Your backyard: It's what's for dinner!
A friend of mine likes to tell (and retell) the story of an early failed romance. Back in elementary school, the story goes, an eager suitor gathered a bouquet of dandelions in an attempt to woo her. The offering was met with scorn.
“Come on,” my friend sneers. “Dandelions? He gave me a big handful of weeds and thought he'd get some action? I don't think so.”
My response to this story is always the same: “Did you consider eating them?” Yes, it's true that dandelions are commonly considered weeds, but every part of the dandelion can be consumed, making it an extremely useful plant.
Earth Day is this weekend. So instead of spraying unwanted backyard invaders, consider sautéing them or eating them raw. Dandelions, and many other so-called weeds, are both delicious and nutritious. They deserve your admiration, not your scorn.
A lot of upscale supermarkets now sell “dandelion greens” for absurd prices. It's amazing that anyone would consider forking out a single red cent for the leaves of a plant that regularly invades every yard in America. What are those stupid yuppies thinking?
Don't go to public parks to forage for dandelions, though, because such places usually have been sprayed with pesticides. You only want to consume dandelions growing in untainted soil.
If you want to jazz up a salad, you can throw in everything from the leaves to the flower buds to the flowers themselves. You can also cook the leaves and eat them like spinach. Keep in mind that, much like humans, dandelions become increasingly bitter as they grow older so they're best harvested when they're young.
What, pray tell, is a dandelion fritter? Sounds like some kind of Colorado-based flower-power jam band from the early ’70s, right? Rest assured this is an actual dish that even a former member of a Colorado-based flower-power jam band could easily make. As far as quantities go, just wing it. This is a very forgiving recipe that comes out differently every time I make it but is always delicious.
Serves 1 to 1,000,000 (depending on the quantities you choose)
Salt (to taste)
Young, fresh dandelion flowers, buds and chopped leaves
Butter or olive oil
Onions, diced (optional)
1) Beat together eggs, milk and a pinch of salt. (Don't go overboard on the salt. You can always sprinkle a little more on at the end.) Beat in flour until you achieve the desired thickness. You want it to be fairly thick but not pasty.
2) Sauté the dandelions (with bacon and onions, if desired) in butter or olive oil, then set aside.
3) Once the dandelions are cool, mix them (with bacon and onions, if desired) into the batter.
4) Heat a bit more butter or olive oil in a frying pan. Using a tablespoon, place individual scoops of batter onto the pan. Roll or flip these fritters till they're golden brown on all sides.
At least two beverages can be made with dandelions. You can brew a coffee-like drink, often simply called dandelion coffee, from mature roots. You can also make dandelion wine from the flowers. Recipes for both are widely available online.
I'll admit I've never tried dandelion coffee. And I only made one attempt at dandelion wine, which was a total failure. The wine actually didn't taste all that bad. But my memory of the stench of it—something like a mixture of detergent, kerosene and my cats' litter box—makes me shudder as I type this. Still, a couple Thanksgivings ago, some friends brought over a homemade bottle, and it was delicious with a sweet, unoffensive scent, so I know it's possible.
Recommended Weeding, I Mean, Reading
Western Edible Wild Plants by H.D. Harrington
Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West by Gregory Tilford
Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide by Thomas Elias and Peter Dykeman
Going to Seed: Finding, Identifying, and Preparing Edible Plants of the Southwest by Kahanah Farnsworth
A Taste of Nature: Edible Plants of the Southwest and How to Prepare Them by Kahanah Farnsworth