When I spotted a retweet in the Serious Eats Twitter feed proclaiming Miner's Lettuce the haute new green for spring, I couldn't resist ribbing managing editor Adam Kuban: "Miner's Lettuce is so 1880s! The must-chew color of the season is dandelion."
No, really! It's cool to eat your weeds. In my native Seattle, the neighborhood farmers markets are sprouting with greens foraged from secret spots. Choices include stinging nettles and, yup, Miner's Lettuce, which is lovely and has a delicate texture and a flavor that reminds me of what might happen if spinach and watercress married and had kids.
But dandelions? They're everywhere, delicious, and so dang nutritious that they make super foods look like wimps. The tender leaves can be sautéed like kale, and the flowers are prime for dipping in tempura batter and frying or baking into a sunny loaf of bread. Even the root is edible, making for a coffee-like drink or base for ice cream.
Who knew, right?
Video: Picking Dandelions with Langdon Cook
There are a few basic rules to follow when going on a DIY weed harvest, though. Langdon Cook, author of Fat of the Land: Tales of a 21st Century Forager, gave me some tips while we foraged for dandelions. He said it's essential to avoid areas where weed killer might be sprayed: "Never pick by a freeway, or train tracks or telephone poles." And before picking in parks, check the rules. "There was a case years ago of the famous forager Steve Brill being arrested in Central Park for picking dandelions," Cook said.
Soon after Cook finished giving me the scoop on how to pick and prepare these fine weeds, I was floored to find bunches of them in the produce department of my neighborhood supermarket: organically grown dandelion greens for $3. I did a wild vs. cultivated taste test that evening and guess what? I was wild about the wild. But I like my greens to be slightly bitter.
For some dandy dandelion recipes including tempura, salads, baked goods, and even a burger, check out Cook's blog, Fat of the Land.
About the author: Former Seattle Post-Intelligencer restaurant critic Leslie Kelly has been apprenticing in professional kitchens since the newspaper folded in March 2009 and chronicling her culinary journey from pen to pan for Serious Eats. She also blogs at LeslieKellyWhiningandDining.blogspot.com and is working on a story-telling project for Northstar Winery following one wine from the vine to the table.