To the average eye, dandelions are nothing but pesky perennials, weeds that invade our fields and lawns at the same time each year. But beneath the flower are dandelion leaves; a nutritious bitter green that can be enjoyed in many ways. In fact, any Italian worth his salt should recall tales of grandparents carefully picking dandelion greens by the bag-full, to be later used in soups, salads or simply sautéed.
In french, the name “pissenlit” translates to “bed wetter” which stems from the plant’s diuretic properties. Dandelion greens are also high in vitamins A, K and in potassium, calcium and iron. Although nutritious, the nutrient profile isn’t what motivated dandelion picking in my family, instead it was the plain fact that these bitter greens taste really good.
- If you’re harvesting your own dandelion greens avoid collecting from areas that are highly polluted (such as highways) or from areas sprayed with herbicides. Pull them at the root, discard the flowers from the leaves and wash thoroughly before using.
- If you’re lucky enough to find a luscious bunch (like the one above) at your local farmers market, store your dandelion greens in the fridge with the stems wrapped in a damp paper towel.
- Smaller leaves are tender and best used in salads or raw preparations. Larger leaves are tougher are best cooked.
Dandelion greens are bitter, similar to arugula in flavour but herbier. I enjoy them raw and prepared simply with really good quality extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. (A squeeze of lemon juice can help balance out the bitterness if needed.) A few slices of avocado and fresh tomatoes and you’re done! You can also simply sauté dandelion greens and serve over pasta, add them at the last minute to soups or serve as a side dish alongside any meal.
Dandelion green and mint pesto
But with such a large dandelion bouquet, I needed to think beyond salad and get creative. So I decided to make pesto. Traditionally, you’d want to chop all of your ingredients by hand with a sharp knife or use a mortar and pestle to make perfect pesto. But today, I enjoyed the convenience of my blender.
- Large bunch of dandelion greens (roughly 100g)
- 2 cups fresh mint
- 1/4 cup of raw pine nuts
- Pinch of salt
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Add half of the dandelion greens and mint to your blender and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add the rest of the leaves along with the pine nuts, salt and garlic. Pulse again, adding the olive oil and the parmesan.
Have you or anyone you know ever picked your own dandelion greens?