Perhaps you consider them unsightly.
Those bright yellow blossoms – self-pollinating, deeply rooted, difficult to dig out – constitute one of the biggest blights of a manicured lawn.
But they don’t have to be the enemy. Why fight the sunny little flowers – or weeds, as they’re commonly called – when you can relish and eat them instead?
Healthy and readily available – in some yards more than others – dandelions are packed with nutrients. And the entire plant – from the tip of the taproot to the edges of its golden petals – is edible.
Its raw, spear-like leaves, reminiscent of arugula or mustard greens, taste spicy and slightly bitter, and can be used like other leafy vegetables in soups and salads, pesto and pasta. They’re good wilted, boiled, steamed or simply sautéed with olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper.
“They’re very much like lettuce as far as their leaves,” said Serena Thompson, 43, of Green Bluff.
A contributing editor at “Country Living” magazine and the author of two books, “The Farm Chicks in the Kitchen” and “The Farm Chicks Christmas,” Thompson recently devoted a blog post solely to celebrating dandelions. They are, she wrote, “underrated, unappreciated, and most often unloved.”
In fact, she said, “They are kind of hated.”
Thompson started eating dandelions as a girl growing up on the Klamath River in Northern California. Today, she lives on 10 acres north of Spokane, where dandelions grow wild in between her three cultivated fields.
“There’s no dandelion you can’t eat even though there are more than 300 varieties,” Thompson said. “It’s such an approachable little flower. They’re also free and plentiful, and they’re just so versatile.”
Dandelion blossoms, much sweeter than their piquant leaves, help brighten salads and add color to cake batter, icing and bread. They can also be pickled, fried, made into tea, baked into cookies and fermented into wine.
But perhaps one of the easiest ways to enjoy them is to simply turn the florets into fritters, dipping the blond rounds into cold beer batter, then frying them in hot vegetable oil in a cast iron skillet.
However you choose to enjoy them, “You pick them, and you eat them quickly,” Thompson said, warning not to pluck dandelions from lawns or fields that have been treated with chemical fertilizer or sprayed with pesticides or – God forbid – weed killer.
With taproots that can grow up to 10 inches long, dandelions are known for their stubborn will to survive. Most people don’t think of them as a super-food. But dandelions are rich in Vitamins A, C and K. They’re also good sources of calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium and fiber. And they’re low in calories. One cup has about 25.
Dandelions are best in spring, when they’re younger, less bitter and more tender. But they can be enjoyed throughout the summer and into early autumn. Blanching helps remove the bitterness, but also removes some of the nutrients.
“I know people who will eat them as long as they are producing, long into the fall,” Thompson said. “The health benefits are immense. They’re supposed to be helpful for people with diabetes, people with liver issues and on and on.”
The name comes from the French words for “lion’s tooth,” or “dent de lion,” referring to their coarse fronds.
In her “All About Dandelions” post, Thompson shares original recipes for a dandelion and banana smoothie, egg white and dandelion greens scramble, and dandelion tea. It can be found at www.thefarmchicks.com.
Thompson also developed a few recipes especially for the Food section of the Spokesman-Review. They can be found below.
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cold beer (Serena Thompson used an amber ale.)
1/2 teaspoon salt
Canola oil for frying
Whisk the first three ingredients together in a mixing bowl until smooth. Heat oil in a frying pan until hot. Dip dandelion blossoms into batter and drop into hot oil. Cook until browned, then flip. Cook other side until browned, then transfer to a cooling rack that is topped with paper towels to catch excess oil. Serve right away with different dipping options such as honey, pesto and aioli.
Lemony Dandelion Greens Pesto
1 cup loosely packed fresh dandelion greens
1 handful fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, to taste
1/4 teaspoon salt
Puree all ingredients together in a food processor. Transfer to a small serving bowl and serve or cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
Chive and Lemon Aioli
1/4 cup mayonnaise or vegenaise
2 tablespoons fresh chives, minced
Grated rind of 1/2 lemon
Mix ingredients together in a small bowl and serve right away or cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
Potato Salad with Dandelion Greens
2 pounds small red potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
1 cup mayonnaise or vegenaise
2 tablespoons chopped chives
1/3 cup pesto (Serena Thompson used dandelion pesto; see recipe above)
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, diced
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and roughly chopped
1 cup chopped dandelion greens
Gently boil potatoes until soft. Drain and allow to cool. Once cooled, mix mayonnaise, chives, pesto, sun-dried tomatoes and capers in a small bowl, stirring until completely combined. Add mayonnaise mixture and dandelion greens to potatoes and mix until combined. Serve or cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Dandelion Honey Cake
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup dandelion petals
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour a standard-size loaf pan and set aside. Beat butter and honey together until well combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well each time. Add vanilla, beating to combine. Add flour, baking soda, and baking powder and mix until mostly combined. Add milk and beat until batter is completely smooth and fluffy. Gently mix in dandelion petals. Scoop batter into prepared loaf pan and bake for about 1 hour and 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean. Once completely baked through, remove from oven and cool. Drizzle top with Dandelion Petal Glaze (recipe follows).
Dandelion Petal Glaze
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoons water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Petals from 3 to 4 dandelions, about 1 tablespoon
Combine all ingredients in a small mixing bowl and stir until completely smooth. Spoon glaze over bread. Slice and serve at room temperature.