cicoria translated as Chickpeas and Dandelions. This recipe is great as a light vegetarian main course. We love to eat it with a few pieces of fresh, crusty Italian bread. It can also make a wonderful side dish for roasted chicken. The next time someone slanders the dandelion, just tell ‘em one person’s weed is another person’s dinner. Buon Appetito.
Sauteed Dandelions and Chickpeas
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil
- 1/2 yellow onion, diced
- 1 bunch dandelion greens, roughly chopped
- 2 cups cooked chickpeas
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- Zest of ½ a lemon
- 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
- Salt and black pepper, to taste
- Heat the coconut oil in large sauté pan.
- Add in the diced onion and cook until translucent.
- Season with the paprika. Cook, stirring around the pan, for 1-2 minutes.
- Toss in the chopped dandelion greens. Cook until just wilted.
- Add in the chickpeas. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until heated through.
- Stir in toasted pine nuts and lemon zest.
- Remove from heat and serve immediately.
Note: As I mentioned, dandelion greens are bitter, similar to broccoli rabe. If you want to tame the bitterness, go ahead and blanch them in boiling water for 20 seconds before proceeding with the recipe. If you do blanch them, I would proceed right away to Step 5 after adding them to the pan.
Photos by Renato Ghio