Produce of the Week - Dandelion
sponsored by Coleman Farms
Amongst all the other sprouting budding and blooming going on just now, you'll have noticed Dandelions' recrudescence. If you have a lawn or tidy garden, this may have given rise to a certain amount of hostility. But Dandelion is a classic instance of 'weed or vegetable?': they are prolific and tough and most unwelcome out of place, but properly raised - natural or cultivated - they are tasty, an excellent source of minerals, particularly iron, and fiber, and have medicinal properties as a mild diuretic, whence their popular French name pissenlit. Our 'Dandelion' is from French dent de lion 'lion's tooth', I suppose because of the commonly found jagged edges.
Provided you haven't been using toxic chemicals (systemic fungicides, weed'n'feed, sprays, etc.) in your garden, you can quite happily harvest its dandelions. You'll see this happening along Continental roads; even in the dividers of fairly busy roads you might see older folks bending and cutting and putting their prizes in a basket or pail.
However, what's typically raised and sold as 'Dandelion' is really a kind of chicory. Funnily enough, the two plants - which are of different genera - can be nearly identical in appearance and are virtually identical in taste, texture and nutritional value, but the Chicories have less of the objectionable 'weed' properties of Dandelions.
The outstanding gustatory property of Dandelion (true or their Chicory imitators) is their bitter flavor, which is not to be confused with the peppery 'hot' flavor of Arugula, say, or the acid flavor of something like Spinach or Sorrel, rather it's the bitter flavor of Radicchio - a closely related Chicory - but intensified. You can use tender Dandelion chopped fine in a salad, as you would Radicchio. It's also good in juicing, both for the flavor and particularly for its nutritional properties. And you can cook it = generally by steaming or late in a braise/stirr fry, where its flavor will nicely set off the sweet or onions or the more low-key sweet of Cabbage, or add an edge to the strong but rather compact flavor of Kale.