Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The world is my buffet table: Dandelion

   "Mama had a baby and it's head popped off."  We used to sing that all the time as kids and pop off all the heads to the dandelions.  Now here I am 30 years later doing it again.  No, I don't have kids.  I love dandelions and I noticed they are blooming everywhere.
   I was too late to get the leaves or roots.  The leaves are great in salads, sandwiches or even juiced or thrown in a smoothie.  Diuretic, good for digestion, and cooling.  They contain vitamins A and C, and antioxidants.  I was even told "You should pick those dandelion leaves now, before it's too late, they're ready."  I thought that was crazy!  They weren't ready yet.  They needed more time to fill out.  It wasn't so crazy.  Within 2 days, there were the flowers, all yellow and smiley.  So I did some research, and sure enough, you want to pick them before the flower comes up.  After the flower comes up, they get more bitter and stringy.  Damn.  I'll still pick them anytime I need a fresh green, regardless of a flower being there.  But they are better before they flower.
   Well, maybe I can harvest the root.  The root is so good for the liver, it increases iron levels and enhances iron absorption, it helps with nerve transmission, and is also cooling.  I had a feeling that was going to be something for the fall.  I was right.  You want to harvest the root from late fall to early spring.  The temperatures may feel like early spring, but the day length tells a different story.  Nuts!
   But... It turns out you can eat the flowers!  I wasn't sure what to think about this at first, but I just had to give it a try.  Here's what you do to enjoy these smiley bits of lawn sunshine.
   My first suggestion is to pick the flowers early in the day.  That is usually the time to harvest an herb. Usually.  I went out late in the day, because that's just when I finally got my act together on this project.  It was part of dinner, of course.  The wind had picked up and a cold fog was rolling in.  The flowers just didn't look as cheerful as they did earlier in the day.  Whatever, I had to try it today!  I picked just the head off.  No stem.  I didn't worry about removing the small green leaves.  Then I rinsed them really well to get any bugs or dirty stuff off.  Not that I'm too concerned, I'm sure there have been many little bugs in my salad or dinner.  It's fresh and organic!  Most of the flowers came from a fenced in area, but some were from other spots.
        Important note: You want to be careful where you wildcraft.  You don't want to eat things from a lawn that is sprayed or maybe has runoff from a road or other gross source.  Plants are kind of like filters and will suck up dirty things, so a good, known, clean area is best.
   Then I laid them out on a paper towel to dry.  I made a batter
with 1/2c. heavy cream (it should be milk, but I forgot to buy some), 1/2 c. flour, and 1 egg.  You could definitely get creative here.  Maybe cornmeal or some herbs?  I forgot the salt and pepper.  That would have been nice.  Beer could be used for a beer batter, or you could get creative with the flour and liquid.
   I got a pot and put about 1/4" to 1/2" of oil in it and got that hot.  I used sunflower oil.  Any oil could be good.  Coconut oil could be very tasty!  To make it a healthier fry, use a healthy oil, and keep it at a high temperature throughout.  You can do this by making sure you have enough oil in the pot so that when you put a cold item in there, it doesn't cool down the oil too much.  Also don't throw them all in at once.  Just fry a couple at a time and then do another batch.
   I drenched these little flower heads in the batter and threw them in the hot oil for a few minutes.  When they looked nice and golden, I took them out and laid them on another paper towel to drain and cool.
   I made a honey mustard sauce for dipping them in.  Any dipping sauce would be good.
   They were great!  We ate them too fast to get a picture.  It was so fun to eat something that seems so strange.  Something that people spend so much money and time getting rid of.  Something that is everywhere.  Perhaps we should embrace what the world offers us, rather than try to kill it.  Maybe their resilience is a sign that we need to make the most of it, and use them.  If my entire lawn was dandelion rather than grass, I'd be so happy.  Maybe my neighbors wouldn't.  But I wouldn't be mowing and I could eat my "lawn".  And they are just such happy mini sunshines!  Now I walk around wondering what else is out there for me to eat that I don't know about yet?  I imagine I could feed the entire city a little snack with all the flowers that are out there.
   It's tough to find information about the nutrients in the flower, but from a few sources I've seen, I think dandelions contain vitamins A, B and C, phosphorus, and calcium, betacarotene, iron, zinc, potassium, and lecithin.
   There are recipes all over the internet for different ways to fry them up.  There are recipes for cookies, a syrup, and teas.  You could even just sprinkle them over a salad.
   I also tried making some dandelion syrup.  Not knowing what I might be in for, I just made a small batch.  Also, I've been so excited about these flowers, but I wanted to leave some to go to seed (some people might hate me for that!).  I picked 15-20 flower heads, once again not worrying about the small leaves.  I put them in a pot and covered them with some water.  I only wanted to bring them to a boil and then let them steep.  A watched pot never boils, so I did a little vacuuming.  Thanks to my boyfriend for seeing it and shutting it off.  Next time I will at least stay in the kitchen.  I let them cool and then put the infusion in the fridge overnight.  The next day I strained the infusion making sure to squeeze out all the liquid I could.  It turned out to be about 1/2 cup of liquid.  I put this back into the pot and added a little less than 1/2c. sugar.  I heated this up until the sugar was all dissolved.  You can add lemon, but I wanted to see what it tasted like plain.  It was like honey!  You can add this syrup to some water for a tasty drink.  I'm thinking of adding it to some vodka with a little lime, for a nice cocktail tonight!
   I hesitated on posting this, thinking it needed more pictures, thinking I would make that cocktail and talk about it, thinking there should be more.  What I got is another link for eating dandelion flowers.  These are fritters, not fried, more like pancakes with stems poking out.  Fritter recipe

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